Thursday, May 31, 2012

Last Day of School!!!

No more classes! No more books! No more teacher's dirty looks! Well, not really, but it seemed to fit with the topic. Today is the last day of school for my own kiddos. They were so excited that they were ready for the bus 30 minutes early. They were awake, bubbly, and cooperative. Why couldn't every morning have gone so smoothly? Ha!

Teachers are just as excited. All over cyberworld I have seen the countdowns. Some may miss their students, but all of them can't wait for that last day. And who can blame them? Teaching is such demanding work in all aspects, it's only normal to need breaks.

How I feel about it depends on the hat I am wearing at the time. As a mom I have mixed feelings about the end of school. The last day marks another milestone that my babies are growing up, and that brings feelings of pride and sadness. However, I love having my children home where we do lots of family activities. We live in a city where it is easy and pretty awesome to have a staycation or daytrips. We love the outdoors so we go to the beach, river, lake, or just spend time at the pool. I look forward to laid back mornings without the rushing and the lack of alarms jolting me awake at ungodly hours.

But I also worry about the summer slide and boredom setting in. My approach to preventing that slide is very informal and casual. I am lucky that both my children are successful in school and love to read, so weekly trips to the library are a must. With my 8-year-old we also let him play educational games on the computer and iPad. Other than that, I just work education into everyday things. They help me with the budget and grocery list. They save their money for items they want to buy. They keep vacation journals to practice writing and go to summer camps that focus on their interests. This year, my teenager is going to a creative writing camp, and the youngest is going to a nature camp that focuses on things that fly.

Finally, as a substitute teacher the end of school means no work, and that's not so good. On my Facebook page, fans shared this sentiment. Most have some alternate way of making some money during the summer... many of those tutoring or holding a part-time summer job. However, even as a substitute with the prospect of money down, I am excited for summer. The stress of wondering if and when you will work is gone. And again, the rushing is done.

So, no matter the ups and downs, I will sit by the pool, icy beverage in hand, book under my nose, and enjoy the lazy days of summer.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Brain Boosters for Writing

This product is a little different for me, but I hope it will be something useful for both subs and teachers alike. This is a set of 12 brain boosting writing prompts aimed at jumpstarting creative and critical thinking. When I was in elementary school, my gifted ed teacher always started our class with a brain booster of some sort. Some of her favorites were writing prompts that foster creative and critical thinking. So, as an homage to Mrs. Hasse, I included one prompt I remember from all those years ago, "Which is softer: a cloud or a pillow."

My recommendation for using these Brain Boosters for Writing prompts is to start the lesson with a Think, Pair, Share cooperative learning strategy. If you are not familiar with that strategy, the students are first given time to just think about responses. They can even jot some ideas on the back of the sheet. Then the students pair up to discuss their thoughts. Finally, the teacher brings the class back together and calls on a few students to share what was discussed. I find this strategy helps prevent the "I don't know what to write" responses I get every time I do a writing activity. Then students can begin writing. I always tell them that any response is acceptable as long as they justify their answers with at least 3-5 reasons.

Last night as I was discussing this product with my own children, ages 13 and 8, we got into a rousing discussion over "Which is braver: a superhero or a soldier?" Even my 8-year-old was justifying with reasons such as "The soldier is braver because both go into dangerous places, but the superhero has superpowers, and the soldier only has guns." I think some of your students' ideas will amaze you.

I am selling Brain Boosters for Writing in my Teachers Pay Teachers store for $2.50. I really hope you and your students get a brain boost from them!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Top 5 Questions Students Ask Me

No matter if I am subbing for an afternoon, a whole day, or an extended stay, not a day goes by that I don't hear these questions. I have gotten to where I have some fairly standard responses to them.

1. Where is Ms. So-and-So? There is always a student who wants to know where their regular teacher is. Most of the time I don't even know the answer to that question, but even if I do, I don't usually want to tell them the real answer. So I use a humorous response to that one. Depending on the grade level, I might say things like: she's visiting Candyland today; she's spending the whole day doing nothing but eating cotton candy; she's auditioning for American Idol... anything crazily outlandish, and the sillier the better. Sometimes the students even get a kick out of trying to figure out if I am kidding or not.

2. What time is recess/lunch/specials? It doesn't seem to matter whether it's kindergarten or fifth grade, someone always asks about times for standard parts of the schedule. In that case, I always have the same response. "It's the same time it's been all year." I know, it's sarcastic. But I always follow it up with a correct response.

3. Is this for a grade? Always, always, always, I tell them it is for a grade. They just don't put in any effort otherwise (which is sad, but that is another story). Most of the time the students can tell whether it's busy work or not, but I always have them turn in every assignment left for them and tell them it will be graded.

4. Can we use marker? Oh my, how those elementary kiddos love their markers! It makes them positively giddy if you say yes to that question. If it's something I know is a graded assignment, I ask what the normal rule is in the classroom. If it's something I know is enrichment or extra practice, I might say yes just to make them happy.

