Monday, December 31, 2007

Teachers Lounge – Avoid or Visit?

So many times as a young teacher I have been told not to go to the Teacher’s Lounge but I think that is wrong. I think I should have been told not to engage in gossip and negative talk but a lot can be gained from going to the Teacher’s Lounge. My last school did not have a teacher’s lounge so a few teachers would meet in my classroom to eat lunch every day. I also had a Get Together on the last Friday of every month (Let’s celebrate the last Friday of the month!) in my room for everyone who had 7th period planning with me. I asked them to bring a snack to share and just come to my room to relax. I usually had a big group of teachers from all different subjects, levels of experience, and ages who joined me and we had a great time! I think there are more positives than negatives to the Teacher’s Lounge and this collegiality should be encouraged.

1. You can be inspired by new ideas.
2. You get to know other teachers to add to your support system.
3. You can bounce new ideas off of others.
4. You can ask more experienced teachers some questions.
5. Procedural questions and confusion can be cleared up.
6. You can laugh to relieve stress.
7. You can feel like part of the “team” which relieves stress.
8. You can learn what other teachers are doing in their classrooms and adapt it to yours.
9. You can get discipline ideas for your classroom.
10. You can share your personal life with others.
11. You can share dreams and ambitions with others.
12. You can learn new crafts and hobbies from others.

Sure there are bad things about the Teacher’s Lounge but I think that is true about any profession. You just need to make sure that you don’t engage in the gossip and negative thoughts. The good reasons definitely outweigh the bad ones to me. If you can think of any other positives please let me know and if you disagree, feel free to comment too. Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Useful Information for In and Out of the Classroom 12/27/07

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found interesting this week. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. Thank you for coming by and visiting!

Child Studies May Ease Fears on Misbehavior - interesting article but I'm not sure that I agree with it

10 Must-Read Books for Educators – from Homeschool 2.0’s blog. I’m going to check out some of these books

The Golden Compass Lesson – Great lesson to go with the movie. Plans and activities are included

Funbrain: educational games for students with option of many different levels

Results of a survey of teachers on NCLB - I am going to send this to my legislator

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Don’t Take It Personal

I have seen too many teachers crying over how the students have treated them. I really believe that you can’t take what they say personal. This may sound bad but sometimes children are like in animals in the way that you cannot show fear. They sense it and will go for the throat and eventually it will drive you out of teaching. If they can figure out what pushes your buttons than you are in trouble. I have had many students tell me that they hated me or thought I was a terrible teacher but I replied that they didn’t have to like me in order for me to do my job. I got paid whether they liked me or not and I was going to do my job the best that I could. In fact, I told them that if they didn’t like me that I knew I was doing a good job. They have enough friends but not enough teachers and that was what I was. I have even had students act better in my class than others and when questioned, they say it is because they know I won’t cave in to their behavior. Students know who the strong teachers are and who the weak teachers are and they also talk amongst themselves so the word carries. I was proud of the reputation I had for being a tough teacher but they also knew that I was a fair teacher which is important. You cannot be so strict or tough that you are unreasonable or tyrannical because then you will have a reputation of just being mean. The main thing that I strived for was to be fair to all of the students and to do my best which usually satisfied my administrators, my student’s parents, and myself.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Stress Relief

As teachers, we tend to put ourselves under more stress than other people. We feel responsible for our own families plus our school families. At this time we are more aware of our students and their home lives because of the holidays and want to make this time a happy time for them. Yet, our families want more of our time also and we feel pressured to do certain traditions so we feel stretched to the limit. Be careful at this time not to spread yourself too thin. Remember you can’t save the whole world but if each of us saves a small bite, eventually we can all make a difference. No one expects you to be perfect and do everything so don’t try to do it. It took me many years to realize this and actually experience some health problems before I accepted that I couldn’t do all and be all for everyone. Here are my suggestions to get through the holidays.

1. Make lists and prioritize. Ask yourself if the thing listed has to be done immediately or can you do it some other time. If it can be done some other time, put it on a different list.
2. Life is too short so stop worrying about the small stuff. Ask yourself if anyone a year from now will remember the thing you are worried about. If not, don’t worry about it.
3. Enjoy today. If you are stressed out about the future then you can’t enjoy the present.
4. Cherish people and not things. Think about the people you are around and really enjoy them because they might not be with you next year.
5. Step back and take a breath. Emotionally distance yourself from whatever is stressing you and look around. Breathe the holiday scents. Experience the holiday decorations. Rejoice in the holiday feelings.

I will be offline next week so I want to wish all of you Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Scale Model of the Solar System

I did this when I was in high school and even college and I still remember it after many (and I do mean many!) years ago so I believe this lesson really made an impact on me. Exploratorium’s Build a Solar System lets you put in the numbers and calculates the distances for you. When I was in college, we made the scale model as we went but for my special ed students, I did it all before class. Then we walked the model and I explained as we went. This helped put the solar system in perspective for them. You will not only need to know how far to put each “planet” but you will need to get objects that show the planets at scale size also. I also notified the administration and janitors what I was doing so they didn’t throw these items out. Once placed, I put the label of the planet by them also which helped them recognize these things. When I begin the lesson, I give the students a fact sheet that identifies the planet, the actual distance from the sun and the scale distance from the sun. The classroom holds the object for the sun and then we walk out from there. Of course before we start walking, we go over ground rules for behavior outside the classroom. My students were so intrigued by this that they stayed close to me and was totally engaged. We didn’t spend a lot of time at each planet (because you end up walking a pretty long way from the “sun” in one class period) so that is why it is important for you to plan this ahead of time. If you don’t place the planets ahead of time, at least know where you will place them when you get there so you don’t waste a lot of time. I had students help me by “looking” for the planet after telling them where I placed it. They felt like they were on a treasure hunt. The day after doing this scale model, I would have my students research different planets and then make hanging mobiles for our classroom using Styrofoam and paint. On another day the students would present their research through a poster or a PowerPoint presentation. All of these lessons helped students with all different learning styles because it is visual, auditory, and tactile-kinesthetic. This is why I think this lesson was so successful.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Teacher Who Inspired Me

It was about 1974 and my life changed the year I had 9th grade Algebra. My teacher was the strictest teacher that I’ve ever had and she scared me to death! Every night we had a bunch of math problems and each day we took turns putting our answers on the board. I think this class was the best class that I ever took in public school because I learned so much. Not only did I learn about algebra but also about life and how much I admired this teacher. As soon as I learned to read I have always wanted to be a teacher, so I spent a lot of my learning career seeing what I thought a good teacher should be or not be.

Keep in mind that I was the only Chinese girl in my classes which already set me apart from everyone else. My father worked in a Chinese restaurant and was the only person who worked in our family of 5. My family also followed strict Chinese customs which was very different from the average American family and I was embarrassed whenever my two lives overlapped.

I remember it was the beginning of winter and while we put our math problems on the board, my teacher talked about personal hygiene. She never singled anyone out but stressed how important it was for young men and women to bathe every day and use deodorant. Other important lessons in life were shared and she treated all of us like young adults. I think she even knew how shy I was and never embarrassed me in class but one day she asked me to stay after class for a minute. She just wanted to let me know how much she loved the clothes I wore which had me speechless. You see, my mother had to make most of my clothes because money was tight and I always envied the other teenagers who bought all these neat clothes that I couldn’t. This teacher gave me the attention that I craved and never even knew I craved it. Maybe she heard other kids making fun of me but I never knew about it. In fact, she came over to my house for dinner one night and my mother even made her an outfit for school. Of course this made me the star of the class instead of being the odd one with a family of strange customs.

I have always kept this vision in my head as I taught. I hope that I can touch a student’s life in a positive way, the same way this teacher made an impact in mine. It’s amazing that this happened in my life over 30 years ago and it still is a strong memory for me.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Random Information

I thought this was an interesting way to find out more about the people who write the blogs that I read on a regular basis. I was tagged by Joel of So You Want To Teach so here is my information.

The rules are:
- Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
- Share 7 random and or weird things about yourself.
- Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
- Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

1. I have played an accordion since I was about 4 years old.
2. I love to hike which is odd because growing up, I hated to get dirty or do anything athletic.
3. I love playing on my computer and can do it for hours at a time!
4. I love to travel and have been to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Japan, England, France, Italy, Croatia, Spain, and China. I am trying to talk my husband into a trip around South America.
5. I love to read and read even when I’m eating breakfast, lunch, or even riding in a car. This sometimes drives my husband crazy because I won’t get my “nose out of the book.”
6. I hate to talk on the phone.
7. I love to learn new things and right now I’m learning to crochet.

