Saturday, September 29, 2007

Success with Paraprofessionals

Working with paraprofessionals were wonderful experiences for me and can be for you too. I hope my experiences and ideas will help teachers and paraprofessionals have a successful relationship. Some of these might not work for you so you might need to adjust these to fit your needs and personalities. I have had 7 paraprofessionals (male and female) over the years and loved working with all of them.

The main key to success is communication. The very first day we met, this is the first thing I pointed out. No matter what we were feeling, we would communicate with each other the good and the bad. Working as close together as we do, it is important that we talk to each other. As a teacher, I would make sure the paraprofessionals knew what I expected and why. If the paraprofessionals didn’t understand or disagreed, I was told privately and not in front of the students. Usually at the end of the day, we would spend about 15 minutes evaluating the day, talking about what worked and what didn’t.

Trust is important when you are working this closely with a person. I made it clear that I would keep them in the loop of what is going on around the classroom and the school. Sometimes teachers see paraprofessionals as a second class citizen and this is totally wrong. I treated my paraprofessionals as fellow colleagues in the workplace and insisted that other teachers and students treat them the same way.

I wrote out a list of duties for the paraprofessionals so it was clear what I needed. This helped at the beginning of the year as a checklist so I didn’t have to follow up behind.

I discussed my classroom expectations and rules with the paraprofessionals before the students every arrived. We would be like parents to the students and they will play us against each other every chance they could. We would explain to the class ahead of time that this would not work and that if they went to one adult after they were already told no, the consequences would be dire. We backed each other up in front of the students (even if we didn’t agree – which we would discuss later when students weren’t there).

I always asked if the paraprofessionals had any suggestions or ideas when I was planning for the next week or the next unit. Sometimes they may have a different perspective that could help with the lesson.

Sometimes I listed duties and we split them up. Many times the paraprofessionals were stronger in one aspect and enjoyed doing somethings that I didn’t. This meant less stress for me. I liked to focus on their strengths and use them in the way that benefitted all of us.

We discussed students and problems and how to handle behaviors. Sometimes there was just personality conflicts and luckily we didn’t feel the same way about the same students so a lot of times we split up the students so we could work with the ones we got along with best. This was not all of the time, but sometimes it helps the dynamics of the class.

I used my paraprofessionals as sounding boards, shoulders to cry on, and as a major player in my support system. I didn’t always have a paraprofessionals every year I taught so I really appreciated the times I had one. Unfortunately, I never had a class in college that prepared me for working with a paraprofessionals and I have heard from many others that they are in the same boat. If you have questions that I can answer, please feel free to ask away and I’ll try to help.

(Remember how earlier I mentioned that it was important to find your support system? Well, I'm taking a few days off to go hiking and camping in Shenandoah National Park to relieve some stress but I should be back on Friday. See you then!)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Useful Information for In and Out of the Classroom 09/28/07

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.

Four Perfect Pebbles: A Holocaust Story – Marion Blumenthal Lazan writes about her experiences in a concentration camp and her life after liberation from the camp. My class read her book and was so inspired by her that I arranged for her to come visit our school. She talks about hope, teaching tolerance, and overcoming obstacles and horrors in life. Students from all classes and members of the community came to listen. If you get a chance, I recommend the book and inviting her to speak!

Patrick Hughes – I was lucky enough to meet this young man in April 2007 during the Council For Exceptional Children Conference in Kentucky. This video is a wonderful example of how far you can go if you don’t believe the word – can’t. Patrick Hughes is a young man at Univ. of Louisville who was born blind and crippled and yet now plays the piano beautifully as well as "marches" in the Louisville marching band. Here is a video during ESPN College Gameday on 12/2/2006.

Discovery School’s Puzzlemaker – great way to make your own puzzles using vocabulary words for any subject. I have used the Criss Cross (crossword puzzle) and the word search most of all. It was so easy to use and the students enjoyed doing these puzzles. I do recommend that you proofread your work before printing (nothing is worse than having students do a crossword puzzle only to find out you misspelled a word!)

