Remote Teaching

Middle School Classroom

I had a student message me the other day, asking how I was doing at school and if I was remembering to feed his reindeer pizza, which is apparently his reindeer’s favorite food. He also wanted to ensure that I was keeping a healthy 6 feet social distance from the reindeer as I fed it. (Long story… the reindeer was from an escape room we did before winter break.) The message made me chuckle, as he is just one of many of my sixth graders who believes that I live in my classroom. When I told him that I hadn’t been at school since we all left a few weeks ago, he replied with: “Well, I guess your classroom is your second home.”

That it is, dude. My second home. I missed my second home, my 155 eleven-year-olds, my colleagues. I missed the organizations I was in charge of, writing on my board, and even lunch duty.

Since then, many of my teacher friends have been echoing each other in saying “remote teaching is more exhausting than teaching in person.” It is A LOT more work than it seems… transforming content into digital resources, trying to reach students that have been absent from classwork, helping kids understand the lesson while miles apart. Oh, and did I mention tech issues?

Here in Pennsylvania, our state school system has shut down for the remainder of the year. That means we have 7 more weeks of teaching this way. I just can’t fathom knowing that you might feel down and out that long. So, I wanted to share 3 things I’ve been implementing that have been making teaching remotely a lot better for me.

Continue to Develop Classroom Culture

Classroom culture online?! I haven’t lost my mind, I promise. Even though your classroom is now virtual, you can still continuing learning about students, recognizing them, helping them develop social skills, and making memories together. This is my favorite part of being a teacher! I made a YouTube video for my students all about how this time would bring challenges that we have never before experienced, but that I wanted us to try to focus on something during this remote learning time that was positive as opposed to something negative. My kids know that I’m obsessed with my dogs, so I created a virtual Class Pet idea. We couldn’t have a class pet in school (maybe a fish, but I was honest and told them I have a bad track record with fish), but we can have a class pet in our virtual classroom! In fact, we can have a different one each day! All students were invited to fill out a google form where they uploaded a picture of their pet, their pet’s name and breed, and some fun facts or reasons why they are a good class pet. Then, I upload the Class Pet of the Day to show off the cool animals that the kids have along with continuing to build on our classroom community! The kids have been loving it, and I love continuing to develop this classroom culture.

Students fill out this google form to see their pet be featured as our class pet of the day.

Focus on Fun

In my humble opinion, this is the time to have some fun with the content, while still providing essential skills. Is there a new, fun way to teach some of these essential skills that you’ve never done before? This is the time to take a risk and step out of your comfort zone. We always do a narrative writing unit towards the end of the year, and I realized that the way I traditionally taught it would put a lot of unwarranted stress and work on kids, especially knowing I couldn’t provide them as much support as I traditionally would. So, instead of that, I found an awesome series called Pixar in a Box that Pixar made while partnering with Khan Academy. I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, as they’ve already made awesome videos for the whole unit, and I could create content to go alongside it. Who could teach story-telling skills better than Pixar?! My kids are still learning what they need to in order to progress to the next grade, but I am taking a risk and the kids are really having a blast with the fun way I am teaching the unit.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Things might not go the way you originally wanted. Technology can be the biggest help and at the same time the biggest hindrance to us. This morning, I had set this week’s work up to be completed in chronological order. This has worked for me in the past, but when I got my 8th email of the morning stating that the module wouldn’t let them move forward, I had to lay aside my stress and frustration and just take it off that preferred setting. Is it perfectly what I wanted? Nope. Am I super happy about it? Nope. But, it isn’t worth my frustration and all my students’ frustration if the setting is bugging out. Do what you can to eliminate these situations for yourself and your kids. Things might not go the way you have exactly planned them, but if the kids are having fun and learning, it will all be okay. Take a deep breath, and move on.

Well, there you have my two-cents worth of remote teaching. I’ve been staying out of your inbox because if you’re anything like me, your inbox is full and you’re probably zoomed-out. Just know that if there is anything I can do for you during this time, feel free to fill out a form on my website to connect with me. I’m here to support you! Please remember to take some time for yourself and your family, and my wishes go out to all of you for health and safety.