I am tagging:
Angela Maiers
Homeschool2.0 Blog
School of St. Jude
The Tempered Radical
Going to the Mat

Monday, December 17, 2007

Geography Research

I love for my students to do research about other countries. I make sure that no one has the same country so they can’t copy answers from each other. Of course my students do not know how to organize the information they found so I give them a worksheet with the information I would like for them to complete. They use this to help them when they are making a poster or a PowerPoint presentation using their research. Many times I have seen teachers tell their students to do research on a topic but they don’t teach them what information they should look for. How many times have you had a student just copy things out of an encyclopedia hoping that somewhere in that “mess” you will find the answers you want in order for them to get a good grade? Once I teach my students to focus on certain information, they are more engaged in the assignment. I have them do research on a country about every other month. First I use the worksheet as a guide for the first 3 times (name of country, population, language, religion, food, landmarks, exports, imports, government, flag and anything else interesting), then I don’t give them a worksheet after that but I just ask them the name of the country and then ask them to list 10 major facts about the country. Sometimes they will even help each other with what to look for so I know they are remembering what I consider important. When they are done, we display posters and PowerPoint presentations around the room for a month. Sometimes I will throw in a bonus question on a test using information from the work so my students usually look over the displays.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Student Trivia Contest

My students have enjoyed having a weekly trivia contest where they have a chance of winning a prize (usually a homework pass). I put up 5 trivia questions about our state and the students have all week to find the answers. They turn in their answers and the ones with the right answers gets put in a drawing for a prize. The winner is pulled every Monday when I go over the answers before the new questions go up. When I first started, only a couple entered but once the winner got a prize, more and more entered. Soon the whole class was in the contest. Sometimes they give each other the answers but sometimes they don’t but it doesn’t matter to me because they are talking about new information and hopefully someone is learning something new. A couple of times the students have debated with me about the right answers and I have had to “prove” that my answer was correct or I would have them “prove” their answer was correct. It only takes a few minutes of class time every Monday but I love to see the excitement in their eyes and they hate when I don’t have a contest during exam time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cashing Checks at the Bank

I couldn’t believe how many of my students did not know how to cash a check at the bank. Many of them have parents who use the check cashing stores which charge them to cash a check. Unfortunately many of these students and their parents do not have a bank account and are terrified about opening one up. There are also the ones who have been in trouble for writing bad checks and can’t open one up. So, I had to find out how to help my students from getting ripped off. I explained to them that they could go to the bank that was written on the check to get it cashed at no charge. I also told them to expect the tellers to tell them that it could not be charged there (this has happened to me many times) but to insist on speaking to the bank manager (which I have had to do also). If the check was written originating from that bank, they have to cash it. I feel it is important for my students to feel empowered and not allow others to take advantage of them. This is also a great lesson to teach them how to ask for a supervisor in order to complain without getting belligerent or rude. My students are always amazed at this and to top it off, I bring in a guest speaker who is a bank manager to reinforce this lesson. He also brings in checks to show them what to look for. If at all possible, I take a field trip to the bank. My students enjoyed this whole lesson because it was relevant to their everyday lives that they could use and even tell their parents about this.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Creating a Transition Plan

There are 3 main steps to creating a transition plan:
1. Identify the student’s preferences and interests
2. Identify the agencies and resources that may be helpful in planning the transition
3. What does this student need?
 Assessment that identifies current strengths, needs, interests, and preferences
 Development of job and job placement options and awareness of skills needed
 Matching of student and job
 School and work based training and preparation
 Placement and follow along

The completion of high school is the beginning of adult life. Students can choose to go to a 2 year college, 4 year college, or go into the workplace. For students with disabilities, these choices may be more complex and may require a great deal of planning. By law, transition planning must start once a student reaches 14 years of age, or younger, if appropriate. This transition planning becomes a part of the student's Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Transition services are intended to prepare students to make the transition from school to the world after school. In planning what type of transition services a student needs to prepare for adulthood, academic ability, vocational ability, living arrangements, and transportation need to be taken into consideration. There may be other issues that are important to each individual student also. Teachers should integrate this into their lessons throughout the year.

Students and families should take active roles in preparing to take responsibility for their own lives once school is finished. Students will need to organize their own lives and needs and learn to navigate among an array of adult service providers and federal, state, and local programs. This can be an overwhelming task that the students and their families need to prepare for.

I am amazed at how many of our students do not learn the everyday living skills needed for when they graduate. As a special education teacher, I have taught budgeting, checking accounts, sewing buttons, cooking simple meals that a regular education teacher doesn’t have the time to do because of standards, testing, and other requirements. My school hasn’t taught home economics in years so I’m not sure who will be teaching the students these skills. If they have parents who work, the parents don’t have time for this and the school doesn’t have time for this so the student ends up losing. I don’t know how other schools do it, but our guidance counselors ended up with the heavy burden of making sure the students took an economic class that would help cover some of these skills. Luckily I was able to write these needs in an IEP and was required to teach these skills.

I had a mentally disabled student who I worked very hard with in getting a job. He had this job during his senior year so I could work with him on his job skills. Luckily he did an outstanding job and the employer loved him. Unfortunately I didn’t do so well with teaching him about leisure and recreational outlets when he wasn’t working. During school, he had friends and a support system which ceased to exist after he graduated. After he graduated he was calling me every day he wasn’t working because he was so lonely. Even though he had 2 loving parents, they had jobs to go to and couldn’t entertain him so that when they were at work, he was cooped up in the house. I encouraged him to seek out his pastor and see what volunteer opportunities were available for him and if there was transportation available also.

With the economy going downhill, it is getting harder and harder for many to find jobs so it is important for our students to start thinking early. They need to realize the route they choose will affect their whole lives.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Teaching Patriotism in the Classroom

I remember when I was in school I learned the Star Spangled Banner, My Country Tis of Thee, God Bless America and many other patriotic songs. It seems like teenagers today do not know them at all. After taking a trip to China for 30 days about 10 years ago, I learned to appreciate my country better and still get a little teary eyed when I hear the national anthem sung at huge gatherings. During my travels, I notice that most countries really instill a sense of patriotism for the country in their young people but the US does not seem to be doing the same. I know that we have Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion but do people not realize that we have that because we live in the USA? Other countries do not have the same freedoms that we do. I feel that as teachers we need to help instill this in our young people. It amazes me when I go to ball games and other gatherings where people do not take off their hats or stand for our national anthem. I am also amazed by how many young teachers do not stand for the pledge in front of their students and even talk during this time. They should be role models for the students and show them how to respect other people’s rights even if they do not say the pledge. I truly respect their right not to believe in the same things that I do but I feel that people should respect my flag and my country by removing their hats and stand. We need to teach students that they need to do the same thing when they visit other countries too. Even at the Olympics when they play the national anthem of the country who won the gold medal, all athletes show respect by being silent and standing for this. I don’t feel it is so much of making students value and believe everything we believe in but I feel we should teach and expect them to respect the rights of others by doing this. My special education students learned the Star Spangled Banner and many even memorized it which made them proud since many of their friends in regular ed classes couldn’t do that. I also did a lesson on the first flag of the USA and about Betsy Ross. I explain why we have a flag, what it represents, and how to show respect when handling it. All of my students loved these lessons and I know from some that I’ve heard from 20 years later that they remember these lessons too. What kind of patriotic lessons do you teach in your classroom?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Using Your Travel Vacations As Lessons

My husband and I love to travel so I can’t tell you how many videos or photos I have taken for my classroom. It also gives me a different perspective of what I’m seeing when I think about looking at places through my students’ eyes. A majority of my special education students will never get to go far from home so I feel it is important to show them what is outside of their world. Hopefully it will inspire them to achieve more, expect more, and want for more.

I took my video camera on a cruise once and taped everything I could. Showing this is like watching the Travel Channel except more personal. Believe it or not, most students are very interested in what teachers do during their personal time because it makes their teacher more human. I think this is so important when establishing a rapport with students.

Other times, I have taken loads of digital photos and showed it as a slide presentation. I took so many photos though that I saved it for the last 10 minutes of class each day until I showed them all. The kids really worked hard so they could watch the show because if they didn’t finish, I moved them to a spot where they couldn’t see the photos.

A lot of times we come across people of different cultures and this is a great way to open up a discussion about that culture. Many people love to tell me about their culture so I learn a lot in the process. When I share this information with my students, they feel that I’m learning right along with them! I feel that the more we expose these students to different cultures so they understand them better, there will be less prejudice in the world. Prejudice comes from ignorance so education is the key.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Teaching Cooperative Learning

My students received an occupational diploma which means they had to learn how to get a job and keep a job. The hardest problem my students had was learning to work together and I think this was true for most students, not just special ed students. When I talked to employers about what skills they wanted me to focus on in my classroom, the most popular response was to teach the students how to work as a team. The employers felt they could teach them the necessary skills to complete their job but they didn’t have the time to teach them how to work together in order to get a job done most efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, I have seen this with many adults in education and outside of education also.