They Did Not Give Up – List of famous people who had some failures to start off with but they didn’t give up. Great way to improve students’ self concept.

Surprising Expiration Dates – This could be a fun lesson for a class and open up a lively discussion

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fun Science Lesson for Your Class

When I was teaching about molecules, I used Froot Loops. I wrote up the directions first so the students would have something to follow (integrating reading with science!). I labeled the different color Froot Loops as oxygen, hydrogen, carbon etc. We used pretzel sticks, peanut butter and mini marshmallows to connect them together. They dipped the end of the marshmallow in peanut butter and then stuck the Froot Loop to it. Then they stuck the pretzel stick in the marshmallow and Froot Loop. I told them we would eat them afterwards so they wouldn't start eating them while we made them. Of course we made water molecules and other obvious ones but after that they were allowed to make up their own. After everyone presented their new ones to the class, they all ate them. This was a lot of fun and the students were able to see a 3D model of molecules.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Carnival of Education

Check out this week's Carnival of Education hosted by Global Citizenship in a Virtual World! There are lots of great links to lots of great articles!

Develop A Class Motto

Too many of my students have been told that they are lazy, stupid, or good for nothing, so they began to believe it. I felt it was my job to change their attitude. Everyone has a purpose in this life but we just have to figure out what it is. My class motto was “I Am A Born Winner” which every student had to write on their papers they turned in for a grade. If it wasn’t on the paper, I didn’t accept it. At first they hated writing it and thought it was corny but this was non-negotiable. When they whined about it, I lectured about why they had to write it. Just as they believed the negative stuff, then I was going to combat it with a positive statement that hopefully they would start to believe. They got so tired of my lecture that they quit complaining and just wrote it. I would also ask what the class motto was for extra points on quizzes or tests. They needed to know I was serious about it and believed in it myself. Within a few months, I started to see the students study more, try harder, make better grades, and begin being more successful in my classroom. In their senior year, I had students evaluate what they did in my class and most of them wrote that this was the most effective thing I did that helped them believe in themselves. If I see former students, they still can tell me what our class motto was!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

3 Steps to Effective Parent/Teacher Communication

I know that when you saw this title you probably groaned loudly but wait…don’t touch that dial (or close this window)!

Contact with parents and guardians have made a huge difference in my teaching experience throughout my career. I have used this method the entire time and it is one of the most effective things you can do towards behavior management. If you follow these steps, I truly believe it will make a difference in your classroom. Of course it will take up some of your personal time, but it will be worth it.

I called all my students’ homes within the first 2 weeks of school (it isn’t too late to start now). I introduced myself and explained about how excited I was to teach their child. I encouraged them to contact me if they had any concerns or questions and informed them that I would be calling frequently. This only took a few minutes. If you have 150 students, you can call 15 homes a night. This usually takes about one hour every night if you only call during the weekdays. Some parents won’t be home so I left this message on their answering machine.

2 weeks later, I called home again and I made a positive comment about every student. Nothing negative was mentioned. If the parent tried to steer it in the negative, I explained that I was trying to help the student’s self concept by looking at their positive qualities. I also asked the parent to praise the student for my positive comments. In class the next day I would always mention that I was calling home to brag about them. I even asked the students I called what was mentioned at home. Many were thrilled to have a teacher say positive things about them.

For 75-150 students, I would call once a month and repeat this process. When I had 50 students, I called every 2 weeks at first. If there were students who were acting up, I would not call their homes the first month. I would only call the ones who were acting appropriately and then announce that is why I called home. Many students will improve their behavior so they can get this call. If you see a small improvement in the behavior of a student who usually acts out, call the parent right there during class in front of the student. Brag about the student’s behavior. This will only take a couple of minutes and you will reap many benefits from this.

