Sunday, July 27, 2014

Seven Tips for New Teachers

Often I hear from other people who are pursuing a career in teaching.  Their questions are usually always the same.
  1. How did you become a teacher?
  2. Are there days you regret your decision?
  3. What do you love about teaching?
  4. Do you have any tips for a new teacher?
I love writing them back and sharing my story.  I too, remember being that "person" who dreamed of becoming a teacher. I remember cruising through teacher forum boards (A to Z Teacher forum and Proteacher were my favs!) and looking at different teacher websites (this was before blogs were a hit).  

As far as me and my story, I think I knew I wanted to be a teacher since I was a child.  I was the student who would beg my teachers for their old teacher manuals and play "school" at home forcing my younger brother to be my "student".  I would set-up my desk in my room with all my school supplies laid out.  When back to school time came around, I LOVED looking at the ads.  New school supplies gave me a thrill (and still do to this day!)   I forgot about my desire well into my early 20's.  I had a great job as a hotel sales manager (which I loved!) and was very happy doing what I was doing.  But I knew I wanted to go back to school and get my degree. It wasn't until one day I was in an office supply store and happened to walk down the teacher aisle that I knew that was what I wanted! haha  Seeing all the teacher supplies brought back all the old feelings I had when I was a kid. I've never looked back. I finished my degree (while working full-time) in 1.5 years and landed my first teaching job after completing my student teaching.  A teacher had retired in late November and I was hired on to take over his 5th grade class. That first year taught me more than I think a typical first year would have.  Since I was taking over for a veteran teacher, that particular class' parents were all over me.  I had one particular difficult one who would drag me into the principal's office multiple times that year.  Thankfully I had a VERY supportive principal who backed me up.  I learned many many things that year.  Since then, I have taught 9 years of 5th and 1 year of 4th.  I love it. Of course you have hard days - I won't lie.  Society attitudes towards teachers, parents behavior, and the amount of work that is put on teachers nowadays is unreal.  But if it's your passion you can overcome that.   I don't regret a single day that I switched my career from hotel management to teaching.  

But if I could give some tips to the new teachers that I have learned over the years, this would be it.

  1. Document. Everything. If you are having issues with students (whether behavior or academically) you need documentation to back you up.  It will make the meetings that you have to better assist the student much easier when you have concrete proof to match up with what you are witnessing in the class.
  2. KEEP PARENTS INFORMED!  Yes, you may think that your weekly newsletter is enough. Or perhaps your class website is sufficient.  Or the fact that you send home all the work each week with grades listed, should keep parents up to date on their child's progress. But the fact of the matter is, it doesn't.   I'm not knocking parents for this. Perhaps they are working full-time, have multiple children.....whatever. I don't care what their excuse is.  The fact of the matter is, you will make your job MUCH easier if you just keep them informed.  I'm lucky to work at a school where parents (and students) have access to the grade book. They can simply sign in and see what the grades are.  I tell them in the beginning of the year, that they should be signing in at least bi-weekly if not weekly.  That there should be NO SURPRISED come report card time.  But perhaps you don't have that ability with your system.  Find one that you can use to send home progress reports. I did so bi-weekly back in my first year of teaching and I will tell you, parents appreciated it.  And not just with grades....keep them informed of behavior too.  (Here is a link to an old blog post that I did about my weekly cover sheets.)
  3. Add one new cool thing to your curriculum each year.  When you first start teaching, it is beyond overwhelming when you are faced with teaching multiple subjects.  You feel this need to try and make every lesson fun. But let's be honest. That is not necessarily realistic!  Sometimes, you are going to have a very dry lesson.  That's okay.  But as the years go on, try to add at least one cool lesson plan into each subject.  I love doing projects with my kids. And for the most part - they too love them. They help teach a regular concept but in a fun way.  I don't necessarily do every thing I've created every single year.  I look at my current group of students and determine what's best for them.  But at least I know, I do have some fun stuff up my sleeve. Look for ideas on other teacher blogs (and of course, mine). ;-)
  4. You will hear this piece of advice from practically every single teacher.  And it is so true.  MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE OFFICE STAFF AND JANITORIAL STAFF. These two groups of people run the school.  No. Really. They do!  And you want them on your side.  Don't look down your nose at them. Because when the time comes and you need them, you want to know they are there for you. 
  5. Take time for you.  Your first year of teaching (and second and third!) will feel like never-ending hours.  And rightfully so. You will be planning, grading, communicating all year long.  But make sure you take time for you.  Mark on the calendar 3-4 nights AT LEAST that you will go home and not touch a single piece of work.  It can wait. And you will get it done another day. 
  6. Know when to ask for help.  Get volunteers in your classroom to assist with changing up bulletin boards, running centers - whatever! Don't be afraid to have someone in your room.  
  7. Find creative ways to get supplies for your classroom.  Send out requests to parents - often they want to help out but don't know what you need.  Have a wish list available to them all year long.  Utilize websites such as Donor's Choose (if your a public school teacher) or Adopt a Classroom (they accept private school teachers).  Share your needs with friends and family through social media.  Ask companies - you never know what they can provide you.  Hit up things such as Freecycle, eBay and Craigslist to find gently used items.  (I have either bought or been given over 1500 books for my classroom library by using these resources at a fraction of the cost!)  Don't be afraid to ask for discounts. Tell them you are a teacher.  I have an awesome co-worker who hits up garage sales.  She makes sure she tells them she's a teacher and more often than not, she gets many items for FREE or at a ridiculously discounted price. 
What would you add to my list of tips?  Share below.

