Teachers Need To Give Up

It’s that time of year again, when summer floaties and outdoor supplies go on sale, and teachers everywhere stand in abject horror as the school supply aisles start to go up (to be shortly followed by the Christmas aisles, but I digress). We scramble to get last minute appointments done, gather as many discounted glue sticks as allowed by law, and get ready for another year.

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Now, every school year begins with a bang for most teachers. We are (sorta) recharged, have dropped off our cares for the last school year, and the bad, bad, snarling student we somehow had assigned not only to our class, but also our study hall, well, his memory is fading. How will we feel in October, however? Or February, which I’m convinced is the longest month of the year no matter what the calendar says? I think we need to just get this out of the way now. Teacher, let’s give up…

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We need to give up basing our worth on other people’s expectations about what a teacher is and what we do.

I know that sometimes it feel like all we do is ‘teach a test’, look at statistics, attend meetings, run copies, enter grades, and clean up, but what we forget is that we have access to young lives that trust us, model us, and sometimes, if we’re lucky, even love and respect us.  All careers begin because someone learned something that sparked an interest. I love Taylor Mali’s poem about ‘What Teacher’s Make’. Let’s get fired up.

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We need to give up thinking that what we do doesn’t make a difference.

Sometimes, we are the only smiling face a child sees in the course of their day. This past year, I had a student who was being bullied at home and school.  His family didn’t have much money, so he wore what he could find, which generally consisted of dirty jeans and a girl’s hoodie.  My fellow teachers and I got together and found him some up to date clothing, got his hair cut for him and even had some extra money put in his lunch account. Another teacher told me she was behind him in line in the cafeteria one day and he was told he had $50 in his account. ‘Wow!’, he said. ‘Someone really loves me!’ His whole attitude in class changed for the better, and he wore a smile with his new clothes.

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We need to give up spending time on trying to be perfect and spend time on being tangible.

I love being organized. I hate chaos, last minute changes, and things beyond my control. What I had to teach myself as a teacher was that it is more important to love your students and really listen to them, than it is to dust that shelf. It is more important to give that pat on the back or that high five, than it is to sweep under dirty shoes. It is more important to make sure the students know that I am there for them, than it is to shoo them away from my desk so I can grade.  The students don’t know if a lesson plan went off without a hitch, and could care less if you have the correct TEK by the test question. What they do care about is knowing that you are human, that you’re not perfect and that it’s okay, and that you care about them.

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We need to give up on blaming ourselves when students don’t like us.

Do you like everyone you know? I would wager that unless you also sing in a hut in the woods and birds and wildlife flock to hear you, the answer is probably ‘no’. Students are the same way. It used to bother me when kids would say ‘You’re my 2nd favorite teacher’ or ‘Mr. so and so is the best on campus’, or ‘I hate your class’. You have to realize that it’s okay. You’re not perfect and neither are they, and sometimes, people don’t gel. You just need to do your job, make sure they learn, and that you’re kind, even when you don’t want to be. (I always have to keep saying ‘You ARE the adult. You ARE the adult’ in my head because I teach teenagers).

Sometimes, they do come around. Just this past year, I had a student that drove me bananas. He clearly didn’t care for me, and the feeling at that point was mutual. Somewhere along the course of the year, he matured a little bit, and by the end he was bringing me flowers and cards. His teacher’s appreciation letter said ‘You are very patient and forgiving. I don’t know that I could be as forgiving as you. Thank you for forgiving me’.

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We need to give up our (occasional) negativity. 🙂

I tend to gravitate toward negativity about October. Why? I’m tired, haven’t had a day off in months, the kids are getting squirrely, and misery loves company. This year, I’m going to watch this video instead. I think sometimes, everyone can use a pep talk. 

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We need to give up leaving the profession.

Not all is perfect in teaching, but it’s not perfect anywhere, in any job. You were chosen to teach for a reason. I say that because I believe that a profession, a calling, literally ‘chooses’ you. If I can reach one kid a year, just one, that leaves my class feeling good about him or herself, it was all worth it. I’m reminded of a very simple, yet poignant story…

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So teachers, let’s give up. Be strong, think positive, and remember that you are the ones entrusted with educating the future. Let’s change the world by giving up what makes us question ourselves, and building up our passion for educating our students.

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Have a great school year!

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What I Learned As A Kid

Recently, I read a post from an acquaintance that adults should treat children as equals from birth because we want them to grow up confident. It went on to add that children should be involved in all household decision making, including groceries and budgeting, and that parents should freely allow them to express themselves, for example, using curse words in public as long as the words are used correctly. Everyone should get a chance to play on the team and perform, even if they stink at whatever the activity is and it hinders the other children’s chances to experience success.  To conclude, the goal of the parent is to protect the child from feelings of failure so they will grow up to be good human beings.

