Monday, July 29, 2013

Classroom Management Skills to Help You Survive the Year!

Is it really that bad? You're doomed? Don't panic, it doesn't mean that you don't have a chance to turn things around. You always have another chance. Some can turn it around during the school year, and some have to wait for a fresh start. Either way, it's not hopeless.:)

Everyone has advice on how to manage a classroom. If you choose someone else's advice, tweak it and make it your own. Below are some ways I have learned to manage my class over the last 29 years.

    • Love them.      You are not always going to like them, but you should love them. I treat my students the way I would want someone to treat my child. I spend too many hours in the day, and months in the year, not to think of them as my own kids.
    • Respect them.  It is not okay to call a child names, ever. Whatever you are thinking, should not come out of your mouth. I take a "Woo-sah", give the kid a timeout, or I will take a timeout before I say something I will regret. And, unfortunately, respect is not always a 2-way street, but we are the adults in the room.
    • Being  Mean Doesn't Work  There's a difference between being a teacher who will not let the kids run all over them and being mean. A mean teacher uses sarcasm to put students down. A mean teacher discusses a child's personal issues in earshot of other students and/or adults. A mean teacher does his/her best to make a child as miserable as they are, on a consistent basis. Humiliation is not a form of classroom management!
    • Be Consistent  There are routines I follow in my classroom that I stick with all year. There are consequences to certain actions. I work hard on avoiding favorites, so that I can treat all my students fairly. 
    • Be flexible  Wait a minute! Didn't I just say to be consistent? Well, you have to be able to change when necessary. You have to make adjustments.
    • Smile and/or Laugh    A smile cures so many ailments. My students always get a kick out of seeing me laugh, especially when it's " tears flowing from my eyes" laughter.  It definitely helped build a connection between my students and I. 
    • I am Not Their Friend There are many teachers who do not agree with me on this point. However, my friends are grown folks who are my peers. If I am going to make new friends at this time in my life, they are not going to be 10 or 11 years old. There is a line that my students know they can not cross, and that's because of our adult/child relationship. If you treat the student as your friend, then they will probably treat you the way they treat their friends.
    • Screaming and Yelling are Useless I can't say this enough. Seriously, they don't hear you. It's like the "Charlie Brown" classroom, "Wub, Wub, Wub". Being calm works so much better than screaming, I learned that a long time ago. If I ever raise my voice, and I rarely do, my kids know, "Oh,oh!"
    • Find Out "Why?" We are overwhelmed with everything that is required of us,it makes us lose sight of the little things that might make a difference. Sometimes we have to take a second and find out why a particular child is acting out. Our rush to judgement oftentimes leads us to handle students in a matter that only exacerbates a situation.
    • Engage and Challenge them. We are certainly not paid to entertain. So no, you don't have to sing, dance, and dress in costumes. Although I do dance and sing, I have stayed away from costumes.:) I can't keep them from being bored every second of the day, but I've found student guided learning, and integrating technology, work a lot better than constant teacher directed learning, teaching to the test, and textbooks. Make sure perceived notions of your class "population" doesn't keep you from holding them to high expectations.

Are these magical cures that will give you a stress-free, perfectly run ,classroom? Absolutely not! But trying to put some of these in place, especially if you are just starting out, and they might help!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Beginning of the Year Student and Parent Questionnaires using Google Forms!

I got the idea to create student and parent surveys from a teacher on Twitter a few years ago. I used to create them on paper, and then I was introduced to Google forms. Love it!

The student survey questions I use are more of a way to get to know my students. Last year, I posted it on our class website, and called it "Getting to Know You.". I will continue with that tradition because it worked well.The students completed the questionnaire on the first day of school.

The parent survey asks for basic information, but then I try to get them to tell me something about their children and what they want from me. I keep the questionnaire for parents very short because I know how they feel about their time. I have posted it on our Weebly page, and I will also send home an email with the link, and a written notice asking them to complete it.

I really enjoy using Google Forms because they are so easy to edit and share! Between now and the time school starts, if I come across questions someone else used, or think of one myself, and want to change it, it can be done in a flash! If you find you don't like your theme, change it! No fuss, no muss!