By doing this, you are changing the cycle of bad behavior. Students are not getting attention for bad behavior but instead they are getting it for good behavior. If a student does not have a phone, I would send home postcards. Students will also see that you really care about them in order to look for the good in them and respect you more. Parents will love you because they will see that you really care about their child. This will help you in case there is a situation where you do have to call them about a problem situation and they will be supportive of you because of the extra mile you go for their child.

I feel this was one of the most important things I ever did while teaching.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Diverse Learners in One Setting

Having students of all different ability levels can be quite overwhelming to any teacher. Unfortunately this happens to many new teachers who enter the educational system. Rather than gripe and complain about, it’s time to roll up the sleeves and deal with it! I have taught many years in this situation and actually found it quite a challenge to motivate the students and keep myself motivated also. Here are some strategies that have worked for me and might work for you. Remember Teaching is not an exact science so you may have to tweak and adjust these activities to meet the needs of your students and your teaching style.

First of all, I had to decide what my goals and objectives were. This would be the same for the whole class regardless of their ability levels. Once I determined the goals and objectives, I would work on different activities for teaching and evaluating the students to see if they mastered the goals and objectives. I explained to the class that everyone has different needs whether in the classroom or in the grocery store. My husband loves dairy products but I’m allergic to them so he may buy milk and I wouldn’t. Some people cannot eat food with sugar in it and other can. Some people like bananas and others don’t. This is the same in the classroom so they may see people doing different things but all will reach the same goal.

Sometimes I would create 10 different learning activities and then determine how many of the activities I wanted them to complete. The students would pick the ones that fit their learning style or ability level. If my goal was for them to explain the plot of the story that they read and the objectives were to summarize the story or describe the main characters, I would teach the story by letting them choose 2 of the following: reading the story aloud into a tape recorder, reading with a peer, some students with low reading levels can hear the story on tape (either read it into a tape recorder, or see if the library has it on tape or CD, or have volunteers read it into a tape recorder), students work in pairs to write a paragraph about what they read, work with a peer and complete a worksheet about the story. In order to evaluate the mastery of the goal, I would list activities such as: draw a movie poster, write a newspaper review, draw a comic strip, make a diorama and present it, videotape a commercial about this as if it was a movie, make a book jacket of the story. Students would be expected to pick one and turn it in by a certain date.

For vocabulary, lower ability students may need to learn a different number of words per week. Then as a student becomes more successful, you might increase the number.

For math, I might give a give a pretest to determine what skills the student needs to be taught. I informed each student that they had to get at least 85% right in order to go to the next skill (I did not give in if they made an 84%) Then each student would be given an individual folder with the list of assignments that they are required to complete. As they complete the assignment I would write their grade beside it in their folder so they can get feedback about their progress. I also listed pre and post test grades on this sheet. If they mastered the skill, I would save this form to use during parent/teacher conferences. If they did not master the skill, they would have to redo the assignments or do different ones and retake the test. Most of my students loved this because they were not stuck doing busy work on skills they already mastered while they waited for the others to master it also. This improved classroom behavior tremendously and misbehavior was almost nonexistent.

I liked to do science and social studies topics as a group involving class discussion and group work. I even asked the class for suggestions of projects that could be done to show they understood the concepts of the unit. For evaluation, I liked to offer a variety of projects and let the students decide which one they want to complete. This can be done during class or for homework.

These are just some of the strategies that worked for me. I hope this helps you in some way but if I didn’t make something clear, or if you have another suggestion, please leave a comment and let me know.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Useful Information for In and Out of the Classroom 09/21/07

Once a week 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. Thank you for coming by and visiting!

Discipline Help: Identifies behaviors and gives suggestions on how to handle them.
Donors Choose: great page to ask for donations
Teaching Tolerance: “provides educators with free educational materials that promote respect for differences and appreciation of diversity in the classroom and beyond.”
Instructables: Step by step instructions on how to do things
National Teacher Shortage: Interesting facts and figures about the teacher shortage

Have a good weekend and I'll see you on Monday! Please let me know what you think of the links or my blog. I’d love to have comments!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Don’t Give Up!