When I introduce cooperative learning, I explain that this skill will be practiced all year long. Like any sport, the more you practice, the better you get at it. We talk about assembly lines and car manufacturers and how each person has to do their job and pull their weight or the final product will not be of high quality. We also talk about other jobs where employees work as a team and the things they do to show this. This always lends itself to a lively discussion! This is also a great time to explain that we don’t always have to like the people on our team but we do have to learn to work together in order to get a job done.

When I put the students in groups of 3 and I have them assign a job for each person. One person is the timekeeper (keeps track of the time allotted for the job), one person is the recorder and writes everything down, one person is the manager and keeps everyone on task. I rotate around the room as they work to make sure they are on the assignment. I also change groups at least once a month so they learn to work with different people.

At least once a week, I give them a problem to solve. My favorite one is to give them 5 items and tell them to make something with it. Then they have to present it to the class and explain its function. Sometimes I will give them a problem work situation and have them come up with a solution. The students are reluctant at the beginning of the year but after about a month, they seem to look forward to these group lessons.

I also videotaped these lessons at least once a month and it was interesting to see how much they have changed by the end of the year. By teaching cooperative learning, I hope they are learning some skills in order to have successful careers.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Technology for Children

On the news the other night they announced that technology items are the toys of choice for children this Christmas. They showed a 3 year old with his own Ipod and I was so surprised that he was able to use this. In fact, the mother said he knows more about it than the parents. These young children do not want the fake or childish technology instead wanting what their parents have. So, is this a good or bad thing? They also mentioned that children don’t use their imagination anymore and the mother said she wasn’t sure if this was good or if she should make him play in his bedroom with his stuffed animals. I have heard others say that all of this causes children to “get” attention deficit disorder. Others say that children lack social skills from too much technology. Another news clip I saw said that obesity is caused by this because children do not get enough exercise and play on videogames. I just talked to a man who said he bought his 4 year old his own laptop because the child wanted to use dad’s computer too much.

I think like in all things, we need to shoot for moderation. Some children could lack exercise if they sit and read a book all of the time so it isn’t just technology. Just like some parents limit exposure to TV, as parents we need to help our children have the opportunity to do things that will help them grow up to be healthy people. I feel that technology is extremely important to children because that is the way the world works. It is like learning a language when they are children, which is much easier than when they become adults. Learning to use computers when it is fun and new and exciting is much better than when they are in high school and have to take computer tech classes as a requirement for graduation. I also think we need to encourage them to get away from the computers to play with other children and to get outside and enjoy nature. I can say this from experience because I am a computer junkie. If I could, I would stay on my lap top 24 hours a day. I usually make myself do household chores before I get on the computer or time slips away from me. I also go hiking at least once a week. I do not let my computer rule my life but I have seen where it could do this.

What do you think? Is technology good for children? If so, at what age do you get them for children?

Monday, December 3, 2007

In Your Bag of Teacher Tricks…

Actually, I was trying to come up with a title for this post and couldn’t think of a creative one. This is basically the activities you come up with when your lesson ended faster than you expected. Sometimes I think I have a difficult lesson and then everyone seems to understand right away and finishes early. Or I thought I had an easy lesson and then no one seems to get it. This means you have to regroup and think of something different (otherwise known as monitor and adjust). Plus you don’t want to give your students too much free time or chaos could possibly reign. I remember being observed by an administrator when my lesson ended sooner than expected and luckily I was able to do something that enhanced my lesson that I hadn’t originally planned to do. Here are some things I have done to help during this time.

1. Use vocabulary from the lesson or subject and play hangman.
2. I keep flash cards made up with questions to help them study for tests. The answers are on the back. I ask the students questions and if they get the answer right, they keep the card. The one with the most cards gets a prize (usually a free pencil, pen, or eraser and sometimes candy).
3. Have the students come up with questions and answers for the flashcards from the lesson that day. They write down 2 on a piece of paper and when done each person tells his question and answer. You collect these papers and use the ones you want.
4. Talk about a social dilemma and have students discuss the appropriate way to handle the situation.
5. Give drawing paper and have them draw a picture to summarize the lesson.
6. Have them number a piece of paper 1-5 and have them write down 5 things they learned in class today.
7. Have them discuss things they could do for further research on your topic of the day. Have them explain why they think it is a good thing to do and how it could be evaluated (would it be graded on content, spelling, number of facts, etc?) Students love to give their input on things like this and are excited when I use their ideas.

If you have a “bag of tricks” like this in your mind, you will always be prepared. Nothing is worse than looking like you are unprepared in front of students because they will know this and take advantage for all its worth! If you have any other ideas, please comment on it so we can add more to the list.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Useful Information for In and Out of the Classroom 11/30/07

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found interesting this week. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. Thank you for coming by and visiting!

50 Classroom Management Tips I Have Learned This Month by Soyouwanttoteach. I read this blog daily and learn a lot of things from this.

Autistic girl, age 3 is selling paintings – article from the Palm Beach Post. Do we encourage our students to be creative enough and work with their strengths?

21st Century Literacies – Teacher resources from Noodle Tools. Thanks Angela for the link to this!

Child Studies May Ease Fears on Misbehavior - NYTimes article. Do you agree or disagree with this article?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Answering Personal Questions Asked By Students

A few years ago a new teacher came to me upset because the students wanted to know if she drank alcohol and if she believed in sex before marriage. I have heard the students talking about these kinds of things before. I believe in “honesty is the best policy” but I also believe that if I don’t feel comfortable answering the question that I tell them this also. I have admitted to drinking alcohol but that I believe in moderation. From this, we have had a lesson on alcohol abuse and drinking and driving. I never wanted to lie to them and then have them see me buying beer in the grocery store because then I would have no credibility with them at all. In the same fashion, I state from day one that I will not discuss sex or anything illegal with them and I stick to this. I do not want them to talk about sex issues among themselves in my class unless it is in a specific planned lesson. By doing this I feel that I am teaching them that there are appropriate places to have certain discussions. I guess I’m a conservative but I was brought up to not discuss certain things in mixed company. Many of us older teachers learned this from our parents but when students are growing up in a home where 2 parents are working, possibly in 2 jobs, sometimes the finer points of social skills go untaught. As teachers, we need be good role models for our students by teaching them honesty as well as handling tough situations appropriately and that it is okay to not answer personal questions.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Teaching Social Skills

Many times teachers are expected to teach their students social skills. I am not saying it is fair or right but unfortunately we are put in the position to teach our students these skills. Sometimes I’m able to incorporate reading into the lesson and sometimes the students learn some history about social skills from earlier times which they find interesting.

Here are some skills that I have taught in my class.
 "Manners" & positive interaction with others
-approaching others in social acceptable ways
-how to asking for permission
-how to make friends and how to be a good friend
-sharing toys/materials
 Appropriate classroom behavior
-work habits/academic survival skills
-attending to task
-following directions
-seeking attention properly
-accepting the consequences of one's behavior
 Better ways to handle frustration/anger
-counting to 10 before reacting
-positive pep talks to yourself
-reflecting on your behavior and your feelings through writing
 Acceptable ways to resolve conflict with others
-using words instead of physical contact
-seeking the assistance of the teacher

These are some strategies I use to teach these skills.
 Put students in small groups. Small groups give students a chance to observe others, practice with peers, and receive feedback.
 Close the classroom door and turn off TV and radios to remove distractions.
 Explain the lesson and how it will benefit them (this may help them obtain and keep a job, result in less trouble with teachers/parents, impress their boyfriend's/girlfriend's parents when they meet them, be able to convince the police to let them go when stopped).
 Identify expectations of behaviors by all students
 Tell them what behavior is being taught or practiced in this lesson
 Show them by modeling this behavior with another student or adult.
 With the steps provided on a handout, have them:
-discuss when the behavior could be used
-role play showing the right and wrong way to handle the situation using the skill.
 Provide feedback (with lots of encouragement and specific praise)
 Practice, practice, practice through homework assignments, review sessions, assignment
to real life settings, and surprise "tests"
 Encourage parents and family members to help your students practice at home.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Successful Math Lessons

My favorite math lessons involve money but of course I taught teenagers so this always caught their interest too. If you can relate a lesson to how they will use the skill with money, you will usually have them engaged in learning. The skills I taught depended on the ability level of the student. Once I taught the student the skill, I would make up a list of steps they would follow. Then I would show them how I used these steps by modeling the behavior. Sometimes I would have them tell me what step I needed to follow before I actually did it. After I modeled the skill, I would have them practice it as I guided them through each step. Once I monitored that they understood the skill, I would have a game for them to play using this skill. My students loved games especially if I promised a prize (this could be a free homework pass, free 3 min. break pass for bathroom or water, pencil, pencil eraser, highlighter, etc.). I tried to make the games with answer keys so they could either self correct or check each other’s answers. After the game stage, I would give them simulated “real life” situations for them to use the skill. Since I followed the same procedures for every new skill, learning something new was not so overwhelming or intimidating. I hope this helps make your lessons more successful.