They also give you  insight into your students. I went back and reread last year's class "Getting to Know You" when I was creating the new one. It's funny reading it now that you know the kids.

 Below are the links to my student and parent questionnaire forms.

"Getting to Know You" Student Questionnaire       Parent Questionnnaire

Thursday, July 25, 2013

SmileMakers: They Enjoy Making Teachers Smile!

I was planning on ordering a new mailbox for my classroom this year. As a matter of fact I had ripped out a couple of pages from various teacher catalogs. I had them stockpiled on the desk in my study. I figured I would finally make my choice as we got closer to school.

So when I received this offer* from Smilemakers, I jumped on it! :) I used the search bar on their site and found my mailbox! Three things stood out for me when I arrived at their site, "Teacher Perks", "Free Shipping on Orders of $49 or more", and "Flat Rate Shipping if less than $49.99"! 
I love being rewarded for shopping and I detest when my shipping charges end up costing me more than the actual product(s) I have purchased. So what they offer is a win-win for me. Sweet! :)

My mail center arrived promptly,very carefully packaged. The mail center looks exactly as it does in the picture. I am looking forward to using this in my classroom! I am going to see how it actually holds up with my students, and I will write another review in September 2013! Check out the site, they have tons of products to choose from!

Actual mailbox

*We’re reaching out to teachers who happen to also be bloggers with a special offer.  We’d love to send you a product of your choice from our site to review on your blog.  Almost any product is available to you - just let us know what you’d like! (Contact me if you are interested in this offer)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Increase Student Engagement with Skype in the Classroom!

This was a Guest Post written July 2012 on Free Technology for Teachers.

It’s always amazing to me how educators, can grab hold of something that wasn’t developed with us in mind, and make it our own. We have a knack for doing that, and we’ve done it with Skype. With Skype, educators are knocking down classroom walls,allowing our students the chance to hear from experts, and creating global learners.

I heard wonderful stories of teachers using Skype in their classrooms, and I envied them. I vowed that 2011-2012, I would take advantage of Skype.  At the beginning of the school year, I got webcams from DonorsChoose. Then I bugged my IT person for three weeks, until he finally came  in and hooked up my webcam. (Not that I didn’t know how, but I didn’t have administrative access).  We were ready!

My first experience was Mystery State. I connected with a teacher in another state. Our students exchanged clues in order to guess each other’s states. We did this several times with various classes throughout the U.S., during the school year.  Each teacher had their own preference  for how it was done.

We participated in the Global Read Aloud Project . Students from all over the world read “Tuck Everlasting” and then discussed it. I connected with a teacher in Mississippi, and our classes had a book discussion via Skype! What an opportunity to engage our students and promote critical thinking! 

We Skyped with a marine biologist and a student marine biologist! The student biologist Skyped from a beach in Florida!  The questions were flying and our experts answered every one of them! On World Read Aloud Day, we had an author, a CNN analyst, and his wife read “A Wrinkle in Time”, a story we were enjoying for Read Aloud. 

All of my connections were made through Twitter, but you can find experts anywhere! A parent, someone in your community, anyone who would be willing to Skype with your students, and provide that “real world” application so often missing from our lessons.  

An excellent resource, that I did not take advantage of last year, is Skype in the Classroom. This site gives you access to an enormous amount of projects, with people all over the world, who are willing to Skype with our students. 

Helpful Tips for Implementing Skype in the Classroom
  • Make sure Skype is not blocked in your district. If it is, find out who can unblock it.
  • Create a Skype account.
  • Classroom management is a must! Assign jobs.
  • Make sure everyone can be seen and heard.

  • Do a test run before the actual Skype.
  • Make sure there’s someone there who can help if you need it, it could be a student.
  • Be prepared! My kids always had their questions on index cards.
  • Have a time limit.
  • Don’t panic if the tech messes up, it happens! :) Reschedule.
  • If Skyping with someone who has given of their time, send Thank you letters or notes. (optional)

There are so many ways to use Skype in your classroom, hopefully you will take advantage of at least one! Who you gonna call? :)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Can You Hear Me Now? Listening to Your Students' Behavior!

