I LOVE books!


Anybody who knows me knows that I LOVE children’s books. I have been growing my classroom library for about 4 years now and it has hundreds of books. They are many, heavy, and fabulous!

About two weeks ago, a Scholastic Book Catalog showed up in my mailbox at school. Most people recognize this colorful magazine from elementary school. It is full of all the most popular books at very reasonable prices. Despite not knowing exactly how it worked on the teacher end, I decided to hand out the magazines to my class and see if I had any takers.

I was happy to say that five students returned their catalogs and ordered books. Having more books in the hands of my students is great news. Perhaps even more exciting (however selfish) was the number of books I’d get to add to my own classroom library.

SO MANY FREE BOOKS!!!! Because we spent $25, I earned $25 in free books. In the end, the students book orders totaled $31 for 10 books. My order totaled $34 for 31 books. What a phenomenal bargain!! :)

My advice to all teachers is distribute Scholastic Magazines to your kids. You have nothing to lose just the chance to get book in the hands of your students and maybe even some free books for yourself.


Parent Teacher Conferences


Last week we had what I would consider our first real set of parent teacher conferences. In October, our school had student-led conferences. At this point it was so early in the year that it was more like an Back to School Night where students showed their families around the room.

These conferences were important. While I knew there were some behaviors to discuss, the focus was on academics. I went into the conferences feeling well-informed and prepared. Three-quarters into the year and I’m really starting to understand my students. I began by preparing a conference data sheet. This gave an overview of all major grades for the marking period. These grades provided talking points. There was no denying the data, it gave a clean, unbiased view of student work. Having center grades provided a means of talking about students’ work ethic and behavior, as centers are often where these show themselves most. Student reading levels are an important measure of student growth in second grade. While they are by no means a perfect assessment, it is an opportunity for students to put together all the reading skills they’ve been working on to show what they know. Finally, I included attendance. This is a very big issue in my classroom. This marking period alone I had 3 kids with more than 10 absences (in other words missing 25% of the marking period) and an additional 7 with more than 5 absences. To add to this there are a number of tardies. I’m still working on how to help parents understand the significance of this many absences but at least putting it out there for them to see is a start.

My Conference Data Sheet
Conferences Data Sheet

In addition to preparing my data sheet, I wrote out a strength, area of growth, behavior concern, and any other comments for each student. I felt confident and secure in my talking points going into things. Nonetheless, conferences can be hard. As a teacher, I struggle when students are not making the progress they need. In a school where the majority of students are below grade level, it is hard to hold students or families solely responsible and there can be a feeling of guilt as the teacher. But that is our reality and the best I can do as a teacher is give them the best instruction I am capable of and take things step by step.

The parents were all very receptive to what I had to say. We had meaningful, two-way conversations. I had some good laughs with a parent as she told her kid, “If you keep this up, she’s not going to want you in her class and I don’t blame her.” I had a mother come in who is very ill but is still so incredibly invested in her children and being sure they get what is best. One parent asked if her son was a bully because she was growing up, it is her biggest regret, and she wants to be sure he doesn’t make the same mistake. Parents were understanding and wanting to know what they could do to help their child continue to progress. This shouldn’t be a surprise in the least. Parents care. It can just be nerve-wracking going into certain situations.

There were some difficult conversations to have. I had a parent bluntly ask, “Why isn’t my child learning?” This was especially hard because I couldn’t say. It seems often once our students fall behind they are given little support besides the regular instruction and I can’t always figure out what they need to make everything click. I had a parent that seemed to be balancing between tears and anger after she had no idea her son was so far behind. My most worrisome conversation going in was discussing the possibility of retention for a student. Despite being a sensitive topic, the parent was receptive and open to the option.

All in all as a new teacher, you’ll probably find that you make conferences out to be a lot scarier than they are. Come prepared with what your goals are to cover, being sure to focus on the positives and the areas of concern. Be warm, friendly, and authentic. Lastly, be sure the parents feel heard. Avoid too much teacher talk or talking at the parent. Involve them in the conversation and be sure they have the chance to be heard. If teacher continue to keep at this in mind, conferences should be smooth (or at least mostly smooth) sailing!

Making Grades Meaningful

What does a check plus mean to you? How about a 6 out of 10? What is a B? For many of us, we have concepts of what these representations of grades may mean. We convert the points into a meaningful percentage. We know where a B lies on a hundred point grading scale. We can assume a check plus is pretty good.

Now, imagine you are seven years old. You likely have heard of getting an A as a good thing and an F being failing. You understand red x’s on a test but not fractions. Maybe you discuss your grades and work with a family at home and maybe you do not. In general, grades are a very abstract concept with little concrete meaning. And without having a meaningful measure of your progress, it is very difficult to be fully invested in your progress and improving these abstract grades.

