5 More Things I’ve Learned About Teaching

May 13, 2009 § Leave a comment

6. Choose 1 weeknight each week to go out. For me, it has been Taco Tuesday at the Salty Senorita. $1 tacos and $5 buckets of beer–what could be better? It helps me unwind after a long day of teaching, and it makes the week more bearable to know that you won’t have to wait until Friday night to do anything fun. 

7. Do not decorate your classroom. I repeat, DO NOT decorate your classroom. There is a big difference between decorating and organizing. Bulletin boards that serve no functional purpose, “motivational” signs, cute quotations, and any other method of decorating are off-limits. Save your time, space, and money, and keep your classroom super-organized and simple, and keep the walls mostly bare. You will want that space for chart paper “anchor charts” that you should create during lessons and then keep up on the walls for students to internalize what you have taught. 
I do, however, have a few tips on things to buy for your classroom that are helpful. A rocking chair for read aloud. Magazine holders to store workbooks, folders, and random things that you want to keep at your fingertips (I label these by subject). A lamp to turn on during read aloud. Plastic crates for hanging file folders (use these as mailboxes for students and portfolios). A categorized and organized classroom library that YOU control all access to (if you don’t, be prepared for your books to sprout legs and walk away). Blue tape to section off areas of your white board for specific information. Bins to organize all of your copies by subject. Binders to keep your lesson plans and handouts organized by unit and subject. 
8. Plan specific time each week for classroom community building, student recognition, reinforcement of rules and procedures, and conflict management. I did not do this consistently this year, and I regret it. I feel so much of a crunch to squeeze in all 5 subjects during the day, that community circle has been lost. If I taught again, I would designate a.m. AND p.m. community circle time with a daily agenda. 
9. Take everything you are told to do by your principal and district administrators with a grain of salt. They will shove new responsibilities, curriculum, and “professional development” down your throat, but it is your job to figure out what you want to teach and how you want to teach it. Take what they give you that is good, throw out the rest (or save it for when you are ready), and don’t compromise on what you know is going to be best for your students. 
That said, there have been times over the past 3 years that I thought I knew best and was wrong. Some of the new programs and curriculum that they force on you really work, and so you will have to decide on a case-by-case basis. My main piece of advice is not to let “the man” make your job more complicated for you. If a teacher did everything they were told each year by the district, they would go crazy in a very short amount of time. 
By the way, most of my advice is somehow related to ways to keep your sanity as a teacher…
10. Take attendance every a.m. at the same time electronically and in your paper gradebook. If your school requires it, print out your attendance verification sheets every Friday like clockwork. Don’t leave for Happy Hour until you do this. Believe me–it will save you a huge headache when you try to check-out on the last day of school and they won’t let you leave. For some reason, no one tells new teachers the importance of doing this until the END of the school year, when it is too late. 

5 Things I’ve Learned About Teaching

May 7, 2009 § Leave a comment

As I’m preparing to leave teaching after 3 years of teaching 4th grade in Glendale, AZ, I’ve been thinking about how much I’ve learned over the past few years a lot lately. I was talking about this with Bryan the other day actually, as we discussed some of my fears about starting law school. I know that the first year of law school there is going to be an extremely steep learning curve. All of the vocabulary, content, environments, and mindsets are going to be completely different than what I’ve become used to as a teacher in Arizona. Bryan reminded me, though, that I knew nothing about teaching when I started, and now I feel like a veteran. There is no teaching discussion that I feel left out of, or that I have nothing to say about. I know so much more than I did 3 years ago, and I also know what it is that I don’t know, which I think is really important when you are a teacher. So here is some of what I have learned. One caveat–I know that most of you are not teachers, but I also know that some of you are and I hope that some of what I learned can help others who are new to the career.

1. Find comfortable teacher shoes before you enter the classroom, and buy them in as many different colors as you can. I can’t tell you how many different pairs of shoes I have gone through over the last 3 years in my neverending search for comfortable shoes. Heels, kitten heels, flats, ugly purple crocs, Skechers, sneakers, sandals, flip-flops…I have tried everything. No matter what shoe I wore though, it seemed that I went home practically limping from being on my feet every day. The final winner: Mary Jane (thus, more subtle than the traditional version) style Crocs. They are soft, breathable, and don’t give me blisters. The only problem–I bought them one size too small (they don’t come in half sizes). If I were to stay in teaching, I would buy 3 more pairs in a larger size and throw away every other pair of teacher shoes that I have tried.

