In my first years of teaching I realized something about this profession: I really hate grading. There, I said it! I know I am not the only one, and in the beginning I was really horrible at it. I let piles and piles of ungraded work sit around for weeks until it was Report Card time. Then I frantically took everything home and graded hour after hour, feeling more and more irritated at myself for letting it go unchecked.
I would grow even more disappointed with myself as I graded papers from weeks ago, realizing that I missed so many opportunities to help my students. I knew I had to change what I was doing...I just didn't know how.
I looked on Pinterest for help in grading, what did other teachers recommend? I found tips on reducing what gets graded. I no longer graded homework, instead I started checking for completion every morning. I stopped grading every worksheet, instead providing master copies for students to self check.
In the end I realized that while I had reduced what I graded, there was still a lag between what I taught, and the evidence for learning that students turned in. Even if I graded an assignment a week later, which was a vast improvement over weeks and weeks (or months, don't judge!), we had already moved on by then, and I lost the value of Right There Feedback. Plus, I kept noticing how surprised students were when they got their Progress Reports or Report Cards back, and I realized: they had NO CLUE where they were in their learning goals.
Finally, I decided enough was enough. I was just going to have to make time to grade student work right then and there, in the moment. This thought came to me when I ran across a blog article on Pinterest about grading tests in the moment, and I had a lightbulb come on, why couldn't I do that for everything?
Halfway through last year is when I made the change. Every Sunday I went through our math lessons for the week and made a Master Exit Ticket for each grade level with the answers filled in, and sentences explaining my thinking. I trained my second and third graders to grab a crayon when they were done and come up to my desk to check their exit ticket against the Master Copy. One star for correct answers, two stars for correct answers plus sentences explaining their work.
The effect was immediate. Students no longer rushed through their Exit Tickets, and instead spent extra time double checking and writing explanations (Second graders!!! Third graders!!!) When they came to check their work they would whoop with joy at their progress, or ask thoughtful questions about errors. "Oh, I see...I didn't add these right. Why do we have to do this step first?"
For reading we used spiral journals to create Thinking Maps (this was prior to me figuring out blank paper and structured notes worked better.) As they completed their reflections I would sit in my rocking chair with a marker to star off work. I would give feedback to each child, mentally cataloging who I would pull the next day for remediation, or extend with a challenge. Again, instant improvement in their effort, and they seemed eager to know how they did, no matter if they struggled or did well (or thought they did well, I had a number of overconfident learners.)
I have continued these practices into this school year with my fifth graders. For every whole group reading lesson I grade them as they start to finish, giving feedback in the moment. Students have stopped being surprised at the end of trimester grades, as they have seen their progress daily since August.
Here is the key to this method: only grade what is vitally important. This will obviously depend on you, and what you feel is vitally important. When I taught math and reading I only took two grades a day, math exit tickets and reading reflections for our whole group lessons. Once a month was a writing grade for a final piece, and I did completion and participation for science. That's it. The only exceptions were module tests and reading tests every few months, and I did the same thing, grade it right then and there so they could see how they did.
Now that I teach strictly reading and writing, I only take one grade a day for each class, and only for our daily whole group lessons. Everything else is participation and completion. Now I have online reading tests with Benchmark that I transfer to Google Classroom, so they see how they did the next day.
Think outside the box when it comes to grading, and give yourself and your students some slack. Unless it is mandated by your district to take a certain number of grades, I would stick to just the essentials and make it meaningful for you and your students by grading and giving feedback as students turn them in. Use that data to push students, or to pull a small group the next day.
If you try this method let me know how it works out in the comments!
The first time a parent walked angrily out of a parent teacher conference because of some concerns I had about their child's reading level, I was taken aback and had no idea how to respond. The first time I needed to call home about a student I was sweating so much I could barely hold the phone steady. Speaking with parents, about concerns or positive anecdotes, can be nerve wracking.
