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Are You Ready for Back to School?

Are you ready to go back to school?

It's almost that time again!  Time to go back into that classroom, to get things cleaned and organized, and to plan out all the great lessons you will teach in the coming weeks.  How do you handle the demands on your time, energy, and sanity?

As each school year approached for me, I first pulled out my calendar to keep myself motivated and on schedule.  Without negotiation, I created my "To-Do" calendar and then I made myself get started!  So, what did I add to my calendar?  Here's the run-down:

  • At least two 40-hour work weeks were scheduled for curriculum mapping and lesson planning 
  • 2 days were allotted for cleaning, organizing, and reorganizing my classroom
  • 1 day was granted for making copies, laminating, and hanging classroom posters (Expectations)
  • 1 day was set aside to create and recreate seating charts for each of my classroom configurations (Rows versus group activities), and for creating and pre-addressing post cards I would send out after the first week
  • 1 day was assigned for the final classroom preparation where I drew the welcome onto my board, set up my first day's activities, and laid out all of my first day materials (Syllabus, Expectations, Notebook Template, etc.)
  • 1 day for calming myself down and regulating my adrenaline before the kids walked in, some motivated and some not!
I know!  This totals up to 3 full weeks BEFORE the required Opening Day and PD days!  But, with this non-negotiable plan, I started my school year off with much less stress and anxiety than others I saw in my building.  I was able to enjoy meeting my students, I could take time to make early phone calls or to send emails, and I actually ended each of the first days of school at a reasonable time instead of spending my evenings there, worrying about what I would be doing the next day!

And if you need help on those back to school lessons, take a look in My TpT Store!  You might even find activities you can do on that very first day to make it go, oh, so much easier!

Happy Teaching!

Say the Goodbyes You Want to Say!

As the school year comes to a close, we are all often overwhelmed with everything that must be done.  We worry about the EOCs, the final exams, the last minute assignments, and all the required data analysis.  Sometimes we are so preoccupied with the "must-do" list that we forget what is most important: Saying Goodbye!

Take the time, whether in written or verbal format, to say goodbye to your students.  Let them know how they've grown, how they'd changed, how they've become the students you dreamt they would become.  But don't let them get away that easily.  Offer them advice on everything to come.  Continue to guide them in the right direction, making sure they will remember your words, and most importantly, your actions for years, or even a lifetime, to come!

Happy Teaching!

It's Coming...

The last weeks of each school year are always the hardest.  There are just so many factors coming into play, making each day its own challenge.  The students are antsy, you are thinking about your summer plans, and yet you have so much you have left to teach, and honestly, it begins to set in that you will miss these kids, no matter how cantankerous they have been through the year.

One of my favorite shows is The Middle on ABC.  When Axl graduated from high school, he and his mom fought about everything.  They even had a comedic throw down in the front yard, rolling around in the grass, over his wearing black socks to his graduation.  And then, as he crossed that stage, it hit both Frankie and Axl... it was an ending.  She would have to let him fly off to college in the fall, and she just wasn't ready to let her boy go.

It's the same way for every teacher.  There are those we simply loved, the ones we worry about being ready to go, and the ones we've just connected with that we now feel "need" us to continue on their path.  Letting go is just so hard.

How should you handle your babies graduating to the next grade or to the next stage in their lives?

I have one piece of advice... buy the softest Kleenex you can find.  A big box.  And be prepared to be sporting that red nose and those watery eyes on all those last day pics!

P.S.  Need a quick and easy survey for your last day?  Take a look at this one!

Happy Teaching!


Warn Against the Addiction!

Many of you are coming close to the end of your school year, and that means you will be giving your students all the advice you can muster for their summer free time.  Of course, we want them to read their summer assigned books, practice their math skills, and maybe get outside to practice their geography skills or to perform a  few science experiments.  But, the reality... they will be playing games.

