5 Things Teachers Should Probably NOT Let Get Under Their Skin:

skinAs teachers, we fight so many important battles to help students become socially, academically, and emotionally ready for adulthood. Many times we act as educator, parent, social worker, and mediator.  As hard as we work to help every student succeed, there are a couple of things I think we need to let go of.  In my humble opinion, we shouldn’t waste our energy on small, annoying little bits that cloud our busy days with negativity.  Below are a list of things I think we need to NOT let get under our skin.  I’d love to hear your opinions or additions to this list in the comment section below.

1.  Electronics during non-instructional time: The local schools in my area have a very strict electronics ban at school. I could be wrong, but I think busting kids for texting between classes or checking instagram at lunch adds another impossible task to our already over burdened to-do list.  Students must learn to use electronics responsibly and attend class without distraction, but to me, it’s time to give a little electronic freedom back to students during non-instructional times.  We have a lot more credibility when we try to control only that which can be controlled.

2. Bad “reviews”. If you hear around campus that you are known as the uncool, hard teacher, take that as a compliment.  We should be kind and fair, but we are not called on to be easy or cool.  We are called on to teach.

3. Dress Code: There are some dress code violations that are very distracting and potentially unsafe (e.g. in a science lab).  Those issues should be addressed.  Minor dress code infractions should not take up space in our minds or minutes in our classrooms.  If anything, refer it to the proper administrator and keep teaching!

4. Minor Attendance Issues: Major attendance issues must be dealt with according to the situation, but we can’t drive ourselves crazy tracking down minor attendance problems.  Let the attendance office handle it and move on.

5. Change: Everything changes.  Whether it be curriculum, policies, hairstyles, language, or any other cultural or academic change, try not to get so caught up in the old way of doing things that you can’t adapt.

Do you agree? What would you add to this list?

Positive Discipline in the High School Classroom

 

As a mother of a three year old and a high school teacher, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how positive discipline works in very similar ways in both contexts. We all know that discipline is key to effective learning environments, but sometimes we lose sight of the thin line between discipline and punishment. Now that most of us have settled into the summer, I thought it would be a good time to talk about some positive discipline concepts that work in high school. I’d love to hear your questions or technique suggestions in the comment section below!

1. Mutual respect is paramount. I doubt that many good teachers get into the profession for the power, but it is still easy for all of us to get swept away in the authority figure role.  The best way to truly command respect from a student it to give it back in spades.  Even in the most frustrating, immature situations, we have to maintain perspective to show students respect and dignity.  The route of public humiliation and not smiling until Christmas is a rough road to pave and will probably not lead you to real meaningful respect and teaching.

2. Behavior modification should focus on solutions rather than consequences. Instead of focusing on the write-up, detention, or other consequence, focus on the solution needed to change the behavior in the first place.  Because of personal strategies or school policies, we may still need to give out the consequence, but the rhetoric from us should be about solutions.  Instead of giving the chronically tardy student mindless detention after detention, let’s not forget to have a conversation about the issue and help brainstorm solutions.  It may be that there are home situations outside of the student’s control. It may also be that the student didn’t really care about the class, but after a conversation with us in which we express our concerns and really listen to student situations, we may change the heart of even the most apathetic of teenagers.

3. Keep calm and don’t take it personally. Classroom disruptions and other behavior issues are almost never personal to the teacher.  I know how hard it is to keep our cool when we’ve spent hours preparing a lecture and learning activity that is disrupted by an unruly student.  Staying calm and refusing to take it personally will help us focus on the solutions.

4. Have a sense of humor. Sometimes the class clown is actually funny.  Sometimes things go haywire in our plans.  We have to maintain a sense of humor for those times that laughing it off is the only sane option.

5.  Let go of total control. We’d love to believe that we are in total control of teenagers, but of course, we are not.  Trying to micromanage and completely control them is frustrating and futile.  We must always remind ourselves that our classrooms are created with mutual energy and mutual control.

What tips would you add to the list?  Any special situations you’d like to discuss with other educators?  Comment below!

positive discipline

Summer Goal: Social Learning Networks for the Classroom

I hope that your summer is off to a fantastic start!  I’m teaching a series of college application bootcamps so it seems that mine hasn’t quite started yet, but this week I want to share one of my major summer goals. If you haven’t made summer goals yet, I’m inviting you to take this journey with me and if you already have some expertise in this area, I’d seriously love your two cents!  This summer I want to learn how to effectively use a social learning network in my classroom.  I used collaborize classroom last year and I absolutely loved it (click here for a tutorial). However, some of my colleagues have decided to take up Edmodo or Schoology and it makes sense for us to have some constancy across the curriculum.