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Having recently turned 40, I have to be honest. This post didn’t sit well with me.  It’s as if some people have forgotten the basics. My parents did absolutely none of these things and I think many people that know me would be hard pressed to say that I’m not confident and strive to be a good person.  I started thinking about some valuable lessons I learned as a child, and thought maybe I should pass them on.  These basic ideas have been pretty helpful over the years.

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Not everyone SHOULD get to be on the team. People have different skills and abilities. What one person is great at and has a passion for, someone else could care less about or be at most mildly interested. When did it become ‘do as many mediocre things as you can and get a trophy for showing up’ rather than focus on 1 or 2 things you’re really good at and become an expert at them? Also, a child shouldn’t be in everything. They need time to study and play and learn. I know a 13 year old in school 7 hours a day, then dance, voice lessons, modeling on the weekend, cheer 3 times a week, choir and band, UIL teams, student council and honor society. You can’t tell me that’s not a tired, stressed kid. The question is: Is this for the child and what they want, or is it what the parent thinks the child should do? Lots of people live vicariously through their children these days.

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Life doesn’t pack you in bubble wrap. As I look back as an adult, I realize that my parent’s allowing me to try and fail at some things on my own taught me as much if not more than always having success. Some parents so internalize their kid’s success and failures that when the kid doesn’t do well, the parent flips out, threatens to sue or calls the news. That’s not to say you shouldn’t commiserate and feel for the child. Just use it as a teaching moment instead and see what mistakes were made, what they can learn from the experience and how it can make them wiser, more rounded people. Life is full of stupid ‘duh’ mistakes. The difference between blaming and learning is how you were taught to deal with failure.

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Life isn’t fair and doesn’t care if your feelings are hurt. Not everyone gets to be Homecoming Queen. Recently, I saw a school activity where some folks tried out and didn’t make the cut. It sucks, believe me. I’ve been there. Instead of chalking it up as experience, parents called the school and wanted to know why, why, why?!?! Why wasn’t precious who didn’t meet all the qualifications not chosen for a committee of 10 when 15 other applicants were more qualified? Could the auditions be held over? Was there a mistake? How could they get copies of all the records? Who did they need to speak to in order to rectify this grievous error? Could they speak to the people who did the ratings? My question: As a parent, are you going to call an employer and find out why your child wasn’t hired for a job? Are you going to talk to his or her boss about why they received an average evaluation? Of course not, many would say. Then why are you trying to force your child into an activity for which they’re not qualified? Saw in the news where some local lady was suing a school district because her daughter didn’t make cheerleader. What does this teach kids? That if you aren’t hired, you sue the company? If you don’t get the grade you want, you complain until you force them to give you something you didn’t earn? Goes back to failure. Teach kids to be good ‘winners’ AND good ‘losers’ and the world will be a happier place.

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NO, means no, means no, means no. Not, ask again in 15 minutes. Not, bother me until I give in. Not, only on certain conditions. No. No, you are 11 and may not play Gameboy until 2am instead of doing your homework. No, we cannot work out a deal. No, you do not get a say in adult decision making when it comes to your education and well-being as a minor. No. I appreciate your thoughts, but no. When I was a kid, I asked once and if I was told no, guess what? I was told no. I didn’t ask again. I didn’t get all suave and try to bargain and reason and cut a deal. Why? Because my parents were the ADULTS and I was the CHILD. They knew what was best for me, they had life experience, and I respected their answer. Was I always happy with their answer? Heck to the no. Sometimes, I think I actually seethed, but it was their home and their rules. Now at age 40, my parents treat me as an equal, and I’m glad they treated me like I was a kid when I was a kid. Parent’s set the rules, stick to them, and allow kids to be kids. As a teacher, I’m here to tell you, kids LIKE boundaries. They want to know what goes and what doesn’t. It’s when they’re in the ‘whatever dude’ environment that they most get into trouble. Give them the stability that they need to grow up. As they get older, involve them more in the decision making, such as when they start driving, but I don’t think you should treat them as little adults from the get go and certainly not in equal standing with you. Be their parent, not their BFF.

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Everything you do in life is potentially a test. Don’t half-a** anything because you never know when what you do will be judged, critiqued or graded by others. If you’re filling out an application for something, use your best handwriting, and don’t make it look like a last minute grocery list. Good enough isn’t good enough if it can be better and better isn’t good enough if it can be best, I’ve heard say. Teach your kids that they should always try to do things to the best of their abilities. As my daddy taught me, if you’re going to do anything do it as right as you can the first time.