Myths about Kids with Challenging Behavior

Middle School Classroom

Oh, dear friend, it’s been awhile since you’ve heard from me, huh? I love my job, but do you want to know a secret? I’ve been very tried, and quite frankly, very uninspired to write, for the past couple of months. This year has been a doozy so far.

Please don’t get me wrong. I adore my career. And, I adore each and every one of my students. But, sometimes, students demonstrating challenging behavior can quickly put a damper on the day.

When I chose teaching as my career, I wasn’t ignorant about the fact that I would have some students with challenging behaviors. What I was ignorant about, though, was thinking that I’d be able to be official Mrs. Super Woman and make these challenging behaviors go away. I thought, sure, a kid might show challenging behavior coming into my classroom, but when they leave, they will be changed! Say sayonara to problems and hello to the new you!

This year has been a bit of a slap in the face to that sweet, yet ignorant, theory. I’m going to share 5 myths about kids with challenging behavior, to help you regain a realistic viewpoint.

Myth #1: I can solve all of my students’ problems. Some students present challenging behavior because of education-related issues, such as being held to a much higher learning-level than they are capable of doing. Usually, we as teachers, are quick to spot these situations and advocate for students to get the supports or accommodations that they need. I will argue, then, that many of the challenging behaviors that continue will be from students who come into your classroom with emotional experience or even some kind of trauma. Some of these students are still going through really hard times at home. You will lay up at night worrying about your kids. And, when you go in the next day, you still might not be able to truly be what they need. Teachers have big hearts, and caring for students goes far beyond the walls of your classroom. On the flip side, our students are also experiencing life that extends beyond the walls of our classroom, too. We can’t expect children to be able to turn off whatever is happening at home during the school day. And as much as we’d give anything to do so, we sometimes can’t solve what is going on at home or what happened in the past.

Myth #2: Tough kids just need a tough behavior management program. I believed that when kids acted up, it was because no one ever “laid down the law,” so to speak. I do really believe that kids need consequences for their actions, and that this will assist in helping them learn, but discipline simply isn’t a cut and paste process. Just like students need differentiation in their learning of core subjects, they need differentiation when they are learning how to behave, too. And, as much as you want to lose it on them in the moment, or impose harsh consequences, not all students will change their behavior just because they sit in lunch detention for one day. Discipline should be one piece of solving a greater problem. Conversations are important. These conversations shouldn’t just be one-way. As adults, we think we know everything and that we can just tell students what to do and how to act. We need to actually hear from the students, though, to understand what is setting them off or what is preventing them from being their best self in order to help them through it.

Myth #3: I will be provided information about my kids’ home lives so I know how to help them. Due to privacy laws, you won’t learn much about the students who are crying out for help. Having good communication with parents and guardians when possible is extremely helpful, as they might provide insight to the home situation, but counselors and administration are usually not allowed to share much, if any, private information. This can be frustrating, as you would like to know these situations to help you in the classroom, but sometimes you just have to do your best for them without knowing many details.

Myth #4: Students will be able to trust me. As much as you think you are trustworthy, some students assume all adults, especially teachers, are out to get them. I attribute this back to a failed #2, because if no one is investing in teaching the kids how to behave, and is instead simply giving them harsh punishments, (or worse, just having meaningless conversations with them and not trying to learn about their take on the situations) kids will continue being referred to the office, or getting negative communication home, and will see you as their enemy. Everyday, I have to work very hard to convince some of my students that I’m on their team, I’m not trying to “get them in trouble,” and that what happened in someone else’s class has no bearing over how I will interact with them today. Saying these things is one thing, but kids are quick to catch on to actions; be sure to show students that this is true. And, as loving and trustworthy as you might be, winning them over might not stick from one day to another. You might have to continually prove this to your students.

Myth #5: I will have control over my classroom, and one student can’t change that. One student can change your entire classroom–for better or for worse. I view myself as a strong, influential teacher, and yet, I will admit, that I have a couple students this year who can really change my classroom environment before I can even blink. I have to work very hard to remain the person that the kids want to follow, as opposed to the student who is acting out. On the flip side, I’ve also had classrooms so incredibly enhanced by a student in a class period, who made the environment better than I could have on my own.