Katie Lyon

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Print Your Hanging File Folder Labels and Sticky Notes!

I know it's a bit early to be thinking about going back to school. After all, July has just begun.  And I'll be honest, during the day I'm hanging out with my beautiful girls and taking them to parks, science centers, classes - you name it, I'm doing it with them.  After all, I work very hard during the school year and don't get this special time with them. So I'm going to take advantage of it.  

HOWEVER, this does not mean I'm not thinking about school. Oh I am! The girls nap, and if I don't nap with them, I'm hanging out on Pinterest. Looking at handouts from the latest ISTE conference. Cruising teacher blogs to find the next great idea.  And of course - thinking about my own classroom organization.  I LOVE AN ORGANIZED CLASSROOM. Love it. Adore it. Need it.  And because of this crazy desire want, I have created a SIMPLE little template to help make life easier.  Go here to download it. 
Before - nasty crooked writing ;-)

Despite me going to mostly digital in many aspects, I still have a file cabinet or two in my classroom.  Filled with hanging folders galore. And I'll be honest - I can't stand the handwritten labels. Either my writing isn't perfectly centered or it's not straight - whatever it is, I'll find an issue with it.  I like things neatly typed.  So Bam!  Here you go - a template for you to type in and have perfectly neat hanging file folder labels. 
Neat - typed - beautiful
Now just when I thought things couldn't get better, I came across this little gem from Tammy's Technology Tips for Teachers.  She has a template for printing on STICKY NOTES!  Oh my goodness. I can't wait to use these. 

Her template, which can be found here, is for printing on standard 3x3 sticky notes.  Follow these easy steps to be a Sticky Note Printing Fanatic.

1.  Using your Google Account open the file AND CREATE A COPY.
2.  Print one copy of the template - save this to use over and over again as your master template.
  • Pull down the File menu to “Print settings and preview.”
  • At the top of the “Print settings” page, choose: 
    • Handout – 4 slides per page
    • Portrait
After you have printed your "master template" you can now go back in and edit up the file with whatever information you want on it.  When you are done, take your template and place the sticky notes on the outlines.  Place that paper into the printer and follow the same print instructions listed above.  You should now have perfectly printed sticky notes. 

Be sure to check out Tammy's page for more sticky note templates, including Proofreading Checklists.

