Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Teacher Morale...Can it be Fixed?

Teacher morale is on the decline, but can we allow it to be blamed on someone else? Find your inspiration for staying in this career, because it matters.
I'm sure I got the attention of several teachers with this title.  You can read articles, hear news stories, and listen to friends talk about what teaching has become.  I'm not writing this to engage in an argument or offend anyone.  These are my thoughts on the personal nature of morale.

Our education system is all about assessment and accountability.  Assessment and accountability on Steroids.

I don't think any teacher can contradict the need for assessment and accountability.  It's the constant pressure and feeling that the need for these things is life and death.  In the midst of all of this, we are required to do more and more with less and less and our morale is low...really low.  What can we do?

"Make sure your own mask is on, before helping others."

Teacher morale is on the decline, but can we allow it to be blamed on someone else? Find your inspiration for staying in this career, because it matters.
What?  How could I do that?  I was having a discussion about being tired with a colleague.  She told me to "take care of myself and stay healthy or someone else will have to take care of me when I'm sick."  That's the theory behind the air mask.  If you are on an airplane, the flight attendant will tell you to put on your air mask before you help someone else. If you take the time to put on someone's else air mask, you won't be healthy enough to put your own on.  You can't sacrifice your well-being for your students or tests or other stuff.  Make sure to take care of yourself...so you can give it your all. Missing a day for "mental health" is better than missing weeks for an illness.

Where is your happy place?

Teacher morale is on the decline, but can we allow it to be blamed on someone else? Find your inspiration for staying in this career, because it matters.
Mine is the beach.  Even when I can't get to the actual beach...I have pictures of the beach around me. If we can take a minute or two to think about what brings us peace, it can lower our blood pressure and help us react positively to things. Some days are going to be hard. Some announcements are going to be less than ideal. Some requirements will be counter-intuitive to you, but you can't do anything about it. Find your peace. You can be a better you.

Be the squeaky wheel to help make changes.

Teacher morale is on the decline, but can we allow it to be blamed on someone else? Find your inspiration for staying in this career, because it matters.
I am all about being a squeaky wheel...nicely.  Teaching is hard and MOST OF THE TIME no one understands how hard.  Be the squeaky wheel and let your frustrations be known, but add some honey.  Make sure you have a solution or an estimate of a solution. Sometimes, the complaining is listened to longer if a solution or a compromise is suggested.*  The asterisks at the end of the sentence is to say that some things cannot be compromised.  Some things are required, but finding the easiest way to complete the requirement is better than just complaining. When you allow your inner voice to be about anger, it will rob you of your peace.

Find Your Inspiration...Make it Personal.

Teacher morale is on the decline, but can we allow it to be blamed on someone else? Find your inspiration for staying in this career, because it matters.
That's an easy one for me.  I have talked about these two ladies in the pictures before.  The black and white picture is Mrs. Buckley, my high school chorus teacher.  She LOVED being a teacher.  She was the best combination of teacher/counselor/friend.  We knew she loved us and we loved her.  I think of her when I think of teaching...would she have left us?  Nope. She would have fought for an educational system that benefited us. The picture on the right is my mom.  She was an amazing teacher.  She clearly changed the lives of the students and parents in her path.  At least once a month, she is approached by someone in Wal-Mart saying, "Remember me?  You had my son in your class." Finally, I had a student who touched my life in ways I didn't expect.  That has stayed with me and inspired me to keep reaching out to children.  Find your inspiration...something that says, "I can't quit. I can't forget about THEM because ultimately it's about THEM."

Create a "happy file."


Teacher morale is on the decline, but can we allow it to be blamed on someone else? Find your inspiration for staying in this career, because it matters.
My supervising teacher during my student teaching told me to keep a HAPPY FILE.  She told me to keep the notes and letters and pictures from parents and of students that made me happy...because there would be days you'd need it.  Boy, was she right.  Also, think about someone else who might need it...and jot a note to someone for their HAPPY FILE. Here's a special one from a kindergarten parent. "Hi Mrs. Collier and Mrs. Lowe, I hope you had a great Christmas break. We had a wonderful Christmas surprise! He read several books to us! Thank you so much for giving him such a great gift. Happy New Year." That is something that stays in my happy file.  Make one today.

Make it better...

Try to figure out a way to make it better.  I've ALWAYS wanted to be a teacher.  How can I walk away?  My oldest son wants to be a teacher and I've been asked if I have tried to steer him away from teaching.  My answer is always, "No."  I'm proud to be a teacher and proud that he wants to be a teacher.  Teaching isn't just my job, it's my calling, my passion, and my inspiration...and I'll fight for it. I believe teacher morale is internal, we have to guard our morale with our passion!

