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Prepping for Subs: It shouldn’t be MORE work!

Most teachers are well aware that we are one of the few professions (if not the only) where you have to do more work if you call in sick then if you were to just go to work and struggle through it. It doesn’t seem right that when we are feeling terrible we need to try and create or write up a coherent lesson plan that anyone could implement while taking our place in the classroom. Even if we want to just take a day off, we need to prepare ahead of time and come up with a plan-of-attack for our substitute. It’s unfair, but it is also the way things are. This is what I do to make my life easier when I am out of the classroom.

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This is the time of year when we are able to reflect on what we are grateful for. I, for one, am eternally grateful for my amazing and supportive spouse, without whom I would not be be writing this blog. I am also grateful for my wonderful family and my adorably sweet dog. I am grateful for my job, my quirky and strong coworkers and, last but not least, my outstanding students! Gratitude is a beautiful thing that shines a light and brings our focus to all of the good that surrounds us (even when it appears that we are only surrounded by muck). So, how do we teach our students to be grateful?

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Gamification of the Classroom

Everyone likes to play games. Games make things fun! Games help to pass the time! Games allow us to turn an otherwise dull task into something exciting! A lot of it might also be the competition. How else do you explain why spelling words with little wooden tiles can be so entertaining?? If you asked me to do that by myself as an assignment or task: no-thank-you! If you asked me whether or not I could do it better then someone else: challenge accepted!

I have found that incorporating play into everyday routines in my classroom has allowed my students to enjoy tasks and participate more in things that they normally would not. It has also created buy-in when it otherwise would be very difficult to achieve. The following are ways in which I have incorporated play and competition into my classroom:

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The Carrot vs. the Stick: Motivating Students in the Classroom

We’ve all heard the words “If you do that one more time…” which are quickly followed by some kind of threat. Most of us may have heard our parents say that, probably followed by “you’ll be grounded for a week!” However, this phrase is not unfamiliar to teachers either. This old parenting “gem” is generally brought out in dire situations when we are at our wits’ end and don’t know what to do; we generally follow it up with “You’re going to the principle’s office” or “I’m writing you a referral” or “You’re going to have to spend the rest of the period in the corner wearing a dunce cap!” (oh wait, it’s not 1956. Never mind).

I have found that when trying to motivate students to do what is right (or what I want them to do in class), the carrot works much better than the stick.

Motivating students can be difficult, especially if you are asking them to do something they don’t want to do, like sit quietly at their desk and work on an assignment without distracting others (or themselves). However, it is at these times that we should try the carrot, rather than the stick. Threats rarely work, and if they do, the motivation you are giving your students is coming from the wrong place; students should not be working out of fear they will get into trouble. When students are fearful, this can lead to them feeling uncomfortable in your classroom because it has become an unsafe learning environment (not physically unsafe, but they may begin to fear getting into trouble everyday and thus dread coming to your classroom. None of us want that).

Here are some situations when I implement the carrot, rather than the stick:

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Great Teacher Resources

As teachers, I think that we sometimes feel the need to tackle the world single-handedly. Although we are used to being the head-honcho of our classrooms, that doesn’t mean that we need to approach everything alone. There are so many wonderful resources out there for teachers that should be taken advantage of. Here are just a few of the resources that I find most helpful:

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Halloween: Making your Classroom SPOOKtacular!

We all remember the excitement and anticipation we felt as Halloween neared when we were kids. Let’s be honest, some of us still feel that way as adults! I am one of those adults. As soon as my calendar turns to October 1st, I get up early to go to the store and buy mini pumpkins that I can distribute around my classroom (I usually buy about 10). Then, about half-way through the month, I decorate for Halloween. The week of Halloween is usually a delightful mash-up of Halloween themed lessons/demos (like this), labs (like this), activities (like this) and silly movies (like this). Sometimes I think I get more into this holiday then my students do (some of them, at least)!

Below are just a small sampling of my classroom decorations; I really hope you enjoy them!
(All decorations came from the Dollar Tree, the pumpkins came from the grocery store. In total, I spent less then 10 dollars total!)

These paper bats were pre cut, but decided to laminate them so that I can reuse them from year to year. I taped string to the back and tied that to a paper-clip that I used to hang the bats from my light fixtures. I really enjoy the 3-dimentionality that these hanging bats create in my classroom.

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Staying Positive: Self Care Tips for Teachers

It’s no secret that teaching is one of the most rewarding professions out there. It is a special bond that occurs in the classroom between teacher and pupil. We take our jobs seriously; that old saying “It’s not personal, it’s business” doesn’t apply to us. It is personal. After all, we pour our hearts and souls into these children.  Our feelings run deep and that is why this job can be both a beautiful and moving experience as well as a negative and sometimes depressing one.

As teachers, we need to practice self care and make sure that we are doing things everyday to ensure that we are staying positive and not focusing on the negative. The following are just a few ways in which I keep myself positive in the day-to-day as well as during the more difficult times.

During my prep or after school, I often enjoy a nice cup of tea. The teas that I try to keep on hand in my classroom are “Good Earth” and “Yogi“. Aside from the fact that these teas are amazing, the reason why I like to keep these in my classroom is because each bag of tea comes with a great quote. I like to think of it like a daily fortune cookie that gives me something to ponder while I enjoy my tea. I have always enjoyed these teas for their delicious flavors, but now I have a whole new appreciation for them.

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Keeping Classroom Management Friendly

I have found that really working on building trusting relationships with my students is the best tool I have ever had for classroom management. Once your students trust you and respect you, the level of required classroom management drops significantly. I try to keep my classroom fun and feeling safe to them. Teenagers already feel targeted by adults and are so sensitive to any punishment; this is why I try to make my classroom management strategies more ‘friendly’ than serious as they are less likely to blow up and freak out. Here are my ‘friendly’ classroom management techniques:

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Keeping my Sanity by Staying Organized

I don’t know how many students you have, but each year I have around 150. To some, that might seem like a lot. To others, it might seem low. To me, it seems normal. With 150 students coming in and out of my classroom everyday, it is imperative that I stay organized. My main necessity for remaining as organized as possible is the amount of papers I need to keep track of. On average, I collect about 2 items from each student per day (usually their homework and then whatever worksheet/lab they used during class). If I don’t stay on top of my grading, I can easily have 600-900 papers on my desk. Without being hyper-organized, I could easily feel overwhelmed. Or worse: I could lose papers! Every teacher’s nightmare!! Students always think we lose their papers- but we know that more often then not they still have it in their binder or forgot to put their name on it.

Here are my various ways of staying organized:

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A Tour of my Classroom!

I have noticed that as students get older, the classrooms that they inhabit can get a little more boring with each passing year. As a secondary teacher, I try very hard to keep my classroom just as visually stimulating and exciting as a primary classroom. Here is a tour of some of the decorations and ideas I have had for my classroom:

I have a LOT of color in my room (as you can see). I also like to keep my desks in groups to encourage collaboration time in class. Some of my tables are groups of 6 and some are groups of 4. I actually prefer to have all groups of 4, but when I do that the classroom becomes too tight to easily maneuver. For the table groups of 6, I split them down the middle to have smaller groups of 3 for labs and various activities.

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