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Always show respect for others….even when you secretly don’t care for them. I have a person in my life that I’m fairly certain I would not urinate on if they were on fire. However, when I see them, I’m polite, I’m respectful, and I move on. Why? I was taught to have manners. The world isn’t a set of the Jerry Springer show. Classy people show their class by 1. The way they deal with adversity, and 2. By the way the deal with people they don’t like. In addition, you show respect for YOURSELF. Stupid isn’t cute, especially when it’s an act for attention, and no one is impressed when you show up looking like something the cat dragged in. Pajamas are to be worn to bed or around the house and not to Wal-Mart or other public places. Rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t dream of wearing it to meet your favorite __________ (whatever), then don’t wear it out of the house. Just saying.

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The best things in life aren’t things. They are family, memories, activities, holiday’s together, fun events and sharing. It often seems today that kids have their love bought with stuff because the stressed parents are so busy trying to make the status quo and know they’re missing out. Computers, Xboxes, $300 cell phones, $200 jeans, $200 designer purses, IPods, IPads, Nooks, Kindles, internet Wi-Fi…I remember doing a lot of reading, and talking to others when I was growing up. I played outside with a water hose where I drank the water and didn’t worry about a disease and sanitize it with 45 different products. I made mud pies, played on my swing-set and monkey bars, rode my bike and made up stories with my friends. Now, people sit in rooms together in silence on their phones, and we wonder why kids have problems with writing, reading, problem solving and drawing conclusions. Sometimes I wish a CME (Coronal Mass Emission) from the sun would shut down all power grids for a day just so people would have to communicate and remember what that was like.

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You appreciate what you have. You took care of it and didn’t throw whatever it was around in the expectation of just getting another one. You took care of your home and mowed your yard and cleaned your home and room. You were proud of what you had and you were thankful. I can’t tell you the number of people I know who live in houses that could be nice, but they don’t take care of them, or anything for that matter. However, they drive $70,000 cars and buy their kids a new cell phone every time he or she is careless and breaks it. This instant, drive-thru mentality of ours is going to end up biting us in the butt. I have students whose parents bought them supplies that they tear up, or break in half because they know they’ll get more. How are these kids going to function when they’re on their own?

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No, my childhood wasn’t perfect, but I feel like many kids these days don’t have a chance to be kids and many parents don’t have the opportunity and time to parent.  Times change and things come and go, but I think that some things, like love for family, trying to understand your child, and respecting yourself and others never goes out of style. But this is all just my opinion…

Couponing: Legal Theft for Organized People

Let me begin by saying that I am NOT an extreme couponer.  I don’t stockpile 200 individual servings of Ramen noodles and 40 boxes of cereal. I don’t have 100 tubes of toothpaste, or even 50. However, as a teacher, I have found that devoting an hour a week to couponing makes the best use of my pay possible. Teachers don’t choose their profession for the money, or haven’t you heard?  Many of the friends have asked me how I do my couponing and get such good deals. This is just an introduction to show you.

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For starters, I don’t coupon very much for food. Several reasons: a) food expires, b) it’s just my husband and I, and 3) a lot of what I eat doesn’t have a coupon. I shop at Kroger and they have a shopper’s card and an App that I use. I can download coupons directly to my card using my App and, as a regular customer, they will send me coupons to use on stuff I buy that are just good for their store. I definitely wouldn’t shop at my local grocery store that starts with “Market” because their food is so high that by the time they put it on ‘sale’ it’s the price of everyone else’s every day. Just a tip…

The main places that I use my coupon ninja skills are Walgreens and CVS. The people at my local Wal-Mart are grouchy and look at me as if I’m trying to pull one over on them if I try to coupon there. Unlike the majority of their clientele, I’m wearing shoes and have had a bath, so I think they should give me the benefit of the doubt.  Anyway, both Walgreens and CVS have free customer rewards card that you can put on your key chain. If you don’t have these, that’s the first step. Get them!

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There is a great website for newbies to go: www.krazycouponlady.com. You can choose the store and she will tell you what coupons to match to what deal, when the coupons came out, websites you can print from, etc. I still use this from time to time, but now that I’ve done my transactions so many times, I can generally look at an ad and see what’s worthwhile.  Check this out on Saturday night while you’re lying in bed.  I don’t bother to print coupons. I know some people do, but my printer is older than Moses and uses a bunch of ink. In what I saved in the coupon, I lost in the ink. I find the ones that come in the paper sufficient, but that’s your call.

