Saturday, June 20, 2015

Tips for the Classroom that Really Work

You'd think that now that I've left education that maybe I would stop with these posts, wouldn't you? Well, I've been wanting to do this post for a long time, and it just so happens that I have a little time on my hands right now.

I've been snapping pictures for awhile of tips that have been successful in my classroom and that have saved me time. I couldn't leave those pictures unused without sharing them with people who could potentially use them. So here goes . . .

1. Keep a reasonably hidden stash of basic supplies in the Teacher Work Room

You see, my classroom was a quarter mile (roughly) from the teacher workroom, and most every time I visited that room, I left my brain back in my classroom. This little stash kept me from having to hike that extra half mile to my classroom and back when I forgot things.

As any teacher can tell you, the teacher work room is always missing something. Teachers like to walk off with the very thing that you need. For crying out loud, teachers will even take that three foot by three foot paper cutter back to their classrooms, and there it will sit until you no longer need it. It's frustrating.

Do I sound bitter? Because I'm trying to keep that under wraps somewhat.

Anyway, in my emergency kit I kept paperclips, a pen, a pencil, an eraser, a highlighter, a black felt tip pen (for tweaking my originals), a ruler, Post-It Notes, and Dryline Correction film. The only thing I didn't keep in my mailbox is a stapler, and that was because staplers have a way of walking off.

2. You need a Pair of Pliers. If you can swing it, a whole tool kit, but at least a pair of pliers.

I once wondered on this blog when talking about the beginning of the year school supply list "WHY do teachers ask for so many dry erase markers? Really! Eight dry erase markers?!!!"

Well, I'm here to tell you, YES, EIGHT. And honestly, a nice even dozen would be even better.

The reason is because the students use those markers on their student white boards when we are doing guided practice. You would not believe how fast you go through these markers in the course of a school year. It's frightening, really.

Anyway, I always keep a pair of pliers at the ready because some students have, ahem, self control issues, and they press too ding dang hard when they write.

Teachers simply cannot afford to throw away a dry erase marker that is not for reals all dried out. So when Little Sweetie presses too hard and then comes up to me and shows me his (or her, but to be honest it is usually a him) marker with the tip pressed all the way in, I just hand him the pliers and tell him to get digging. It works too. They pull the tip back out and get on with the lesson.

I simply could not have lived without pliers in my math classroom.

3. Assignment Strips are

This is one of those things that I believe I dreamt up on my four minute commute home. I was muttering to myself, "Why the ding dangit can't my students copy the assignment from the board onto their papers without missing problems? It is not rocket science. Is it really that hard?"

Well, you know the answer to that question is, "Yes. It really is that hard." 

I throw my hands in the air and submit. Okay. Fine. I will give you the assignment written down for you, but in the end it is going to benefit me more than it will benefit you because I have demands. 

This assignment strip must be glued to the top of your paper, not stapled or taped, and you MUST WRITE YOUR NAME ON IT! I know this will tax you inordinately, my Little Pretties, but it must be done and it must be done with a smile on your face. It can be a pained, fake smile, but it will be a smile.

By the way, yes, they do think I am crazy, but they are fine with it. Crazy entertains them just as much as awkward adolescence entertains me.

4. Give your students neat freak standards for how their homework will be done, and they will follow them.

This tip came to me via a student and her former elementary school teacher. I was in love with it as soon as she told me about it. It's pretty simple, but students have to fold their paper in half twice horizontally, and then twice vertically, which will give them 16 boxes on the front of their paper and 16 boxes on the back.

Granted, my assignment strip takes up four of those boxes, but there's still room enough for 28 problems. This is a good thing because I tend to assign a lot of homework, and this limits me to 28 problems. Most days they don't have 28 problems, but they can, and that's good enough for me. Also, sometimes they will need more than one box for a problem.

I also like them to highlight the box borders.

I love this method because the homework is neat and easy to grade. It is also obvious right away if they just copied their answers from a friend or if they showed their work.

And it's just pretty.