BUT, if even after all this you don't like teaching, leave. I'm sorry if that's hard to hear. Would you want to visit a doctor who didn't like his job? Would you like have a lawyer fighting for you, who didn't like his job? Would you want your child or grandchild to have you for a teacher?

If yes, fight for your passion. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Summer Recharge, Reset, and Rethink! Your Classroom

Summer is the perfect time to recharge, reset, and rethink your classroom!  Think about what is working and what isn't working.
Think about your classroom.  It's all packed up in boxes right now.

One of the best things about being a teacher is that all things come to an end and then all things start over again.  Who else gets a complete restart?

Let's take advantage of it.

What's working?

Does the flow of the classroom work for you and your students.  Can they get around effortlessly?  Can they reach all their materials?  Students should know the classroom inside and out.  If we want independent learners, we need to set up the classroom to make this a reality.  Think about it before you start moving tables.  I'm not saying you'll only move furniture once, but it might help.
Summer is the perfect time to recharge, reset, and rethink your classroom!  Think about what is working and what isn't working.

What's Not Working?

Do you like the common areas?  Can all your students sit comfortably?  Can they all see the board?  What about your classroom library?  Is it organized?  Making sure these areas are easily accessible and manageable will make your life easier.
Summer is the perfect time to recharge, reset, and rethink your classroom!  Think about what is working and what isn't working.

Student Materials

Doesn't it make you a little crazy when a student can't find their poetry folder?  OR you have to pass out 20 journals every morning?  Consider file boxes.  I requested file boxes from our parents for student supplies.  Of course, I had extras in the class (from thrift stores).  Students kept their Morning, Journal, Poetry Folder, Math Journal, Reading Response Journal, and Bag of Books (ziploc bag with their small group instruction books) in their file box.  They carried their file box to center spots with them AND they had a shelf spot, so materials were always handy.
Summer is the perfect time to recharge, reset, and rethink your classroom!  Think about what is working and what isn't working.

Rethink...

Using our End-Of-The-Year packing and August unpacking ritual as a rethink...we can make sure our classrooms our classrooms offer the best benefit for everyone.  Here's a checklist to make you rethink your room.
Summer is the perfect time to recharge, reset, and rethink your classroom!  Think about what is working and what isn't working.

CLICK HERE for the Classroom Rethink Checklist above.  ENJOY~

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sound Chart Activities to Enhance Phonemic Awareness and Phonics

I LOVE a sound chart.  

I have used a sound chart for years as an integral part of my kindergarten classroom.  Originally I used the sound chart provided by Fountas and Pinnell, but eventually I made my own.  It is the first connection between letter and sound and it starts on the first day of school.  During calendar time, the sound chart is on a slide with our electronic calendar.  EVERYDAY, my students chant the sound chart.  "A.../a/...apple.  B.../b/...bear.  C.../k/...cat." and so on.  At first they echo me.  Then, they echo the calendar helper.  Eventually, it's a choral read.  To shake up understandings, we read it backwards.  "Z.../z/...zipper.  Y.../y/...yo-yo." and so on.  Then...we go crazy.  We read up each column from the bottom, down each column from the top, zig zag down and back on the rows, zig zag up and down the columns and any other crazy way we can think up.

My student KNOW the sound chart.

Classroom Sound Charts

Sound charts can be found all over the room.  An enlarged poster (made at Office Max) is on the wall.  8 1/2 x 11 sounds charts are in their writing folders, their homework folders, and laminated at each center.  Laminated copies are also at the small group reading table.  One enlarged sound chart is cut apart and the pieces are used for Word Wall Headers.  They use the sound chart to connect, connect, connect.

I also provide a home copy of the Sound Chart.

Parents need to know what words and pictures we were connecting to the letters and sounds.  We use short vowels and the hard c and g.  I want to help the parents connect those letters and sounds, too.  I made a Sound Chart Suggestion list for my parents.  These suggestions can be done in the car, in a restaurant, at the dinner table, on the go.
For full color AND blackline reproducible copies of the sound chart and suggested activities, CLICK HERE.

Friday, June 19, 2015

6 Things Teachers Want Parents to Know

Earlier in the week I posted things teachers should know about parents.  Today I'm flipping it around. There are a few things parents need to know about Teachers.