This was a struggle that I had for the first half of the school year. It became even more difficult when students were doing two hours of centers a day, essentially unmonitored. I would be meeting with reading and math small groups, so while I could generally monitor students, I was not there to hover over students being sure they got what they needed to onto their papers.

To overcome this challenge, I started doing grades in a way that the students could physically see and understand. For daily assignments and center, students could get a check plus, check, check minus, or minus.

CHECK PLUS – Excellent work!
CHECK – Good work.
CHECK MINUS – Needs improvement.
MINUS – Unsatisfactory.

And believe it or not, something pretty incredible happened. Students started getting mad when they saw a check minus on their paper. They were upset and wanted to know why they got a check minus. THIS IS POWERFUL. When students see their grades and can understand them, they want to do better. Our kids want to be successful: for their teacher, for their peers, for their families, and, most importantly, FOR THEMSELVES. What is more powerful than helping them do so?

On larger assignments, I list grades as a total number of points earned out of the total points, always marking correct answers, rather than checking incorrect. This yet again becomes a bit abstract. Don’t get me wrong, we are starting fractions this week, but we won’t get anywhere close to 35/40. To make this meaningful I use stickers. We consider an 80% to be mastery. Therefore, any time students master a topic they get a sticker on their paper.
STICKER – Mastery! You really get it!
NO STICKER – We will continue to practice working on this skill.

OUR CHILDREN CARE…not about a number but about doing their best and being successful. We just need to give them the opportunity to understand and show it.


Glows & Grows

My student teacher co-op used to do “glows & grows” for me to evaluate my lessons and provide feedback. I’ve decided to take a stab at sharing glows and grows for this semester so far.

Second semester has definitely been better as far as procedures go in my classroom. I was determined to get my small groups working, and working well. I feel I have done pretty well at this. I am now able to run 5-8 reading or math centers at a time for an hour all while meeting with a small group. This was a very long work in progress. I had to find a way to have consistent yet relevant centers, set procedures for how centers would run, and make it all run smoothly. Even on their worst days it beats where we were even before winter break.

I am a more confident teacher. When I say I can wait all day, I mean it. Go ahead kids, try me. I no longer get worried thinking that I can only wait so long because we have so much to do. I am more confident in meaning what I say and the kids can feel it. My management is now, and may always, be developing. I can get frustrated because my expectations are much higher now (when I say silent, I mean SILENT) so we do not always rise to the occasion but things are slowly coming along.

Did I mention we didn’t have a substitute Tuesday so I had 44 kids in my classroom all day. I taught an engaging whole group reading lesson that had kids constantly interacting. Next we did centers AND I pulled a guided reading group! Things got a little roudy at the end of the day but I couldn’t have handled that in September.

In relation to confidence, I also know when it is ok to have a “teacher time out.” The other day I had reached my breaking point. I was honest with my kids and said I would either really start yelling or we were doing to quietly, listen to a song, and have a reset. I turned off the lights, kids had the choice to put their heads down, and I, too, did nothing. The students understood the seriousness of this reset and their behavior. My official teacher time out tune…

Thirdly my classroom is truly becoming mine. Because I came in after school had started, I never was able to fully set up my room as mine. I’ve done bits and pieces but it feels temporary. Now that I am thinking beyond “surviving this week” I can use my walls purposefully and continue to develop the environment I want.

Unfortunately, it all seems to be coming too little, too late. It is not that I feel this year has been unsuccessful, but there is so much I (and my grade-level team) feel should have been different. It is great that centers are figured out, but that’s what the first marking period should be for so progress could really occur the rest of the year.

Our schedule continues to change. Despite being 5/8 of the way through the year we still have not had a permanent schedule. It seems as soon as we finally get into a routine with a schedule (or curriculum for that matter) it is decided that there is a “better option.” We do not stick with something long enough to make the best of it and provide continuity for the kids. It’s always looking for the “next best thing.” While I am in charge of my classroom, I am not in charge of my schedule. Students are pulled for RTI, special education services, ELL services, and more. Each of these things pulls on our schedules taking it out of our hands.

To top it off this week ended on a rough note. Teachers are frustrated as our second teacher has left midyear, we’ve gone at least three full weeks without a copier, despite having lamination a new roll has not been put onto the machine, and other stresses continue to pile on.

I truly believe your mood is largely determined by the people your surround yourself with. However, when everyone is feeling the same frustrations and are fighting an uphill battle that seems to get steeper by the day, sometimes it’s hard to keep smiling.

Use Your Resources

Teaching takes time. With only 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week, we are limited with what we can do. One of my biggest enemies as a first year teacher is the lack of time that I have. It’s not that I’m not willing to put in the extra hours. I do late nightS and long weekends. My Friday night movies with friends revolve around school stories and grading. Nonetheless we must do those crazy things like eat, sleep, and take care of ourselves.