If you are new to the world of Edmodo, Schoology, and the other social learning networks, I’ll give you a brief definition.  Basically, these websites (and apps) allow teachers to create safe Facebook-like social networks where they can post information, assignments, quizzes, calendars, videos, and other content.  Students can also use the sites/apps to turn in work, which teachers can view, annotate and grade paperlessly.

Both platforms look amazing, but from what I can tell, Schoology’s iPad app beats out Edmodo’s app by far and Edmodo’s established user base and resources exceed those of Schoology.  Schoology also has a pay-for-service LMS side,which I will not need as my school uses a different LMS so I am just comparing the two free services. I went ahead and signed up for both accounts so I can play around with them this summer, but I think I will start the school year with Schoology because we are going toward a one-to-one iPad program and Schoology plays nicely with Turnitin.com, which is my lifesaver as an English teacher!

Here is a look at the Schoology iPad App from Jennie Magiera’s Technology in Education Blog (if you are into classroom tech, you should definitely follow her!):

Here’s an intro to Edmodo for teachers from @MissJill:

Ready, set, go!  I’m off to the races with these social learning networks!  I’ll check back in with this in the fall to let you know all the tips and tricks that I’ve worked out.  Thank you so much for stopping by and don’t forget to leave questions, comments or suggestions below!

Free Download: End of the Year Teacher Survey!

Survey

I remember the terror of handing out my first end of the year survey to my students.  I was thoroughly convinced that they would come back completely extolling all my virtues or completely destroying the last shred of dignity that I had as a young teacher in May.  To my utter shock, I have uniformly had the opposite situation.  Students have been incredibly honest and fair with me. Some things they love, some things they hate, some things just needed a little tweak.  Since I have found student surveys so beneficial to honing my craft, today I want to share with you my simple survey along with the reasons why I suggest you give a similar one.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

Reasons to Give an End of the Year Survey: 

  • Learn what to edit out or change. We all have these grand plans that sometimes fizzle out.  No matter how amazing the assignments, projects, or methods sounded in our head, the bottom-line must be student learning.  I don’t think that we have to make everything a carnival ride, but we should know if some assignments are doing more harm than good.
  • Learn what necessities need to become more palatable.   Every student on my survey can write about the challenge of the research paper or the unsatisfactory ending of The Great Gatsby, but that certainly does not mean I will edit them out of my class.  What I can tweak based on student feedback, is the presentation and timeline of events.  Again, it is all about student learning.
  • Create continued equity. I want to know if students don’t think I’m not fair or if I get positive reviews only from girls with As.  Equity in education is paramount.
  • Validate the good. I’m not going to lie.  I love reading my glowing reviews.  In my humble opinion, teaching is one of the hardest careers and it can really wear a person out.  Sometimes we need confirmation of the good we suspect we are doing.
  • Consider other perspectives.  Of course students cannot dictate curriculum with their surveys because they come from a limited perspective.  By the same token, we  will be much more effective educators if we take the chance to walk a mile in our students’ moccasins.

Tips for Proctoring the Survey:

  •  Make a list of the class readings and major assignments/procedures/methods and write them on the board during the survey so students can remember what has been covered and how.
  • Consider using Google Forms so you can easily see the data and run some analytics. (More on Google Forms in the classroom here!)

Click here for the FREE DOWNLOAD of my simple survey that you can make your own!  Feel free to leave questions, comments or concerns in the comment box below and check back every week for more teacher tutorials, tips, and tirades!

Tips for Getting the Work You Want From Students


Questions about Lit

Have you checked out Secondary Solutions reading guides recently? They offer some amazing, insightful, standards based, questions and you can check them out here. These resources can save teachers a ton of time in planning, but we still have to teach the students to engage and respond well.  If we want a quality product, we need to spell out our expectations. Today, I want to share with you some of my rules for answering questions about literature.  Please leave a comment with any additions or questions you have!  Together we can make a master list and raise the bar in classrooms around the country! (PS The word document version is attached to the bottom of this post so you can print and edit for classroom use.)