1. Routines Count

As a parent, I know life is crazy...BUT routines count.  Children thrive in an environment that has boundaries and routines.  When children know what to expect, they can easily succeed.  Starting the day with breakfast can make a difference all morning.  Putting "fuel in their tanks" can keep them focused and ready to learn.  Choosing a designated area and time for homework can make that time of the day a little stressful.  Keeping supplies handy in that area can also reduce the stress.  I think one of the most important routines of the day is bedtime.  Getting enough rest can make a huge difference in your child's education.  They will be more awake and eager to learn.

2.  Reading Counts

I'm not just saying this because I love reading.  There are many studies showing the effects of reading.  On the chart below, there shows a dramatic difference in reading for 20 minutes a night.  Think about when you can squeeze in 20 minutes.  What about in the car?  As an adult, I love books on tape (or CD) and there are options at the public library.  What about bath time? I originally saw this information on Pinterest, but the link led me to Perry and Lecompton Unified School District.  I made the following graphic for our parents during Literacy Night.  BUT...don't kill the love of reading.  Choose books the students are interesting and exciting.
What would you tell a parent, if you could tell them anything? Here is a post with 6 things every teacher wants to tell parents. Imagine the lines of communication being open and everyone understanding each other. 2d

3.  Losing Counts

Nobody wants their child to be called a loser, but losing has value.  Children need to learn to be as gracious in winning as they are in losing.  Children are in the classroom with 20-25 other children.  Everyone can't be the best.  Everyone can't be the winner.  Everyone can't get called on for every answer.  Everyone can't be the line leader every day.  Understanding losing is part of life can create valuable learning opportunities throughout the year and throughout their life.  Parents can start this early by allowing a game to be honest and the winner to be fair.  Does this mean we need to make them lose ALL the time?  Of course not.  But if they never experience loss, they can't really experience winning.

4.  Tests Count.

It's the saddest of the realities.  Tests do count.  We can't change this.  We can't pretend they don't exist. We have to move forward with them.  Are they more important than your child?  NO!  As much as we don't like the tests, the tests do indicate learning.  We want all children to learn.  We want them to be successful...and tests count.  As a teacher, I wish tests could be a snapshot of the student, not the whole portrait.  Tests are reflective of that child on that test on that day.  Teachers know that.  

5.  You Count.

You are an integral part of your child's learning.  Your mood, attitude, and love of learning can be determining factor in your child's success.  Being a partner with the teacher can only enhance this process.  Volunteering in the classroom is fantastic.  You get the opportunity to see your child learn, interact with others, and to be part of a team.  If you can't volunteer, offer to help in other ways.  If your child sees you helping to prepare for a lesson or project at home, they know you are part of their day.  Once, when a parent helped cut out shapes for an Art Center, the student announced each day, "My mom cut those pieces."  You count.

6.  YOUR CHILD COUNTS.

I am blessed to be a teacher.  I love helping children and making their world better.  Your child counts.  

Not as a placeholder.  
Not as a test score.  
Not as member of a reading group.  

Your child counts as a living, breathing gift.  Thank you.

Monday, June 15, 2015

5 Things Teachers Need to Know about Parents

I am the ESTAT chair in my school (that's a fancy name for RtI).  Teachers come to the team when students are struggling and we provide intervention strategies to help students.  After we suggest interventions, we set a date 4-6 weeks out to review the data and decide if the student needs more interventions.  Let me tell you what I don't want to hear..."they are struggling because their parents don't help them at home."  UGH!  I HATE that excuse.

Here are 5 things I think all teachers should know about parents.

1.  Parents don't have a degree in teaching.  

I know this seems too easy, but it's true.  Parents may know their child, but they don't always know how to help their child.  They need you.  Parents need to understand how they can help their child.  Part of our job is teaching them to help their child.  Make sure anything sent home is explained thoroughly. Don't leave this up to the student, they may not have been paying attention.  If you notice a parent is helping "the wrong way," take the time to explain what their child needs.  Make sure it's about their child...not about you!

Teaching Tip:  Include a tutorial of new skills in your newsletter.  Make sure this isn't perceived as demeaning.  Keep in mind your tone and vocabulary.  I had a parent volunteer who would read my "teaching tips" for parents.  She read it as a parent...not a teacher.  We want parents to be empowered to help their child not demeaned in the process.

2.  Parents have a lot on their plate.

Sometimes life gets in the way of school.  It's sad to say, but sometimes parents are stressed, worried, and maybe even panicked about getting food on the table or a roof over their head they need you to take care of their child for 7 hours a day.  Knowing their child is safe and fed may be all they can think about for that day.  They don't have the time or energy to do a lot of homework or reading.  It's the imperfect way of our world today.  As teachers, we need to work with parents and students to help find options for homework or time for completing these tasks.  We also must be very specific and critical of our homework and at-home requirements.