Here is a “recipe” that I used for each lesson:
 1. A list of steps
 2. Teacher Modeling of the Strategy Steps
 3. Guided Practice
 4. Independent Student Practice
 5. Opportunities for Generalization

Monday, November 26, 2007

My Ideal Classroom

If you could create the ideal classroom, what would it be like?

If I could have the ideal classroom, I would have no more than 15 high school students and a full time assistant to help me. There would be a computer with internet access for every student. I would also have Adobe Photoshop on each computer so students could learn to do digital scrapbooking. Of course it would have Microsoft Office on them also for word processing and PowerPoint presentations. I would also have the WYNN program and Test Talker program on computers for students with severe reading problems. My classroom would have a Promethean Board installed (like a smart board) which would be an interactive board for my lessons. I would also have a large TV for showing movies that go with my lessons (United Streaming has a great selection). I would also have a large kitchen unit with sink, stove, oven, microwave, washer, dryer and dishwasher to teach life skills. There would also be an attached bathroom so students didn’t have to wander the halls in order to use the bathroom. My classroom would also have a phone in it to use to call parents if there are any behavior problems. I would have individualized lessons for each student according to their needs. This hopefully would keep them engaged in order to prevent behavior problems.

Of course, this is an ideal classroom and would never happen but it is nice to dream. What would your ideal classroom be like?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Networking is Important for All Teachers

I recently attended my reunion at Furman University and was thrilled to speak to the Career Services Director, John Barker. I mentioned how this department was very important to me as a student and after speaking to another person in his department, how surprised I was to find out that most education majors were not taking advantage of this resource. He mentioned that there is a national trend that most students in all fields are not taking advantage of the career services department at colleges and universities. He sent me a chart and brief article that he found on a “professional association website (NACE) that speaks to the way that students today prefer to conduct their job search. This came from a survey of graduating seniors nationwide. As you will see, their preferred mode of job searching is via the Internet. The percentage of students that use Career Services Office-sponsored placement programs (Career Fair, On-Campus Interviewing, etc) is only about 28-35%.” What a shame to waste such a valuable resource as the Career Services Office and the services they have to offer!

Earlier in the year, this department sponsored a wonderful networking event that involved business people and educators meeting students majoring in different fields. I was a little disappointed to find out that none of the education majors showed up but I did talk to some people majoring in psychology. This was a wonderful opportunity for students to get first hand information about the career they are interested in. I know we can get a lot of information off the internet but nothing beats a face to face meeting with someone already in that career.

When you network, there are so many opportunities that could help your career that it is a shame to waste this chance. You never know what contacts you will make and what connections that will occur. You might also get information that you could use for future lessons or find offers for speakers. By developing relationships with people already in the field, you might even develop a support system when things are not going well in your career. You might meet someone who would be willing to be your mentor who is not at the school you teach at. This would be invaluable because they don’t have a biased opinion of the school or students you teach. You could get an objective opinion that could help you be more successful. I once met someone who offered to sponsor my class for a field trip and another offered to speak to my class. I attend conferences and seminars if I can afford it but if there is a free event like this being offered, I don’t see how anyone could afford not to attend.

I am hoping to co-present at a state convention on survival tips for new teachers but the conversation I had about this issue really had me thinking. There is also a national trend of teacher shortages in all subject areas. Many teachers don’t stay in the field for more than 5 years and many say it is because the career was much different than they imagined. I wonder how many of these people passed up networking opportunities to talk to other teachers. Maybe if future teachers would take advantage of networking opportunities, then they might feel encouraged to stay in the field longer. We all had to do student teaching but what about an event that lets you talk to teachers at other schools and other grades. I never thought I would teach high school when I graduated but I ended up teaching 23 years in high school and loved every minute of it. I wish I had the opportunity before I graduated to talk to someone about the different levels and what to expect when I got out in the real world. Short classroom observations and talking to your supervising teacher during student teaching just doesn’t give you enough information and support you need to survive as a teacher.

I encourage everyone, even if you are already a teacher, to look for networking opportunities that are available. I know Furman is planning a couple in the future and I hope they will ask me to attend. You could also contact the Career Services office at your alma mater or a local college or university to see if they have any events coming up. Please don’t let this opportunity pass you by!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How to Match Your Teaching Style with the Student’s Learning Style

In earlier posts, I gave suggestions for teaching to different students’ learning styles. I feel it is very important for the teacher to try to teach according to the student’s learning style as much as possible. It will not be possible at all times but I tried to as often as I could. Since I am such a visual learner, I taught in a very visual style and realized that I was not reaching all of my students. When I realized this, I had to change my teaching technique which was very hard for me. First, I wrote out my lesson as a list of separate steps or procedures. I even listed what I would say or do. Beside each step, I wrote V if it would work for the visual learner, A for the auditory learner, and T for the tactile-kinesthetic learner. I realized that most of my steps had a V beside them. In fact I was shocked because I had thought I was meeting everyone’s needs and apparently I wasn’t. This might explain why some of my student continually had low test grades or didn’t retain the concepts that I was teaching them. Then I consciously had to think about what I needed to do to meet the A and T learners. At first this was time consuming but the results really paid off. The more I did this, the more I started to do things naturally and eventually I didn’t even need to write out the steps any more. My students were performing better on tests and understanding the concepts better. If I referred to a previous lesson, I had more students offering to refresh the class’s memory about the concepts learned. By changing the way I taught I had more students engaged in active learning which in turn had me more excited and willing to try new things. It gave me such a thrill when I saw the students learn something new, remember it later, and actually used this information. I guess this is another reason I love teaching!

Monday, November 19, 2007

How to teach the Tactile-Kinesthetic Learner

Tactile – Kinesthetic learners learn better by touching and moving. As a visual learner and teacher, this is one of the hardest learner styles I have had to teach.

Here are some strategies that might work with tactile-kinesthetic learners:

• Response mode – student writes answers down. The instructor could write the response down and let the student copy it. By writing, the actual movements will help this learner remember the information

• Students use post it notes. By physically moving information around on a page, it will be easier for this learner to learn new information.

• Student is active and in motion – Learning games that involve movement will help this type of learner. If I asked true or false questions, all the people who think it is true, I would have them stand up. Then we would discuss the correct answer. Sometimes I would put choices on the board and have students come up to physically touch the answer. Sometimes I would write answers down on index cards and the questions on different index cards. After passing out the cards with the answers on them, I would post the question on the board. The student with the answer would come up and tape the answer card to the question. Later the students could use these cards to study for tests. (I would put matching numbers on the backs so the students could self check when studying,)

• Chew gum while studying: many students need to have some kind of movement to help them concentrate. I tell my students they can chew the gum as long as I don’t find it under the desks, on the floors, or anywhere else besides their mouths.

• Take frequent breaks – sometimes they may need to go get a drink of water, use the bathroom, or just get up and stretch

• Flat cake pans filled with rice or sand – by writing information in this medium with their fingers helps the student remember or learn new information

These are just some suggestions that might help. If you have any other suggestions, please let me know because I love to add more to my list!

Friday, November 16, 2007

How to Teach the Auditory Learner

Auditory learners learn better by hearing information. As a visual learner, I was most comfortable teaching to the visual learner and had to make sure that I also reached learners with other learning styles. I was lucky because my husband is an auditory learner so I was able to try lessons on him to see if it worked for auditory learners.

Here are some techniques that worked well with my auditory learners.
• When presenting reading material to the class, have the material read aloud whenever possible.
• Use of tape recorder to prerecord material so the student can use headphones and hear it while the rest of the class is reading it silently.
– Use service learning students at local high school
– Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts
• Books on tape/CD: if students are reading books independently, offer this option whenever possible.
• Block out extraneous stimuli: have headphones available to block out background noises. The headphones were not plugged into anything but helped muffle noises from the class.
• Highlight essential information: use highlighters to highlight essential information and then read what is highlighted out loud.
• Present a small amount of work: give assignments in small chunks so it is not so overwhelming to the student.
• Glue 2 elbow pieces of PVC pipe. Have students hold one end to their ear and one end to their mouth. They can read aloud whatever they have written to hear if it sounds like what they wanted to say. This helps their reading and writing skills also.
• Read aloud any written directions.
• Have a student repeat or explain the directions.
• Mnemonic Devices – teach students mnemonic devices to help them learn new material (ex. ROYGBIV = the colors of the rainbows; HOMES= names of the Great Lakes; Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally = order of operations) or have students come up with their own.
• Musical jingles – let students make up a song to help remember information and allow them to perform it in class.
• Story telling – have them retell a story in their own words.
• Response modes can be done orally – instead of writing answers down, allow them to answer test questions aloud in a tape recorder.