Hopefully you'll find the resources above useful when you do head back into the classroom to start the beginning of the year organization.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Market Mondays: Top Ten Dollar Deals

I don't think there is a teacher alive that doesn't love a great deal.....and of course their local Dollar Store.  I was happy ridiculously elated when a Dollar Tree opened up right down the street from me. It's so close, I could walk there. And I love it.  I should work there. But I don't. But I do buy tons of things there for my classroom and my own kids.  Here are my top ten favorites:

Dollar Tree Mugs
  1. White Mugs: These plain white mugs are perfect for decorating.  This past Father's Day, I bought 20 of them and had my students go to town creating a one of a kind mug for their Dads.  Using our array of Sharpies, the students wrote and colored them up.  Prior to wrapping them up, I popped a little slip of paper that encouraged the Dads to handwash only and to bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees prior to using.  The outcome = adorable!  And the price - $1 each. Bam! You can't beat that.
  2. Picture Frames: So speaking of gifts, every year for Mother's Day I do my annual poem in a frame.  I pick up a simple frame for each of my students, they write an amazing poem, and I snap a cute picture of them. Again, only a buck each for a gift they will remember. 
  3. Picture Frames
  4. Baskets, baskets, and more baskets:  Teachers are addicted to baskets. It's a known fact. We love to use them for all sorts of things, including our classroom library, to store supplies, etc.  I have NEVER paid more than a buck for my fabulous baskets that I use in my classroom. 
    Baskets from Dollar Tree
  5. Art Supplies: Pipe cleaners, puff balls, stickers, gems and more can all be found in your local dollar store.  For only $3, I was able to fill up my PuffBall Machine.  I use pipe cleaners in my daughter's hair on crazy hair day. Stickers go on my students' awesome work. 
  6. Basic Tools: I love to keep my own hammer, screw driver, pliers, and broom/dustpan in my classroom for those odds and end jobs that pop up.  I even store the stuff in one of my colorful baskets!
  7. Tissue Paper: I buy all my tissue paper at the Dollar Tree. Seriously! This stuff is great for wrapping all the gifts my students give to their parents.  Not to mention, all the birthday parties my own kids have to go to. (Which brings me to their gift bags - NEVER EVER PAY MORE THAN A BUCK FOR A GIFT BAG OR GREETING CARD!)
    Tissue Paper
  8. Fun Pencils:  I hand out fun pencils to my students for every single holiday that happens throughout the school year.  They love using them.  State testing coming up?  We crush it with a brand new pencil in our hands.  Partner up a pencil with a free homework pass and you got yourself a very happy student.  :-)
  9. Nail Polish: Everyone should buy nail polish here. It's cheap and perfect for some fun art projects in the classroom.  (Plus nail polish remover is great to have in your drawer at work as well.)
  10. Teacher Supplies: The Dollar Tree has a great little teacher supply section just for us.  They have borders, cut-outs, resource posters, stickers, etc.  Seeing this section just makes my heart happy.  
  11. Holiday Decor: I try to decorate my classroom accordingly for each holiday (and since I'm at a private school that includes Christmas and Easter).  I love that for $10 I can get a ton of decorations to make my room festive. And not feel bad if I throw it out and buy new again the following year.
These are just some of my favorite things from the dollar store.  My daughter's favorite was this adorable apron we picked up for her and the makings for Cloud Dough.  Provided quite a bit of fun!

What do you get from your local dollar store?


Friday, June 6, 2014

How to turn Wikipedia Pages Into eBooks

Did you know that you can turn any Wikipedia page/article into it's own ebook?  This past week I spent 5 days up in Cupertino, CA at Apple Academy.  It was an awesome experience and I highly recommend my fellow educators to apply themselves and try to attend. I learned a lot and am ready to amp up my professional development training at my school.

Wikipedia page turned into an eBook

While I learned so many things, one of the coolest was how to turn a Wikipedia page into an ebook.  And the best part about it?  IT'S SUPER EASY!  I created a quick tutorial video for you below.  Let me know if you have any questions.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Surviving the End of the School Year

It's that time of the year. The pencil bin is almost empty. The markers are about dried out. You are still trying to figure out what that stain is in the middle of your classroom is.  But who cares?!?! It's almost time to pack it all up and start thinking about next year's class.  I've joined up with 20 other bloggers to offer you some of our best end of the year advice and give you an opportunity to get hooked up with some great stuff!!