All of these myths can feel extremely overwhelming. There’s not a solution that will work with every kid. But, with time and effort, there are solutions that can greatly impact the child. Each day is a process, and as soon as you think you’re “winning,” you might take 3 steps back again. But, keep trying. We have to do our best for them. We owe it to them. Please don’t think I’m saying that kids that are showing challenging behaviors are doomed by any means, or that you don’t have the ability to affect them. Sweet teacher, you can absolutely change a child’s behaviors, and you can affect their life. We wouldn’t do this career if we couldn’t. I do want to emphasize, though, that not all behaviors can just “poof” out of existence in a day. I used to believe that any child would be happy when they saw my happy smile, greeting them at the door. I’m finding this year that it just isn’t always that easy. It does, in fact, tend to take some time. It takes hard work. It takes caring, building connections with them, and if working in middle school, team work. It takes letting the kids see that you’re a human who cares for them. I found myself yesterday talking with a student about ear piercings, Shaq, and baking. We had a good day! I cross my fingers that we can pick up where we left off tomorrow.

Last note I want to add is to please keep in mind that this article was written about challenging behaviors, not challenging students. Believe in your students, and let them know that you don’t like their behavior. I often tell my kids, “I really like you a lot. I really don’t like the behavior I just saw.” This small change can go a long way for your relationship with that child and their viewpoint of themselves.

The Walkie Talkie

Middle School Classroom

I got a call right before our fire drill, asking me to help with the day’s procedure. I took a deep breath, scared of the responsibility. I’m a principal intern in my building this year, and I’m usually excited to try new things about this role. But, there was something about this one that made me scared.

What if kids didn’t leave when the bell went off? What if there are kids in the bathroom? I pictured kids trying to hide themselves in their lockers, and other kids taking the evacuation of the building as a way to run the halls and do cartwheels.

Sometimes, our minds just think the worst of the situation.

When I got to the office, the worst thing DID happen though. (Okay, I’m being dramatic, but still.) The principals handed me a walkie talkie, and then walked away, figuring out other plans and procedures.

And, I panicked. How was I supposed to walkie-and-talkie if I didn’t know how to use a walkie talkie?

I know it seems silly, but I just didn’t know what buttons to push so that the other people involved could hear my voice. And I needed help. But, I froze up, deer-in-headlights, and couldn’t seem to ask for help. I didn’t want to seem silly for not knowing how to use a walkie talkie. That seemed like such a minor detail, and I figured that the principals didn’t have time to answer my silly, small questions.

It then made me think about my students. Especially in my largest class of 33 kids, there have to be students sitting in my room who don’t speak up when they don’t understand.

So, how can we best help kids?

  1. Obviously, have a welcoming environment where the kids know they can trust you. If kids are afraid that you will demean their question, they certainly won’t ask.
  2. Keep an eye out for the deer-in-the-headlights. Sometimes, kids will show you with their eyes. I know I sure did in the office!
  3. Walk around after you give directions and get them started to ask if they have questions. Sometimes, I ask them how their day is going, and they tend to just blurt out whatever is on their mind.
  4. Have an area in your room where kids can write you notes if they feel uncomfortable talking about it. I have a mailbox where students can submit their questions, ideas, and thoughts.
  5. Create a question procedure so kids know how to ask questions. When we are writing long-form essays, I use my deli counter in order for every kid to have a chance to get help, and my attention doesn’t just go to the same kids who are brave enough to raise their hands. (Use my template below!)

What else do you do in your classroom to make students feel comfortable to ask if they are stuck?

The Secret Sauce to 1-1 Learning

Language Arts Resources, Middle School Classroom

This year, our school was nearly jumping out of their seats to get their laptops. The kids finally each have a laptop! But, it quickly became our turn as the teachers to know what to do with them.

And, as I walked down the hallway during my plan period, I realized what teachers were doing with them…having the students keep them closed.

I heard the same thing coming from each room: “Who told you to get out your laptop?” “Why is your laptop open?” “You should know to have that closed!” “Does it say anywhere that you should be on your laptop right now?”