These are just some suggestions that might help. If you have any other suggestions, please let me know because I love to add more to my list!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

How to Teach the Visual Learner

Visual learners learn better by seeing information. I am a visual learner so that is the way I am most comfortable teaching. I have had to be very careful that this did not style did not dominate my teaching because then I did not reach my auditory and tactile-kinesthetic learners. Here are some techniques that have worked with visual learners in my classroom.
• Use Graphic Organizers: Inspiration software helps you make these graphic organizers and I think there is a free demo download at their site. I have also drawn my own. They can be used for some of the following:
– Main idea and details
– Compare and contrast
– Sequential order
– Plot
– Cause and Effect
– Drawing Conclusions
• Writing key points or words: have the students write down what the key points or words are in what they are reading or what you are saying. This helps them actually see visually what is important. It also teaches them how to write notes when you are not always with them.
• Response mode can be done by having instructor write down the response: students can answer questions and an instructor can write down what the student says. The student would then read back what the instructor has written. This reinforces the information plus improves reading skills. It connects reading and writing to a real life situation.
• Instructor use of post-it notes: key words or information could be written on post it notes and given to the student. Students could categorize this information in a way that would help them remember it.
• Highlighters of different colors: use different color highlighters to mark key words or points. For example, use blue to highlight places, red for people, green for dates, and yellow for important ideas.
• Illustrate ideas or stories: have students illustrate scenes from what they have read to help them remember the story, make a comic book version of stories, make posters for a movie version of the story including what famous people would play the characters.
• Multimedia – computers (make PowerPoint presentations about the topic, create digital scrapbook pages, create new book covers for a book), cameras (take photos that would symbolize events in the story)
• Illustrated books: read comic book versions of the classics (these were very effective in my low level classes. They especially loved reading the Scarlet Letter).
• Schedules – have a written agenda for the day or the week for this learner to refer to whenever needed. I wrote my plan for the day on the board each morning and explained to the students that sometimes it may change if there are unforeseen things that happen like a fire drill or a visitor for example. This helped me stay on task as well as the students since they knew what was expected of them in advance.
These are just some suggestions that might help. If you have any other suggestions, please let me know because I love to add more to my list!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Showing Gratitude Can Help You Live Longer

I am reading a great book called thanks! How the new science of gratitude can make you happier by Robert A. Emmons. He talks about how keeping a gratitude journal for as little as three weeks can help you sleep better and help you have more energy. I can’t believe I have finally found a book that reinforces what I have always believed in. The author states that “if we consciously remind ourselves of our blessings, it should become harder to take them for granted and adapt to them. “

I made my students write in a journal every day and I didn’t stress punctuation and spelling. For this type of journal I felt that the content was more important. Of course they fussed about doing this at first but when I remained adamant about the assignment, they did it without complaining. I told them that one day a week they had to write things that they were grateful for and why. After lengthy discussions, I realized what a negative attitude my students had. In this book it states, “Gratitude is an attitude” and I believe that is so true. By doing this activity, I hoped to change their attitudes.

All year long, we kept a journal and I was really thrilled how the kids would come up with different things they were grateful for. It even opened up some very insightful discussions about their lives. By sharing some of these things, many students found out that they had a lot more in common that they thought. This actually helped build some bonds between the students and myself which made the class feel much like a small family. Behavior issues decreased and teamwork actually increased.

This activity didn’t cost extra money, got the kids involved in writing which in turn helped their reading skills, built teamwork skills, and improved behavior. I couldn’t ask for a better lesson to serve different purposes.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Useful Information for In and Out of the Classroom 11/9/07

It is Friday again and I would like to share some interesting sites that I’ve found. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. If you have any sites you would like for me to check out, please let me know.

Netsmartz: internet safety
Kidsmart is an award winning practical internet safety program website for schools, young people, parents, and agencies, produced by the children's internet charity

Childnet International is another site that talks about internet safety
The Tempered Radical has handouts that go with the Trailfire site:

Participate: is a growing community of film lovers and activists who are dedicated to engaging their minds, sharing their passions, and improving the world around them. You have to register for the site but when you click on certain movies, there are educator resources available for them. Participant productions produced Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth and there are other movies coming out.

Sharp Brains: there are many brain exercises that are fun to try.

BBC Schools : has great science clips you can use in the classroom

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Carnival of Education 11/7/07

Check out the the midway of the Carnival of Education sponsored by Right Wing Nation. If you don't know what a blog carnival is: Blog Carnivals typically collect together links pointing to blog articles on a particular topic. A Blog Carnival is like a magazine. I have really found a lot of fascinating information from these!

Every Child’s A Star

I first heard this song at the national Council for Exceptional Children convention’s Yes I Can awards ceremony sung by Danny O’Flaherty. Songwriter and balladeer Danny O’Flaherty wrote the song in honor of CEC’s Yes I Can! winners. I was so moved by the words that I was in tears at the end and so was most of the audience. Each year the Council for Exceptional Children honors 27 students who have excelled despite their disability. This song is featured on Danny O’Flaherty’s Heroes CD. According to Danny O’Flaherty’s website, “In addition, the Council's Yes, I Can program served as the inspiration for Danny's song, "Yes, I Can" which emphasizes the importance of believing in oneself and fostering the determination to attain ones highest potential.” This song can be found on his Secret Garden CD. Thanks for taking time to read his words.

Every Child’s A Star
Written by Khaelidawne Quirk/Danny O’Flaherty

Each milestone is a victory; every child’s a star
Each is born a miracle, just the way they are.
And every one can understand the meaning of a smile;
Around the world a hug means love to every single child.

So with love we watch them as they play their games.
Every child is different; no one is the same.
Some can learn easily to run, jump, and play.
While others face a challenge every single day.

Every child is special; they are one of a kind.
They come in every color as everyone will find.
Whether they are “perfect”, healthy, strong, and bright,
Or if they come with special needs; they’re precious in our sight.

“You are my inspiration”, each mother tells her child
As she sends them off to play with a tender smile.
“How brave you are!”, each mother says as she hugs them tight.
Every child’s a miracle; precious in our sight

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Preparing for the Teacher Evaluation

This year, I was asked to be one of the evaluators of new teachers in the district. I like this because I get to use my experience to help others and also to make sure that we have quality (not just qualified) teachers in my field. After doing this I realized that maybe someone should tell new teachers how to prepare for an evaluation. There is a general meeting to discuss what is expected but I think more specifics need to be given. This evaluation is important because it determines whether this new teacher gets a contract to return so it is in their best interest to look their best. Here are some things that I would suggest:

1. If you get an email or phone call from your evaluator, respond promptly.
2. If you are given a time frame of when you are going to be observed, treat every day as if it might be the day an evaluator shows up.
3. Plan a place for the evaluator to sit in case you are asked where the best place is.
4. Be on time for every class. (You do not want the first impression to be that you are often late to class and the class is left unattended.)
5. Prepare your class that an evaluator may show up and what you expect from the class.
6. Look your best. (When you feel you look great, this will show confidence during your observation.)
7. Have your lesson plans and grade book filled out correctly and available for the evaluator.
8. Have several extra activities available in case your lesson ends early (whenever I was observed, I was so nervous that my lessons went faster than I expected.)
9. If you are expected to present a portfolio, make sure you have as much of the information required in it and ready to show the evaluator. Don’t make excuses that you are still working on it because this evaluation should be a priority.
10. Go over your evaluation form to make sure that you are covering each item in your lessons. (I have gone so far as to actually prepare a script for my lessons to hit these points until it becomes second nature.)
11. Connect your lesson to a real life situation for your students so they will see how they will use this skill.
12. Use a variety of teaching strategies. Don’t lecture the whole time or have a class discussion the whole time. They may work sometimes in your class but the evaluator wants to see a variety of teaching strategies during this time.
13. Don’t worry about bad behavior in your class as long as you show that you can handle it. The evaluator knows that kids might act up with a stranger in the room. This is your chance to show how well you handle discipline.
14. Give frequent feedback to the students to let them know how they are doing.
15. Ask for feedback so you know that they understand how to do the assignment.

