Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Back to School...

School started this week and, three days in, I am already exhausted.  But it is a good exhausted.  When you have done it for so many years,  teaching routines and procedures can be tedious, but the payoff is worth it.  The work that is done in the beginning of the year helps to determine the kind of teacher that you get to be throughout the year.  And it only took me about a decade to figure that out.  So even though I am itching to jump into the meat and potatoes of 6th grade, I am practicing.  We practice lining up, and then do it again more quietly.  We practice turning our chairs to "face the teacher" as I move to various spots around the room.  We practice talking to each other nicely and discuss what makes a "great classmate."  

And we get to know each other.  They learn that I have 3 dogs and a husband, that I have been teaching for 24 years, that my brother and I used to fight when we were younger, that I have tons of "marshmallow moments" so they shouldn't worry if they see me crying for them or with them.  They learn that the classroom needs to be a safe place for everyone.  That learning is a struggle, but it is so worth it.  That what they put in to their learning, will help to determine what they get out of it.  They learn that learning occurs at different speeds and they should never feel ashamed about needing more time.

And I learn that Andrew loves bacon, and Julianne loves art.  Madison has a cat that attacked her when she first got him---and the cat scratched her "here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and even here!"  I now know that Faith wants this year to be "different" and that she wants to know how to get along with others.  I know that Israel has two bunnies and the center of Elias's world is his mother. I learn that Vanessa is worried about making friends and needs help in reading.  

We learn so much about each other the first week as we do a variety of team building activities.  I see who the leaders are and who can persevere.  I figure out who needs that extra little bit of encouragement and who is fearless.  I get to see how they interact with each other in a groups of varying sizes.

And when I start to feel stressed because I am already 2 days behind the suggested pacing guide, I remember that a well-run classroom is a room where children learn more easily and are more vested in their learning.  And so I take a deep, calming breath, and I relax--secure in the knowledge that, while there will always be challenges, it is going to be another great year.

Friday, August 15, 2014

So little time...

<a href="">Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a>

I spent a few hours most weeks this summer trying to get my room reorganized.  About 5 years ago our rooms were redone and, although it took me forever, I had it well-organized.  Somehow I had made 20 years worth of educational materials fit into the room.  However, in the past 5 years, I have collected more stuff.  Tons of math manipulatives that other teachers didn't want, new adoptions, new purchases, etc.  My library books no longer fit into their alloted space, new bridge materials didn't have a place, too many years of having to pack up quickly at the end of the year; all of destroyed my organizational efforts.

I have always been one of those people knew exactly where to find something on a messy desk.  While my mind was organized, my space wasn't.  However, as the years have progressed, I have discovered that, while it doesn't come naturally, I prefer my classroom to be organized.  I enjoy knowing where to go to find something as opposed to searching for it.  But I have to work at it....I have to really work at it.  So I spend extra hours during the summer fixing areas that didn't quite work, putting things away that stayed in my "to deal with" pile, and trying to find a new home for new materials.

School starts week is teacher training, and then the kids arrive after that.  I still have work to be done, but I am feeling good about the progress I have made.  Once I get it all put away and in place, I am going to take photos--proof that I can do it when I put my mind to it.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Vistaprint in the classroom...

About two and a half years ago I discovered Vistaprint.  I was helping my husband make some business cards and that was one of the sites that popped up during a Google search.  After I finished with his project, my teacher brain starting spinning out-of-control.  

At the time, Vistaprint offered many free items (a practice they have unfortunately discontinued.)  Every time you placed an order, you could get up to 10 free long as you paid for the shipping and handling.  Then, they also had fabulous Groupon deals--$17 for $70 worth of merchandise!  I was hooked.  

Although I don't buy as much as I used to since the deals aren't what they used to be, I still think it is a fabulous resource that is reasonably priced. Patience is important because they will offer some major discounts a few times a year---which is when I stockpile my products.  (I never pay full price as there is always a coupon code out there somewhere.)

Here are a few things I have created:

This banner hangs outside of my classroom and serves two purposes.  It is there to motivate my 6th graders to be the best that they can be.  The other reason for it is to block a stream of sunlight that bounces off of windshields in the parking light, goes through the slats and the windows in the door, and ends up obscuring the view on my Interwrite board.  I have had it up an entire year and it still looks good.

This poster was my first "Where Eagles...." creation.  The school climate committee wanted to have one of these sayings in front of every classroom in the school which was an incredible idea.  However, before they could get it done, the district hit hard times financially and funds were swept.  I loved it though, so I made a poster to remind me of everything I want my kids to be able to accomplish.  Some days I feel we are more successful than others, but we don't give up.  

My collection of stamps is lots of fun too....most of them were free.  I wish they still offered them, but those days are gone.  I use them in a variety of ways.  One thing I do is use it to help me remember whose work I want to share on the document camera. When I am walking around the room while the kids are working on a solution to a more difficult math problem or are revising a sentence, I will stamp the papers of ones that have something that I want others to see.  Sometimes I use two stamps: one for the examples I want shared, and the second to acknowledge those who are working hard (I don't tell them one is the "Let's see what you did" stamp.)  

I also use the stamps on a weekly basis is their student planners to communicate with parents.  Every Friday I find the time to write down their missing assignments and to check to see if a parent signature is there.  The students who have both a signature and no missing assignments gets a positive word stamp (and often a prize at the end of the day for having completed all their work for the week.)  It takes about 30 minutes to get through the entire class, but it has saved me hours of grief with parents.  I got tired of hearing an upset "I didn't know" at parent conferences.  

When I was in second grade, my teacher used to look for kids on the rug who were demonstrating good listening skills.  She would write your name on a piece of paper with a sticker on it and you got to take it home at the end of the day.  I found some of them hidden away in my childhood bedroom many years ago (at least I hope it is some, and not all, because I only have 18!) I have used the idea for years, but technology has made it much easier.  

Aren't those stickers the best?!?!? 

So I decided to use the business cards that Vistaprint offers to make my own good behavior cards.  The kids collect them and when they get 20 they get to choose a prize from the cabinet (I don't call it a treasure chest because some of my 6th graders think that they are too cool for that--but they aren't too cool for a prize from the cabinet!  The psychology of 12 year olds is amazing.)  I will put a stack under the document camera and start writing names on the backs of the cards---they know I am looking for kids who exhibiting expected behavior....sometimes I will let them see the names, sometimes I will write them just out of view (they know I am writing but they aren't sure whose name was written down.)  I have found it to be very effective in getting the behavior I want with very little effort on my part---plus even my most challenging students love being recognized for being good!

One final photo to share:  I have made postcards to send home good news, a bathroom punch card, a clean desk award card, and a 100% card (which I attach to selected assignments--not all of them!)  

Some of the products I designed using the Vistaprint website, others I designed with PrintShop and just uploaded it.  (By the way....I have received nothing from Vistaprint to write this--it is just one of those places I use to get supplies for my classroom, like Target or Office Depot.)