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On Sundays, I get both a Beaumont Enterprise AND a Houston Chronicle. Why? Because Houston covers a greater area, the coupons are the same as those from Beaumont, plus additional ones that our paper doesn’t offer. Yes, it’s $3.00 a paper, but you will more than get your money back. I only get 1 of each. Like I said, I’m not all ‘extreme’. Most people will find that if they get a local paper and one from the nearest largest city, they will have a good selection of coupons.  Here’s what I’ve amassed just using two papers a week:

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Sunday morning with breakfast, I spread out my Walgreen’s and CVS ads and see what looks good. Here’s what I’m looking for: 1) on sale, 2) I have a coupon for the item and 3) even better, I get ‘register rewards’ or ‘points’ when I purchase it. Never, never, never buy something with a coupon UNLESS it’s also on sale and/or you get ‘register rewards’ or ‘points’. That’s the best way to get the most out of your money. I make a list that I STICK TO, and attach the coupons, register rewards I previously earned, etc. to the back of the list.  The reason I say ‘stick to your list’ is because you are going there to get deals. If you want to leisure shop another time, have at it. The goal is to see how much you can get for the least amount of money.

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CVS is the easiest to coupon at, in my opinion. When you enter the store, scan your card at the kiosk and that will give you extra store coupons and sales that you won’t find in the paper that are usually good for 2 weeks. When you check out, they will scan your card and after checkout, if you’re owed any ‘register rewards’ they will print at the end of your receipt. You will usually have 3 weeks to use them before they expire, so don’t let that happen (I did that once and lost $12 in bucks. I was not a happy camper).  They also keep track of your purchases and every 3 months, you get a % back of all your purchases. This will print like a ‘register reward’. You can also go online at www.cvs.com and join their ‘Beauty Club’. You get $5 register rewards for every $50 spent cumulatively in the store. These add up quick and will also print on the end of your receipt.  In the CVS ad, they will clearly state how many register rewards can be earned per household for items. Be sure and check this when making your list. They call their register rewards ‘extrabucks’.

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One thing I like about CVS is that you can use coupons on Buy One/Get One deals. For example, an ad says that if you buy 1 bottle of Pantene, you get 1 free, and you have 2 coupons, each for $1 off one bottle, you can use both coupons.  I also like that they give you a % back and they keep up with your spending for more register rewards. They are also pretty clean, nice and will do whatever they can to help you. For more info on their policies, you can look at the Krazy Coupon Lady site and she goes into more detail. On the picture above, there were $3 off 1 eye care coupons in the paper. You purchase 2 papers, so you got 2 of them. If you did this deal for CVS, you would buy 2 eye solutions, pay $20.00 before coupons, $14.00 after coupons and receive a $5 extrabuck printed on your receipt for future use. That would make each bottle $4.50 each.

Walgreens also has good deals, but can be a little confusing. They DO NOT allow coupons on BOGO unless it’s just for 1 item. Same example above on the Pantene, you’d only be able to use 1 of those coupons. They have an App where you can send store coupons directly to your card which keeps you from having to cut them out of the ad. They do not have a kiosk with extra deals, and do not give you a % back. Their register rewards print separate from your receipt so you’ll have to keep up with them. These register rewards usually last 2 weeks before they expire.  The good thing, they give you ‘points’ that stay on your card when you buy certain items listed in the ad. You can accumulate these points as long as you want and they never expire. You can’t earn and ‘spend’ points on the same transaction, so there’s that. You have to pick and choose. If I were a newbie, I’d try CVS first because it’s more user-friendly. Once you get used to the process, Walgreens has excellent deals if you know their system. Krazy Coupon Lady is also good to look at these policies. Walgreens does have EXCELLENT school supply sales beginning in July.

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On the picture above, using the same $3 off 1 coupon on eye solution, you would buy 2 and pay $18.00 prior to coupons, $12.00 after coupons because we had 2 at $3 off each, and receive $2.00 in register rewards credited to your card. This would make the items $5 each. CVS had the better sale….see how that works?

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At first, it will seem that you spend a bit of money. Just remember that if you turn around and use those register rewards, you get your money back and it goes toward another item. Essentially, if you were clever enough, you could use register rewards to get stuff that gave you register rewards to get stuff that gave you register rewards, etc.

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Remember, it’s just a game and a fun way to stretch that dollar. My last advice, don’t buy stuff you don’t need just because it’s ‘free’. Unless you plan on donating it or know someone who could use it, it’s just going to take up storage space and eventually expire or be discarded. Make sure you’re buying what your family will use and that hour a week you spend will be well worth the $.

