Wednesday, August 27, 2014

3 Teacher Survival Lessons





 After I handed the professor my Teaching Of English final exam, signaling the conclusion of my formal BS ED instruction, I literally sprinted toward my future.  I was so pumped up with visions of adolescents gobbling up my lessons culled from my Idea File and clamoring for, “More, please, Mrs. C,” in that perfect classroom of my imagination that Dr. Ryder’s last words failed to register.

“Remember,” he said, “we have been discussing theory.  The realities you all will be facing in the fall will probably be a bit different.” His words bounced off my ears like my mother’s urgings to, “Eat burnt toast so the boys will like you.” All too soon, I would learn that "...a bit" was a vast understatement.

Ninety-six days later, my lesson using lyrics from Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, the Beatles and other rockers to teach metaphor engaged the students. Other stresses, those of the non-teaching kind, though, made me grind my teeth in frustration. Only then did the irony of Dr. Ryder’s final words register in my frustrated brain.

Education professors would do the future teachers in their classes a huge favor by spending some time in a public school setting learning about who really runs the school and who can make teachers’ lives easy or difficult, and then revising their Teaching of courses.

Here are 3 teacher survival lessons that served me well for 30+ years in the classroom. Hopefully, they will cut some of the hassles that you will encounter this- and any- year.

Administrative Assistants run the school. A friendly, “Good morning,” and an occasional sincere chat about their families will:
  • garner you that last ream of copy paper when your colleagues are rifling through the recycled paper bins five minutes before the bell and you desperately need 50 copies of your Metamorphosis test.
  • guarantee you a meeting with the principal about the mouthy kid you want to hang by his thumbs when everyone else thinks the school's head honcho is,  “Lunching with the superintendent.”
  •  insure a heads up on Monday morning when the principal is checking out the “teaching going on” and you planned Reading Time while you unscrambled your weekend sleepy brain.

Custodians can make your life heaven or hell.  Always pick up the day’s detritus left by your students, make sure your trash cans are never the result of a “How Can we Pile the Junk before it Spills” contest, clean your own white boards and deliver home baked goods before holidays to their break room. This guarantees:
  • a bottle of white board cleaner when everyone else is told to, “Buy your own. The district hasn’t authorized us to hand out our supply to teachers.”
  • more desks from their secret stash when the counselors have blessed you with five more students than you have desks.
  • a comfortable, back-saving cushioned office chair fresh off the truck before they send out an All Staff email to, “Come and get one.”

Technology Personnel are to be showered with smiles. They will save your sanity more times than you can count by:
  • fixing the connection between your computer and television so you can show that PowerPoint you spent a gazillion hours designing.
  • finding the Editorial pages that magically disappeared twenty minutes before the newspaper has to be sent to the printer to make deadline.
  • showing you secrets to bypass the glitches in the online grading system an hour before grades are due.

Remember, college professors’ theories are similar to the nursery rhyme about girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead: When they are good (reality-based) they are very good, but when they are bad (ivy tower-only based) they are, well... not horrid, but definitely not helpful.

Have an inspiring and exciting school year.

Happy Teaching,


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Six Teaching Tips to Keep Calm, Cool and Consistent


Connie Casserly
When I created this site, I tried to blog three times a week.  Needless to say, that was too difficult for me to sustain as I tend to be verbose. For most of the 2013-2014 school year, I tended to blog about lessons and include a product as an example. 

Although one of my “Favorite Academic Preoccupations” is offering curriculum that hooks students into learning- into saying, “Please, Teacher, I want some more,” (Thank you Oliver Twist/Charles Dickens), I miss writing about thoughts, ideas and concerns that keep teachers talking- whether it’s face to face, by texting or emailing, or on a social media site.

Starting with this post, I am going to try to post once a week about thoughts, ideas and concerns- yours, mine and ours.  Today, I am offering Six Teaching Tips that I should keep you wrapped in your calm, cool and consistent cape this year.

Teaching Tip #1
Stop the Chattering

When a few students are disrupting the lesson with repeated chatting, giggling and other verbal interruptions simply stop talking.  Stand or sit quietly and just stare at the class with blank look.  In a few seconds you’ll hear a few students go, “Shh,” while others nudge each other. Within a minute, the class will be quiet.  Do not address the talking issue at all; just continue from the point where you stopped.  Before long the students will catch on to this method, and will quiet down more quickly.

Teaching Tip #2
Guess Who’s Tardy?

Tardy List Notebook
Place a small table by the door with spiral note book. Tie a string around a pen and attach it to the spirals. On the top of the page, write the Day of the Week and the Date. Below that write, “If I have to remind you to sign in when you are tardy, you will stay after the period dismissal bell for 30-seconds.”
Next, make two columns.  The left one should be titled: NAME, and the right one should be: TIME.  On the first day of school, explain to the students that if they are tardy, they must sign in with their name and the time that they came to class BEFORE they sit down. You will have to remind them a few times until this becomes a habit for them. If a student tries to slip past the table without signing in  just say, “Sign in,” and continue with your teaching.  Remember to keep this student after class since you had to interrupt the lesson to remind him/her to sign in.  This gives you a list, in the students’ handwriting, to keep in your Attendance Folder. It comes in handy in parent/student/administrator/teacher conferences.