How to Answer Questions about Literature in This Class:

  • Always use complete sentences.  In addition to the typical grammar rules, this means always using proper capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.
  • Answer the question.  This sounds obvious, but when we get in a hurry or forget to pay careful attention, we can easily answer the question we want to answer instead of the one being asked.
  • Beware of sentences that begin with the following words: because, that, and so.  Only yield those powers if you can control them.
  • Generally, authors should be referred to by last name. You may not refer to them by first name only and you should avoid Mr. and Ms.
  • Know your audience.  If you are not directly speaking to me, avoid use of second person (you).  If you are referring to a play or speech, you probably want to discuss the audience.  If you are referring to a book or story, you may mean the reader or another character.
  • When discussing poetry, do not confuse the author and the speaker.
  • Always use precise vocabulary.  Instead of saying that something is good, try to say that it is significant or ethical or delicious.
  • Remove slang, clichés, and emoticons.
  • Use strong verbs. Avoid words like said, quoted, or this also shows…
  • Pay special attention to parallelism.
  • Avoid unnecessary cheerleading.  I know Harper Lee is awesome, but let’s stick to a more sophisticated analysis of her work.
  • When quoting, be sure select quotes that actually prove your point.
  • When quoting, select short phrases and smoothly embed them in your sentences. Generally avoid long or stand alone quotes.
  • When quoting, use an ellipsis (…) to omit words from the middle of a quote.
  • When quoting, use [brackets] to add words that clarify within the quote.
  • Generally, literature is referred to in the present tense.  It is important that tense stays consistent in your work.
  • English/Humanities courses abide by MLA format.  When in doubt, check The Owl @ Purdue.

Sample Question and Answers:

Sample Question:

How does Robert Browning use language to set a tone in his dramatic monologue, “Porphyria’s Lover”? Be sure to name that tone.

Strong Answers:

  • Browning creates a foreboding tone by personifying the “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
    • Note the smoothly embedded quotes, strong verb and precise language. 
  • Browning sets an ominous tone as he describes the speaker’s “heart fit to break” and Porphyria’s struggle with “pride and vainer ties” (Browning 42).
    • Note the attention to the speaker and parallel construction.

Weak Answers:

  • Robert says, “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
    • Do not refer to an author by first name.  Also, “says” in this case is a weak verb and the embedding is not smooth.
  • Browning sets a bad tone.
    • This answer lacks evidence and uses imprecise language. 
  • Browning gives you scary tone with “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
    • “Gives” is a weak verb.  Take out you.  Embed quotes more smoothly.
  • Browning writes a beautiful poem by personifying the “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
    • The cheerleading does not answer the question. 
  • Browning sets an ominous tone when “she put my arm about her waist” (Browning 42).
    • The embedded quote does not support the answer and if it did, it sill needs some work with brackets to clarify and smooth out the sentence. 

Click here for a word document with this info that you can modify to suit your classroom! (It should save to your downloads folder) Don’t forget to leave your 2 cents in the comment box below and check back every week for more!

5 Tips for Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences

At my school, it is time again for parent conferences.  This opportunity can be bitter sweet.  Before I get into my tips for successful parent-teacher conferences, can I just take a moment to explain my love-hate relationship with parent conferences? (Note: Our conferences are organized as open time slots 3 times a year without RSVPs or scheduling)

What I LOVE:

  • when conferences end in successful partnerships between parent and teacher that ultimately foster successful student outcomes
  • when parents have the opportunity to be pleasantly impressed with their offspring

What I DON’T LOVE:

  • when the majority of parents that I really need to talk with do not make it to conference night
  • working late without any breaks the day before/after

Tips for Successful Conferences:

1. Prepare with students. I don’t have the luxury of knowing which parents will attend at what time, and so I prepare all of my students just in case.  To prep, I give each student a manilla folder and ask them to dig through their work and put in a few pieces that they are proud of (1 piece of writing is required, plus homework, tests, projects, and other work that they like). I also have students fill out a brief form that asks: 1. What have you done well this semester?  2. What are you still working on?  3. What was the most interesting topic for you? I give the students a quiz grade for this to ensure that I get them all back.  I then organize the folders in crates so I can easily pull out the student work when a parent comes. With folders in hand, the focus of the conferences is kept with the student work and student voice.  I get a lot of parents who are impressed with the level of work produced.

2. Stay positive and solution-oriented. We all know that we should give positive feedback along with the constructive criticism, but sometimes  in the rush of conferences, we forget to take a step back and remember that parents have entrusted us with the education of their sweet babies (that have momentarily turned into teenagers).  Instead of focusing on the lack of homework or low quiz scores, focus on the opportunities to bring up the homework or assessment grade through future diligence.  I also post or photocopy my office hours, the school tutoring options, and other helpful resources that parents may not know about.  It has to be about the solution.

3. Actively listen. It seems that every year my heart is broken by the stories of the “simple hell people give other people” (Yes, that was To Kill a Mockingbird).  Sometimes students have home issues, learning difficulties, school situations, health concerns, crazy schedules, and a whole host of other obstacles.  More often than not, the only way that we learn about these struggles is by listening, not just waiting to talk.  (Note to self: I am guilty of this one too much!)

