Tuesday, August 6, 2013

10 Things They Don't Tell You As a First Year Teacher

As much as we'd all love to believe that we emerge from our college courses and teaching internships with fresh ideas and the preparedness to jump right in and be a successful teacher, it's far from the truth.  Sure, we gathered invaluable amounts of knowledge on how to write a 6-step lesson plan and individually assess a child based on their singular needs, but there are just those minute details that go unforeseen as rookies.  I try to always keep a running mental list of tips to pass on to a fellow first year when needed.  Going into my third year this August, I feel reasonably prepared to offer a few words of wisdom to those that seek it.  

So, to simplify....I've narrowed down a list of 10 things we should all be told as first year teachers:

10. Keep every receipt to EVERY school related purchase you make
Even in those summer months while you are racking up things for your first classroom and haven't been introduced to the PTA or district administrators...those funds with be there.  They won't be on any grandiose scale...but every little bit helps.  You are even able to write a certain amount off on your taxes.

9. Always make a master copy of every unit you plan
Keep all the masters in a Manila folder and file it labeled in a file cabinet.  Binders go missing and are too time consuming to flip through.  When you get to that unit the next year, all you have to do is pull it out and see what worksheets and activities you previously did

8.  Try to establish a solid relationship with your mentor
This person will be your life line the first few years, and you're also mandated to meet with them for an hour a week and discuss your progress.  Their feedback will be essential to your growth.  I always took the time to get thoughtful gifts and thank you cards for my mentor this year.  She was super supportive of every aspect of my teaching and I wanted her to realize how valuable she was to my growth.

7.  When exchanging emails with a parent or other professional that may involve any negative,  have a more experienced teacher look at it BEFORE you send it
I made this mistake a few too many times, and it also came back to bite me more than once.  We sometimes send emails home to a parent about a student that may have gotten the best of us that day, or may even be heated with the parent.  CALM DOWN 100% before you send, and make sure another teammate approves of the wording.  

6.  If you are fortunate enough to have an assistant, appreciate them 
My first year teaching second grade, I had no assistance other than the 45 minutes I was granted to send my kids to specials each day.  This past year, I moved to another school and had a full time assistant.  I CANNOT tell you the impact that this woman had on my growth as an educator.  I've had other friends complain about their assistants before, but at the end of the day that person is your partner and teammate.  You are grateful for the work they do as your second in command.  Don't ever go over their heads and change the decision they've made with another student unless you feel it's unprofessional.  (For example:  if a student asks you to go to the bathroom and your assistant has already said no, that's the final word.  It will make your assistant feel unappreciated and of no value if you change the decision).   It can also be hard to delegate with someone who is older than you if that's the case.  My assistant is almost my mothers age and I never felt comfortable telling her what to do....but that's because I never TOLD her, I always ASKED.  Kindness and humility goes a long way.

5. Make a spreadsheet with students names and helper jobs
Each week when you change the jobs, check off what student has had what job.  That way,  every kid will get a new job they haven't had yet and you won't have repeats or any complainers that they've never gotten to be the paper person but Susie has done it twice already.

4. Make a point to develop a first name basis relationship with the following people:
The lunch staff
The front desk secretary
The bookkeeper 
The attendance (NCWISE) manager
The librarian 
- You would really be surprised at what a difference it can make to have good relationships with these people.  Even if they're not always the friendliest to you, they will appreciate your kindness and be more likely to put you at the top of their list for a request.

3. Don't be afraid to give your kids the responsibility of learning how to handle technology
By the end of the year, I had one student who knew how to take my laptop and hook it up to my SMARTBOARD, sound speakers, and document camera.  Then she could go to the correct website and pull up our morning newscast each day.  All of my students knew how to email me a document from a laptop and also find something I put in their dropbox.  These students will learn how to navigate around technology when given the chance to trial and error.

2.  NEVER tape down name tags to desks at the beginning of the year
As soon as you realize that Judy doesn't work well next to Sammy, you're going to need to move someone.  Then you have the task of pulling up all that tape and getting new to transfer to another desk.  I used Velcro and my kids just pulled up their tag anytime they needed to find a new desk home.

1. If you're fortunate enough to find out you have a job early enough, go to work in your classroom as SOON AS POSSIBLE.  
It will take you HOURS to set up your room and you will need all the time you can get.  Go work in your room before those teacher workdays start.  Don't be fooled by the fact that it says Teacher Workday.  What that really means is "spend hours of your time in professional development and meetings before school."  The PD is definitely needed, but so is the time in your room.  Go early, save yourself the stress and frustration. 