In my first 45 years of existence, I had never been addicted to games.  Games for me growing up were fun activities I shared with my family, friends, and neighbors.  We played tag, hide and seek, Monopoly, Scrabble, and even the Quiet Game when Grandma needed a break!  While we loved these games, and the time we spent with others playing them, they were not addictive.  Today's games are a whole new arena.

http://conference2014.teacherspayteachers.com/
When I was asked to be a presenter at the TeachersPayTeachers Conference coming up this July, I started preparing for the trip.  The conference is being held in Las Vegas, and I quickly found that this will be a very costly venture.  Meals at the grand hotels, if you are not a gambler, can run upwards of $36 a person.  Crazy!  Then, one of my friends turned me onto a little game on Facebook... myVegas slots.  It's free to play, and I earn real credits toward buffets or other Vegas necessities.  Great, right?  Wrong!

I am now addicted.  I start my day by collecting my coins from the strip, and I return frequently through the day to collect more.  I also make sure to check in often enough to keep my daily rewards, and I must play each of the bonus games they post.  It's an addiction.  The worst part - I've pulled my husband into my addiction so that we can collect X 2, so we are both now spending many of our precious minutes in front of our electronic devices instead of being outside playing the games we once loved.

But now I understand.  It is an addiction.  You must get to the next level, collect the next reward, complete the task.  And it's so easy to slip into this addiction for adults; just imagine what it is like for children, especially those who do not have parents who wish to engage them in the old fashioned ways...

So, as you prepare your students for their summer break, try your best to encourage they play the real games of life, not just those that will pull them up to the screen and never let go!

Happy Teaching!

That Dream Trip

 Since I started reading (and actually being read to as a small child) I have imagined visiting the places in my favorites stories or books.  The settings always came off the page to me and were so visual in my mind.  I was able to see myself investigating along the creek bed with Laura or looking for clues in my neighbor's backyard with Nancy Drew.  As I got older, this fixation on story setting only fueled my desire to travel, so travel I have!

As this post goes live, I will be just returning from another of my travel destinations, Alaska.  We will have taken the tram up for the incredible mountain views, and sailed out into the icy ocean to see the glaciers, and we will have spent hours watching the mating whales.  I am so excited, but my husband is giggling like a little girl as the day for our trip comes closer and closer.  With Michner's (Alaska: a Novel, available as an e-read from Amazon!) description of the great land beyond, he is hoping to take advantage of every waking moment.

And then there is the teacher in me, thinking about documenting all of my travels to share with the students out there who may never have the great opportunities to which I have had the privilege.   How can we teach them to "see" the places and to visit them with their minds as they read about their favorite characters?  Even better... How can we encourage them to read to the point that they find a way to travel for themselves, just so they can see those places they have already long envisioned?

My advice:  It's simple...

While I completely understand that so many are now forced to teach to the test, and to assign reading materials that come from a great and mighty list, encourage choice reading.  Every single day!  Allow your students to take just a little time, at any grade and in any subject area, to curl up in their chairs, on the floor, or in the window sill (my favorite place) to read about one of their favorite characters or to travel to that place of their dreams.

With the school year coming to a close in many parts of the country, this little suggestion may go even further.  Just imagine getting your students hooked onto that favorite character or into the newest series that they just won't be able to put down... all summer long!

Oh, one last suggestion... Each year, I struggled with saying goodbye to my babies (High school babies!), so I worked into my schedule one last good read.  So many lessons in one simple book!

Happy Teaching!


As the Quiet Saves the World

We often read stories of Anne Frank's being hidden in her neighbor's home to escape Nazi persecution, or we watch movies about Oskar Schindler and how he saved over 1000 Jews by setting up a factory filled with Jewish labor during WWII.  What we do not often hear are stories about the quiet ones who saved so many during the German Holocaust, and during other horrible events in our world's history.