School is over a month away, but let’s put out school supplies! – Wal-Mart

With school supplies showing up at my local Wal-Mart (because they must get out the Christmas decoration by October and will need the room), my school nightmares have returned.

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My basic nightmare begins in a classroom of people held against their will where no one will listen to me…you know, almost like a real school day.   The administration has taken away my classroom for my conference period (which isn’t all that of a stretch as they did it last year to use my room for another class) and I have to tromp to the woods by the football stadium to find my used KOA cabin that is now my conference room. I glance into the woods, and the road to my cabin is muddy and full of pot holes. (Symbolism much?) Then, I’m called to the Principal’s office where a parent has reported me for calling them a lint ball. As punishment, I have to pull staples out of the world’s longest bulletin board with a toothpick.

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I wake up in a cold sweat.

Back to school is always a mix of good and bad feelings. You get a new start, with new kids and you look forward to getting to know them and being able to visit with your co-workers again.  On the flip side, you have to get up early, wear actual clothes not made of sweat pant material, and fight off the first month illness that you always get when surrounded by new germs, eh, kids.

Several of my friends are new to teaching this year and have asked me to make them a list of what they will need to stock their desks and classrooms. In response, I have written some of the longest text messages known to mankind…they’re probably still being sent as we speak.  As I waited to hear the ‘sent’ beep, the thought occurred to me that it would have been nice, when I started, to know what I needed to have on hand. Thus, this super fantastic and descriptive blog.

Keep in mind your audience and your age group. Obviously 1st graders don’t need pointed scissors around and 8th graders, although some may disagree, wouldn’t benefit from a sleeping mat (but their teachers might).  Some school districts, if you are one of the lucky few, provide all supplies for teachers and may have a supply closet where you can retrieve extra things. (If you are one of these people, be thankful and let me know if the Unicorn is pretty).  Most will give you a budget of around $100 to buy things from their warehouse.  The bulk of what 1st time teachers, heck, all teachers, need to start a school year, generally falls on them.

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Upside, you can claim about $200 on your taxes. Also, once you teach for a while, you’ll find that you’ll need less and less and are replacing only consumables. The downside, the $200 barely covers tax for what you end up spending sometimes, especially if you try to furnish your own room, except for desks.

Tips: Stores such as Joanne’s Fabrics, Office Depot, Walgreens and CVS have discount/loyalty cards that you can get for free which give you discounts or offer rebates to teachers. You can also create a page on http://www.adoptaclassroom.com and ask people you know if they would be willing to donate a few bucks to help you get started.  Also, start saving Boxtops off General Mills products. Each one is worth 10 cents and once submitted in groups of 50, earn you a check that you can spend on supplies. Two submission dates: October and February. Check with your campus to see if someone is in charge of this and, if not, you can register your school at www.boxtopsforeducation.com .

Okay, to the list. In general, you will need the following to stock your desk and room:

  • Pencils and sharpener (You may want to invest in a good sharpener right off the bat. Many of the ones attached to the wall are more successful at eating pencils than actually sharpening them.

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  • Pens (Red, blue and black)
  • Notebook paper and/or legal pad and/or spiral or composition book (I use a comp book to document discipline and the others for writing down ideas or information at staff meetings [doodling])
  • Binders (If you’d like to keep hard copies of lessons in these)
  • White Out
  • Expo markers and erasers
  • Stapler, staples, staple puller (Usually 2 staplers – 1 for you and 1 for the students)
  • Notecards (Trust me. They come in handy for different things)
  • Rubber bands
  • Clip board
  • Map Colors/Markers/Highlighters/Crayons
  • Glue stick

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  • Ruler/Meter stick
  • Post it notes
  • Band-Aids
  • Scissors (Get a good pair)

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  • Calculator
  • Masking Tape
  • Transparent tape and dispenser
  • Sharpies
  • Sliding E-Z grader (Can be found at most school supply places or online)
  • Eraser Caps/Big Eraser
  • Baskets or boxes for storage

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  • Manila file folders/hanging folders
  • Kleenex
  • Lysol wipes (For all things dirty)
  • Baby wipes (Come in handy for dirty hands that can’t use sanitizer)
  • Pledge and a duster (Kids make dust like Pig Pen from Snoopy)

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  • Paper towels
  • Personal items like deodorant, toothbrush and paste, hair brush etc. because there are some mornings when things are forgotten or not done well.