5. Keep a Substitute Binder with the basics

This will save you time when you do sub plans because everything is there and you don't have to go searching for it. The basics for me were a general schedule, seating charts, phone list, room list, emergency drill procedures, map of the school with evacuation route, and the names of teachers to ask for help and their extension numbers.

This is an example of one day's sub plans. I kept sub plans in a folder on my computer, named by date, and that saved even more time because I could just change what I needed to for that day. I had a few different versions--full day, early release schedule, and half day.

6. Sorting pencils, crayons, and markers by color is awesome.

A couple years ago I raided my girls' stash of old, used school supplies, and sorted them by color into these five-drawer units. Whenever my students needed specific colors for their notebooks, finding the colors was fast and easy.

Then last year I was also fortunate enough to have desks with little baskets under the chairs. I used those baskets to put students' white boards and a supply box which I filled with a pack of markers, a pair of scissors, a highlighter, a dry erase marker, and a mini white board eraser. This saved a lot of time when they needed to access their supplies.

As you can probably imagine, although I did not have the foresight to see this coming, students were unable to keep their supplies inside their boxes. I was constantly finding markers on the floor. Constantly.

There was no way I was going to start searching through boxes to find the right box for each rogue marker, so my solution was to just put them in a temporary home where students could retrieve them when, if ever, they realized that they were missing a certain color.

It worked exactly as I had planned. It turned out that my sevies were very conscientious about keeping the supply boxes stocked and organized, but then my eighth graders would come in and purposely put red caps on blue markers and such just to annoy them. It was sort of amusing watching this back and forth.

My sevies would get so upset. "Mrs. Scott, the person that sits at my desk keeps mixing up all the markers and lids, and I've fixed them like five times! Can you please tell them to stop?!"

And honestly, ain't nobody got time for that. It was an object lesson in letting go for my sevies. A painful one.

In addition to the markers by color, I had these little drawer units for the stray and extra highlighters, dry erase markers, white board erasers, and scissors. I love these drawer units for organizing my classroom because they make it fast and easy to access supplies.

7. Designate a specific area on your board for the daily schedule. 

They will never stop asking you "What are we doing today?" Even when you write it on the board above the daily schedule.

I've gotten to the point where when they ask the dreaded question, I simply point to the board. I'd like to tell you that that settles that, but it does not. They like to complain just to hear themselves complain. They will go on and on, "But I don't want to r-e-e-e-e-a-a-a-d. I'm too l-a-a-a-a-a-a-zy."

To which I respond, "Well you have a personal problem then."

Regardless, they like to know what they will be doing every day, and even if they complain about reading the agenda, they will still read it because they want to know.

8. Library book bins are the perfect way to corral composition notebooks.

I have tried many different ways to manage storage of notebooks for multiple classes, and this ended up being the best solution for me. I assigned five students to each bin and every student put their notebook in the same place every day. That way it is fast and easy to locate their notebooks when they come in the next day. I bought my bins here.

9. Replace regular glue caps with  Tap-N-Glue Caps.

These things are amazing. I'm not kidding. There is no need to remind students to close their glue bottles because it is automatic. You just press down and drag, and just the right amount of glue comes out. It saves so much glue. You can find them online here.

With six math classes using these 8 oz. bottles, I only had to refill my bottles once this year.

The glue caps come in two pieces like this. The pointy piece is the part that keeps the glue closed. When they press down on it, it allows a small amount of glue to come out. When they lift the bottle off the paper, the bottle closes automatically.

This is what the underside of the glue cap looks like when the pieces are put together. The only drawback to these caps is that the first set of students to use them every day have to pick the glue boogers off the caps to free up the flow. And honestly, it's not a big deal. You will never have to take the caps off to unclog the glue bottle. In fact, I make it very clear at the beginning of the year that students are not to unscrew the glue caps, under no circumstances, EVER. To do so would risk my wrath being unleashed on them in a very unpleasant manner.

10. Number all your decks of cards and every card within that deck.

You would think that this wouldn't be necessary, but trust me, it is.

Save yourself the headache of trying to figure out which deck the stray card goes in, and just do this. Or better yet, have your students do it for you.