4. Watch the time. Don’t spend so long with one parent that another is neglected.   If the conference seems to need more time or is particularly contentious, invite them to schedule something for a later date and potentially with an admin or department chair.

5. Invite future communication.  Tell parents the best way to communicate with you for future concerns.  I am an email girl, so I print small strips of paper with my email address to hand out when needed.  Routine communication can head off some major issues at the pass.

What are your tips for successful parent-teacher conferences?  Leave them in the comment section below!

conferences

Tips for Using Google Forms in the Classroom:

A few weeks ago, we featured a video blog about how to use google drive, and as a follow up, I’d love to share some ideas for how to use google forms in the classroom.  Here are some of the things I love about using google forms:

  • They are so easy to make and versatile! (Click here for the full tutorial)
  • They are available through google on any device at any time, which is great for students to input through phones, tablets, computers, etc and also for me as a teacher to organize grades and other feedback.
  • When forms are filled out, the data automatically populates a spread sheet that can be sorted by name or other factor.  This makes analysis and grading so much easier!
  • The possibilities are endless!  Here are some samples with extension ideas under each one:

Welcome

Make a form to collect important data at the beginning of the semester.  You could use this type of form to get to know students, collect contact information, or any other bit of info that you need to keep on a tidy spreadsheet.  Club moderators can keep track of t-shirt sizes, participation, and more.  

Assess

Assess students with multiple choice options.  You can use this as a formative or summative assessment.  I usually use it as a pre-test or self-assessment to let students know where their strengths and weaknesses are in order to study more effectively.  Be sure to check back next week when I post a video tutorial about a tool that will quickly grade this type of test for you! 

Help

Create a help ticket that students can fill out to receive extra tutoring.  This helps me stay organized with the materials I will need to gather to help with student success.  I can also arrange for top students to come in and help peers during high traffic hours.  I tell parents about this form on back to school night, so that parents can encourage students to reach out for help.  Exit

You can also create exit tickets to assess student progress and inform teaching.  It is also nice to have students acknowledge the night’s homework in order to eliminate the I-didn’t-know excuse. 

How are you using google forms in the classroom?  We’d love to hear your ideas.

Back to School Night Tips + A Free Prezi Template!

Back to School Night Tips PinBack to School Night is on the calendar for schools across the country, and it is time for teachers to put on our game faces.  If your school is like mine, the format for Back to School Night involves a general assembly and then quick 10-15 minute stops for parents in each of the student’s classes.  For many teachers, this evening can be frightening, overwhelming, awkward, or incredibly dull, but don’t worry! I’m here to give you my tips on making Back to School night a success that will garner you respect with parents and not run your ragged.  I’ve even included a free Prezi template that you can download and edit to give your presentation that extra pizzaz.

Tips for Back to School Night:

1. Be prepared.  Rehearse your talk a few times in your head or out loud and have all handouts ready to go.  Preferably, have notes, a powerpoint, prezi, or other device to keep you on track with your main talking points.  Check out the free prezi template at the end of this post for ideas on organizing your information. With only a few minutes to speak with parents, you do not have time to look through stacks of papers for the syllabus and if you are flying by the seat of your pants on the talk, you will likely forget to make an important point.

2. Control the conversation. Prepare a talk that will span close to the entire period if not the whole thing.  You do not want to have parents asking questions that you’re not ready for and you really don’t want that awkward silence that will come from a talk that ends too soon.  Parents will feel better about you as a teacher if you are in control of the class (without being bossy) even when it is full of adults. Be sure to have your email address or phone number posted clearly on your board or in the syllabus and invite parents to contact you with any questions.  This opens the door to positive communication and gives you time to decide your answer without 30 parents watching.  Remember, there is not time to talk to each parent individually on this night; that is for parent conferences or individual appointments.  Do not allow one parent to monopolize the time asking specific questions about his or her student.  That type of conversation can be handled at another time, so that the other parents aren’t wasting their time.

3. Do not read your syllabus to parents. Parents can read. It is insulting and boring to sit through 6 teachers reading their syllabi on Back to School Night.  Pass out the syllabus or better yet post it on the school webpage to save paper and then allow parents to read it at their discretion.  Spend the time talking about important policies and share your excitement with expectations of what students will learn this year in your class. Remember that attitude is everything.  Later, when the student is complaining to the parent about you (gasp!), but the parent remembers you as bright, engaging, and positive, they are less likely to assume the worst about you.

4. Dress to impress. Be professional; keep it clean; keep it modest.  I know that it’s an awfully long day when Back to School Night comes after a regular school day, but bring a change of clothes if you don’t have time to go home.  Hopefully, parents will see you more casually at football games and school plays; Back to School Night is strictly a professional affair.