But I know we are all so desperately trying to get things finished up so we can move on.  So I'm going to share with you my clean up tip.  I always take one day during the last week of school and create clean up stations.  First my students all clean out their desks. They pack in their backpacks what they want to take home and toss the rest. I ask them to donate their markers, crayons, etc. to my pile if they plan on not using them.  After they have done that, I have different stations:

  1. Crayon Check: In this stations, students go through my crayons. They put in a bin any broken crayons and neatly arrange the colors into their correct container. 
  2. Marker check:  Students check to make sure my markers are working.  Again, they organize the colors into their correct container.
  3. Colored Pencil Check:  Students sharpen and organize the pencils into their correct container.  
  4. White Board Clean-Up: These students go through and completely clean off all my individual white boards.  They also check the white board markers to make sure they are still working.
  5. Library Clean-Up: My librarians go through and clean up the library and put paper over my bookshelves.  
  6. Game Checkers: These students go through my games and make sure all the pieces are intact and still there. 
  7. Desk Cleaners: Despite having students wipe down their own desk, I still have a few who do a very thorough job to do it again.  
In addition to these stations, I always have a puzzle station open for those who just don't want to do anything else.  Very seldom is it used but I want them to feel like they can take a break from all the manual labor.  

Thanks for joining our end of the school year blog hop today. We had a great turn out of hoppers. The prize pack part of the hop is now closed. Stay tuned for blog excitement in mid July.  

Please keep hopping along to read our tried, tested and true survival tips. 

Happy Hopping!


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Book Creator - An app for the writing classroom!

Do you write whole class stories with your students?  Do your students write their own stories or write papers?  I'm sure the answer to at least one of these questions is YES!  If so and you have access to either iPads or tables with Android, I highly recommend you check out the app called Book Creator.  In my last post, I spoke about the Poetry Cafe I did with my students and mentioned how I had them use Book Creator to create their final poetry books.  Some of you emailed me with questions regarding this app, so I thought I'd be a little more detailed on how it works.

First, it's important to note that Book Creator has two versions - the Free one and the paid one.  The free version limits you to being able to create only one book.  Which is perfect to allow you to try it out first and see if you like it.  I like how the free version just limits you that way and not on using all of the features that are available.  The paid version is only $4.99 and if you get the education discount, you can get 50% off 20 or more licenses making it well worth it!

The features that are available on Book Creator are awesome!  Way better than some of the other book creation apps I've tried.  And it only took my students about a day to quickly get used to it and

quickly become authors.  Once you open that app, you choose to create a new book.  You get the choices of choosing your book shape from portrait, square, and landscape.  I found that when printing the book, that using portrait was the best choice. But if you aren't printing and just using them as e-books, any shape would work.  You have the ability to add photos, text, writing, and sound.  I was really excited about the sound feature!  You can't currently do a highlighted with read along but that wasn't too big of a deal for me.  I can see how in the younger grades that would be very useful though. Hopefully it's something the creators of the app are looking into.  You can also adjust the background color of the pages.   One feature that my students particularly liked was being able to move the pages after you created them.  This allowed my students to work on their poetry in any order and then move them to the appropriate location when done.
My students' poetry books.

The best part was when my students were all done with their books, I was easily able to have them send them to me and COMBINE them into one large 5th grade poetry book.  At first I didn't really think about the possibilities of this until I came across this teacher (it's actually posted on the app creators webpage) idea on creating a global book where people all over the world create a page and you combine them all together.  How neat would that be!?!  I started to think about how I could have my students and their pen pals create books together and so much more.
and her

Next year....  How would you use Book Creator in your classroom?