When I saw this photo posted on WeAreTeachers Facebook status, I had to share it. "The kids who want the most Love, will always ask for it in the most unloving of ways." It speaks to so many of our kids. It spoke to so many of the kids I have had over the last 28 years. Are we listening to their behavior? Do we hear what they are trying to tell us?

I know it is frustrating when a student disrespects you or disrupts your classroom. They may call you names, disrupt the class, torment other students, fight, any number of things. And it makes you angry. Sometimes, people forget that teachers are human too. That we have human reactions to students in our classroom, even though we are "the professionals".

Every year, I seem to have a student like that. I know there are teachers who have a number of students who fit this description. But I think it's in the best interest of  the student if we take a second and ask, "Why?" Sometimes, they aren't just being mean, nasty, human beings. Sometimes, there are things going on in their lives that make them want love, or help, from someone, and they don't know how to ask for it.

I have had students act out,and when you dig deeper, you find there are a number of reasons for their "unloving" behavior. There may be a history of sexual abuse, alcoholism in the home, neglect, homelessness, bullying, any number of issues that result in the child you see in your classroom. This child is just begging for love, but,  in a manner that is not acceptable in a classroom setting. (Sometimes there are no underlying issues, the kid is just like that, it happens).

Once, or if, you find out the reason this child is acting out, maybe you can help. Maybe you can change your attitude towards this child and help and/or love them. Hopefully, this will lead to a change in the child, I have seen it happen. Will it always work? No. Sometimes you just can't get through, but it's worth the effort.

When we start this new year, let's see if we can listen to our students, not only with our eyes and ears, but with our hearts as well.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

How Do We Involve Our Parents in Our Classrooms?

This is a guest post on Edutopia:"Old School or New School, Keep Parents Involved"

We all know how crucial it is that our parents are supportive and involved in their child's education. We understand how important it is that they are aware of what is taking place in your classroom. The more supportive and involved parents are in their child's education, the greater the odds that their child will be successful.

For various reasons in this day and age, it is a difficult task making sure that our parents are involved. So here's the question: how do we keep them in the loop? Following are some tried and true methods I have utilized.READ MORE...

photo credit: GSCSNJ via photopin cc

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I Am Not a "Highly Effective" Teacher!: Student Test Scores Have Spoken!

 I saw this tweet after I had already written this post, and I thought, "How perfect!"

I found out today that I am an only an "effective" teacher as opposed to "highly effective."

I received my summative evaluation in June and I received a Satisfactory. Now don't get me wrong, I don't think "I'm all that and a bag of chips", but I felt I deserved more than a Satisfactory. So, I challenged it.

That's how I found out I am not a "highly effective" teacher. It's not because I don't engage my students, It's not because I don't find every way possible to involve my parents. It's not because I don't collaborate with my peers. It's not that I don't  meet the requirements of a highly effective teacher according to that infographic. It's not that I don't go above and beyond. (And understand I do these things because I choose to, because it makes it better for my students, and a lot more interesting for me).

It's because of the student test scores. My students didn't meet the state's target. (Still waiting for a member of DOE to return the phone call we made in September 2012 asking how they determined these "targets".) The targets are, I'm going to use the word "arbitrary" here. Numbers the state created that students have to meet in order to show that I did any teaching at all! It doesn't matter that my students showed enormous growth on those tests, what matters is that they DID NOT MEET THE "TARGET"!


So what does this prove? I am an "effective teacher". I guess I should be happy that I did not get Needs Improvement or Unsatisfactory. I guess I shouldn't worry about these labels that are plastered on teachers all over the country. But you know what, I do. It bothers me that I am forced to accept a label that does not describe the type of teacher I am. It bothers me that I am forced to accept a label that is tied to test scores, and not actually how I perform in my classroom.Don't worry, within a few days, I am going to forget about these inane labels, and keep doing what I do. But for right now,yes, it bothers me.:(

I ask myself, how does something I have no control over, weigh so heavily in deciding what kind of teacher I am? Can someone from DOE provide the answer? An "effective" teacher wants to know.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

It's Not a Competition:Teachers and Sharing!