Teaching Tip:  My Open House always includes ideas for practicing skills in the car.  Use a cookie sheet and magnets to practice word wall words.  Use a travel soap container to keep crayons available in the car.  Letter Hunts, Vowel Hunts, Blends/Digraphs Hunt and Word Hunts using menus at a restaurant.

3.  Parents care.

Even when you think they don't, they do.  No one wants their child to suffer or struggle, but some parents are powerless to help.  They are embarrassed they can't help with homework, or can't provide an adequate lunch or snack, or that their own education is limited and they don't know how to help. Some parents had such poor experiences with their own schooling, they are "afraid" or automatically defensive about school.  Help them show they care.  Help them participate.  Help them figure it out.  If you do, everyone benefits.

Teaching Tips:  At the Fall Open House, ask parents to sign 8 notes to their student encouraging good behavior and work habits.  You can be the mailman and deliver the notes to kids every month.  If you can't get the parents in to sign the mail, ask if you can sign their name on these notes.
Are parents a complete mystery to you? Why would they ask that? Why would they skip homework? Why don't they understand what I'm doing? This blog post gives teachers a look from the parent's view.

4.  Some parents see their children less than you do.

We see kids for 7 hours a day.  Believe it or not, that could be more they see their child.  Think about this scenario:  Up and 7, pop-tart for breakfast on the way to the bus at 7:30.  School is out at 3:00 and now their child is off to "daycare" until 6.  After drive-thru dinner, the family heads to soccer or baseball for an hour. I know this isn't a priority over reading, but participating in sports can develop worthwhile skills, too.  Parents can interact with their child positively on the soccer pitch or baseball diamond. I'm not excusing "no homework," I just think we shouldn't judge the parent. After soccer or baseball, it's late...bedtime.  The students are tired, the parents are tired, and none of it adds up to a good time for homework.  The students are off to bed at 8:30.  The sad reality is the parent above has seen their child 3 or 4 hours that day.  You are the one making the most positive connection with that student.  Make it count.

Teaching Tip:  My newsletter contains a "Ask me a Question" section.  Give the parents 2 great questions to ask their child about what they are learning.  (Make sure you include the answers the parents might hear, so the parents can encourage conversation.)
Are parents a complete mystery to you? Why would they ask that? Why would they skip homework? Why don't they understand what I'm doing? This blog post gives teachers a look from the parent's view.

5.  Parents want better for their child.

When the parent argues over every grade, they just want better.  When the parent writes notes every day, they just want better.  When the parent tells you their child is "gifted" and you can't find evidence of that, they just want better.  You need to find a way to make that parent a part of the process.  A partnership is the only way to make the most of a challenging situation.  Make sure you are picking your battles and the battles are worthy of your time and energy.

Teaching Tip: Sometimes the best way to make it through to a parent is having them visit the classroom regularly.  I have always had parent volunteers during center time.  I provide an after-school training for my parents.  I make sure I am clear with my expectations and goals of parent volunteers.  
Are parents a complete mystery to you? Why would they ask that? Why would they skip homework? Why don't they understand what I'm doing? This blog post gives teachers a look from the parent's view.

No excuses...just understanding.

I'm not giving parents an out...and I'm not making excuses.  BUT, if teachers can understand where parents are a bridge can be built more easily.  The most successful students are supported, encouraged, and helped by their teachers and parents.  The partnership is invaluable.

CLICK HERE for resources talked about in this post.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

25 Years! Amazing!

I can't believe I've been teaching for 25 years.  I knew very early I would be a teacher.  I loved making my brother and sister play school.  I would make worksheets for them and make them listen and follow the rules.  I have told everyone who will listen how excited I was to get my first pack of CARBON PAPER!  I could make 2 worksheets at once!
25 years in teaching and I wouldn't change a thing. I was born to be a teacher and I am proud to be in education.
25 years with Chesapeake Public Schools (1 other previously)
BUT 25 has me thinking.  A quarter of a century.  I wonder how many people today actually stay in the same job for 25 years.

How have things have changed...