5. Anticipate concerns. A little self-awareness goes a long way.  If there is something about your class that tends to get parent or student complaints, mention it at Back to School Night in the most positive light possible.  Give parents the rationale behind that long research paper or late wok policy.  Get them on your team early and you will win some valuable parent support points later.

Free prezi template: 

Click here to download a fun prezi template that will walk you through some ideas for  your back to school night talk.  You can save it to your prezi account and edit it to suit your own information.  All you have to do is click on the words, highlight them, and then type in your information!  New to prezi?  Here is a link to a full prezi tutorial and here is a link to a tutorial for making a quick prezi!

What are your Back to School Night concerns, questions, or advice?  We’re all ears!

Want to know more about Emily Guthrie?  Click here! 

 

7 Tips for New Teachers

Tips for new teachers

1. Make the curriculum your own, but don’t try to re-invent the wheel. My first few years, I had so many ideas that I started every lesson from scratch and left the crates that were passed down from the last teacher to gather dust in the corner. When I taught my English learners about science academic language, I went straight to home depot to create plaster of paris mountains with sand paper so that students could feel the words for erosion, landslides, and peaks. I made my own handouts to teach literature circles and everything else! I spent every evening and weekend creating, planning, and grading.  And at the end of that wonderful year, I realized that I would never make it through a 3 year, much less 30 year career at that pace.  When the next year rolled around and I was assigned to completely different grade levels, I decided to actually go through the files left behind and use them as a base.  I also purchased literature guides for each of my novels.   Of course I still threw in the cool inforgraphic project or socratic seminar, but I saved a ton of time not creating every single lecture, test, and activity from scratch.

2.  Try not to take it personally. When we spend hours creating the perfect learning experience, it is so hard not to take it personally when kids are disruptive, not engaged, falling asleep, and asking to go to the bathroom.  My first few years were filled with days that ended with me locking the door behind the last class of the day, putting my head on my desk and crying.  I tried a myriad of behavior systems that didn’t work for my style of teaching.  In the end, I decided that my best classroom management strategy was a good lesson plan and thick skin.  Instead of concentrating on misbehavior, I concentrated on creating engaging lessons.  I still have high expectations for my students’ behavior, but I let go of trying to control what can’t be controlled.  Even when they are taller than me and driving a nicer car than I am, they are still just kids.  They have bad days.  They have to stay up all night planning for prom.  They have to spend lunch break picking up homework for a sick friend instead of using the restroom.  Not everyone feels the same spark for Hawthorne’s periodic sentences.  It’s not personal, so don’t take it that way. Warning: easier said that done.

3. Create boundaries for work. Be sure that you are still spending time taking a yoga class, watching movies, and hanging out with your friends and family.  I suggest creating non-office hours.  Maybe you don’t do school work on Saturdays or Monday-Friday between the hours of 4 and 7pm.  I also suggest eating lunch with faculty friends instead of at your desk or while tutoring students. Teaching can be isolating enough and you will quickly learn in casual lunch conversation that you are not alone in your areas of struggle and triumph.  Pick whatever works for you, just make sure that you have some time doing things other than grading, prepping, and answering emails. You have a long career ahead of you, pace yourself.

4. Watch other teachers teach.  It is difficult to take time away from your prep period and possibly even tougher to work up the courage to ask a colleague if you can observe, but it is so worth it! Watching one class period a month can leave you with valuable tips, tricks, and classroom tested strategies.  Good teachers won’t mind, I promise.

5.  Make friends with the maintenance person and the secretary. Teaching is messy.  These people will bail you out of 100 sticky situations before Christmas break.  Trust me on this one.

6. Wear comforable shoes.  I know it is tempting to wear those gorgeous new heels or shiny men’s dress shoes to school, but don’t.  If you really need to wear them, just be sure to bring a back up pair of flats or walking shoes.  Anything that will deter you from walking around the room to interact with students should be off limits.  Side note: Be sure you can move safely in your whole outfit.  If you bend over a desk to help a student or drop your white board marker, be sure you are not exposing any extra flesh anywhere.  You don’t want to be known as that teacher.

7. Say what you mean and mean what you say.   If you say this is the last chance, it better be the last chance.  If you say that a behavior will result in extra homework, detention, or other consequence, be sure that you are willing to go through with it fairly.  If you make outrageous threats, students won’t take you seriously and if you don’t go through with fair and reasonable consequences, students will have no reason to follow your directives in the future.  On the other hand, if you don’t communicate the expectations, students will not read your mind.  Be careful what you say because students pick up on idle threats and broken promises very quickly.

What advice do you have for new teachers or veteran teachers?  We’d love to hear it.