I hope these suggestions will help you pass your evaluations with flying colors!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Is Assigned Seating Necessary?

I believe it is important in a classroom. I use assigned seating the first day of class because I think this sends a message to the students that I am the person in charge. Have you ever gone to a gathering that is chaotic and you didn’t know if anyone is in charge? I believe students feel that way in many classrooms. It also opens the door when I need to move students around because of personality conflicts or too much socialization going on during my lessons. I sometimes assign seats according to ability levels (the higher ones can help the lower ones if I am busy with someone else). Now this might cause you some concern but it is real life. If I’m having a problem on the job, I sometimes might go to a colleague for help rather than the boss so why not start this in the classroom. Sometimes their peers are able to explain things better to them than I can. I also learn a lot by listening to those conversations so I can tweak the lesson for a future class. As I’ve said before, I believe the students need to know what their limits are and will respect you for doing this. I feel it also sets the tone of the classroom and students feel safer if they know someone is in charge. Have you ever gone to a gathering that is chaotic and you didn’t know if anyone is in charge? I believe students feel that way in many classrooms.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Teachers Accused of Sex Crimes

Court Papers Reveal Teacher’s Relationship With Students
Teacher Sex Scandal on Dr. Phil
About 1 in 4 disciplined teachers accused of sex-related offenses

Maybe I live in a bubble but I was unaware of how bad this has gotten. Or is the media just reporting more of this? It feels like every day I read or hear on the news about another teacher who is accused of a sex crime. This has got to stop but I don’t know what it is going to take to stop it. I am frustrated because I have racked my brains trying to think of some way that the government could prevent this. These sexual predators are giving teachers a bad name so no wonder no one wants to go into teaching! Of course my husband told me to calm down and keep in mind that many teachers are accused who aren’t guilty so I felt like I needed to come up with a list that could help good teachers from being accused of this. All it takes is one student to be mad at you and they can accuse you of anything. Even if you are innocent, these accusations can ruin your reputation and career.

1. Never be alone with a student in a room with the door closed. I talk to students out in the hallway if there is a problem. If a student comes to my room during my planning period, I always leave the door open. If I hold any student for detention, I usually join up with another teacher and we hold our students together in one room.
2. Never drive a student anywhere in your personal car. I have seen teachers offering rides to students who are waiting for parents or can’t reach anyone at home. Let an administrator handle this situation.
3. Never be in a vehicle alone with a student. On field trips, I have seen teachers take a discipline problem to the bus to wait on the class. I would not suggest this.
4. Be very wary of touching a student. My special ed students got a light pat on the shoulder (I used to give hugs but in this day and time you have to be careful).
5. Do not tolerate any sexual jokes or comments in your presence. If a student acts inappropriate by talking about sex, drawing pictures about sex, joking about sex or anything like this, immediate tell them to stop it. Report it the next time it happens. If you don’t, you could be accused of encouraging it or not doing anything about it.
6. Be very careful about the clothes you wear. I see too many young female teachers wearing low cut blouses and tight pants. It may pass the teacher dress code but is this really the message you want to send to your students?
7. Be very aware of any student who may show signs of having a crush on you. When this happened, I mentioned my husband and family a lot and encouraged them to visit and meet my class. This usually helped.
8. Last, don’t put yourself in any position where a student could accuse you of something.

It’s sad that we have to even think this way but unfortunately it is the way the world is. We can rant and rage that this isn’t fair and teachers shouldn’t have to do these things, but is it worth the risk to your career?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Useful Information for In and Out of the Classroom 11/02/07

It is Friday again and I would like to share some interesting sites that I’ve found. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. If you have any sites you would like for me to check out, please let me know.

CyberGuides are supplementary, standards-based, web-delivered units of instruction centered on core works of literature.

Stossel in the Classroom: co-anchor of 20/20 offers FREE 34-minute DVD, which includes six segments from 20/20, chosen and edited specifically for the classroom. FREE downloadable and printable Teacher Guide with suggested discussion topics and activities for your classroom to supplement your Hype and Consequences video segments.

Our Kids Reading Recommendations: Our Kids is devoted to raising special kids with special needs and the books that are recommended are great!

abcteach: This is the place for kids, parents, student teachers, and teachers that offers free printable pages. Why reinvent the wheel? I hope you can use some of these or at least adapt the ones that are there.

NASAexplores provides free weekly K-12 educational articles and lesson plans on current NASA projects. Printable and downloadable, these supplemental curriculum resources meet national education standards.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Personality Conflicts

All through life, you are going to meet someone who just grates on your nerves! Even in your classroom this happens. For a long time I felt guilty if I didn’t like a particular student because I thought it meant that I wasn’t a good teacher. Then I suddenly realized that Hey! I didn’t have to like all of my students!

As long as I was consistent and fair with all of my students, it was alright not to like every single one of my students. As long as I teach equally to all of the students, even the ones I don’t particularly like, it is okay to feel this way. Students are pretty smart in picking up these vibes and followed my lead. It is not okay for me to pick on student, ridicule them, or encourage others to ridicule them. It is not okay if I don’t let this student have an equal chance to participate in the lessons as the others do. When this happens, it is time to reevaluate my motives for teaching. If my motive is only to work with people I like, then teaching is not the career for me.

In the same respect, it is also okay not to be liked by all of my students. Many times I have had a student tell me they hate me or draw pictures of me as a monster (they hated getting homework every night!). I believe that God put me on this earth to teach these students and not necessarily be their friend. They have enough friends but not enough teachers and I have enough friends that if they aren’t one of them, I’ll live.

As long as they are learning, I don’t care if they like me. Many years later many students have come back to me and thanked me for setting limits, demanding respect, and expecting them to give their best. They admitted to not liking me at the time but later realized how much they learned in my class compared to classes where the teacher cared more about being their friend than whether they were learning or not. It is times like this that make me glad I'm a teacher!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Horrors in the Classroom

Let’s face it; nothing is worse than having Halloween fall on a school teacher. I guess the trick is on all of us teachers! I have learned over the years not to fight the sugar rush too hard. Just like in martial arts, sometimes it is easier to fight by falling towards something than pulling away. With that said, I will suggest some ways to help keep sanity in your classroom.

English – Give students a topic about Halloween to write about like My Favorite Costume, The Scariest Costume, The Best Halloween Party, The Best Halloween Candy

Math – Use candy corn in a jar and have students brainstorm ways to find out how many are in the jar. The student with the closest number gets the candy at the end of the day.

Math – Have students use the newspaper ads to buy Halloween candy. Give them an imaginary amount to spend and see what they buy.

History – Have students research Halloween topics (Origin of Halloween, Witches, Ghosts, and Bats etc.) and write a report or draw a poster about their topic.

Art – Have students blow up orange balloons and make jack o’lantern faces on them. Display these around the room.

Science – Research and see how many calories and how much sugar are in different kinds of candies.

Hope some of these suggestions help! Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Look Beyond the Labels

Too many times I’ve seen a student labeled with a disability and the teacher teaches to the disability rather than to the student. Over the years I’ve taught low level students, students with learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, mental disabilities, Down syndrome, autism, and traumatic brain injuries. I know the federal government has to have labels in order for funding for the schools but as a teacher, I refused to let the label be more important than the student’s needs.

For example, I taught a girl with a learning disability for 3 years. She was reading on a 3rd grade level and math on a 4th grade level by 11th grade. I was making a lot of progress with her and she had a future in pursuing the career she wanted by attending the vocational school. Federal law required that we reevaluate her every 3 years and the district decided that she needed to be retested. Poof! She suddenly became mentally disabled instead of learning disabled. This meant she was taken from my class and put in a class where the teacher did a lot more coloring and babysitting (I felt this teacher was getting burned out). The student’s self esteem plummeted and learning slowed tremendously. Next thing I know she is pregnant and then drops out of school. I really feel if I was able to continue to teach her that would never have happened. For years I felt guilty that I didn’t find some way to fight the system and I vowed from then on not to let labels dictate my teaching.

