Teacher Tuesday: Establishing a routine

By this time, about the second week of school, you are probably beginning to accumulate papers, notebook or journal entries, memos from different offices or departments, and data that needs to be entered into the computer, such as grades and student information (special education, language learners, etc.).
As a teacher it was difficult to know what to do first.  I would arrive at my classroom, sit down, log on, and immediately there were ten emails from ten different people needing something ASAP.  It helps to create a system to keep you from becoming overwhelmed.
I’m a “stack” person.  Some people are “file” people, and still others are “pin it” people.  Whatever you prefer, create stacks, files, or pinned stacks of items that need your attention.  I had my students turn in papers in one basket, and during my conference period or down time, I would sort the papers into individual assignments or class periods before beginning to grade them.  
I had a certain place on my desk where I would keep things that needed to go to the office such as signed papers, things to put in the mail, papers that needed signatures, and assignments for other teachers or in-school-suspension.  Keeping this stack made it easy for me to just grab it and go when I went to the office.  I actually kept these things in a cute folder that was not easily lost in desk clutter.
Things that only needed my attention once a week were designated a certain day when I would make sure they got done.  For example, when I was responsible for creating lessons for all of the elective courses for all the high school students in the discipline alternative school, I designated Thursdays as the day that I would work on those for the next week.  Starting on Thursday usually ensured that they would be done and ready for the students by Friday afternoon for the next week.
There is never enough time during one’s conference period to get everything done.  How did that time get the title of “off period,” anyway?  If anything I was busier during that time than almost any other time of the day!  I always kept a running list of things I needed to get done during my conference period so that no time would be wasted when the time came.  I tried to multi-task as much as possible, and I worked with other teachers who taught the same subject as I did so that sometimes we could share duties such as running copies and setting up science labs.
There was something I always made sure I did no matter how late in the afternoon it was getting (unless I had to pick up children, of course).  I always cleared my desk, or at least made neat stacks of what was there.  Leaving your desk in chaos means you greet the next day with chaos.  It’s like getting up to dirty dishes in the sink.  It just starts the day off wrong!  A clean desk greeting you first thing is like starting with a clean slate, and we all need that in the mornings!
Being a teacher requires so much more than just being able to share information with students.  A major requirement is the ability to organize and make the most of limited resources, including time.
Establishing some kind of routine for yourself will simplify your life a bit, allowing you to be your best in a very demanding, but also very rewarding profession.
What are some of your routines as a teacher?
Life teaching

Wedded Life Wednesday: A Temporary Discombobulation

I’ve been feeling sad the past couple of days, attributing it to my teacher’s soul feeling a bit left behind by the whole world going back to school.  Not that I really want to go to school myself, but there’s a weird feeling of restlessness and purpose-less-ness after thirty years of the August frenzy of preparing classrooms, offices, lessons, and families for the resumption of school activities.
I even went so far as to do some job searching online last night, but nothing I saw in the postings appealed to me.  I could be a bank teller, but that would mean 9 to 5 and possibly Saturdays.  Nah. . .
Retail stores will soon be hiring seasonal help for the holidays but that would mean long hours on my feet dealing with the public.  Nah. . .
Food service?  Nah, double nah!
Child care?  Ha!  That’s a triple nah!
In a funk, I watched three episodes of Grey’s Anatomy last night, ignoring my dirty bathrooms and unclean floors.  That cheered me up.  Not.  I never realized that Grey’s Anatomy was so sad!  But I’m hooked, and on the third season now.  Only six more to go to catch up. . .
But back to my doldrums.  This morning I got up in a better mood, and I had a plan.  I got my husband off to work and I brought some more items to my booth at Uniques & Antiques.  I even sold one of my items while I was there!  Then I took my car to the Ford dealership and got the trailer hitch electrical connection fixed so we can tow the Scamp next month.
And I thought again about yesterday’s discombobulation.  I do have purpose.  I realized this when I waved goodbye to my husband as he drove off to work this afternoon.  For most of our adult lives I have not been here to see him off to work in the afternoons.  I haven’t been able to stay up to greet him at night when he comes in from work.  Now I can.  We keep weird hours, sleeping in every morning and staying up extremely late, but it’s what he wants me to do, and now that I am retired, I have the freedom to do it.
Me with the love of my life!
My purpose for now, until God reveals something else, is to maintain a loving and comfortable home for my family.  And also to write this blog.  Who knows?  Someday it may “go viral” and earn enough money to pay off all our debts.  Until then, I will do what the apostle Paul did and choose contentment.  