Of course, if you’ve taught middle school for even a hot second, you understand that middle school students have very little self control. So, I joined in with reminding students to close their laptops until otherwise told to open them. And, as I walked down the hallway day after day, I kept hearing the same thing.

So, week #2, I changed the rule. Ah, the sweet victory of secret sauce.

My students came into my classroom, itching to open their laptops. And I told them to do so every single time they entered my room.

Yes, you heard me right. Instead of having the expectation be that their laptops are closed until told otherwise, in my classroom, they are required to have them OPEN.

I’m a big fan of warm-up’s for class, as I believe they help the students focus in from the previous class period as well as the hustle and bustle from the hallway. Previously, I had been having my students journal about different prompts each day on paper, but this year, I have digitized it. I plan to offer these on my TPT store each month, so keep your eye out for that!

When my students enter the room, they see the day’s prompt is up on the board, and they know that the expectation is that they are to have their laptops open, typing about the prompt before I come in from greeting them in the hallway. I’m sneakily getting my kids to write about a paragraph at the start of every class!

Here is an example of one of my peardeck slides. My students go to the website, Pear Deck, and type their response. I can log in later to see what they write.

My district has recently adopted a website called Pear Deck, where teachers can present a lesson via google slides and it enables it to be interactive to anyone who has entered a class code. If you don’t have access to Pear Deck, you could always do this in google classroom, too, and have students submit the lessons by google forms.

I love using this at the beginning of class because my students are “tricked” into working hard, gets them settled for learning, and the urge to use their devices later in the class (if we aren’t using them during the actual lesson that day) goes down. It’s a win-win!

What is your secret sauce to 1-1?

Interview Tips: The Reverse Interview

Middle School Classroom

I’m many things, but a nail-biter isn’t one of the titles I’d give myself. That is, unless it’s before an interview. Then, I chew away. When I began interviewing after college a couple of years ago, I would get so nervous and worked up before I went in. There is truly something frightening about the unknown that exists in the moments to come, and it seems that every word you say is recorded forever and judged so closely!

If you are interviewing now for jobs this upcoming semester, I’m guessing you can feel that your ability to interview is getting stronger. I know that I felt after I had a few interviews complete, I gained a stronger sense of my own beliefs and I could more easily talk about them. Hopefully you are selling yourself better in a way that is more genuinely you. And that’s what it is all about.

But, I encourage you to take another step: the reverse interview. The interview process becomes meaningful whenever you understand the reverse interview aspect. It looks like this:

  1. You do you. You talk about yourself, you act like yourself, and you present yourself as a professional teacher, who is capable of creating engaging, challenging, and technology-based 21st-century applicable lessons all while performing fantastic behavior management and school-to-home communication. You understand you are being critiqued and evaluated by the words that are coming out of your mouth. And you’re fine with it because you’re just doing you.
  2. REVERSE: While you speak, you simultaneously take in observations and evaluate the people who are there to evaluate you.

How does this reverse step change the process? It’s no longer about how good you did. It turns into a mutual fit (or not). Think about dating, for example. You don’t sit across from the table and answer 100 questions and then go home and think “oh goodness, I don’t know if I answered those all right!” Hopefully, you would have engaged a conversation and then also evaluated if that person is a good fit for you to continue pursuing. The same should happen with a school.

Here’s an example I’d love to share with you. You need to know some background, though, in order to fully appreciate my story.

Do you know Guy Fieri, the restaurateur? He has the spiky bleached blonde hair and is well known for driving around in a red convertible, trying food all over the country on his show Diners, Drive-in’s, and Dives. Well, I walked into the interview room, and I blinked several times because this principal standing in front of me looked just like Guy! I’m not sure if you know much about Guy Fieri’s personality, but the two of them also have that in common as well: very talkative. I’m sure Guy is a great cook, and I’m also pretty confident that Mr. Guy-Fieri-Principal-Lookalike is also a very great principal because he was in charge of a building in a nice district. But, he was not a great interviewer, at least not to me.