Hope this was helpful!!!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How to make Monsters U your classroom theme

I finally had the pleasure of seeing Monsters U with a friend of mine recently.  I have to say I had my doubts about how Pixar was really going to create the "essence" of college into a children's movie.  Not only did the company provide a warm, charismatic and comical flic for the kiddos, they also managed to reach a group of current university students and alumni with their nostalgic reminders of what a great experience college really is.  It also is a great foreshadowing for current high schoolers of the experiences to come.

This movie helped me to stomach the Greek system and even get to the point where I appreciated the comradery. Pixar presented sororities and fraternities in a way that was fluffy but also realistic enough to make them believable.  Of course, the classic underdog story of the underrated frat Mike and Sulley join (Oozma Kappa OK) to overcome the big monsters on campus (Roar Omega Roar ROR) really pulled on my heart stings.  

With all the thematical and visually stunning animated elements tied together, this movie makes for nothing short of an amazing theme for your classroom this year.  Here's some ideas to get you jump started with your deco's:

Door decoration signs & slogans:
-Roaring over (k-5) grade!
-The Smartest Monsters on Campus (each students named displayed on a different kind of monster)
-Marvelous/Magnificent Monsters of (Mr./Ms.)'s Class
-Scare Schools in Session!
-The University of (k-5) grade!

Brag board/Student Work post area
-Our work's so great it'll scare the socks off ya!
-Sulley's Showoffs (have a character cut out of Sulley posted next to the board 
-Sulley's Semester Showoffs

**use coloring pages as your template for the characters, then color, cut out, and laminate**

Helper Chart 
-Wazowski's To-do


Lunch Choices
*Some schools have their students make their lunch choice at the beginning of the day so the cafeteria can prepare how much they need of each entree every day.  My students use sticks with their name on it place in a cup each day for their choice.*
-Monster Menu   & use Scare Sticks

Name Tags
Students will need name tags for special events at school and field trips. Make then their own special monsters U ID card by taking each students picture at the beginning of the year and then go to this website to create/print out/laminate their name tags 


Motivational Signs and Posters to hang around the room for the year:

1. Make an Unlikely friend

2. Always put forth your best effort

3. Treat your classmates with respect and kindness

4. Be courageous. Stand up to your bullies

5. Celebrate each other

6.  Partner up.  Collaborate. Two heads are better than one.

7. Be a team player

8. Dream BIG.  Work your way to the top!


Monday, June 17, 2013

How to help you pick your classroom THEME

I've had lots of friends and colleagues ask me multiple times: "How did you ever settle on a theme?"  Isn't it hard to just pick just one?  Isn't it a lot of work to make your own? The answer is YES and YES!  But is it worth it?  ABSOLUTELY.

The truth is, I love to go to local teacher stores and browse through the different themed decorations they put on display (owls, turtles, monsters, monkeys, etc.)  But, there is something really cool about having something true to your own personality in your classroom.  Your theme (if you so choose to incorporate one) should really choose YOU.  I decided on the PIXAR companies more so because their core values and movie topics always seem to mesh really well with what I feel is most important to push in my character and peer development values in my class.

It also really is more fun to make decorations than to buy them.  I love Carson-Dellosa, Learning Resources, and Creative Teaching Press as much as any educator...but the amount of money they pluck out of teachers' hands right before the start of every school year is almost sickening.  I think after purchasing all of the poster board and using coloring resources from my room, I will spend no more than 10-15 dollars on all my decorations for the entire theme I chose for this year.  Later, I'll have a tutorial on just how I do get those characters into poster size and hung up.

The main point of this post today, though, is to help you narrow down your buzzing mind on what kind of theme would be a "just right fit" for your classroom setting.  Here's some things to keep in mind:

- What kinds of movies, books, or TV shows do your students find most interesting?  Of those topics, which could be friendly to BOTH genders?
- How much wiggle room does your district provide you with in decorating?  (for example, can you come up with your own PBIS theme or are you required to do a school wide program?)
- It's fun to be original and try something new...have you ever heard of your theme being done before?
- What kind of central messages does your theme set heavy on?  (Ex: friendship, academic success, perseverance, family, etc)
- Do YOU enjoy the theme?  Your kids will know if you aren't into it.  Anything you find incredible and innovating, they will too.  You set the example.

So, after some heavy thought and consideration, I decided on my theme this year to be "Up." I'll share with you some of the reasons why I narrowed it down to the story of an elderly man with no heartwarming intentions at first, and a clumsy overweight boy scout who changes your whole perception of bravery.

