Category Archives: Strategies

Is there an “off” switch for the teacher brain?

I don’t claim to be a “veteran” teacher.  This will be my 8th year teaching.  Yet, it seems to me that, within the past few years, I’m noticing a change in how I view everything in the world around me.  No matter what I do, my thinking seems to transport me into my classroom.  Here are a few recent situations where my classroom smacked me upside the head unexpectedly:

My munchkins and I were at Discovery World in Milwaukee (if you haven’t been there, it’s worth the trip!)  and, although the exhibits were a bit above my kids’ heads, I was fascinated with the Simple Machines portion of the museum.  I kept reading all the signs, helping my kids “play” with the hands-on machines.  And then… I was thinking of our 8th grade Science classes and how great of a field trip this would be for their Laws of Physics unit.  Wait.  Pause.  I DON’T EVEN TEACH SCIENCE! And … IT’S SUMMER!

A friend of mine recently decided to take a teaching/coordinating job in a different district.  While I am extremely happy for her, I didn’t sleep for days afterwards.  I kept thinking about how her department would change and what I would do without her to bounce ideas off of.  Wait…  IT’S SUMMER!  WHY AM I LOSING SLEEP OVER SCHOOL?

We were in the Dells recently for a little family vacation.  While I waited for my oldest to be done on his 8th trip on the go-karts with my husband, I wandered around the indoor theme park with the little guy on my hip.  I stared at the arcade games and wondered how I could help my students determine the probability of winning the jackpot on the spin-the-wheel type games.  Hold on a minute… I DON’T DO MATH!  And I’M ON VACATION!

Those who ride in my van exclusively rock out to KLOVE  because it’s one of the very few stations we can listen to. (My oldest son is a sponge for song lyrics and has literally every song the station plays committed to memory. So listening to something like Lady Gaga … not okay.)  Anyway, the station keeps sharing the stories of the immigrant children from Central America who currently sit at the Mexico-US border.  Besides the sadness this causes me that over 50% of US citizens feel no moral obligation to help these children (my thoughts on this could result in another blog post), I can’t help but think about what a fascinating story this would be for my students to use as a Running News Story (reference: Harvey Daniels … I think…).  Pause.  This is a HUMANITARIAN CRISIS, not an exciting opportunity for reading.

So I suppose I’m not sure what to do about this extra setting my brain has developed.  On one hand, it’s great to continually think of new ways to engage my students; teaching should be anything but stagnant.  On the other hand, it would be nice to turn it off once in a while.

I guess this is another example of how the real-world teacher doesn’t actually get summers off.

By the by, my next blog entry will probably be a Running News Story unit on the topic listed above… Go figure.

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My Summer of Reading

Ahhh… I love summer!  Time to relax, turn a darker shade of pasty, hang out with the munchkins, and READ!  There are several books on my “done” list and several still on my “to read” list.  I’ll share my two lists and keep you up-to-date.  Also, the hyperlinks bring you to the Amazon listing and review… you know, for your convenience. 🙂

Books I’ve Read

  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – Okay, so please don’t throw tomatoes at me.  I enjoyed the book.  I cried and laughed. But honestly, I didn’t like it nearly as much as Looking for Alaska.  Green develops the characters well and I appreciated the humor and realness of the plot. I can definitely see why teens enjoy it and why it was turned into a movie (which, by the way, I haven’t seen…).  I just feel that it was extremely predictable.
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain – I’m not kidding.. this should be on everyone’s “To Read” list.  A phenomenal book about the struggle of introverts in our society to fit in and feel “normal” when extroverts clearly have the preferred personality type.  I always considered myself an extrovert, but after reading, I realized that I am a pseudo-extrovert or an amnivert (a mix of the two).  I see so many applications for me as a parent, spouse, teacher, church-goer… I can’t say enough about this book!  I am SO pumped to facilitate a book club for this book in my school district.
  • Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana – So this book was a freebie at the International Reading Association Convention this year.  I didn’t have high hopes.  But I picked it up in June… and finished it the next day.  It’s a riveting story about a 10-year-old girl’s plight to survive Hurricane Katrina and care for her 2 younger siblings after she is separated from her parents.  I bawled and I didn’t want the book to end.  Lamana is a brand-new author who, as an educator, helped orphaned/lost children after the Hurricane.  Her emotional connection to the event was clear, and I hope she writes more books.
  • Perfect by Rachel Joyce – We read this for the book club I participate in with my husband.  We’ve read some amazing books, but this wasn’t one of them.  Constant flipping between perspectives and time periods, slow character development, and very few characters that I actually liked.  But I did enjoy the discussion and snacks at our meeting. 🙂

Books I Plan to Read

YA Books

  • The Bully Book by Eric Kahn Gale – This is one of the books for the WI Battle of the Books competition, and I’ve been asked to write questions for it.  I’m excited for the opportunity!  Reviews are very positive and summaries have me intrigued.
  • Four: A Divergent Collection by Veronica Roth – It’s a guilty pleasure.  Don’t judge me.
  • Endangered by Eliot Schrefer – This was a National Book Award finalist that I bought off of Amazon.  I may not get to it, but I hope I can!
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz – This is another award winner from this year.  Unfortunately, my plans to read this were thwarted by a fire-alarm-pulling 8th grader who borrowed it before I got to read it and was suspended for the rest of the school year for her antics before I could get the book back.  Arg.  Still waiting for it from the library.