****I took the screenshots right off their website.  You can see just by looking at those how amazing and professional your books can look.  :-)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

From Page to Stage - Hosting a Poetry Cafe

 Can I be honest with you all? I've been teaching for the past nine years and every year I would quickly introduce poetry to my students and move on....I did just the bare minimum. I was never comfortable with it and quite honestly found that my students didn't get excited about it.  However, I know that my enthusiasm (or lack of) can bring on that of my students.  So this year I made a point of doing a full unit on poetry and mustering up every bit of encouragement and excitement that I could.  It began simply enough with me creating a UBD on the book Tuck Everlasting.  As I continued to expand this unit, I found that it led itself perfectly to poetry.  So I headed online to find something this would help me link up this awesome book to a poetry project of sorts.  I ended up on TpT and came across Mrs. Renz's independent poetry unit.  The best part about it? It came with everything I would need (and so much more!) and there were parts that were editable!  Say no more - I snapped it up and never looked back.

Between using Mrs. Renz's Unit and my very own literary device posters, I was able to have students write their own poems. The goal was to write a minimum of three poems per type.  The first poem was always the intro one we did in class and I would pick the theme.  The second poem the students were required to write for each type was a theme of their choice, and the final third poem had to be a theme that we identified when reading Tuck Everlasting.  Students wrote their poems and then using our iPads set to work to create the final draft.  Using an app called Book Creator, my students created their entire poetry book which they later ended up sharing the ebook with me so I could print a final copy for them.  Book Creator (there is a free version but I upgraded my students to the paid one) allows the user to share their books in e-form.  This was perfect, as my kids could email it off to family members near and far.  The whole time they were working on their poetry book, they were also reading and reflecting on poems of published poets.  Simply put - they loved it! I heard time and time again how much they enjoyed the project!

After I saw their final projects, I KNEW I had to find a way to share these books with their parents in a special event.  And so the idea of hosting a Poetry Cafe was born, especially when I came across this teacher, Robbin Hughes,  and how she did it in her own classroom.  In order to prepare for the Poetry Cafe, my students were required to pick two of their poems that they would be reciting for the event.  Soon, I had invitations go out inviting family members to come witness their children and the work they produced.  I spent the past few weeks preparing for the cafe and sent home a request for donations for the cafe.  Using the other teacher as a guideline, here is a list of things I asked for:

  • flowers
  • vases (I told them to hit up the Dollar Tree - you can get GREAT vases and only for a buck!)
  • flameless votives (again Dollar Tree)
  • Plastic black table clothes (I asked for one for each grouping of tables I would have, plus an additional two for my stage background)
  • Hot Chocolate and Hot Tea
  • Cups with lids
  • Biscotti and Cookies
Things that I had on hand or was going to create that I planned on using were:

  • mic and stand (From my Garageband game) ;-)
  • stool
  • hot beverage container (borrowed it from our PTO)  
  • program with author bios (each student wrote a quick author bio which I put in the program with their picture.
  • invitation
Finally the day of the even was upon us.  I arranged it so my students (who usually have to wear uniforms) could show up dressed in what we called Poet Garb which consisted of all black clothing.  They loved it!  Some even came with artist hats (including myself).  The students went to lunch and while they were gone I set to transforming our classroom into a cafe.  

Program I created - inside were Author Bios
Author Bios
I put the black tablecloths against my whiteboard and hung a spotlight from the top so the students on "stage" would be lit up.  I had the stool in the front along with a the fake mic and stand. (In the future, I would take the time to figure out how to have some sort of real sound system for those soft spoken students.)  I rearranged our classroom so I had a large open space in the front for the students to sit, and put our pillows on the ground.  The students' desks were covered with a table cloth and I had a vase of flowers and flameless votives around them.  And our back table had our hot beverages with cookies and snacks.  I left the lights off and only allowed whatever light that came in from the windows and my spotlight be the only sources of light to give it a dark cafe stage feel.  On my other whiteboard, I had put magnetic words with the poster below to encourage parents to write some poems.  It looked awesome!  The parents started to arrive and our show began.  Here is small clip of one of my students reciting her awesome poem. 
Overall the event was a success! Both parents, students and PRINCIPAL loved it. I received so many compliments (especially when they learned it was the first time I had ever done a poet unit of that size and this event.

Have you ever done a Poetry Cafe?  How did you do it?

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