My husband and I stayed at a hotel the night before the interview, as we lived across the state. I steamed my navy blue suit and I prepared 8 folders with information and examples that I could share to the interview panel. It was one of my first real interviews ever. And, as I mentioned, as I entered the room, I couldn’t help but notice Guy Fieri in principal form. Instead of being great at cooking, though, this principal was just good at talking. Talking over me, that is.

It began on question one, which was simply “tell me about you” and continued on during the rest of the interview. Mr. Guy-Fieri-Principal-Lookalike would ask a question, and as I began answering it, he would turn to the vice principal beside him and begin chatting away. I’m a strong believer in multitasking, but there is no way this principal was listening to a thing that was coming out of my mouth!

I wondered if I said something wrong that had caused him to dismiss me immediately. But then I remembered that in order for him to have picked up on something “wrong” that I had said, he would have had to have heard me say it! 🙂

That’s when my reverse trick began. I maintained my dignity and professionalism during the interview, even if I was just talking to hear myself talk the whole time (since no one was listening). As I answered the questions, I was using my reverse interview skills and was evaluating them, too. I still shook their hands and smiled when I was finished. But, before I even made it back to the car, I was no longer thinking “I wonder if I answered the questions well!” Instead, I was thinking that I would never work for someone would was unwilling to at least hear out my opinion. I decided that even if I did get a call for another round, I wouldn’t accept it. And I stuck to that.

The administration at a school is not everything, but they are very much responsible for setting the climate and culture. As a new teacher, you should hopefully be able to look to those people as a source of education, professional development, mentorship, and growth. For me, I knew that principal would not offer me those opportunities, and for that reason, I decided it wasn’t a good fit. There are of course other factors to consider using the “reverse interview” on. Sometimes the first impression does truly matter! These additional factors are listed below:

  • School building and appearance
  • School location/proximity to amenities
  • Communication with you before the interview process
  • Observances such as posters, signs, students in the hallways
  • Staff you may interact with before/after the interview
  • Questions you are asked in the interview
  • Sense of school pride in the community
  • What you would be expected to do as a teacher
  • Curriculum that is taught
  • School benchmarks/data
  • Potential opportunities for professional growth

Don’t sell yourself short, dear teacher. It’s a two way street! Even if you are just starting out as I was, you still deserve to be in a place that is going to be mutually beneficial. Be sure to utilize the reverse interview trick to see if the school is a match for you, too. Good luck!

Teacher Interviews: The Big Day

Middle School Classroom

Get out your suit coat because it’s finally your big day: the interview! Teacher interviews are different in every state and even differ between districts and schools. Most of my experience included a first round over-the-phone screening, followed by an in-person more in depth interview for a second round. Some districts even have you demonstrate a lesson to model how you teach and control a class.

Here is my list of 4 things to be sure to nail during the interview:

1. Be sure to arrive early and greet the staff/students whenever you enter the office. You’d be surprised how much influence a long-standing teacher that passed you by or faithful secretary has in interview situations. Some principals will ask these staff members if you were friendly, seemed interested in the school, and showed up with time to spare. Or, on the contrary, were you running late, glued to your phone, and short with them?

2. Shake hands with everyone in the interview room once you enter. This is professional of you. In addition, making this eye contact gives you a connection with each person and helps you remember their name. I love referring to people by name in interviews, and this is a quality of likable people! Be sure to also thank everyone at the conclusion of the interview.

3. Answer the questions that the interview team asks you TRUTHFULLY, not how you think they would want you to answer them. Interviews are just as much for you as they are for the district. I interviewed at a district where everything they asked me was about flipped classroom; in the moment, I had to do my best to answer these, but I had little to no experience with it at all. When I left, I knew that that school wasn’t right for me! I’m always big on learning and growing, but I could tell that this wasn’t the environment that would best support my teaching philosophy. It’s important to just be yourself and find the right school for you.

4. Have appropriate questions prepared to ask the interviewers as the interview concludes, and record the answers when you get them. Writing down the answers they give shows that you are passionate and that you care. Questions about teacher responsibilities, school growth/challenges, how the school runs, culture, etc are all appropriate. Avoid asking questions surrounding pay, benefits, etc. If the opportunity presents itself down the road, HR can handle any of these concerns for you later.