Teaching Tip #3
Organize With Colored Files

Multi-colored File Folders
This idea saved my sanity and insured that I took home the right folders every time that I had papers to grade. 

  1. Choose two file folders for each period, both the same color. Each period should be a different color. Example: Period 1-Red, Period 2- Green, etc.
  2. Label both folders of the same color with the Period Number and Course Name. Example Period 1/English 12; Period 2/ Journalism 
  3. Working with the two folders of the same color, designate one as WORK DUE; label the other GRADED WORK.
  4. Choose a place close to your desk to line up the WORK DUE folders. 
  5. You want these near to your desk so you can keep an eye on them. If you have a plastic file tray for each folder, this really helps keep the work organized. 
  6. Place ONE folder in each tray. Explain to the students, that the day work is due, each one of them must place his/her work in the proper class folder. Clarify that they are never to hand in their work to you.
  7.  On your desk, place a vertical plastic file organizer with the same number of spaces as you have classes. Place a GRADED WORK folder in each slot.
  8. When you have work to grade for a class, pick up the folder for that period and grade the assignments, tests, etc.
  9. After you have graded the papers, place them into the coordinating colored folder labeled GRADED WORK on your desk, and place the empty WORK DUE folder back in its tray.
  10. This colored folder system makes it easy for you to grab the correct WORK DUE folder quickly.  When it is time to hand back the graded papers, you will have the folder in plain sight on your desk. If someone was absent the day you passed back the work, you will know right where to find this person’s papers.
  11. This method saves you time, and guarantees that the correct papers are in the proper class folder.
  12. Another plus- this method puts the responsibility for turning in assignments on the students-where it should be.

Teaching Tip #4
Students are Responsible for their DUE WORK

Teachers and Student
Teaching Tip #4 corresponds with Teaching Tip #3. A good way to save the stress of students blaming you for losing their assignments is to never, ever let them hand the completed work to you. The first day of school, show the students the colored WORK DUE folder for their class period. Explain that the day an assignment is due, they are to place their papers in this folder.
1. Clarify that they are not to ask another student to turn in their work for them.
2. Make it very clear that they should NEVER try to hand the work to you.

If a student comes up to you at some point in the class and says, “Here’s my work,” as they shove the paper in your direction, respond by asking, “Where are you to put it?”.
If a student waves the work in your face and asks, “Where do I put this?” don’t say a word, but just point to the correct folder.

When an occasional student repeatedly asked me this, he or she was usually greeted with my raised right eyebrow silent, and “REALLY?” stare. More often than not, this solved the problem.

Although this method took an assignment or two before every student caught on to the system, before long, they all followed it without hesitation.  No one wished to be the recipient of the raised eyebrow frown.

Teaching Tip #5
Remembering to Laugh

For this tip, I’m paraphrasing Randle McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, when he expressed this thought, “Lose you laugh and lose your footing.” On any given day in this wonderful field of education, anything from the sublime to the ridiculous can, and probably will happen. Also, matters best described as nonsensical, unreasonable, and/or preposterous are guaranteed to erupt on the days you feel the least able to deal with them.

This…this is when you truly need to remember McMurphy’s words. Stop, take a deep breath-or two-or three-, turn your back to the class, or walk in the hall if you can, silently primal scream, and then throw back your head, lift your shoulders and remind yourself that someday you will laugh about this incident, and then force yourself to  smile.  Believe me, this works.

Teaching Tip #6
Be Prepared

The House of Comprehension "Unit Structure Chart"
Plan lessons, activities and projects for the whole first month BEFORE the First Day. Being prepared to teach allows you to expend your time and energy on Back To School administrative duties, planning for Parent Night and-most importantly-on getting to know your students’ academic needs, personalities and viewpoints. When students feel that they come first, they are more willing to be engaged in becoming life-long learners. Check out my blog post from Teachers, Save your Weekends (http://teachitwrite.blogspot.com/2012/09/teachers-save-your-weekends.html)

We teachers expend so much of our time and energy on our students’ needs-where it should be- and on our professional duties and responsibilities-where it is often required, that little is left for us- and we need it the most if we are going to be the best we can be. I hope that these Six Teaching Tips will work for you.

Thank you, my colleagues still leading classrooms, for creating your magic by so willingly sharing your knowledge, abilities and skills with your students and peers.  Kudos to you all for creating joyful, inspiring and safe classrooms for each and every one of your charges, especially for those who might not experience such pleasures in their worlds.

Have a fantastic school year.

Happy Teaching,