I just heard from a friend that she is having a rough time her first year of teaching and wants to give up. It had me thinking about how many times I have felt that way and how did I overcome this feeling.

First of all, I have taught at 5 different schools so I know how hard it is to start new. I do know that the first 6 months were the hardest at each new school but I was so stubborn that I refused to “lose”! You know all those clichés that state “Things will get worse before they better…” Well, it is true. Know that it will happen, expect that it will happen, brace yourself, and hang in there. Do not give up! Once you find your footing and determine your own style, things will get better. But it is up to you to make it happen.

Kids are going to do their best to make you cry. In fact that is like an award if they can succeed and I refused to let them win that award. Sometimes you wonder if it is all worth this misery and for me, as I look back on all I have accomplished, I realize it was worth it because I made a difference.

I was reading the Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell and her first years of teaching were pretty tough too. She had some rough students and didn’t seem to have much support of her colleagues but she decided what here goals were and worked towards them. Her main goal was to make a difference.

Isn’t that why people become teachers? Isn’t making a difference a major goal for a teacher? If you quit now, will you be able to make a difference some other way? If you choose another way, will it make you feel you achieved your goals? If the answer is yes, then maybe you need to look at another career. But if the answer is no or you aren’t sure, then maybe you need to stick with this one and not give up.

When things get tough, don’t wallow in negative thoughts about how bad things are. Try to think of one good thing about your situation. Then the next day, add another positive thought. If you need to write them down, keep a list to reflect on. Having positive thoughts will really help your outlook on the situation. If you are saying that this is impossible, it is because the negative thoughts are crowding out the positive ones. Find other teachers and ask them to tell you why they enjoy their job. You might find a common thread to all of their comments.

I see the world having a shortage of teachers and I really hope that you don’t give up without giving it lots of thought. I worry about our young people of today if there aren’t enough caring teachers out there. If you really want to make a difference, than the world needs teachers like you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Set Up A Support System

I have started at 4 different schools and know what it is like to be the “new kid on the block.” I know that it usually took about 6 months before I felt comfortable in my new setting and didn’t regret the changes that I had made in my life. I knew at the time that my classroom and all that was involved with the actual students was important but taking care of me was even more important in order to be an effective teacher. Otherwise I would quickly burn out and lose my joy of teaching.

Here are some suggestions for setting up a support system.

1. Find veteran teachers and listen to their advice and suggestions. Really listen without interrupting (whether verbally or in your own thoughts) about why their suggestions won’t work. Remember that you don’t have to do whatever they say but keep an open mind and absorb what they are saying. See if you can’t use their wisdom and experience to fit your situation. You will also make many friends this way.

2. Keep some friends outside of the educational field. This will help you keep life in perspective. They may also be able to help you by giving you a new or different perspective. Sometimes teachers tend to have tunnel vision and can’t see the “forest from the trees.” (forgive me for the cliché!)

3. Think before you act and don’t react to conflict with students or colleagues. Try not to take criticism personally and move past the emotions to the facts. This will help you solve a problem faster.

4. Hang around positive people. Stay away from teacher groups/lounges where everyone whines and hates their jobs. This is like a virus and can infect you with negativism. I found this was true wherever I taught.

5. Branch out to teachers in other subject areas. You will gain new ideas that you might adapt to your classroom and also show the administration that you work well with all colleagues.

6. Have an outlet outside of teaching. I truly love teaching but too much of anything could be a bad thing (although I’m not sure I would have my fill of m&ms or chocolate kisses). Hiking outdoors helps me gather my thoughts and put things in perspective. Reading is my escape to all different adventures. Learning a new skill like crocheting keeps me on my toes.

Following steps like these can keep you from getting burned out and discouraged when things are not going as planned. Even if you do these things, everything won’t be perfect all of the time but you will have the strength and endurance to help you get through those tough times.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My First Day of Teaching

I remember that I was going to change the world! I started out teaching in an elementary school and I was equipped with great new strategies and ideas fresh from college.