Parent communication is undoubtedly important, but it can be a tenuous relationship if both parties don't really understand what the other is going through. Teachers can blame parents for behavior, homework not being done, missing appointments; while parents can blame teachers for recess scuffles, low grades, and homework not being done! It can turn into a vicious and unproductive cycle where the poor student is left in the middle to fend for themselves.
My first year of teaching I only called when I had a concern, and the only way for parents to reach me was through my classroom phone, which doesn't ring during school hours, so I had to remember to check my messages at the end of every day. Needless to say, building parent relationships my first and second years wasn't my forte.
Starting in my third year I made it a goal to improve on parent relationships. My theory was that if I knew about all my students; their backgrounds, what their parents did for a living, who was related to whom, what kind of food they liked, what they did on the weekends; and coupled that with frequent communications of pictures, updates, newsletters, and invitations to visit; that magically a bridge would be built.
It worked. My third year I felt 80% less anxiety about calling with concerns, because I felt like I already knew the family. They didn't feel like I was just calling with bad news all the time, that my concern was coming from a place of caring and compassion.
Here are some guidelines for building relationships with parents/families!
I've had many teachers ask me "What about the invisible parents?" That can be a tough nut to crack, but always approach with compassion and NEVER GIVE UP. I had a mom one year that I had deemed "invisible" because I had never met her and wasn't able to reach her on the phone. Nevertheless, I sent texts, pictures, invites, and newsletters. I always asked the student "Hey, how's your Mom been doing?" The student would tell me she was working a lot and tired. Made sense.
Then, at our end of school party, she showed up. She thanked me for all the things I had been sending home and texting that let her see into her child's world at school. She apologized that she didn't respond, she felt so bad. Turned out she was a single mom who worked graveyard! I had no idea! One year I had a mom that I never got to meet in person, but we talked on the phone all the time. She was another parent who thanked me for my constant updates and flexibility in not requiring face-to-face meetings.
We never know what our parents or guardians are going through. Some are sick, some are single parents, some work two or three jobs. But just because they are invisible doesn't mean they don't care and it doesn't mean they want out of the loop!
I hope you had a wonderful and restful Winter Break! The New Year is a great time to re-dedicate yourself to building parents relationships!
See you next week!
Winter Break for teachers is a special time of hibernation! I learned early on in my career that I could absolutely spend all my time in bed binging on Netflix, and come the first Monday back have nothing prepped and be deeply regretful about the way I'd spent my time.
So, let me outline some strategies for using your Winter Break so that you have a balance of You Time, Family Time, and Work Time!
According to Inc.com, citing a Finnish university study on vacationers, eight days is the perfect length of time for a vacation in order to decompress from the stresses of work. I highly recommend taking two to three of those days for only you. Whether that means burying yourself in bed with a good book or a good show, taking a hike, spending time with your dog, or any other activity that helps you decompress, spend those days wisely!
Most importantly, be brave enough to say no. I often find it is more difficult to protect my Me Time during break because there are many loved ones and errands vying for my time. Politely, but firmly, decline. Use the words "I would love to, but I am taking a few days to myself. How about next week we ___?" Offer an alternative so the person knows you still want to spend time with them, just not right now.
I guarantee after your two to three days of "hibernation" you will feel refreshed and ready to take on the rest of your break! This time doesn't have to happen right when break starts, in fact it might be better to do it after the holidays, but definitely make sure it happens, and make sure the days are consecutive!
Family / Friend Time
Family time can be stressful, especially if you are hosting holiday celebrations or need to do any traveling. Again, the theme stays the same, decline when needed and offer an alternative that can satisfy both parties. If that isn't possible, try and fit in some decompression time.
Family time also means spending meaningful time with family that you might not normally have time for. This would apply to outside of holiday obligations, and more toward activities or events that you might normally put off during school days, but now you suddenly have time for. Haven't seen your bestie in several weeks? Call them up and set a coffee date! Missing date nights with your significant other? Plan a special night for just the two of you.