I think we all know them. We see a wonderful lesson or project our colleague has implemented with their students, and we excitedly ask for the details. We are eager to use it in our own classroom, alas, the details are never forthcoming.

 I know that I have been guilty of being that teacher. The one who doesn't share.

Why the competition? Why do we feel we aren't allowed to use someone else's idea in our classrooms? Why are we afraid to let someone else use our ideas?

Since joining Twitter, I have become better at sharing ideas, probably because my PLN shares selflessly with me. When I laughingly say I am "stealing" ideas, I am scolded, (playfully), because we are not "stealing". Stealing implies taking something that does not belong to you, whereas, these ideas belong to all of us.

There was a time, long ago, when I did not share. During the "isolated teacher" period in education, we entered our classrooms, closed the door, and did our thing. We never, ever, told  the other teachers what we were doing. I believe there was a  fear that our "idea" might be improved on, or worse yet, someone else would get the credit. (Although I do believe you should give credit where credit is due). I am sure this mentality still exists somewhere, and that's sad.

Times have changed and now I am passionate about sharing. Recently, a colleague asked me about Mystery Skype. I gladly gave her all the information I could, and she took off! She shared it with her colleague, who also began to Mystery Skype. The beneficiary? All of our students.The pen pal collaboration I have with the university was an idea I got from a teacher in another district. I contacted the teacher, and she shared how she set it up. I can't imagine ending the year(or starting this one) without Damult Dice, an idea shared on Twitter.

I've found that collaborating with my peers has made me a better educator. There are many lessons I have taught, and many projects that I have been a part of, because of them. It could not have happened without the help of teachers willing to share. How many times have I said to my colleagues, "I got this idea from a teacher on ______________________." (fill in the blank). Think of all the opportunities lost if teachers kept ideas to themselves!

By the middle of the school year, my students would ask, "Did you get this idea from one of your tweecher friends?" Yes, I let my students know that there is an entire community out there sharing thoughts, ideas, and discussions, about teaching, about educating them. And they loved when I posted something they did on Twitter so that my tweecher friends could see it!

There are so may opportunities to share and learn from each other. Beginning with the PLC in your school, to online sites such as, Twitter,  Edmodo, blogs, Facebook, Pinterest, so many ideas, shared freely! Take advantage, and bring these ideas and strategies into your classroom!

I know a lot of us suffer from that competitive streak. We love being recognized for something we did, something that no one else has done. It feels good. But you know what feels even better? Sharing an idea(s), that tons of educators can implement in their classrooms, and make learning better for their students. It's not a competition. When we share, we all win!

 photo credit: pfala via photopin cc

Sunday, July 7, 2013

4 Simple Ways to Increase Engagement in the Classroom!

This is a guest post on Edudemic:

Do you look out at your class and it seems as if only two or three students are listening to you? The rest are thinking about lunch, how to beat the next level on the video game, or when is your class going to end? Here are some ideas that might help you stimulate your classroom. Will it end all daydreaming? Of course not! But it will create a classroom environment where a higher percentage of your students are engaged.READ MORE

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Teacher Code of Silence:Yeah, We Have One Too!

You know you saw it. You saw her go up one side of him and down the other. You felt so bad for him. But what did you do? You walked past, eyes averted, hoping to save him from further embarrassment. She looked at you, eyes locking, and shared a smug, "Yeah, I got him", enveloping you in her meanness. And you didn't say a word, you continued to walk down the hall, carrying your guilt like a stone.

You know you heard it. You walked in the teachers lounge, and the comments were so toxic, you felt yourself choke on their words. The only person they weren't talking about is you, and that's because you were in the room. This one's mama, daddy(or lack of), level of intelligence, (or stupidity).You know what you wanted to say, you know what you should have said, but you didn't. You finished your lunch, groaned inwardly at every word, and walked out.

Shoulda, woulda, didn't.

You know they're not teaching. Every time you walked past his/her door, they were on the computer, completely immersed in what's on the screen, students fending for themselves. You couldn't help but notice, everyone did! Or, you picked up your students, and they have done nothing, again! You know that the students are not being engaged. What do you do? What are your options?