Teacher Tuesday: Advice for the new teacher

Much has been written for and about teachers, especially advice for the new teacher, but I thought I would devote today’s blog post to that subject anyway.  After 30 years of teaching and administrating, I feel like I know a little something about the field, so here goes. . .
  • As a new teacher about to begin your first real school year, you no doubt have spent some sleepless nights, tossing and turning with planning and anticipation of what your very own classroom will be like.  You are looking forward to meeting your students, but then again there is a sense of dread and fear, wondering if you can really pull it off.  Relax.  You can.  You have all the training and knowledge that all of rest of us had, probably even more these days with all the technology and research now available.  You can do this!
  • Now for some practical advice.  I know that the first bit of advice is a bit difficult. No matter what anyone says, those butterflies won’t go away.  And that’s a good thing.  That means you will be on your toes, your A game.  To quell the panic, get your classroom ready before you sit down at your desk to prepare your lesson.  Likely you have already done this.  But if you haven’t, get to it.  I could never concentrate on my lessons until my room was ready, all the posters and decorations up, the desks in place, the room ready for the kids to walk in. Now sometimes it isn’t possible, especially if the custodians are waxing the floors the weekend before school starts or you are still waiting on desks or equipment, but get it as ready as you possibly can.
  • Prepare for your first day.  When I started to panic about what I was going to do, I would slow down, take a breath, and think. All I needed was to know what I was doing the first day.  Once I got the activities in place for that first day or first class period, the rest would fall into place. This may be difficult if your principal expects your lesson plans a week beforehand, but you can always plan that first day and make adjustments for the rest of the week as needed.
  • Make a list of your activities, an agenda of your plan for the day.  I always wrote an agenda on my board or on a Powerpoint slide and had my junior high and high school students write it down in their notebooks or journals. Having the list of activities posted where I and my students could see it ensured that I wouldn’t get ahead of myself or forget what was next, and my students always knew what was coming next.  It also provided a reference for them if they missed class. They could always ask their neighbor what we did in class that day.
  • Resist any urge to socialize your planning time away.  Keep a to-do list in your planner or on a tablet on your desk and use your planning period to be productive. Trust me, you will be glad you did.  You can socialize during lunch!
  • Seek out a positive, experienced teacher to be your mentor.  You don’t have to ask them to be your mentor.  Just be around them when you can and soak up their energy, enthusiasm, and ideas.  Negative people will do nothing for your attitude or your career; in fact, they will color your perception of yourself as a teacher and the kids as your students.  Do not allow negative people to bring you down!  You chose your profession because you wanted to be a positive influence on young lives. Hang with positive people!
  • Whining is NOT an option.  If you fail, and we all do, reflect on what you did, how you prepared or didn’t, and learn from your mistakes.  Teachers must be flexible.  If you planned a test on the same day the principals planned a disaster drill, roll with it.  No one will benefit from your complaining or whining and what’s more, you will only bring yourself and others down.
  • And finally, always have a Plan B. Administrators do plan drills without telling you, you will get called to meetings during class, your frogs for dissecting won’t arrive on time, the network will break down, your hour and a half lesson will be done in thirty minutes. Have an alternate lesson or activity you can pull out of your hat at a moment’s notice.  As you gain more experience, this will be easier, but don’t allow yourself to be totally dependent on Powerpoint lectures and worksheets.  Computers and copy machines break down but the kids will be there anyway.  Ask for ideas from experienced teachers.  You will be surprised at what they will tell you.
You are about to start your career as a teacher!  It will be rewarding, frustrating, time-consuming, nerve-wracking, sad, happy, maddening, full of love, and FAST.  Don’t allow yourself to forget why you became a teacher, and always enjoy and appreciate your students. 
And let me know if none or all of this applies.  Now put that expensive college education to use and go forth and teach!

Teacher Tuesday (on Wednesday!): Incentive to Teach?