5. Follow up after the interview with a kind thank you! Thankfulness is like gold. Principals and other supervisors who are taking time to meet with you are very busy, so even simply thanking them for their time is very nice and will help you be looked at favorably. It also makes them think of you once you have left! I’d recommend doing this within 24 hours of the interview.

As I mentioned earlier, the interview is just as much for you as it is for the interview team. I used to get so nervous before interviews, and I felt like I had to give the “perfect” answers so that they would like me! I thought that I had to seem like the perfect fit just so I could get a job. I quickly realized that the questions I was being asked and how the interview experience went allowed me to gauge a lot about whether or not the school would be a good fit for me in return. 

If you are a veteran teacher, what other interview tips do you have to share? If you are in the process of interviewing, what questions or concerns do you have? Comment below! 

Teacher Interviews: Applying

Middle School Classroom

So, you’ve scrolled on every teacher job website four times today searching for new ones to pop up. Your eyes grew large because you see the opportunity. You grew up, watching your teachers, and you couldn’t wait for that to be you. A few years ago, you packed up your life and moved to college, and you studied as hard as you could all for this very moment.

You think about your very own teacher desk, your very own white board, and even your very own door knob. Ah.

Whenever I was first looking at jobs, I also got excited by all of the opportunities. I thought about how I could have my very own things and inspire my very own students.

Ultimately, getting any teaching job not only secures your career, but gives you valuable experience on how to help children learn. This is a technique that can be transferred among many disciplines and ages. I’ve heard many stories, though, of bright-eyed, eager young teachers getting into their position and then “realizing” that “teaching isn’t for them.” I’d argue that many times, it actually is, but maybe the specific position they found themselves in isn’t the right fit.

Imagine needing a new pair of shoes, size 8. Your’s are worn out, they have a hole in the side, and the treads are starting to fall off. You walk into the size 6 aisle and try to shove your feet in several pairs. They won’t fit. Shaking your head, you walk out of the store saying that “maybe I just don’t even need new shoes.” That would be silly, right?! It’s the same concept for fitting into the right job. I believe that moving over to the size 8 aisle would result in many promising options, so, of course, this analogy of teacher success all begins with applying to the right jobs. You’ll never find the right job if you’re not looking in the right aisle!

Here are my 4 main things I think you need to consider when applying for teaching jobs:

1. Is the school in a location that you would enjoy living / are capable of already commuting to? When I first started out with a long term sub job, I was commuting over an hour each way (and making less than $100 a day!). It was a top-notch school and the experience I gained for my resume was well worth it, but I was extremely thankful it was a short assignment. If it is a school district where you will need to move to work at, will you be moving to a place you will enjoy? Take a road trip and check it out, if possible!

2. Does the school offer support/programs/supplies to make your position manageable? I know that there are different levels of needs for teachers everywhere, and I give a major shout out to teachers who make it through with little support, but I think the smartest decision for your career starting out as a teacher would be to set yourself up at a district that will promote and support you, if possible. For example, I was lucky enough to be hired by a district that has a graduate program set up with a local university which provides my Master’s degree.

3. What is the culture like in the school district? You can often gauge this important element just by looking at the district website, their social media pages, or talking to people in the area. Are they displaying proud works of student achievement? Are they announcing fun days for the students which will help the school grow? Sometimes also just driving near the school you are planning to interview can tell you a lot about the community and the impact the school has on it; when I was on my way to my interview where I teach, I saw a bunch of kids wearing jerseys for the sports teams, walking near the track, and parents bringing in supplies. I quickly got the memo that the school was a sense of pride in the community, and that meant a lot to me.