When I started teaching, back in 1984, we had a teacher who came in drunk She taught Special Ed. A drunk teacher in a Special Ed classroom. They finally got rid of her by the middle of the school year. I would smile and chat with her every day, pretending that her words weren't slurred, her eyes bloodshot. I felt awful. Here I was, early 20's, thinking, what could I do? How could I change this situation?

Why do we feel as if we can't say anything? Why is it okay to let things slide, to pretend that it's okay? We don't want to create waves, but we sink anyway. We drown in our knowledge of wrong, knowing we should be doing what's right. And I don't mean something as serious as child abuse or corporal punishment. (I hope no one is remaining silent about any of those issues!)

We sit silent as our calling is stripped from us. Our voices are muted, replaced with scripted curriculum and standardized tests. We cringe every time we read from the Teacher's Edition or hand our students another test. We apologize, and yet we continue. Our silence making us accomplices to this tragedy called "reform".

It's taken me a long time to reach the point where I will not remain silent. I no longer pretend I don't know. I refuse to remain silent if I don't agree. I will speak my peace. It is difficult. We want to be liked. But if I have to choose between what's best for our kids and being liked, I am choosing my kids.

I know there are those of you who have always spoken your mind. Kudos to you! I wish I had always been like that, but I can't go back. But I can move forward, I can speak up for that student, that parent, or that colleague. I can break the code.

photo credit: Daniela Vladimirova via photopin cc

Friday, July 5, 2013

"Just" a Teacher?: The Perception of our Profession!

Image result for just a teacher

As I prepared dinner the other night, my son and I talked. Somehow, our conversation turned to my level of intelligence. In order to prove my point, I shared with him that I was enrolled in gifted programs all my life, in fact, I had even skipped a grade. 

He laughed and said, “If you’re so smart, how come you’re just a teacher?” "

Just a teacher?”, I thought. I was flabbergasted! Yet, at the same time, my mind raced, questioning my chosen occupation. An occupation I had loved for 26 years. He continued, “If you’re so smart, why aren't you a doctor or a lawyer?” Ouch!

I told him, “I am that smart, but I have chosen to teach”. It brought to mind part of that horrible quote, “Those who can’t, teach.” I asked him who he thinks taught those doctors and lawyers. He responded, “Bill Gates didn't go to college, and he’s a millionaire!” 

I answered, “But he did attend Kindergarten through 12th grade, right?” Who do you think taught him everything he knows? A teacher!” We continued our conversation and I think I changed his opinion, maybe.

I have to admit, what he said stung. I went to college, I have two degrees, but my son thinks I’m not that smart because I’m “just” a teacher. Maybe this is why teachers have such a hard time getting respect. Maybe this is why so many young teachers I've encountered, don’t really learn the craft, they worry about how long it will be before they “get out the classroom.” 

Recently, a friend of mine asked if I was interested in advancing to a coach or administrator position. No. I truly enjoy my role as a classroom teacher. However, since I have written this piece, I have become a "teacher-leader". Who better knows the needs of our students then the classroom teacher? Who better to share strategies and tools with other teachers than the classroom teacher?

It is important that my voice, and those of so many other classroom teachers, be heard. We need to influence policy and make sure that those who have "advanced", know what it is like in the classroom.

I love teaching, I chose not to be a doctor, lawyer or even a principal.I enojoy being a classroom teacher, even if I’m perceived as “just” a teacher!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Popular Posts-June 2013!

These are the top 3 June posts my readers enjoyed  !

Their assignment: In two or three sentences, tell me what a great teacher looks like.  So, we shared a Google document, and they added their thoughts.

Of course I got "the teacher lets me go out for extra recess". I also got some the "teacher doesn't give a lot of tests or homework".  But below are a few that made me smile and/or touched my heart.

Data can guide instruction. I get it. I have used data to guide instruction, and it works.
But just like anything else, too much of a good thing makes it... too much!
Collecting data has turned into what teaching is all about. We are no longer teachers,we are testers.
 What are they doing to our profession?

   Don't get me wrong. I like getting paid to teach. Now if someone offered to cover the mortgage ...