The first student I met was Jim, a 5th grader who had his leg amputated that summer because of bone cancer. His previous teacher promised him that she would be there when he returned to school. With a huge welcoming smile on my face, I watched him as he approached me, a little unsteady on his new prosthesis. Scowling, he asked me where the other teacher was and I announced happily that I was his new teacher. The next thing I know, he whips off the prosthesis and is hopping on one foot chasing me with this artificial leg trying to hit me! Of course I was running! Then it hit me...wait a minute...I'm the one in charge here and I need to do what I came here to do. This boy needs me!

That moment changed my life and was the inspiration for a long time career in teaching. I realized that I had the knowledge and the ability to make a difference in the lives of many young people and that is what my purpose in life was all about. I never regretted going into the teaching field and feel that I accomplished my goals throughout my career. Many former students have kept in touch and remind me often how much I helped them and made a difference in their life.

If you are a teacher, be proud of what you do and do it well.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Updates on Your Favorite Blogs

If you are like me, there are several blogs that I like to keep track of each day but it is so time consuming to open up each one just to see if it has been updated. You can make this so much easier if you sign up for a free account with a free feedreading aggregator like Google Reader (this is the one I use) or Bloglines. I’m sure there are others but those are the most popular ones that I’ve seen people use.

The next thing I have to do is to set it up by clicking on the “Add Subscription” and type in the address of the blog. I also use this for my favorite comic strips and news programs.

During the day, I open Google Reader and can see exactly which sites have been updated. I click on the one I want to read or if I want to leave a comment, I click on the title of that entry which brings me directly to that page.

So, if you want to see if Successful Teaching has been updated, just add this address to the subscription or if you prefer, you can email me at and let me know.

Now isn’t that easy?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Starting Point

Where do I start?

I was asked to rank these in importance and explain why: Planning, discipline, methods, evaluation.

Discipline should be the first thing to work on. Once you have your students in order, you can teach them anything. If they learn the classroom procedures and your rules, you will be able to work with individual students in order to find out what their needs are. You will not be wasting time dealing with classroom behavior.

Evaluation comes next because you need to know what the students' needs are. Your evaluation can be through formal or informal techniques. I first determine what skills are important for a student to know and see if they are proficient in them. This can be done by making a test asking sample questions for each skill. You need to decide how many the student needs to answer correctly in order to be considered proficient. Another informal survey that I take, which I feel is very important, is to ask a student what the best way he/she learns new material. You need to find out if the student is a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic-tactile learner so you can plan your lessons to be most effective.

From your evaluation you would need to plan the best way to teach the necessary skills. Once you determine your goals and objectives, coming up with alternate assignments can be interesting and fun. I sometimes asked the students for suggestions of projects. If they feel they have some input, they tend to put more effort into the final results.

Once you have your plan, it is time to think of the methods you will use. Realistically, you will not be able to do all your lessons the same way because it would be impossible to accommodate all of the students at the same time but it is important for them to see that you are willing to try. Teach lessons using a variety of techniques so that you touch all different learning styles. You can offer choices so students can choose the assignment that best meets their needs.

You might say that all of this takes a lot of time, but if you put the time in, you will be more effective in the classroom.

Why am I doing this?

When I recently retired after 29 years of teaching, I knew that I had so much information that made classroom teaching successful and I wanted to share it with others. I found out that after being chosen Teacher of the Year for my school and a top 10 finalist for my district, that my ideas worked for many different fields and not just the one that I taught in. As other teachers throughout my school and the district sought out my advice and ideas, I found myself repeating information to different people and felt that there had to be a better way of getting these strategies out to others. My main goal is to help other teachers have successful teaching experiences so they will continue to be happy effective teachers. A big problem throughout our educational system is retaining effective teachers and this is one way for me to do my part.