4. Is the position the “right” grade level and subject? I was lenient on adding this to the list because “right” can mean so many different things. Personally, I believe the best teachers are the ones who are in teaching less for the subject and more for just the influence and opportunity to work with kids, but nevertheless it is important that you feel you connect with the grade level you will be assigned and that you have an interest in the subject level. I knew that I wanted to teach middle school, but I’m certified in all subjects. My core subject was language arts, and I knew for sure that I just wouldn’t be the best 7th grade math teacher, although I passed the test. So, I avoided applying for 7th grade math jobs. The more comfortable and confident you can be in your position, the more opportunity you will have to focus on the kids. But, of course, teachers are always learning, so just because you don’t feel 100% mastery with the curriculum your first year doesn’t mean you aren’t any good—we can all always improve and always learn. There just needs to be a passion behind it.

My last piece of advice for applying to jobs is that you can always apply and later turn down an interview. Or, better yet, if it’s possible, apply and gain the experience interviewing and then see if the shoe fits. Sometimes we judge an area or hear rumors about a district that turns us off, when in fact, the school would be a great fit for us. If you don’t go for it, you’d never know. It’s great to take these 4 tips into consideration, but also know that it’s best to put yourself out there and see where not only you fit, but what school fits for you. That will be on my next blog post, so if you are a to-be teacher or know a to-be-teacher, feel free to pass along my blog page so they subscribe to stay up to date on my tips for getting the right job.

The Last Month of School

Middle School Classroom, Pep Talks & Positivity

So, as we roll into the last month of school, I have been hearing colleagues counting down the days left. Summer is coming! I’d be a fool to say I wasn’t excited for my schedule to calm down for a couple of months; I’m quite busy with graduate school right now, and my involvement in extracurricular activities at my school is at an all-time high for me. I could use a little break, honestly. Fellow teacher, I have a feeling that just like me, you’re also getting tired at this point in the year.

But, I’d like to encourage you to to make sure you’re counting the right thing during this last month. Instead of counting down days until summer, why don’t we count how many kids get inspired by our lessons or how smiles we put on tiny faces?

As you read this, I’d also love for you to be able to check out the materials I talk about in this post by visiting my TPT store here:

The thought that I only had less than a month left with my ducklings this year actually stunned me this past weekend. I legitimately felt overwhelmed and sad. More than anything, I wanted to keep building them up together as a community and continue to help them feel like they can change the world. Truly, they can, and it’s my job to make sure they know it! If I haven’t convinced every kid of that yet, I decided to continue being determined to do just that. 🙂

So, I counted the days and realized I had about 26 left. Being the geek I am, an association flashed into my mind. Ah, 26 = letters of the alphabet.

I decided to create a warm-up that used a different letter for the alphabet, starting with A, for each day for the rest of the year.

Here’s what I wanted my warm-up to help me accomplish in the last month of school:

  1. I wanted it to be positive part of class each day. It needed to let me continue having good life-talks with my kids, have them form a strong classroom community, and allow them to feel encouraged.
  2. I wanted it to be a way for my students to understand that when they entered the room they were still expected to come in and get right to work on something. This has always been my expectation, and it continues to be my expectation now, too, even though the school year is coming to a close. I believe it sets the groundwork for hard-working expectations during the rest of class, too.
  3. I wanted to give them a chance to creatively write about their opinion; so often, they are required to provide evidence to prove a point about literature. This is absolutely an important skill, but for once, I just wanted them to tell me what was on their heart.
  4. I wanted it to encourage reflection at the end of the school year. Towards the end of the alphabet especially, I added more reflection on our class and their progress in middle school. Part of truly experiencing something (especially the learning process) requires reflection, which also lends itself to active goal-setting and more future success!

I’d love for you to be able to continue investing in your students through the end of the year too–check out my ABC warm-up on my TPT store by clicking here:

Regardless of how many days you have left at school, or how you choose to handle this important time in your very own classroom, I hope that you continue investing your time into counting was truly counts…not just days until it’s over. 🙂

My Little Orange Flag

Middle School Classroom, Pep Talks & Positivity

I walked into my classroom the other day and discovered that my room was being used during the off-periods as an extended testing room for the state tests. I had some work to get done, so I warmed up my food for lunch and continued working.

When I came back, I looked around at the handful of students, using my room to get extra time to finish their test.

That’s when I heard it. The little sniffles.

I looked up, following the sound, and realized that it was one of my kiddos, still testing into the afternoon. He was making up a test from the day before, and he was, unfortunately, crying.

