Sunday, July 6, 2014

Think, Wonder, and Teach - Guest Blog Post

I recently had the honor of being asked by Misty, of over at Think, Wonder, & Teach to write a letter for her series "Time to Teach."

Think, Wonder, & Teach

So, I did a little reminiscing about my first 10 years (yes, I've made it a whole decade!) of teaching to impart some of the knowledge I have learned along the way for other new teachers to read.  It is a great series of letters and a great blog that I highly suggest you try out.

Here is my letter:

Dear Misty,
This year I presided over my tenth year of teaching.  It took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (and maybe a little wine) to get me through.  So, it seems like a good idea to reflect over this last decade by passing on some things I have learned that may be useful to you.  In early June, I looked over a sea of 124 sixth graders who would soon be moving onto middle school.  I wondered how time had flown so fast.  How could it be ten years since the day I first stepped into my own classroom?
I have a rotten memory.  Sometimes I can’t remember which kid just asked to go to the bathroom, but I do remember my first day of teaching in my own classroom.  I had been hired to teach 3rd grade at a school with a great reputation and a great staff.  The kids came into the classroom that morning just as excited and curious as I was.  And behind them, came their parents.
 All of them.
 They stood in the back of my classroom with their arms crossed, like bouncers at a club, wondering if this young new teacher knew what she was doing.  Two mothers even had the nerve to come and tell me that it must’ve been a mistake that their children had been placed in my class.  They told me that they were on their way to the principal and their kids would likely be moving to a different teacher within the next hour.  Not a confidence booster.  But, as they say, I put on my big girl panties, smiled, and started my class.  Regardless of how I felt on the inside, they were NOT going to see me sweat.
Which leads me into my first piece of advice for all new teachers.
Sometimes, you have to just follow the old rule of “fake it ’til you make it.” No matter how much time you have spent student teaching, grading papers, or practicing your engagement strategies, there is nothing like running your own classroom.  No teacher should ever tell you that they know what they are doing 100% of the time; otherwise, they are doing it wrong.  We all have days when we plaster on a big fake smile and try not to have a nervous breakdown.  Just like the students in front of you, you are learning every second and every minute of every day.  Some of those moments of learning will be petrifying, but just smile and know that it will pass and when you come out the other side, you will be a better teacher.
Don’t forget to be adventurous. Our society worries too much about being successful all the time.  Kids are creatures of habit and sometimes fear change and are afraid to fail.  I have students who have never eaten a salad, never slept away from their parents, or have never received a grade lower than an A.  We can teach them to take a chance.  They will watch you.  Will they see someone safe, who never tries anything new?  Or will they see the teacher who has fun, is a leader, and is willing to look silly or even lose at tether ball? Lead them on adventures and they will follow.
A good teacher must be dynamic.  As kids change, we change.  We must constantly adapt and try new things to make learning better and to engage students in their learning.  Doug Robertson, known to many as “The Weird Teacher” says it well when he writes, ”Teaching is experimental theater. I don’t know if a lot of the things I try in front of my class are going to land. Some of them will fail. Some will fail hard. But that is always better than teaching the same thing in the same way for years on end.”
There will be days when you will bomb, but there will be days when the angels sing and fireworks explode.  All because you tried something new.  Allow yourself to crash and burn once in awhile.  And when it’s over, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on.
My last rule is simple.  Do it your own way.  Tell stories about life and what you know and the kids will thank you for it.  As a student teacher and new teacher, I was most often schooled in the theory that teachers were simply presenters of pre-made information handed to us in the teaching manual of everyone’s favorite textbooks.  The day I put that manual down and started doing it my own way was the day I started seeing results.  They connected with me, they remembered my funny anecdotes, and they wanted to come to my class to learn.  Give them something else to remember besides what was in the textbook.
You will touch hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives, during your career.  Don’t just teach them.  Inspire them and love them.  Teach them how to win, lose, and laugh at themselves when things just don’t go their way.  They will remember you.  And if you do it right, they will inspire you and teach you more about yourself than you ever knew existed.
Good luck and enjoy,

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pinterest Insanity - 10 Things I Can Try Now

I am sure every person on Pinterest can relate to my love/hate relationship with Pinterest.  I am addicted.  Everything from classroom organization to geeky stuff that makes me laugh, I cannot get enough.  It is one of my favorite teaching "time sucks." The real conundrum, I pin and pin, but never follow through.  I have hundreds of pins, but I have either forgotten they exist or forgotten where I put them entirely.  So instead of the typical "10 things I love on Pinterest This Week" post, I am picking 10 things on Pinterest that I can commit to for the start of the new school year.  So, I went through my piles of pins, and chose 10 things that I really want to try and use the first month of school.