1.  My job – I started as a Teacher for Students with Specific Learning Disabilities.  I was in a K-5 school, where all reading took place from 8-10 am.  SOOOO, all my students would arrive at 8 (all grades) and I was expected to “individualize” instruction.  I tried for 8 years before I left special education.  I have moved from teaching students with exceptionalities, to “regular” education (whatever that is) to a Reading Specialist.  The common thread has been a passion for early learning and reading.
25 years in teaching and I wouldn't change a thing. I was born to be a teacher and I am proud to be in education.
2.  Curriculum – We didn’t have a “curriculum” when I started, we had a basal.  We used the basal series and if someone started to fall behind, they were sent to the “Child Study Committee” for testing.  As a special education teacher I used Merrill Linguistics for instruction…trying to integrate reading, writing, and “spelling” into these lessons.  Now in the days of Virginia’s Standards of Learning and other state’s Common Core…I’m not sure if we’re better off or not.  Do I believe all children should be exposed to the same curriculum no matter where they live? YES.  Do I believe setting a standard creates an expectations?  YES.  Do I think we need to test, test, test, and retest to “prove” we have taught them? NO.  Do I think it’s going away?  NO. Do we have to figure out how to make the students the winners in the education game?  ABSOLUTELY.
25 years in teaching and I wouldn't change a thing. I was born to be a teacher and I am proud to be in education.
Small group instruction...but that was a Letter of the Week Activity.
3.  Reading – WOW.  When I started teaching we followed the basal.  Everyone read the same story.  Everyone got the same test.  With the help of Marie Clay, we figured out that wasn’t the best thing for students.  We progressed to Balanced Literacy and meeting the needs of students at their level.  I wish I could go back and teach my earliest students again.  I feel like I could have been a much better teacher…but, I guess that’s normal.
25 years in teaching and I wouldn't change a thing. I was born to be a teacher and I am proud to be in education.
Nat, cat, fat, sat, is, on
4.  “Spelling” – We have been doing Word Study for the last several years with Words Their Way and Word Journeys.  I am surprised how many teachers don’t know the difference between word study and spelling…still.  I believe in teaching children word features, so they can transfer the knowledge to writing. 

5.  Resources – When I was in college, we had to learn how to use the purple memograph machine.  After we made the worksheet (either on a typewriter or hand written), we would run the machine trying carefully not to get it on your clothes and trying not to inhale all the fumes.  Now, with resources on-line, like Teachers Pay Teachers and Teacher’s Notebook to name a few, and on-line videos (no reel to reel movies), teacher blogs, and just a google search…it’s rare you can’t find something to help with the perfect lesson.
6.  Field Trips – When I first started teaching, these were guaranteed.  We went on several every year and they were FUN!  Our system has cut our primary grades to one trip with school buses and one on charter buses.  They are regulated and justified.  This makes me the saddest.  Some students never left their neighborhood unless it was on a field trip.  One year, my students wrote letters to a friend in the military.  When he returned from his tour, we took a school bus to the Navy base 25 minutes away.  They toured the ship and saw the water and loved every minute of it.

7.  Technology – From overheads to SMART Boards, reel to reel to HD Video clips, cassettes to DVDs, and everything in between.  If you aren’t proficient on the computer or with technology, this job can leave you behind. 
25 years in teaching and I wouldn't change a thing. I was born to be a teacher and I am proud to be in education.
8.  Teacher Stores – Target Dollar Spot and Dollar Tree has changed the way teacher’s shop.  When I first started you needed a trip to the teacher store to outfit your classroom for the year.  You looked through catalogs and hoped the theme you wanted wouldn’t be gone by the time you got to the store.  Today, Target and Dollar Tree have classroom resources at our fingertips.  From bulletin boards to organizers, everything you need is within reach.
25 years in teaching and I wouldn't change a thing. I was born to be a teacher and I am proud to be in education.
I made MOST of my anchor charts.
9.  Professional Learning Communities – No longer do we go into our classrooms, shut the doors, and teach “our class” what we want.  Now there are resource people (like me) pushing in to help, coach and remediate.  We use collaboration time to look at all the students and determine who needs what globally.  We all take pride and responsibility to all our students.

10. Me – I do think I’ve changed…but, for the better I think.  I’m eager to learn a newer, better way to help all students.  I am eager to help colleagues and LOVE LOVE LOVE teacher training.  I am willing to jump in and help where I’m needed.  But my love of teaching hasn’t changed.  It is the job for me.  Teaching, both students and teachers, is in my blood and my heart.  I believe in teaching as a profession and try to remain professional at all times.  I am THRILLED my oldest will be joining the profession in 2 years, even if he wants to be a MATH teacher.  I am honored to be a teacher.
25 years in teaching and I wouldn't change a thing. I was born to be a teacher and I am proud to be in education.
That's what it's all about.
That's what it's all about.  I LOVE teaching.

So happy 25 to me!  In honor of 25 years of teaching, my Teachers Pay Teachers Store will be 20% off through Sunday (that's the biggest sale I can do on TPT).  Click the link and Enjoy.