There are many resources available for teachers. None of these make teaching easy or do all of the work, but they serve as great resources. Here are a few of my favorite resources to use for Smartboard pages, centers, ideas, and more!

1. Teachers Pay Teachers
This is a great website, especially for elementary teachers. Don’t let the name deceive you. There are tons of things for free on this website. I’ve found it especially useful for planning centers or when looking for ideas for the holidays. The things are ready-made and student-friendly. I also love the weekly emails with 10 free downloads. These downloads cover a variety of topics and grade levels. They are always great to glance at and perhaps save for later.

2. Smartboard Exchange
Smartboard Exchange is another great site with free resources. If you are stuck on how to begin teaching a lesson, Smartboard exchange can give some great ideas. I’ve often found it useful to take slides from multiple resources, add a few of your own, and VOILA! You have a lesson! You can even search for resources by device if your school has a Smartboard or Smarttable.

3. Pinterest
By now, pinterest is far from being new news, but don’t forget about it. I find it especially useful late at night when I’m too tired to do any work that requires lots of brainpower but I still want to feel a little productive.

4. Florida Center for Reading Research
This is still a fairly new source for me but I have had it recommended by multiple people. So far I have used it to find research-based literacy centers for specific skills. There is still much left to be explored!

5. Youtube
Youtube is for more than just watching funny cat videos. There are many great videos available. Many of the Magic School Bus episodes can be found here. Easy videos to show for indoor recess, such as Frosty the Snowman are available. Recently, my class watched an hour long video called “Our Friend, Martin” about Martin Luther King Jr. and were very engaged and learned a lot. Spend a few minute seeing what’s around. You never know what you might find!

6. Google
Good should be the obvious place to look for information (teacher or not). However, I find myself forgetting that thousands of pages will come up (of which a few might be useful) by just typing a word in the search bar. I found making math fact worksheets to be very time intensive. I typed it into google where I found a site that now provides worksheets for my math fact fluency center. Easy as pie! http://www.math-drills.com/multiop.shtml

As I said, these are just a few of my favorite starting points when I’m looking for a bit of inspiration or a last minute lesson idea.
What are some the most helpful resources that you use?

Puts It Into Perspective

It has been a bit of a tough few weeks back to school. I was delayed getting back five days due to winter weather. My students did not come back the perfect angels I had hoped for. (Although, we have all come incredibly far since day 1.) To top it off, I came back to a school that had NO copiers and overall limited resources. During these frustrations, I took time to take a step back and put everything into perspective.

For the past two years, I spent a week of January at the Pathways of Learning School in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. This was a life-changing experience. We spent five days with a school that had students from infancy through sixth grade. By American standards this would not have been considered much of a school. The classrooms were divided by wooden barriers rather than walls. There was no running water. A single lightbulb lit most classrooms. Beyond the building itself, the teachers depended on chalkboards painted on the walls. Shippensburg University’s Reach Out group (the group I travelled with) brought hundreds of dollars of school supplies each year. These were often all the teachers had.

When I look at my own classroom and the challenges I face, they are nothing in comparison to those at the Pathways School in the DR. We were able to form some incredible bonds with these teachers even when we were thousands of miles away. They shared many of the same issues teachers face in the United States from student with dyslexia to getting bored at professional development. Nonetheless, the teachers are able to teach under much harsher circumstances each day than I face.

Remembering all that I saw, felt, and experienced in the Dominican Republic has helped me to gain some perspective on the hard times here. We will always be wanting more it seems, but I am also grateful for the things I have (both in my professional and personal life).

Here is a video taken at the Pathways of Learning School. You can see just how many students are in the small space, the noise that carries from one area to the next, and imagine how difficult of an environment it is to teach and learn in.

One of my favorite pictures from the trip. This is our students as we pulled away from the school on our last day there.

Learn more about Reach Out at the facebook page https://www.facebook.com/su.reachout or website http://www.ship.edu/Honors/ReachOut/ :)

A Mental Health Break

Sometimes all you need is some time off. I have officially survived the first half of my first year of teaching. We had our ups and downs but the thing is we all survived. I am just coming off my two week winter break and it has been great. I did not even turn on my computer for the first 11 days. While I talked about school and my classroom with friends from my Shippensburg, I did not work on any plans.

I think it is important for us all to take a break every so often. Sure, I could have done a whole lot of work, caught up, and maybe even gotten ahead for the new year. However, sometimes we just need to have a moment to recuperate so that we can come back ready to tackle the task when it’s time.

Don’t be afraid to treat yourself to some time off, chances are you deserve it.