+ Carl & Ellie embody the entire definition of loyalty and dedication.  Throughout the first 15 minutes of the movie, we see these characters evolve from unlikely childhood friends to two people who devoted their lives to making each other happy and accepted.  A child like Ellie should have never tried make a quiet, introverted kid like Carl feel he belonged, but she stopped and saw something in him that brought out all his best qualities.  Even after Ellie had passed, Carl still carried on the promise they had made to one another to travel to South America on their ultimate adventure.

 + Very similar to our free-spirited friend Ellie,  Russell saw something in the elderly and bitter version of Carl that no other character tried to find the depth in.   After they embarked on their adventure to Paradise Falls,  Russell had every reason to want to turn back and return home.  He pushed Carl to let him stay, partly because I think he knew Carl needed him.  He could have immediately written this man off as ornery, non affectionate, and hateful...but Russell chose to have a little faith in the situation.  This is something I love to push on my students with one another.  To trust each other to try to find the good in everyone, and have a little bit of faith that everyone has their own quirks that make them loveable. 

+ After we meet Dug's character (who is 80% of the reason I adore this movie so much) we are introduced to a type of personality we don't often see as much as we'd like.  Regardless of the fact that Dug is a dog, he shows quite a long list of character traits that I found invaluable.  Dug is bullied by his peers and separated from them just by the sheer fact that his temperament is considered "different."  We hardly notice that Dug is affected by any of this because he stays optimistic and positive. He marches to the beat of his own drum could care less how he is viewed.  Later in the movie when Dug's loyalty to his master (Charles Muntz) is tested, it would have been a much EASIER decision for him to fight alongside all the other dogs and help capture Carl and Russell.  He instead shows bravery and loyalty by helping his friends and not backing down even when he was outnumbered.  

+ Lastly, I just love how visually stunning this entire movie is.  From the views PIXAR captures at Paradise Falls, to the scenes of the house floating across the sky with the thousands of balloons, I was mesmerized for the entire film.  I thought this would flow over well into a bright and colorful scene for my classroom.  

More to come later on HOW to incorporate your own homemade theme into your classroom, for almost no cost!  :)

On the "Up" and Outs!

Here's a sneak preview of what's to come for Ms. Hall's class 2013-2014.  Let me know your thoughts/suggestions.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A targeted outlet for my summertime restlessness

I've decided to do it.  My thoughts and ideas towards teaching are spoken to my teammates, teacher friends and family on a regular daily basis, but the absence of reaching out to a digital community has nagged at me for quite a while.  

As a teacher, I'm known for my themes.  These themes always somehow point in the direction of one central company that helped mold my childhood and let's face it, most of my life so far.  This company would be of course....Disney.  With the accompanied support of my family morals and ethics, Disney movies always managed to instill some important life lessons every time I had the privilege of watching a new flick.  I would sit mesmerized (however not fully knowing it at the time) at the underlying stories of bravery, knowledge, loyalty, friendship and love.  About the time that Pixar merged, I was hooked on anything that came with a Disney label attached.

My first experience with Toy Story sparked a flame that has long since been burning inside me since '95.  I was hooked on the characters.  I loved the quotes.  I laughed at the humor and wit in the banter.  And my heart was forever roped in by a loveable cowboy named Woody.  Slinky, being a close 2nd favorite.  

By the time that I had gone through the second movie and was sitting in the theater watching the third installment with tears streaming down my face by the end, I knew this particular trio of movies had gotten me.  It appealed to all ages, and yet again I was touched by the amazing story lines and morals that Pixar had incorporated into its characters.


I began my first year of teaching in the Fall of 2011.  I racked my brain all summer for what "theme" my first classroom was going to carry on through the year.  I wanted something that appealed to both genders, and also would have a strong presence of good character and strong knowledge for my students.  I decided to go with a Toy Story theme.  As first I became discouraged after browsing for endless hours online trying to find some examples of how this theme was incorporated in previous classrooms.  What I realized after quite some time was that, it hadn't.  So I started to create my own components to add to my room.  With the help of my mom and girlfriends, we had everything colored, laminated and cut by Open House.  

My room quickly become The Toy Story room.  I had kids coming by just wanting to peek in to see what it looked like. 

 I've done the Toy Story theme for 2 years now, and it is time to move on to something new.  After some careful thought and consideration, I've decided my new theme is going to be:  Up.

But, more to come on that later. ;)  

Use Potato Heads as a PBIS idea for students to add different pieces to their potato head for positive behavior