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  • Comfortable elevated chair (You might work up to this purchase, but it’s well worth it to rest your feet and still be able to see everyone)
  • Ball of yarn (Lost lanyards, name tag holder, etc)
  • Small umbrella (For those days when the sky’s bottom drops out and you parked at the back of the lot)
  • Latex gloves (A few pairs should do…you never know. I wore them when I cleaned desks where kids with lice had sat)
  • Personal decorating (This is where it can get pricy – fabric, curtains, posters, etc.) This is up to you.

 

I think I covered most of it. Again, these are the basics I keep on hand in my room.  Don’t be overwhelmed. A lot of this you probably have hanging around your house, in the garage or in your junk drawer or craft room.  Once you request the kids to bring their items, you can add to yours over the course of the school year and be able to buy less the following year.

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Most school supplies are on sale from July – end of August. After this time, they can double in price. In other words: Get them while the getting’s good! Have fun shopping, go sign up for those discount cards and get your goodies now!

 

 

Standardized Testing: The Highs, the Lows and the Stash of Chocolate

If you’re thinking of becoming a teacher, let me tell you now: Covet thy chocolate. Have an extra stash somewhere in your room, because you never know when the moment may arise for a Hershey Bar.  I’ve had a stash of gummy bears this year, and I don’t get the same experience with them as I do with my cocoa beans.

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I needed my chocolate, desperately, beginning in the last of March until this week.

“Why”, you may ask? Any teacher in Texas will tell you: STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness) Tests. These are also know as ‘The Damn STAAR Test”, “Those Standardized Tests”, “Non-Instructional Days”, “Today calls for a Xanex”,  and “Sign Here. Good Luck”.

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Planning for this test began, and I kid you not, the previous May when last year’s test results showed up. We spend all summer in workshops (no, contrary to popular belief, we DON’T get 3 months off with nothing to do) contemplating the ‘how’s’, the ‘whys’, and the ‘what the heck happend’s’.  We look at data by grade, by test, by teacher, by department, by question, by question type,  by state requirement, by student, by ability level, by District, by school. And what do we come up with? Someone, somewhere comes forward with a ‘new’ idea that is going to help our kids ‘beat’ this test, knowing full well, no one really knows what’s on it for sure and that it changes every year.  In short, we are taught new ways to essentially ‘teach the test’.

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Now, being in education as both a student and teacher for many years now, I can say that I truly believe that a well rounded education aids in a person’s ability to problem-solve and draw conclusions. I sometimes feel, as I know others do as well, that in an effort to make sure that education is equal and all are learning a certain set of standards, this process has created a generation of people who are quite adept at bubbling in ‘A’ or ‘When in doubt, C it out’, and less adept at simple decision making and the application of learning to their lives. (WHOLE other blog this could be)…

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This year was not different for me. I made sure I covered everything the State said they needed to know. In order to get this down, especially with my lower level classes, we didn’t have time to take a lot of tangents, or stop often and test a hypothesis (where I think real learning takes place when kids get to see why something does/doesn’t work).  I followed the prescribed lesson plan format, I administered the 3 common assessments we are required to give EVERY 6 weeks (no I’m not joking), and I retaught and cycled back in things they scored low on. These are all good teaching methods, but when you feel like your hands are tied and are constantly reminded that the kids ‘don’t need to know that for the test’, you sometimes wonder where the priorities really are.  Now, some people will argue and say that ‘No, we don’t teach a test to kids’. I can’t speak for everywhere else, but I know in my neck of the woods, if you teach an age group that’s tested, you try your best to get in the real special extras, but you do focus on what’s going to be on that test so sayeth the State.

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I stood in the back of the room as I ‘actively monitored’ 4 different tests at 4 hours each, and I felt the compassion I always feel for my kids as they work away, and with it was mixed a twinge of guilt. The cold brick against my back, I realized that I had done them no favors by not teaching them Science in a way that I knew would undoubtedly inspire a love of learning.  Just like the hard wall I was leaning on, I felt a barrier between the teacher I knew I could be and that I wanted to be, and what was expected of me by local test standards.  I would have loved to take them outside to look at our impact on the environment, to spend a semester doing a weekly examination of the decomposition of a McDonald’s hamburger,  or to have taken a field trip to our local Edison Museum.  There was never time after all I was required to do in relation to test prep and I was always told “it’s not on the test”.