As teachers, we need to look beyond the labels and really look at what the student needs. If the student is a behavior problem, look at when and why the behavior occurs. Some teachers tend to get caught up in the day to day procedures and don’t take the time needed to analyze behaviors. If the students are not making passing grades, I looked at why. It might be because the student wasn’t studying (so a phone call home was necessary) or not turning in work (maybe a daily agenda is necessary) or the student really didn’t understand the concept (so reteaching is vital). I learned this “modify and adjust” during college but I wasn’t sure I was really doing it in my classroom. Once I made a conscious effort to do this, I noticed that my students were achieving more and the attitude in the classroom was more positive.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Classroom Climate

The climate of a classroom is extremely important. It is important to set the climate from the beginning. I always begin by letting the students know that I am the one in charge but I always try to do it in a matter of fact way and not like a tyrant. By explaining to them that I will treat them respectfully and expect them to treat me in the same way, I am setting up a respectful climate. I explain about how tone of voice and body language also shows respect. I also explain that we each have a certain job to do and mine is to teach. If I am dealing with behavior problems, they are keeping me from doing my job. Their job is to learn and if they are worried about how I will treat them, then I am keeping them from doing their job. I then explain their job description (which is actually my class rules). I also show them constantly that I will be consistent with following through with the expectations (giving consequences for their actions). I will also give a lot of praise and make phone calls for good behavior. Of course, the students do not believe this until I make my first phone calls! Since I had a paraprofessional in the room, we were also able to model respect to our peers.

I also explained that if there was a major conflict between students, I would ask one student to move away to a designated location in the room. This does not mean that student is in trouble but rather it gives space for both parties to calm down. I would ask each student to write down what they felt happened and describe how they were feeling. Meanwhile, I continued with the lesson. After both parties have finished, I collect the writings. I mean with each student separately and discuss their behavior and explain how we can’t change other people’s behaviors and only our own. This was very effective in dealing with major conflicts. In fact, it became quite cute because the kids would decide that the episode was not a major conflict so they didn’t need to do any writing! By handling it this way, both parties felt like they got their say and was treated with respect also. The main thing I asked for was for no profanity and no physical threats.

I also explained to the students that we would be learning things together so I might make mistakes right along with them. I might need their help because they might be better at something that I was. Once when I was trying to explain a concept to another student for the fourth time and we were both getting frustrated, another student volunteered to help out and let me move away from the situation. Thank goodness it worked and the concept made sense to the first student. If I had not had a climate of understanding and respect, this would never have happened. As a teacher, I had to get rid of any insecurities and inferiority complexes to allow learning to happen. This encourages the students to help each other in a positive way which prepares them for real life.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Student Job Description

Instead of having class rules, I use a student job description. I give them a salary for attending class (which is fake money!) and they use it to buy items and privileges. It is as close to the real world as I can get. I used to make paper money and found out that my high school kids were stealing, trading, and charging interest so I stopped the cash and went to an accounting sheet (isn’t society going “cashless” now too?). At the beginning of the week my students get an assignment sheet with their accounting sheet on the bottom. At the end of each day, they are given their pay (by me or a paraprofessional) written in red ink. At the end of the week I have them total up their pay and that carries over to the next week and is written on their new accounting sheet by an adult. Of course anything they bought or was fined for was deducted from their total. Sometimes I even gave bonuses (if I saw them being extra nice to someone or they got a 100 on a difficult assignment. The students really responded to this system and I used it for over 20 years. Each year I may have had to adjust the money amounts according to the schedule but the basics stayed the same. If you would like a FREE copy of my Student Job Description, just email me at and put “job description” in the subject area and I will send it to you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

If You Have Nothing Nice to Say, Say Nothing At All

This is one of the things that I continually tried to teach my students. They were so negative to everything and anything so we constantly said this in my classroom. They were allowed to tell me that also (in a nice tone of voice). Of course I explained I was exempt if I was scolding them about something! It only applied if we were talking about others. In the same way, I had to teach them how to accept compliments, which for a lot of people is a hard thing to do. After a month had passed I wrote each student’s name at the top of a piece of construction paper. Then we brainstormed positive adjectives and wrote them on the board. Everyone was given a paper and had to write, with a crayon or magic marker, one positive thing about that person whose name was at the top. Then after 2 minutes, the paper was passed to the next one. People even had to write something positive about themselves. After this was done, I laminated them and posted them around the classroom. At the end of the nine weeks, each student was given their paper to take home. I still have students who have their paper years later.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Raising My Voice in the Classroom

I have never been a screamer or a yeller in order to get order in my classroom. I usually get very quiet when I want the students’ attention and this works for me. Some teachers have used the light switch or a bell to do the same thing. I try to be calm when working with my students which model the behavior for them to use also. Even when I’m upset I have done this and explained my behavior also.

As I say this, I remember one incident when I took my students to the local zoo. Since I taught a special ed class, the only way we could afford to go is if we went with another class. This meant going with the Child Development class and the 3 year olds that they were involved with. Most of my students were 17 – 21 years of age so when we got to the zoo, we separated from the other huge class. When lunch time came, 4 of my boys said that they didn’t bring a lunch and wanted to go buy something from the concession stand so I let them go. I stayed at the picnic area with the rest of my students and waited for them to return, which they never did. After feeling frantic, I told the rest of the class that I was going to find them and they were to wait at the picnic table for me. I stomped through the zoo hunting for my 4 wayward boys. In my mind, I imagined them feeding children to the lions, harassing the monkeys, and getting into all sorts of trouble. Upon seeing me from a distance, they took one look at the furious look on my face, and turned away from me. I immediately bellowed for them to stop in their tracks! When I caught up with them, I was raising my voice and embarrassing all of us immensely. They followed me like little chicks (most of them were over 6 ft. tall and muscular) all the way back to the picnic table. After I finally calmed down, I realized that I was ruining it for all of us and talked to them about what happened. I should have first asked them what happened before lighting into them. Apparently they couldn’t handle the overstimulation of the small children and just wanted some quiet time so they ate their lunch at the concession stand. Since I never made it clear that they had to return after buying their food, they didn’t come back. I felt terrible! I explained that I yelled because I was worried about them and adults do that (even their parents!). About 10 minutes later, a person visiting the zoo with his child, called me to the side and told me that he had seen the boys eating lunch and they were perfect gentlemen. They didn’t smoke or use profanity or do any horse playing. Can you imagine how horrible I felt? Well, we lived through this experience and when it was time to go home, all of us were on good terms.

Unfortunately, due to no fault of the students, we were unable to go on another field trip the rest of the year. The students believed that we didn’t go anymore because of the zoo incident. Since I taught most of the kids for 4 years, this incident stayed fresh in their mind! The next few years, whenever I planned a field trip and we talked about behavior, the kids would all say emphatically, “Remember the Zoo!” and their behavior was excellent on the trip. In fact, this was passed on for many years after even though none of the kids had been there at the zoo that day.

So that day will forever stay in my memories as “The Day I Raised My Voice!”

Monday, October 22, 2007

Using Newspapers in the Classroom

Our local paper has a “Newspapers in Education” program and I was able to get a set to use in my classroom. It was delivered every day all year long and it was a wonderful tool to use in my class. Here are some ways that I used it:

• Vocabulary: learning new words from the newspaper brought relevance to these lessons
• Math: using sale papers we were able to figure out percentages, unit prices, prepare budgets, write checks, using recipes
• Social Studies: learn places around our nation and the world, current events, discuss other cultures
• Science: new scientific developments always brought about lively discussions
• Social Skills: the advice columns were always great to discuss and debate
• Writing: Many times I would use a photo and have them write the article. For my low readers, they could work with a partner, read the article together, and then draw their own picture.
• Grammar: Did you ever notice how many grammatical errors there were in a newspaper?
• Daily Living Skills: Reading the classified ads for jobs, cars, housing

I’m sure there are many other ways to use the newspaper that I’ve left out, so if you think of one, will you please post it here so everyone can see it? Thanks!

Friday, October 19, 2007

2 Most Important People in the School Building

A lot of you might think the principal is one of them but it isn’t (but you need to get hired first)! I learned this very early in my career and it has helped more than you could ever imagine. The 2 most important people in the school building are the head janitor and the principal’s secretary. Both of them can either make your life great or miserable!

I always learned the janitor’s names and promised them that if I ever had a problem, I would come to them first before going over their head. Since our school was so big, the person who cleaned my room and me always got to be friendly. Little treats for this person go a long way. Then they would take extra care of my room and I would brag about this person to the head janitor. Believe me, this person appreciated the compliments better than the complaining. He always heard when his staff didn’t do right so he was glad to hear the good stuff. By doing this, whenever something was broke or wrong in my room, they came running! Usually it was taken care of immediately. I have seen many teachers look down upon some of our janitorial staff as if they were so much better than them. I also have seen teachers reminded that this was not true when the air condition didn’t work and no one was in a hurry to fix their problem. Always take care of the head janitor and their staff!

Also stay on the principal’s secretary’s good side! This person has watched my back and helped me when things got rough. Whenever I needed supplies or money or forms, this was the person who helped me take the short route instead of the long one. I always took time to let this person know how much I valued her friendship and tried to help her any way that I could (put things in mailboxes, take a message to someone, watch the office while she ran to the restroom etc.)

I hate to state a cliché but “You get more flies with honey than you do vinegar!”