I would also recommend enlisting the help of others so everything doesn't fall on your shoulders. If you normally clean, shop, prep, and cook then reach out and ask for help. If anyone seems put off by your sudden need, just explain that you are taking time for yourself as a busy educator, and you would like some help!
Most of all, enjoy this precious gift of time with loved ones!
I left this one last because I know none of us are in the right mindset to think about work when break is upon us and we are all so incredibly exhausted. However, imagine the alternative: You spent your wonderful two weeks off hibernating and celebrating with family, and oh no school starts tomorrow and you aren't prepped for the week!
I want to help you avoid that and you only need to 'donate' one day of your break. Yep, just one day, that's it. Just prep for what you need the week you come back, and then you're done. Needed things might include:
If you feel it will take more than one day to prep those items, I would say print off master copies at the very least so you can get to work early come Monday and print the rest. Best case scenario your spend one day getting prepped for the bare minimum for the whole week, that way you can spend your prep that first week back getting acclimated and prepping for the week after. Worst case scenario you spend your one day only getting prepped for Monday, and using your prep to finish planning for the week.
Whichever way you slice it, be sure to spend a least a little time prepping. Make it fun by rewarding yourself with a treat, or double up on family/friend time by bringing someone along to help you, and going to lunch after.
But, whatever you do, do not spend all your time at work!!!
I hope you found this post helpful, and that your Winter Break is restful and relaxing! I will be taking the rest of the month off, and will be back with a new post mid-January!
Have a Happy Holiday and a Wonderful New Year!
This time of year can either drag by minute by minute (does the clock really say 8:05am?!) or it can speed past in a flurry of engaged activities that pretty soon its Winter Break and you wonder where the year went. Personally I prefer the latter experience to the former!
As a person who needs constant change and stimulation, my personal motto for the classroom has always been that if I am bored so are my students. If I am watching the clock and dragging myself out of bed every morning hating every minute, then, so are my students!
I always relish this time of year and May because it is a chance to take a small break from curriculum (I am the kind of teacher that skip holidays and stays on calendar, I know, I'm THAT teacher!) and do something engaging and fun!
A small side note, all of these activities are holiday neutral, so you shouldn't run into any issues of being insensitive to any particular group of students. This list was brainstormed a few years ago by my leadership team! Enjoy! If you do use these please tag me on Instagram @theteachinglifestyle and #theteachinglifestyle
I have one last post scheduled for next Saturday about different ways to schedule your Winter Break so that you get a balance of family time, YOU time, and a little work time! After that I won't be posting again until January 2019, about speaking to parents, since I am sure you Progress Reports will be coming up just like mine!
Burn out can happen to anyone. Let's get that out of the way right now! Yes, even "that teacher" who looks like she has it all together, even the teacher who's been working at your school for 20 years, even the cheerful teacher who seems like he never has a bad day. They have all experienced being burned out.
The problem is that most of us (even me!) don't realize we are burned out until we are already burned to a crisp. So, before I go over some strategies on dealing with burn out as an educator, I want to outline the symptoms of burn out. *I will be discussing some physical and mental symptoms, and I am not a doctor nor am I giving medical advice. Please see you regular care physician as part of your self-care strategy!*
Symptoms of Burn Out
If you have any combination of the following symptoms, you are probably experiencing burn out.
Burn Out Strategies
Consider joining the 40 Hour Teacher Work Week from Angela Watson. Burn out can happen when we use our time ineffectively, but aren't sure what is or isn't effective, this club is for you. New cohort starts January, with early bird access December 10th!
Western Governors University: The Signs of Teacher Burnout and How to Prevent it by Fiona Tapp
Learners Edge: Warning Signs of Teacher Burnout
Education Week Teacher: Six Signs of-and Solutions for-Teacher Burn Out by Wendi Pillars
The holidays can be a time of joy and celebration, but for many students it can be a time of awkwardness and exclusion. Imagine being a student who isn't Christian and doesn't celebrate Christmas having an Elf on the Shelf in their classroom. Imagine being a student who isn't allowed to participate in holiday activities coming in and seeing Christmas decor and having to skirt around holiday activities for the next month.