2. No matter how many ideas you have about what you are going to do when you are a teacher, keep it simple. I was just like all the rest. I was so excited to have my own classroom, and I had so many ideas of what I was going to do in my own little world as a teacher. I kept a notebook of my ideas and never doubted that I would be able to accomplish most, if not all, of them. The reality: some of my ideas were good, most of them were impractical, and it is impossible to do everything you want to do your first year. (Actually, after completing three, I am starting to think it is impossible to do everything you want to do as a teacher, ever). I will never forget the day I spent in the week before the students arrived that we had to prepare our classrooms hand-drawing a bulletin board-sized replica of the cover of Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go. What was the purpose of this? There might have been one, but I don’t remember what it was now, other than that I had some dream of having a Dr. Seuss “theme” to my classroom. As a new teacher, you must learn to work SMART, not hard. Every time you are doing something, ask yourself–How is this going to impact my students? If the answer is neglibile, step away from the scissors, construction paper, and glitter and start planning a unit.

which leads me to number three…

3. The most effective way to spend your time is to plan a thematic unit. Pick a theme that you think will have a real impact on your students (social justice, social studies, or science are the best, in my opinion), and plan an integrated unit that centers around that theme. Plan how you are going to tie in literature, social studies, science, writing, math, etc. Map out your daily objectives, plan every single lesson, create every single document, and keep everything in a binder AND in an electronic copy in a file on your computer. I spent too much time planning lessons and focusing on one subject at a time, when I should have been focused on what my students were going to walk away really having internalized. Do not stress about covering every single standard (especially in reading and writing, where standards-based instruction should be more of a guide than a rule).

The only thing that makes this really hard are when you have District benchmark exams and a scope & sequence to follow, but this usually only applies to math, which is the subject that can really fit into any thematic unit (cover your standards according to the scope & sequence, but try whenever you can to fit in math that applies to your thematic unit).

4. Pick a daily arrival and departure time and STICK TO THEM. My advice is to decide if you are going to have more energy before or after school. Decide which time of day you will want to get the majority of your work done, and plan to spend more time at school during that chunk of the day. But understand this–you will never, EVER, finish all of your work. There is no “done” in teaching. Save your sanity, energy, and health by arriving at the same time, leaving at the same time, and working smart (i.e., on things that will have the great impact on your students) in between.

5. Work out in the morning before school. It took me three years to figure this one out, but I finally realized that the day that I actually have enough energy after a full day of teaching to feel motivated enough to go to the gym will be the day pigs fly. I do, however, have a lot of energy in the morning. My third year I began waking up at 4:30 am, getting to the gym by 5:00 am, and squeezing a workout in before school. It makes me feel good for the rest of the day. I used to feel a sense of dread all day, knowing that I would end up skipping the workout I had planned for, due to lack of energy. I can’t dread something I’ve already done though! Any teacher that does have enough energy after a day of teaching to exercise is probably not working hard enough at their job during the day.

My tendency for verbosity is making me realize that finishing all 25 things I’ve learned would turn into a novel, so I’m going to leave it at 5 for today. 5 more things I’ve learned about teaching will be com ing soon! (And for all the non-teachers who are reading this, I promise that the teacher-talk will diminish as soon as those kids leave on May 28).

Teachers: What is the biggest thing you have learned since you became a teacher?

Heading to Japan!

May 4, 2009 § 3 Comments

This place looks amazing right? Well, it’s official now…I am definitely going to Japan. I purchased my plane ticket on Friday. I’ll be flying from Phoenix to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Tokyo, switching airports in Tokyo, Tokyo to Okinawa. I am so excited to be going to Asia for the first time, and to get to spend the two months before law school on this adventure with Bryan. 

One of my goals for the summer is to spend my days helping Bryan put the house together. I want him to be comfortable (and I want me to be comfortable! ) in his new home. So I’ll be setting things up, shopping for him, getting him organized, cooking real meals, etc. I’m excited to a good house-girlfriend for the summer (because I won’t have this opportunity at any time for the next three years!). 
I’m also looking forward to getting back into my daily workouts. Last summer I only had one goal: get in shape. I spent approximately 2 hours a day at the gym and religiously tracked my food intake. I had nothing else on my plate, so it was much easier to keep up with my fitness than it is during the school year. This school year I have been pretty good at going to the gym in the morning (wake up at 4:15 am, at the gym by 5:00 am, back at home to shower by 6:00 am). I am looking forward, though, to having more freedom to spend more than 1 hour in the gym. This will make it easier to actually run AND lift weights, which is very difficult to do in only 1 hour. 
Finally, I’m planning to spend whatever time is left (and it’s going to have to be a lot) studying for law school. When most people hear me say this, they seem confused. How can you study for law school until you get there? I’ve read a book called Planet Law School that details a pretty intense pre-law school preparation program that includes lots of reading, practice briefing, and even a CD program that teaches examsmanship tactics that should hopefully help me get a head start on the notorious first year of law school. I’m not expecting that my summer prep will make the first year easy, I am just hoping to get myself to a place where I am not drowning that first semester, as I have heard from so many other first-year law students. 
So this is the plan for my day-to-day life this summer in Okinawa. Of course, from looking at the pictures I have found online and that Bryan has shown me, there is also so much to see on the island. So I am hoping that Bryan will have enough time on the weekends to go on mini-adventures with me that will remember for the rest of our lives. And anyone who has the travel itch should definitely contact us about visiting this summer! We are hoping to find a place with at least 2, hopefully 3 bedrooms, and 2 bathrooms, so we should have room for guests. 

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