Nicholas Winton is one of those quiet ones who made a significant different, saving the lives of over 600 children from Czechoslovakia as the Nazi death makers moved into the region, killing thousands of Jews and others as they expanded their influence over war-torn Europe.  Setting up a very efficient organization of forgery, he relieved the fears of many parents who brought in their children, in the hopes of saving them from the inevitable.

What makes Winton's story even more remarkable is the fact that he did not share his story, or his incredible accomplishment, for over 50 years.  It was only through an old picture that British Broadcasting uncovered the unbelievable story.  They arranged a gathering of children he had saved, surrounding him and surprising him with thanks.  When asked why he had kept the whole thing a secret, he responded that he didn't keep it a secret; he just didn't tell anyone!

And it doesn't stop there:  This 104 year old man is still working to provide housing for the mentally ill and for the elderly.  He even suggests that we should not dwell on the stories of the past, instead working to make things better in the present.

The lessons:

When our students ask why they should learn history - so that we don't make the same mistakes as those who came before us.

Who can make a difference in this world? - we all can make a difference if we have the knowledge, skills, and ingenuity to take on the challenges before us, no matter how daunting they may be.

Want to teach your students these very valuable lessons?

Use this CBS 60 Minutes Video Interview and my FREE Who Am I? Reflective Response Activity.

And if you want to teach a full unit on this historic event, check out the Holocaust category in My TpT Store!

Happy Teaching!

National Teacher Day!

Most TEACHERS are TEACHERS because of a significant TEACHER they had in their academic careers!  I had three of those significant TEACHERS, and I consider myself very lucky to have been placed in their classrooms and to have learned how to become the TEACHER I now am!

My junior year in high school was incredibly challenging.  I had so much teenage angst, and I was living on a military post, thousands of miles away from what I had considered "home" and away from the family I loved.  My home life was a daily struggle, and I escaped to school, truly believing that what I learned in my classrooms would open doors to me in my future.

But, before my school year started, I had been notified that one of my short stories had been published in a short story magazine.  This led me to believe I was a talented author, and in absolutely NO need of instruction by any Language Arts or English TEACHER.  Then came Mrs. Becker.  She returned my first creative writing assignment with a big red B+ marked across the top right corner, and read ink splattered all over each of the 5 pages.  I was appalled!  How dare she?  Did she know I was published?  Yes, she did.  But she didn't care... she knew I had more to learn, and she fought with me all year to make me a better writer.  Thank you, Mrs. Becker!

Across the hall was Mr. Hurt's U.S. History classroom.  He taught us by engaging us and demanding that we throw ourselves into history.  He asked us to defend our opinions, and he encouraged us to stand up for our fellow man.  He also pulled me from a fight as I stood to "defend" my best friend, sending the other girl to the office and me to class, and he led myself and a few of our classmates in defending a fellow student in his right to distribute flyers for his Sunday afternoon youth group.  He gave me the courage and strength I needed to be who I knew I wanted to be.  Thank you, Mr. Hurt!

And then there was my idol, my mentor, the person I still hope to one day become... Dr. Angene Wilson.  Dr. Wilson was my academic adviser at the University of Kentucky, and she taught my methods class for becoming a Secondary Social Studies TEACHER!  She had lived a life true to what she taught, and she set standards for each of her students that would push us toward the best that we had the potential to be.  Her instruction made me the type of TEACHER I am today - one that encourages activity, refuses to accept apathy, and demands excellence.  Thank you, Dr. Wilson!

On this National Teacher Day, I encourage you to thank those TEACHERS who have made a difference in your life.   And for those of you who are TEACHERS, I wish for you, as I wish for myself, that we will some day have students placing our names on their Thank You List on National Teacher Day! 

Want to do something with your students to commemorate National Teacher Day?  Check out these great resources from the NEA!


Oh, and a SALE!  Head on over to TpT today for the annual Teacher Appreciation Sale! Don't forget to use the coupon code and shop in my store for an added discount!

Happy Teaching!