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Have You Ever Left a Bad Taste in Your Parents' and/or Students' Mouths?

I don't know what triggered this memory.

One day, many,many years ago, I traveled back to Brooklyn to visit my former colleagues. Afterwards, I took the subway downtown to do some shopping. As I waited to cross the street, a van pulled up. The woman rolled down the window, glared at me, and shouted, "There's that b#%&* who gave my daughter a hard time!"( A vision of flailing fists flashed before my eyes) I didn't recognize the woman. I couldn't begin to tell you who her daughter was, but obviously this is how I was remembered.

I have never experienced that again. I hope I never do. I have had parents who were upset with me for one reason or another. It usually stemmed from the fact that I refused to treat their child the way they wanted me to. I treated them with respect, loved them, and did my best to educate them. I did however draw the line at doting on their every word, and allowing them to do or say, whatever they wanted. My philosophy created some conflict between myself and some parents. However, more times than not, we were always able to work things out.

I don't know if I gave that woman's daughter a hard time, it really doesn't matter. That was her perception of me. I can't recall, but I am sure it bothered me at the time.

I have kept in touch with many of my students. They have my email address and drop me a line every now and then, sharing good news, or letting me know what I meant to them. The last two years I have used Edmodo as a way to keep in touch. Former students come to the school to visit, one is student teaching! My community is small, and so far, when I run into present and/or former students and parents, I don't get cursed out or ignored. :)

I don't spend my waking moments wondering if people are happy with me. However, working in this profession, I couldn't imagine being thought of as "that b@#$& who gave someone's child a hard time" every year. I do my best to be thought of as someone who encourages, motivates, and yes, loves (My kids are MY kids forever), my students.

Not because I stress about what people think of me, but because that's the teacher I have chosen to be. I have chosen to be the teacher that gets along with administration and staff. (Okay, most of the time).I have chosen to be the teacher parents want for their kids. I have chosen to be the teacher students think fondly of. I am proud to be part of this noble profession, and I conduct myself in a way that honors, not denigrates, it. And hopefully, with these choices, none needs mouthwash after spending a year with me!:)

photo credit: arimoore via photopin cc

Monday, July 1, 2013

Challenge Them All!:Giving Every Kid a Chance to Feel "Smart"!

Something I try to avoid doing in my classroom is pigeonholing my struggling students. I know they're struggling, the rest of the class knows it, and they know it. So why add to their discomfort, frustration, and downright misery, by excluding them from challenging assignments? Why do we assume they can't do it because they don't read well, have difficulty solving math problems, or any of the other number of reasons, we separate them?

I used to do that. I used to give the "brighter" kids challenging assignments while my struggling students were stuck with me in small groups, or worse, relegated to worksheets. They would gaze longingly at the project "brighter" kids were working on, probably hoping they would get the chance to participate. Only it didn't happen, because I had to make sure they "caught up". They were stuck completing remedial work.I stopped doing that to them.

We really don't know what the struggling student is capable of until we give them a chance. Worried they can't succeed on their own? Allow them to  work collaboratively with other students. Make a few modifications to a lesson or project.

 My science groups were a mixture of students of varying levels. You'd be surprised at how many times the struggling student stepped up and led the group. My Problem of the Week groups were amazing! They were also a mixed group, but I'm not kidding when I tell you every single one of those students were working together to figure out that problem! Why not give them a choice of how they want to present? It gives them a chance to work at their own speed, but still have a chance to participate. We have to stop believing they can't do the more difficult work, without even giving them a chance to try.

I noticed that some of my kids would say, Of course "TW" got them all right, he is "smart." It's as if they believe that "smart" is something that you are born with, not something that you work at. If we give them a chance to believe that they are "smart", they can begin to believe in themselves, and raise their expectations of what they are capable of.

There are always going to be the students who function at a higher level. Those students who are going to exceed no matter what. And there's nothing wrong with letting them be who they are, and giving them work that makes them think harder and stronger. But there's nothing wrong, with providing the same kind of incentive to our struggling students. Make them think as well, make them work to find answers, challenge them all!

"Don't Limit Their Challenges, Challenge Their Limits" (modified Jerry Dunn quote)