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As focused as we were made to be on scores, we taught the kids to do a ‘data dump’. Sounds charming, I know, but for weeks prior to the test, we worked on getting that formula chart out of the test and once they were told to begin, to ‘dump’ everything that had learned this year on the formula chart. Moon phases, acronyms, signs of a hurricane, atoms, Newton’s laws, tides…we went over and over that, thinking full well, only some would do it. The day of the test, when they were told “If there are no other questions, you may begin”, an amazing thing happened. 95% of all 8th graders on my campus used this technique and they wrote down everything they could think of. My 2 8th grade coworkers and I had people come up to us after the test and basically state, “I don’t know what you taught those kids, but I have never seen a group do that before or be so eager to take a test”.

My happiest day of the year was the day following the test, not because testing was over (that was good too), but because I could tell the kids with absolute sincerity that pass or fail, because they had obviously translated all their learning and did what I asked, that I was proud of them. That’s all a teacher can ask for (especially when you’re working with teenagers).

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In real life, we face tests of a sort everyday. Some we pass, while others we fail or barely skirt by.  It’s not really about always getting it ‘right’. It’s about the lessons we learn along the way. I am not against standardized testing to see where certain deficits lie and what could be improved. What I am against is the stifling of a group of extraordinary people known as teachers who want kids to love learning as much as they do. We are a diverse, bright, skilled group of people. I wish the people who focused only on tests and test results could see that we would get the job done, and, if left to our own devices, would even leave them pleasantly surprised.

 

 

A Bad Administrator In The Classroom: A Fairy Tale

Keeping with my theme of make-believe and fairy stories, I began to think the other day during a staff meeting (where we discussed what we had already received in a memo), what would happen if people long, long, long out of the classroom, such as bad, out of touch administrators, were thrust back into duty?

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Now I know some Admins. make it their mission to never loose touch with what it was like to be in the classroom. Some will even substitute on your sick days to get a feel for the students. I don’t know these people, but I’ve heard they exist.

I’m talking about, however, the ones safely behind their desks in their shiny, clean offices, decorated with live plants, carpet, breakable things, and state of the art technology. The ones with access to intercoms, a copier that works, food delivery, 2 hour lunch breaks, special parking, and the ability to call a meeting because…eh…why not. Those people.

Now granted, many Administrators worked in classrooms for years and have earned their chance to relax a little because they have their own set of responsibilities we know nothing about, such as running an entire school without the place flooding, exploding, catching fire, being shut down from a lice epidemic, etc. etc.

Think of one that you really didn’t/do not like. One that snuck in on the ‘good ol’ boy or girl’ system. One that spent the bare minimum amount of time in the classroom before working their way up to Assistant Principal, where they spent another bare minimum amount of time on that before they received a Principal position.  Let’s call her Mrs. Jones. Here’s her fairy tale….

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Donna Jones had been a teacher for precisely 3 years before attending a 3 hour course to be an Assistant Principal. She got the next open position and spent another 2 years there before barely passing her Principal certification. Donna Jones didn’t like being in the classroom, but she had big ideas. She was going to go all the way, to Superintendent if she could. The test scores at her school were very good, thanks to her solely of course, and the teachers were well trained to ask no questions, make no suggestions, or challenge any of her ideas. She was always right anyway. What did they know.

Donna arrived at school one morning with a smile plastered across her face. After splashing some water on teachers crossing the parking lot full of holes, she parked right next to the door prepared to begin her day as she always did: Announcements.  The Principal before her had always allowed the Students Council to do the announcements, but Donna liked to hear herself talk as she believed she had an excellent speaking voice, so she did all of them now. She had also planned a last minute staff meeting that should take up most, if not all, of the teachers’ conference periods where she planned to discuss changing all the curriculum at the Semester because of a book she read. She liked the ideas in this book and, although none of the book had statistics to support the curriculum theories, she thought it would be a great idea to change. And if the teachers didn’t like it? Well, she would assign them terrible duties and that would put an end to the whining.

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Upon entering her office, Donna was dismayed to find students lined up outside her door. ‘What are you doing here?” she asked. They stated that they needed retests and homework help and since no one else was there yet, they had been instructed to come to her. “Homework”, she thought with a huff. “Sorry, but that’s NOT my job,” she stated squeezing her way in the door. “What are we supposed to do?” a student asked. “Go ask a teacher,” she replied. “None of them are here,” they said.

How could this be? She worked her way into the receptionist’s office. “Where are all the teachers?” she asked, in a grumpy tone. This was not how she wanted to start her day! “Everyone has called in sick!” the receptionist said, dismayed. “I’ve called in enough subs for all but 1 class. Could you take the class? We’re desperate?”

Donna thought it over. It wasn’t the way she wanted to spend her day, but how hard could it be? “Alright,” she sighed. “I’ll do it.” The receptionist looked relieved and assigned her to a class in the adjoining building. Science. “The teachers always seem to make this look easy, ” she thought. “If THEY can do it, I’m certain that I can do it”.