5. Can we work in partners? Many of the classrooms I sub in use cooperative learning in some way and allow the students to work on some things in partners or groups. Again, I always answer a question with a question and ask what the regular rule is in the classroom. Sometimes it is specified on the lesson plans, but if it's not, then I use discretion, and again, if possible, I try to allow them to do it. The more you can legitimately say yes (never say yes just to please the students), the easier your day will go.

I have gotten a slew of crazy questions too, but it never fails that these pop up at some time during each day. What regular questions do you get?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Let the Celebrations Begin

It's that time of year. The school year is coming to a close and end-of-the-year celebrations are taking place. While parties vary greatly, one thing here I have seen that happens in nearly every classroom is awards. Each student gets an award... and not the same award. There are many reasons why I am opposed to the "everybody wins" attitude. But I do really like the end-of-the-year awards where each child is recognized for some accomplishment they have made during the year. Everybody does win, but everyone wins for what they actually succeeded in. Awards can be anything from subject awards to character awards to special talents awards. Students of all ages relish in the fact that their teacher took the time to find something they do particularly well and recognized them for it.. This builds student confidence... not recognition for the sake of recognition.

Just in case you need a template for the award certificate itself, I put a free one together for you.

And here are some ideas for awards:
Most Trustworthy
Most Caring
Best Manners
Most Responsible
Good Citizen
Best Friend

Super Speller
Rocking Reader
Fabulous Fluency
Writing Wizard
Marvelous Mathematician
Spectacular Scientist

Special Talents
Amazing Artist
Computer Expert
Class Cheerleader

And the list could go on and on.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Let This Year's Students Help You Transition Next Year's Students

Near the end of my latest second grade long-term position, I received an all-school email from the counselor. She wanted each teacher to choose one girl and one boy to come speak to a class of the next lowest grade level to help with the transition. I chose two of my least shy, most outspoken students. They were instructed to come to the counseling room at a designated time and to bring a copy of all the second grade textbooks. They spent that time talking to a first grade class about what it takes to be a second grader. My students loved being the "big kids" giving advice, and the first graders loved hearing from those big kids. I thought it was a very clever idea.

Then I remembered that I had done something on a smaller scale with first graders a few years back. My very first long-term sub job was in first grade and went all the way through the end of the year. So I had the pleasure of coming up with educational, creative ways to spend some of the last days of school. I created an End-of-the-Year Advice Book for my students to leave for next year's students. The students got very excited playing the role of expert and telling the littler ones how it should be done.

So I updated that rudimentary file I made years ago and am offering it to you as a freebie. All you need to do is make copies of the book for each student, fill in the current grade level, and let students complete the book with words and pictures. The book is intended for lower elementary grades, but I am sure even some third and fourth graders could get a kick over giving advice on how to survive their grade.

As far as distributing the advice to next year's students, it's really up to you. You could give the books to a class of students, spread them out through all the classes, save them for your own class next year, or send students to each class to present their books.

Anyway you do it, I guarantee that the students will have fun, and you will learn a lot from their perspective. It might even open your eyes a little, leading to some reflections about what to change for next year.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What Does It Mean To Appreciate?

With this being Teacher Appreciation Week, I looked up "appreciate" in the dictionary (sorry, I am dorky like that). What it said was "to recognize the full worth of" and "be grateful for something." So that is what I will try to do in this post.

First, I was luckier than most to have many excellent teachers throughout my own school years... teachers who still have an impression on me to this day. Teachers who pushed me to do the best I could. Teachers who encouraged me to follow my dreams. And teachers who I still have in my head as I myself now teach. I was once told that many students are lucky to have 3 or 4 teachers who truly made a difference in their lives. I counted 10 of those in my life between elementary and grad school.

Besides my own teachers, there are the teachers who have taught my own children. Teachers who took the time to learn my children's unique idiosyncrasies, who learned to deal with the negative side of giftedness, and who encouraged them to keep their originality. I think my own children have also been lucky enough to have plenty of these special teachers already in their young lives.

Finally, I want to appreciate the teachers who I am honored to call my friends. Some I know in real life. I sub in their classrooms. I learn from them. I share ideas with them. Some I know through the cyberworld... blogstalking and blogworshipping them... jumping on their fabulous ideas to implement in every classroom I enter.

It takes a special breed of person to become, enjoy, and stay a teacher. I believe we may be our own species. After all, how many people don't dare enter a classroom because they know they would be eaten alive by 7-year-olds. Or how many people leave the teaching profession screaming because they just couldn't handle it. And all this for comparably pitiful pay.

I remember a trip my husband and I took to Costa Rica. We were on a tour with a group of teachers from around the country. Our Costa Rican tour guide told us he was honored to be our guide since we were teachers. When we acted surprised, he revealed to us that in Costa Rica, they hold teachers in just as high regard (pay-wise also) with doctors and lawyers. "But you teach the children," he told us.

I think we should adopt some of that Costa Rican sentiment. Maybe someday in the future, Teacher Appreciation Week will not even be necessary... because we would be appreciated all the time.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Teacher Appreciation Sale May 6-8!!!

Everything in my store (and many other great sellers) on Teachers Pay Teachers will be 20% off, plus the 10% off using the promo code TAD12. It's time to stock up on everything you've had your eye on. We appreciate teachers and subs! Thank you for all you do!
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