I am choosing to write about this now for two reasons: I am seeing a lot of Elf on the Shelf, Christmas trees, and Santa's popping up on my Instagram feed from classrooms all over the US; and that I am not a Christian and I do not celebrate any holidays during this time of year. I become acutely aware of how our students may be feeling during this time of year, because I felt the same way when I was a child and did not have the mature language skills I needed to express my feelings to my teacher. I always felt that "This is the way it is, and it isn't changing."
Last year I had a student who was a practicing Jehovah's Witness. During Meet the Teacher Night her mother was very concerned about holidays, but seemed apologetic when speaking to me about her concerns. I told her not to worry, that I rarely celebrated any holidays in my classroom, and I would run any planned activities by her. In October, we celebrated Fall. When Halloween rolled around we continued with lessons as usual. During November I taught my normal historically accurate history with articles from Newsela. During December we worked on Compliment Presents and Joy Books, both from The Thinker Builder blog. Our party was also a "Hard Work Celebration" rather than a Christmas party. In February we celebrated love rather than Saint Valentine, and I gave out non-Valentine activities. At the end of the year my student and her mother thanked me for being inclusive. My student told me every year during Halloween, December, and Valentine's Day she had to leave her other classrooms because her past teachers hadn't been inclusive.
I understand that if you are Christian being disappointed or even angry about the thought of not being able to share the joy of the season with your students, but that is NOT what I am suggesting at all! Let's discuss some alternatives to celebrating the season with your students in a way that is inclusive and fun for all!
Thank you for opening your minds and hearts to our students, and working towards being the best educators we can!
Thanksgiving is a favored time of year in America. I remember learning about it myself in school. Pilgrims from the United Kingdom sailed to the Americas in search of freedom, and found Native Peoples already living and thriving in America. Facing a harsh winter, many Pilgrims died. Starving, they reached out to the Native Peoples for food and help. Native Peoples taught the Pilgrims how to hunt, farm, and survive. In gratitude, the Pilgrims and Natives sat down together for the very first Thanksgiving feast.
The problem with this narrative is...well there are lots of problems! I am not going to go into all the problems of this tale, you can do some Googling on your own to find out where the holes are in this story, and ask people from the Tribal Nations their opinion on it.
The point of this post is to say that as educators we have a greater responsibility to our students to put forth information that is accurate and correct. Retelling this narrative time and time again, year after year, recycling the same old "Pilgrim N' Indian" craftivities (ugh hurts my heart to even type it) and sending students home with this fairytale in their minds is doing no one any good.
Before I get a bunch of angry comments and emails about the importance of this holiday, let me remind my dear readers and followers that I am an enrolled member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and my point of view and opinion is just as valid, if not more so. I myself was taught this is school, year after year, and never questioned it until I was an adult! I really reflected on why I should be celebrating a holiday that brought death and misery to my ancestral peoples? Sorry to get deep, but it weighed on my heart. As a family, we decided to change the holiday into something that fit us.
Then I had to think about my students! As a teacher I never taught about Thanksgiving. I just avoided the holiday completely. I feel that many educators, regardless of their race and culture, feel uncomfortable teaching something that has the potential to land them in hot water.
So without further ado, some DO's and DON'Ts for this time of year!
Here is the picture and script for the Teacher Vlogger Loop. Post the picture and copy and paste the script.
Come be a part of the Teacher Vlogger Loop. We need to support each other! Here’s how to participate.
1. Follow your hosts, @theteachinglifestyle and @the_elementary_librarian, and subscribe to each of their YouTube channels (link in profile.)