Donna had not had a Science class in 25 years, but being as brilliant as she thought she was, she headed off to the Science building.

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The bell rang and the students haphazardly began to enter the Science classroom. “A Sub!” they squealed! “We have a Sub!”

“Now sit down young ladies and your gentlemen,” Donna began, but it seemed like no one was listening to her. She raised her voice a bit and repeated the request. Students milled around the room, one chased another and two were fighting with IDs on cords. Donna raised her voice a little more. Nothing happened. A teacher stuck his head in from across the hall. “Sit down and shut it!” he bellowed. The students scattered, finding their seats, and settling down. “Oh hello, Mrs. Jones,” the teacher said. “I thought they were in here by themselves. I’ll leave you to it.” As he disappeared, Donna had a fleeting thought that she wanted to call him back, but no. She had this covered.

She began by calling roll. It wasn’t until the 12th student or so when she realized that some of them had answered multiple times. “Are you giving me your correct names?” she asked. Heads bobbed. A few chuckled. “Because if you aren’t,” she said, “You will receive a stern discussion with me.”

“What did she say?” whispered one student to another. “I don’t know,” the student replied.

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“Hey,” said one student. “Aren’t you that lady that does announcements?”

“I,” Donna said, standing up a little taller, “am your Principal. Don’t you know who I am?”

Students shook their heads.

“How come you never write anything down for those announcements?” another student asked. “You make a lot of mistakes.”

Donna was shocked. How DARE they be so insolent! “Your teacher never makes any mistakes?” she asked, determined to show them by logic that their comments were faulty. “Not really, ” replied a student. “She’s very smart and funny and we like her.” Donna sniffed.

Clearly these children couldn’t be reasoned with.

She passed out the worksheet and the students began working, except for one. “Why are you not working?” she asked him. “I don’t have a pencil,” he said. “Why do you not have a pencil?” she asked. He shrugged. She returned to the teacher’s desk and dug through it looking for a pencil. “Here,” she said, presenting him with a pencil. “It’s not sharpened,” he said. “So sharpen it…” Donna replied. “Nah,” the student said and continued to sit there. “What was wrong with these students?” she thought. Clearly, she needed to address students having supplies and showing respect at the next staff meeting. This was ridiculous.

A student asked her a question she couldn’t answer, and then another, she also couldn’t answer. She referred to a Science book and then realized that Pluto was still a planet in the book. “Why are these books so old?” she thought. Students couldn’t learn with outdated material. Another student raised his hand because he didn’t have a pencil either. “This is unacceptable,” she mumbled to herself as she dug through the desk again.

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The class ended and the next came in, worked up as before. She tried to politely settle them until the teacher across the hall came over again and yelled at them to be seated. Four more didn’t have pencils, everyone asked who she was, 1 wanted a Band-Aid, everyone had questions she couldn’t answer, and one wouldn’t stop talking to save her life.

Another class followed, this time with 4 students without pencils, 2 wanting to use the restroom while she was trying her best to give directions, 2 were arguing like an old married couple and wouldn’t be quiet, one kept throwing paper airplanes and another kept wandering around like Moses looking for the promised land. No one knew who she was…again.

Papers stacked up on her desk like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. How in the world did the teacher grade these, keep class under control, make lesson plans, make copies, help with homework and retests, attend staff meeting and do duty? Right then, a student came up and asked for paper. “Why?” Donna asked. “I like to eat it,” the student said. Donna gave her the paper. At this point, who cared.

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The rest of the day was a blur and when the last bell rang, she sighed with relief. That is until the receptionist came in and told her that the teacher she replaced had parent pick up duty. Off she trudged to the lot. Did her shoes hurt this much when she put them on this morning? Students milled around and talked while parents were clearly waiting in cars. Another teacher had a megaphone and was calling names, sometimes 3-4 times before the student responded. “Great,” Donna thought to herself. “Now they don’t even know their own names.” Forty-five minutes later, duty was over and Donna drug herself to her car. She couldn’t remember where she had placed her keys so she had to go back to her office. Finally, after searching for some time, she realized they were in her pocket.

Donna was in bed at 7:30 pm. As she tried to sleep, she realized that being a teacher wasn’t as easy as she remembered. “I really need to do things to help those teachers out,” she thought to herself. She drifted off to sleep planning all the things she was going to do to appreciate and value her teachers, including buying each classroom a supply of pencils. “Ridiculous,” she mumbled into her pillow.

The end.