PD Books

Well, that’s all for now.  What books do YOU suggest for me?  I’d love to hear your reviews and suggestions!

My August Ritual

This will be my 6th year of teacher (if you count student teaching).  The list below has become my August Ritual in preparation for the impending school year.

1) Watch sale ads at Walgreens, Office Max, Target, and JoAnn Fabric for really cheap school supplies (because students NEVER have pencils and lose or draw inappropriate graffiti on their folders).  Once a sale is discovered, run to store immediately and buy items in immense quantities.   If there is a limit on number of items you can purchase in a single transaction, ask cashier if you really have to have 6 separate transactions for the 60 folders you want to buy.  (Usually they’ll just ring it up in one transaction if you haven’t carried the entire shelf over.)

2) Go into classroom and start moving furniture, posters, books, and materials around, knowing full well that you’ll probably hate the arrangement within a week.  Bring child with to school, avoid newly waxed floors, and keep child occupied with newly purchased school supplies, snacks, climbing toys (aka desks), and songs.  (Bringing toys to school is not necessary as they will not actually be touched.)

3) Begin lesson planning during nap times.  Create fancy shmancy calendar marked with days off, early releases, and marking periods.  Write preliminary plans WITH PENCIL because they will need to be modified within the first week anyway as students are absent, pulled out of class, or frankly don’t get what you’re talking about (forcing a reteaching day or two).

4) Make plans to meet with other teachers to plan curriculum and generally shoot-the-breeze.  End up altering or canceling plans due to family emergencies, lack of childcare, or behavior of child if he was brought along to the meeting.

5) If any time is left, sort through the massive pile of materials you accumulated over the last couple of years (including the entire filing cabinet filled with stuff the LAST teacher left you) and sort/throw items.  Alternative A: Find a new teacher who is anxious for classroom materials and pawn stuff off on him/her.  Alternative B: leave it for next year, making the goal to sort/throw materials even more lofty.

A Lesson I Learned about Teaching Writing

Before I explain the lesson I learned, I have an anecdote to share. (It may seem unrelated, but trust me, it makes sense.)

At a family birthday party last night, my nephew received a present.  There were free backpacks in the house donated to my mother-in-law by somebody or other, so my resourceful sister-in-law took one and wrapped my nephew’s present in it.  As she handed my nephew his backpack-encased Legos, she said jokingly, “Look!  A bookbag! Isn’t it just what you always wanted?”  Not realizing there were Legos inside the bag, he replied forlornly,  “Well, not exactly.”

Lately, I’ve been cramming in a lot of teacher books that I should have read a while ago but didn’t make the time to read.  Now that I’m supposed to be an expert on all this stuff, I figured I should make the time.  I picked up the book Teaching Adolescent Writers by Kelly Gallagher first because I get extremely tired of students coming up to me with essays asking, “Is this good?”  To which, like my nephew, I want to reply, “Not exactly.”  (Actually, there are occasions where I would like to say, “Um, no, this is not good. What the frick were you thinking?” but decide it would be hurtful to my students.)

From Gallagher’s book, I picked up a few key points.  I STRONGLY encourage you to read (or at least skim) this book if you teach writing because it’s got some great ideas, suggestions, and honesty. Here are the key points I got:
1) Don’t prepare samples ahead of time.  Kids need to see your writing and thinking process.  Otherwise, they think an essay should magically be good in one draft.
2) Don’t grade an essay the first time you read it.  Skim it and pick less than 10 areas on which to comment, then return to students so they can edit/revise before grading.
3) Keep track of common errors while you read first drafts. Do mini-lessons with whole or small groups on areas in need of reinforcement, then allow them to seek you out for conferences individually.
4) Create the rubric WITH your students.  Pick a few areas on which to focus for the essay (and do your mini-lessons on those during the initial pre-writing/drafting process) and show them good and great examples.  Fill in the areas of the rubric with them, then allow them to choose 1-2 additional areas that they’ve been working on with their personal essays. (You approve these, of course.)
5) For goodness’ sake, DON’T PEER EDIT!  Peer REVISING is okay when you assign specific goals for the revising, but kids tend to ignore errors or “correct” non-mistakes when peer editing, so pick a few kids who are the “grammar police” in your class and point them out as resources for kids while editing.

Well, this is my insight. I see a professional development session forming in my brain…

I would love to hear your suggestions for additional teacher reads. I’m going to be re-skimming I Read It, But I Don’t Get It by Cris Tovani and Strategies that Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis.  I will also be taking a 3 day workshop on CRISS (can’t remember what it stands for, but it’s reading/writing/learning strategies that my new district swears by).  More on those later…