It pained me to see him frustrated. It’s in those standardized-test-moments that you wish you could reach out and just lend a hand. Of course, you can’t. My mind ran through ways to help him without violating any official rules. How could I make him stop crying?!

And then it hit me.

I pulled out a sharp #2 pencil and a little orange sticky note. With a marker, I quickly wrote the following:

“You rock, bud! I’m so proud of you!” and I taped it on the pencil like a little orange flag.

I stood up, went over to his desk, and laid down the extra pencil. Smiling, I walked away.

A short moment later, his sniffling ceased, and all I could hear were the sounds of his pencil tip, now scribing quickly, across his page.

It made me realize that sometimes, a little sticky note and a few words of encouragement can go a long way. Don’t forget this with your students, dear friend. The smile that you give them, the compliment you throw their way, and the few words of acknowledgement you offer can make the biggest difference to them and in their success.

Grading Conferences

Language Arts Resources, Middle School Classroom

Ah, the sweet smell of spring, the sound of birds chirping, and the taste of state testing right around the corner. This year, I spent my week before state tests in a sort of unconventional way: conferencing with students.

Many educators can become stressed during this time, and in my opinion, all that does is stress out the kids. This can’t help them do better on the test. My one-on-one conferences were a breath of fresh air! It worked out perfectly for my class because they had just finished writing an essay on a short story, and then they moved on to another essay comparing two poems. While students worked independently at their desks on those, I conferenced at my front table with them one-by-one.

Here’s why I liked it:

1. It made me step away from my class and just let my students write. All too often, I see my students thinking about a question and immediately raising their hand to ask me. I told them openly last week that they needed to dig deep in their noggins for the answer because at this point, they know what they’re doing! We’ve been doing this all year. Don’t worry, though, I still offered some support. I set up my deli counter (hehe) by cutting out numbers and placing them into a bowl. As I was working independently to grade a student’s essay during our conference, other students could politely take a number from my deli if they truly felt that they couldn’t continue writing without my assistance. This kept the questions to a minimum but still allowed me to help those who were really struggling. Plus, the class loved me saying “Number 2 to the deli” in a silly voice with my hand making a microphone. Too fun. You can purchase my deli number “kit” on my TPT here:

2. I was able to give in-person feedback to students during our conference. Especially at the middle school level, kids look at their grade, say “okay!” and then recycle the paper on the way out the door, without seeing why they got the grade they got (let alone the hours of writing comments all along the margins of their papers.) This forced every single student that I teach to sit down with me and process through why they wrote what they did. Then, they were able to go back to their seats and make sure to perfect elements they were missing or continue doing the great things they were already doing in their next essays.

3. It saved me a lot of grading time. Sure, it took me 4 days in class to meet with each student individually, but I wasn’t dozing off at 9:30 at night, trying to multitask by listening to The Voice in the other room. I also didn’t have to write out many comments because the kids were hearing them right from my mouth! I really liked this aspect a lot. It felt like time put to good use.

4. It instilled confidence in my students before the big state test. While I did give honest feedback, I’m pleased to say that the vast majority of my students earned an A on their essay. It felt good for me to assess where they were again, and I know it felt so good for my students when I told them, “If you do this next week, you’re going to get a great score on the test.” In fact, for a handful of my students, I couldn’t even find anything for them to improve upon, as they had followed all that we learned this year to a T. Their face lit up when I told them that I thought this was the best potential work they could hand in and I had no corrections for them. (I was sensing a lot of them going home and telling their families that news, as I’m far from an easy grader!!) And, while I gave constructive feedback where I could, I think every student left my table thinking that they had improved a lot this year and that I was proud of them. My hope is that they remember that when they go to write on the state test, with confidence in their hearts 🙂

I loved grading conferences, and I’d love to hear how they go in your classroom if you try them out! Here’s the link again to my deli numbers if you think they would be useful in your classroom, whether you could use them when you try out conferencing or if you use them when working with small groups, etc. It’s a great way to teach students to be polite when you are working with other students and gives them a way to signal they need help without interrupting!