It seems the powers that be just can’t stop making the teaching profession more and more attractive to would-be teachers.  First, they gave us longer school days and longer school years.  Then they began teacher testing.  Soon after followed high stakes student testing, the results of which can threaten a teaching career, and certainly has caused some administrator reassignments. Then they took away teacher control of curriculum so that teachers have no say in how or what is taught.  Then there is the erosion of teacher authority with the removal of corporal punishment and the lessening respect in the home for teachers, whose rules have little backup from administrators.
However, we can’t blame the administrators.  They are forced into submission to parents by the threat of legal action and being replaced.  The threat goes all the way up to the CEO of the school district.  Teachers and administrators must conform. 
Now there is talk in our state legislature of raising the teacher retirement age to 62 and doing away with the formula that allows teachers to retire when their years of experience and age equals 85.  (It may be 90 now.  Thank goodness I was under the old rule of 80.  That’s one good thing about being older!)
Changing what often doesn’t need to be changed is what legislators do.  Having never been in a classroom except as a student and to visit on parent night, they believe they know what is best for teachers.  They continue to make the teaching profession less and less attractive to those who would consider it as a career.
During my last year as a teacher I taught with three first-year teachers who seriously questioned their career choice.  They felt stuck in a profession for which they had spent thousands of dollars being educated, a profession which offered few rewards other than knowing their students and seeing a few succeed, a profession which demanded much time and effort outside the classroom.  They voiced many times that they had no idea they would have to work so hard.  Something is seriously wrong here.  Don’t we want to attract and retain young teachers?  Who is going to be there for our grandchildren?
Teaching is not an 8 to 4 job as many believe.  Teaching requires as much time outside the classroom as it does inside the classroom in preparation, evaluation, and organization.  It is draining emotionally and physically.  Any time off is needed and much appreciated, even though much of it is spent in more preparation and education for the field.  
I would suggest to those who believe that teaching is easy to try corralling 30 children or teens in one room and get them to do the same thing at the same time.  Have you ever taught Sunday school or led a Cub Scout group?  It’s an exhausting feat just to get them to listen.  And teachers today go way above and beyond that by actually getting them to perform and succeed.
I would say to legislators:  get out of the business of the schools and let teachers teach.  They are the professionals. They know what is best and what works.  Stop taking the perks away from them.  They deserve them.  And next time you want to dictate how teachers should teach, go volunteer in a classroom for a week.  You’ll leave with a new perspective.

TEACHER Tuesday: Reminiscing

I guess the bane of retirement would be the constant reminiscing–you know, always bringing up stories about your former life as a steelworker, mechanic, teacher, coach, doctor, etc.  And I suppose I should clarify. The bane is not for the storyteller but for the person trapped by him or her!  

I have come to the realization that I have fallen into that “geezer” trap myself!  It always starts with the words “When I first started teaching. . .” Or maybe, “when I was teaching. . .”  I found myself telling this story last time. . .

Last year I had a group of seniors in an Environmental Science class, which was an alternative to Chemistry or Physics.  Every student in high school is required to take four years of science so many of the seniors opted for either Environmental or Aquatic Science, which was supposed to be easier.  The kids tended to treat my class as if it was a “blow off” class.  But with my background in alternative education, these students tended to be my favorites, plus I have always enjoyed the older students.

One morning the group was especially lively and kept interrupting my attempts to teach something serious such as the nitrogen cycle, which, by the way, they learned in fourth grade or fifth, but I digress. 

Exasperated, I finally stopped talking and just looked at them.  They fell silent.  “Look, guys,” I said, “I really have to make sure you learn this.”

On cue, one of the young men in the back piped up, “We can’t learn this stuff, Miss.  You gotta understand.  We’re stupid!”

There was that classic moment, the one they call perfect timing in comedy, and then the whole class burst into laughter.  I couldn’t stop my own smile.  Of course, they weren’t stupid.  They were brilliant.  It was just where they chose to channel their smarts.  They knew it, and I knew it.  

That day I learned more than they did.  I learned that having a relationship with your students and knowing where they are coming from is worth a whole lot more than knowing the phases of the nitrogen cycle.  Too bad they don’t test those things on the SAT. . .

By the way, that young man has the social skills to make it big in business someday.  I hope so, anyway.  He already has a daughter looking up to him.