That's about it. Those ten tips were some of the biggies for me, and they really made a difference in how smoothly my classroom ran.

Now that I've shared with you what worked, I'm going to show you one of the many things that did not work for me.

I know this is hard to believe, but the Bieber Fever pencils did not work. I was hoping that the students would be so horrified to touch these pencils that they would come to class prepared every day.

Nope. That is not what happened. I had 144 of these suckers made especially for me, and every last one of them disappeared. Some of the girls secretly love Justin Bieber, and the boys just love to torture the pencils as if their voodoo pranks would directly transfer to the Bieb himself.

One of my students brought the remains of one of these pencils back to me. He had found it in a vice in the wood shop classroom. It suffered greatly.

And I had such high hopes . . .

Monday, June 8, 2015

Moving On

I walked out of my classroom for the last time today, and I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Partly I'm sad because I love teaching and I love my students, but I'm getting over it faster than I expected. In fact, I'm feeling more hopeful than anything.

I know that not everyone is in the position that I am in, where I can walk away from my career and start over, and I am very thankful that I can do this. That being said, I do still need to find a job.

The way our district pays teachers, our salary is spread out over twelve months so that we still get a paycheck in the summer, although that money was already earned during the school year. Knowing that I still have three paychecks left helps, but that isn't stopping me from starting to look now. And if something comes up now, I am going to jump on it.

In the meantime, I have a crazy list of things I want to accomplish with my time as an unemployed individual. Starting with this.

1. Find something to do with all this stuff I brought home from school. Believe it or not, I gave most of the stuff in my classroom away. Good stuff too, but hey, I'm never going to use it again. There was no way I could bring it all home because I don't have anywhere to put it. As witnessed by the above photo of mostly office supplies (remember my obsession). I'm taking this opportunity  to pull everything out, purge, and reorganize. 

2. I'm going paperless. I'm on a mission. I'm going to get rid of my filing cabinets and keep everything in the cloud. I've already started, and I've been scanning and shredding papers like a mad woman. Towards that end, this is what Peanut Head got me for Mother's Day.

I seriously love this thing because it's compact and it works. It's powered by a USB cable and it comes with software to organize all your paper. It can do full-size documents too, not just receipts. Today I scanned in our 25-page homeowner's insurance policy. Why so much paper? Paper stresses me out. So does my e-mail, but don't get me started on that mess.

3. My house is in serious need of decrapification. Six years of overly relaxed housekeeping standards, and four people living in it, has my house ready for an episode of Hoarders. 

4. I'm going to take care of myself. I feel like an elderly Blow Fish. I feel icky, my clothes don't fit, and I'm uncomfortable all the time. I've spent the past six years in a constant state of anxiety which is not a very hooty place to focus on my health. I rarely exercise. My menu planning has gone out the window, and we eat out way too much. I'm tired of feeling like this, and I will not wear elastic waist pants!

5. I'm going to put the focus back on my family. When I teach, my life revolves around that. It always has. I have proved myself incapable of putting myself or my family first when I am responsible for others' kids. Therefore, if you can't take the job out of the teacher, then you take the teacher out of the job.

6. Since everything else is changing, why not move too? You think I'm kidding, I know. I'm serious though. For years we have talked about buying a house with some land. And we have chickens already. And Zoe Bug is going to give herself a concussion rolling her eyes so much because we won't let her have a horse in our backyard. If we're going to do it, then let's just do it already. Since that is the plan, we have to get this house ready to put on the market. Our goal is to have it listed by fall. We have a lot of work to do in that time, not the least of which is to replace our roof. Do you know how expensive it is to replace a roof? Holy Cow, I thought we were hemorrhaging money last summer. That was nothing. Anyway, we have a shake roof which is supposed to be pretty awesome, right? [Snort!] No. The little shakes curl up and allow greenery to lay down roots, and we're pretty dang close to having a sod roof right now. And we are not Hobbits! (Even though I have hair on my big toes.)

So as you can see, my usual teacher summer of sitting on my couch eating Bon Bons has been hijacked by "The Plan." Stay tuned . . .