1.  Perspective Drawing - Kaja K.

Every year, I have my homeroom do an art project to start the new year, using their names.  I put them up on the wall, usually around their sixth grade quote for the year.  In the past few years, I have been using the spiral art using their name.  It is time for something new.  I love this, especially because we can also do some lessons on perspective first.

2.  Team Building Activity - Tom Heck (You Tube Video)

I want my homeroom to be a team.  They have their core classes in different groupings, so I want them to feel like their homeroom is their family.  A place they can go where they are supported and where they have built some important relationships.  We spend a lot of the first week doing team building and this is an activity I have not yet tried.  All I need are a few hula hoops and bandannas.  This is also great because you can do it whole class or in teams.

3. Cubby Labels with Binder Clips - Teaching With Love and Laughter

I planned to do this last year, but it never came to be.  I even have the binder clips sitting in boxes waiting to be used.  In my class, the kids get a cubby for their textbooks.  Right now, the cubbies have stickers with numbers that match the numbers on their textbooks.  The numbers are NO help to me when I am looking for a kid's stuff and I hate using stickers inside the cubbies.  They wear down and then, you have to peel them off and hope that goo gone gets the rest.  A total time-waster when I have other things to do to get ready for the new school year.  This is just a great idea and totally removable!

4.  Jelly Bracelet Groups - Creator Unknown

Sorry, whoever originally posted this picture!  I tried finding the original source, but I never did.  If anyone knows, leave me a comment because it is a great idea.  I am always trying to find new ways to make groups and partners and this will be a good one.  I would need to find about a million different colors if I wanted to make this work for partners, but it will definitely be a good one to create groups for projects.

5.  Teacher Toolbox - Ms. G in Grade 3
I HATE having some supplies in my desk, some in a cupboard, and some out for the kids in small containers.  It totally makes sense just to have them all in one place AND have it accessible to the kids.  It is tiring to have to go to my desk to get a kid a paperclip or ring for note cards.  I want them to get their own stuff so I can spend my time helping kids.  There are quite a few of these floating around on Pinterest, but I really like this one best.  Some are way too busy and crazy with too much color or too many fonts.  Ms. G's is perfect.  I can't wait to get crafty with this project.

6.  Would You Rather -

This link is broken, so I have not linked it here.  I plan on redoing all of the questions anyhow, but I will certainly share my own with you when I finish!  This is a great getting to know you game and it is really fun to ask kids to argue their side.  It makes for some interesting conversations.

7.  May the Forest Be With You - Poster

This quote does not seem to have an original creator, just a lot of places where you can buy it on a t-shirt or coffee mug.  Not only am I a bit geeky in my tastes, but I also have a whole bulletin board dedicated to the Redwood Forest Biome.  So, I will be making my own version of this and I know just where there is a space for it!

8.  Notebook Quote Page for Books- Image Only

Another pin where I just couldn't track down the author.  Nonetheless, a really fantastic idea.  My students keep Reading Notebooks with all of their novel work.  It would be really great to create a quote page where they can keep track of all the great quotes they come across in their reading.

9.  Sketchnote Tips from Carol Anne McGuire

I really love Sketchnote stuff.  I always go over the basics of visual note taking with my students and encourage it throughout the year.  I plan to make small copies of this so that they can glue them into their notebook at the beginning of the year as a reference if they need it later.

10.  Class Goal Photo or Thinglink - Photo by Stuart McIntyre
Every year our principal asks us to create a visual of our class goals.  Apparently all you need is a cardboard box and you can make this happen.  I think it would be adorable to create a Thinglink with a dot over every student with their goal for the year.  I will let you know if it works.

So, I challenge you too, to go through your mess of Pinterest Boards and find 5 or 10 things that you know you can plan for and implement without pulling your hair out.