2. Click on this hashtag. #TeachVloggerLoop
3. Follow everyone that has the Teacher Follow Loop picture and comment 🎥 on their picture.
4. Go to their profile and subscribe to their YouTube channel!
5. Allow them a day or two to follow you back, and subscribe to you.
6.To become a part of the loop, go to the @theteachinglifestyle bio and click the Blog link for the picture and the script, then post it on your page. Be sure your YouTube channel link is in your profile!
🌵🌵Don’t follow just to unfollow later! This is about meeting new friends and supporting one another!🌵🌵
#teachervloggers #vloggers #teachersoinstagram #letsbefriends #instagramteachers #teacherssupportteachers #openloops #thatteacherlife #iteach #teacher #teachers #teacherlife #teachersofinstagram
⭐Credit to @cloudydaze61 for their great idea & script!⭐
*All ideas presented are my own, I have not been paid by anyone to make this post about Thinking Maps, I truly just think they rock!
Are you Thinking Maps trained? Because if you're not, I highly suggest you bring it to the attention of your leadership team because it is AMAZING! I have been loosely using Thinking Maps for the past year and half in my Shared Reading block. I had gotten a hold of a popular Thinking Maps graphic off of Pinterest, and tried implementing the maps on my own. Back then I thought, hey no big deal what's to know?
Well, how wrong I was! This past Wednesday during Professional Development I got my coveted Thinking Maps binder and I was SO excited! The training itself was very intense, going over each map in detail, including how to troubleshoot certain roadblocks with students.
The following Wednesday we finished up our training with concrete ideas on how to roll out the maps for the first eight weeks of school for 2018-2019. This was helpful to see exactly how each map could be utilized, so that by the end of September every student in our school will be very familiar with the Maps.
So, you might be asking yourself, what is so great about Thinking Maps? Why should I bring this idea to my leadership team? The entire idea behind Thinking Maps is to give students predictable tools that create patterns in their brains. The most brilliant aspect of Thinking Maps for me as an elementary instructor is that I can use them for any topic or subject. That's right, ANY! They can be used for Art, Music, P.E., Social Studies, Science, Math, English Language Arts, Spanish, and the list truly goes on. They can be used for any grade level, any age level. From itty bitty Kinders, to big high schoolers, and even adults.
Be sure to check out my Instagram for Thinking Maps ideas, because since I have gotten trained I have been using them for everything! My latest project was using them for Earth Day, which accumulated into our Earth Day Collage on Friday. Check out the Home Page for pictures from that day, as well as Mae's Faves for the book I read aloud to them!
Do you want to be Thinking Maps trained? Are you already trained? What are your thoughts?
Until next time...
Knowing that I had had meetings all week, and had been routinely getting home by 7 pm, that I was exhausted, the march loomed closer. I finally made the decision that morning, pulling on my red shirt, that I would go. As soon as school ended, and after my meetings, the art teacher and I made two signs and drove over to the meeting spot.
If you joined me on Instagram March 28 you would have seen thousands of Arizona teachers descending on the State Capital to protest low teacher pay, large class sizes, and low student spending. I felt exhiliarated by the movement and solidarity with other teachers I met at the march.
Then, Thursday came around, and I started reading the comments on KTAR, NBC News, and AZCental. We made national news and I was reading comments like "They knew what they were getting into when they took the job" and "If you can't make it on 35K a year in Arizona there's something wrong with you!" and my favorite, "Summer off and you want more?!"
I was irate, shocked, angry, and saddened by these comments. These were Arizona citizens, most of them, and they just didn't understand. This blog and brand are mostly geared towards teachers, but if you happen to stumble across my humble site, here are some facts about the #redfored movement:
Please share and comment below and stay in Solidarity with the states that are fighting for better teacher salaries.
Make planning for partners, small groups, and extensions a breeze using my Bell Curve Group Planner. Data informed and easily customizable for any subject and grade!
I'm Mae and I am a Master Teacher who supports third through sixth grade in all subjects, Thinking Maps trained, with a Master's Degree in Elementary Education!