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Use of Peer Pressure

Using peer pressure has been an important tool in my class for behavior management. Here are ways that I have used it.
 No one leaves this room until all the trash is picked up. One student says,” But that isn’t my trash!” I don’t care whose trash it is, it needs to be picked up and no late passes will be given. Take it up with the person whose trash it is when you leave class. After that day, every class period, all the trash is picked up before the bell rings.
 If the whole class has their homework for the day, I will put a marble in the jar. When there are 27 marbles, we will watch a movie. Students start applying pressure on the ones who didn’t do their homework.
 Give points to the class for good behavior (Define what you consider good behavior beforehand). At the end of the quarter, the class who has the most points, will get a pizza party.
 If no one goes to time out this morning, then I will add 10 minutes to recess.
 If everyone makes a 90 or higher on the test, I will give everyone a piece of candy. If one person doesn’t make it, no one gets any candy. (Kids start encouraging each other to study and even help each other.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Useful Information for In and Out of the Classroom 10/12/07

Here are some more interesting sites that I’ve found. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. If you have any sites you would like for me to check out, please let me know.

K 12Online Conference 2007: This is a conference by educators for educators around the world interested in integrating emerging technologies into classroom practice. I listened and watched one of the sessions the other night and it was pretty interesting.

In the Mix: Sports Screeners: For grades 7-12. Designed to be used in a classroom or youth group setting, this activity will heighten youth awareness of physical activity and sports in film and television. This activity will encourage youth to become critical movie and TV viewers, by drawing attention to how physical activity and sports for youth is normalized (made to look acceptable) or glamorized in many films and on television.

The Virtual Vine: Early childhood, preschool through 2nd grade with themes and units, displays, literacy and math connections.

Memory Improvement Techniques: interesting techniques to try

US Geography Game: free game for students to practice geography skills

I hope everyone has a good weekend! I am going to my alma mater’s football game on Saturday (Furman vs. Citadel). Go Paladins!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Why I Joined The Council for Exceptional Children

This is NOT an advertisement! I am going to talk about how joining a professional organization was an essential element of my career. I hear too many teachers say they don’t have the time or money to do this but all I can say is that you make time and have the money for things you want to do. This should be one of them. I can only talk about the professional organization that I have been a member of since the 1970s and I haven’t regretted it for a moment. It has made a huge difference in my career and the attitude I have towards the career that I have chosen and it can make a difference in your life too. This organization is not just for special educators and as we continue with NCLB, general educators will get a lot of benefit from this organization also.

Here is a list of how joining The Council for Exceptional Children has made a difference in my career:

1. Networking – I attend local, state, and national meetings where I have met lots of different people. The networking with others has led to many opportunities that would not have happened if I hadn’t made an effort to meet others in my field. It is so nice to talk to people who have experienced what I am going through and not to feel alone.
2. Publications – the publications are worth their weight in gold! I have used them for inspiration in my teaching, resources for classes that I have taken, opening discussion with other teachers, research to support grants that I have written, research to support actions used in my teacher evaluations, material to study for the National Board Exam.
3. Professional Development – attending state and national conventions are so rewarding that they are worth the time and money. I have learned new strategies, discussed current issues, debated legislative issues, and been recharged and energized when I returned to my classroom.
4. Legislative Updates – on the website, you can go to the Policy and Advocacy tab to see what the hot topics are as well as what is going on in Congress. There is also a Legislative Action Center that helps you send emails to your legislators about these hot topics. What an exciting and easy way to send letters!
5. Advocacy – I have been involved in the Child and Youth Action Network which enables me to stay abreast of current legislative issues. I have been asked to represent my state by going to Washington DC each year to visit legislators and tell them how it really is in the classroom!
6. Liability Insurance – it is a shame that this has to be something to feel good about but in this day and time, I’ve found out that some kids can just be mean and you can find yourself in situations you never expected. It was nice knowing that I had this $2 million professional liability insurance if I needed it.
7. Discounts – members get a discount on educational materials which is wonderful too! I tend to spend too much when they wave the “discount” flag in front of me!
8. Teacher Evaluations - Many teacher evaluations require a professional goal and joining a professional organization is one way to fulfill this requirement.
9. Career Growth – I started out as a student member in college, and then a professional member after graduation. For a long time I felt like I was “just” a teacher because there were a lot of Directors of Special Ed, Administrators, and University professors very active in this organization. They helped me realize the importance of my job and to help me grow in my career. I have held leadership positions in different organizations because of this growth which has been very fulfilling.

I encourage all teachers, on all levels, to join a professional organization, even if it is not this one. Of course I'm partial to this one, especially since I feel it is appropriate for all teachers. I still feel that teaching should not be stagnant and without growing professionally, we become burned out.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Carnival of Education 10/10/07

Check out the the midway of the 140th Carnival of Education sponsored by Then Tempered Radical. If you don't know what a blog carnival is: Blog Carnivals typically collect together links pointing to blog articles on a particular topic. A Blog Carnival is like a magazine. I have really found a lot of fascinating information from these!

Why I Love Teaching

I had only been teaching for 4 years and the first 3 were in elementary school. This had been my first year in high school and the students were not much younger than me. When I first graduated from college, I swore there was no way I would teach anything but elementary school students but you know the saying: never say never! I found out that I truly loved teaching high school students!

Teenagers know if you are being sincere (or real, as they would say) and they didn’t cut you any slack if you didn’t know what you are doing. It makes me think of those t-shirts that say: Show No Fear because that is what it is like. Luckily, I had my behavior plan carved in my brain because I knew it would work. I knew I was a good teacher so I had confidence but I admitted to the students that I was not afraid to learn things right along with them.

I called home often and showed them that I saw positive things about them. We worked on their strengths instead of focusing on their weaknesses. By asking their opinions and giving them choices, they felt more in control and didn’t give me half the problems they gave the other teachers. But the bottom line was that I really enjoyed teaching them.

Now, move four years later to graduation. I taught some of these kids for four years and I was as proud of them as if I was their parents. Right after the ceremony, I went to the celebration area to congratulate them when one of the boys gave me a long box with a red bow on it. Inside was a dozen long stem red roses. Shocked, I looked at his mom and dad, who smiled and told me that he had bought it with his own money. He had always wanted to learn to read and was told that it would never happen. Apparently, I didn’t hear the same story and taught him to read. This was his way of showing his appreciation.

Knowing that I was able to make a difference in this boy’s life, it inspired me to continue to teach. I realize that as teachers we cannot change everyone or fix everyone, but if we can help one child, isn’t it all worth it? I don’t regret becoming a teacher and don’t think I ever will.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

W-A-R Lesson Plans

No, these are not violent lesson plans! For me, WAR stands for - Well Thought Out, Appropriate, and Relevant. If my lesson plans met all 3 criteria, the lesson usually went very well. Of course, this wasn’t a guarantee but the odds were in my favor. (Don’t you hate it when you have this awesome lesson planned and it flops? That must be how the producers feel when a sitcom bombs on TV!

First, I use my Lesson Plan Template (if you are interested in getting this FREE template, please email me at and put Lesson Plan in the subject area). This helps me think about the lesson as a whole including an overview, standards, objectives, procedures, approximate time needed, prerequisite skills needed, materials and resources, accommodations for differentiated instruction, and student assessment. I put a lot of thought into this and write down every procedure I plan to follow. Without using this plan, I might have inadvertently missed important steps. Included in the procedures are 2 or 3 enrichment activities, which is essential in case you finish the main lesson ahead of time. If students have too much empty time, usually there are behavior problems so I like to work from bell to 5 min. before the bell. Of course I vary the activities so it is not boring but they keep the students engaged. I like using this to make sure I have all materials and resources ahead of time and I also have plenty of time to think of appropriate accommodations for diverse learners.

By using the standards and the overview, it helps me plan for appropriate and relevant lessons. I always ask myself about the purpose of the lesson. If I can’t come up with a relevant purpose, I feel it is just busy work and I don’t need to waste my time or the students’ time doing this lesson. If students feel that the lesson is relevant, they will put more time and energy into the learning process. I have had student teachers who have taught some lessons that were not age appropriate for my students, which could cause a lot of resentment and uncooperative behavior. If I have ever taught a lesson like this, I always give the students an appropriate reason for this type of lesson such as, I think it is a fun way to learn this concept or I want you to be able to teach this lesson to a much younger student so I’m modeling the lesson for you. This helps the students know that you aren’t talking down to them.

Organizing the lesson beforehand was a big key to success with my class so using this lesson template was important. I was able to edit the template to tailor it to fit my needs and the class’s needs which was also important. Also, I was able to turn this in during my evaluations and the administrators loved using it to help them evaluate me. I hope this can help you too!