Monday, August 24, 2015

Dear First Year Teacher

This year, my teacher bestie moved to another district and we just hired a new teacher. The girl that we hired is fabulous and I'm sure we're going to have an awesome year. She's just out of college (we graduated from the same university!) and is excited and nervous to have a classroom of her own. Talking with my new teammate gave me an opportunity to reflect on all that I've learned the past two years as a new teacher...

Dear first year teacher,

You're excited and scared. You have more ideas than you know what to do with. You're new. You could probably use some advice. I'm no expert, but I've certainly learned a few things in my first few years that might be helpful...

make friends with the staff

The secretaries, paraprofessionals, custodians, lunchroom staff, special ed. resource teachers, school social workers, school psychologists, and nurse are all crucial in making your first year a success. It truly takes a village and these people are your village. Teamwork among colleagues communicates to students that they are part of a cohesive community that cares about them.

plan ahead

Of course teachers are natural planners. We love to color code our Erin Condren teacher planners. We stay late & go in early. But I'm talking about the things you might not anticipate. Going to a parent meeting? Bring some notes on their child and a couple samples of their work. Need copies for Monday morning? Suck it up and make them on Friday. Anything you can do to make your life easier, do it!

keep your space organized

Your sweet babes are going to be a hot mess. Missing glue stick caps and broken pencils come with the territory of being a kid. Do what you can to keep them organized, and definitely keep your own space clean & functional. Set 5 minutes aside at the end of each day to tidy up and file any paperwork that needs to be tucked away. It's a pain in the moment but will save your sanity in the long run.

be flexible

Things change at the drop of a hat (or a pencil sharpener... If a child has not dropped a pencil sharpener and unleashed an explosion of crumbly pencil shavings all over the floor in the middle of a lesson that your principal is observing, count yourself very lucky). It's okay. It's going to be okay. Laugh it off and push the lesson back by ten minutes.

take time for you

Some days, this job will push you to your limits. Do what you need to do to nurture yourself. You can't pour yourself for others until you fill yourself up. Go out and get some fresh air on your lunch break. Take a quiet bubble bath at night. Try a new recipe for dinner. Make sure your don't lose yourself in helping others.

be easy on yourself

You're doing the best you can. You're doing a good job. You won't know it all and nobody expects you to. Ask for help when you need it and continue to learn for next time. That's what we tell our students when they make a mistake, right? :)

XO Emily

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Teaching Upper Elementary Procedures

I'm sure every teacher would agree how crucial it is to thoroughly teach our kiddos classroom procedures in the first days, weeks, and even months of the school year. Clearly communicating our expectations is so important in providing our students the structure for them to be the most successful they can be.

However, what does this look like in an upper elementary classroom? In grades 4-6 our kiddos have been in school for at least four years or so. They understand the concept of homework, they've used the bathroom at school, and more likely than not, they've missed a day or two of school and needed to make up missed work. As a first year 6th grade teacher, I was tempted to gloss over these procedures because my students were older and more mature- surely they didn't need a step by step tutorial on how to sign out and go to the bathroom... right?

With our upper elementary babes, it's a fine line between treating students like mature preteens and talking down to them and babying them. Teaching procedures needs to strike the right balance. During this time, I explain the routines and procedures slowly and clearly, while communicating to students that this knowledge is empowering them to make responsible decisions. I also explain that we need to work together as a team. It's my job to provide materials and time for them to work, it's their job to treat our class tools with respect and use their time responsibly.

I definitely want to clarify- I do still have kids asking me to go to the bathroom right in the middle of a lesson and by the end of the year my colored pencils are dwindled down to just the orange, brown, & white and homework is still incomplete on occasion. And that's okay. Students make mistakes or are forgetful. But because I took the time to explain, model, and practice classroom routines in the first months of school, the responsibility to correct the mistake is now on the students.

Below is my list of must-teach procedures in my upper elementary classroom...

25 Procedures for Upper Elementary

 - Morning work routine
- Sign in/out policy for using the bathroom
-When they can use their lockers
- How to transition between class periods
- Where to find classroom supplies such as markers, scissors, etc.
- What respectful use of classroom supplies looks/sounds like
- What respectful use of classroom laptops & iPads looks/sounds like
- How to sign up for lunch
- Where to find missed work after absences
-Writing down homework assignments
-What to do if we finish early
- Turning in homework & reporting missing homework
- How to line up to leave the class
- What our dismissal routine is
- How to share an idea or question during a whole group lesson
- How to share an idea of question during a small group lesson
- How to ask for help
- When is it appropriate to use the pencil sharpener
- When/where to throw away trash or recycling
- Getting a tissue/replacing an empty tissue box
- How to turn in a lost item
- What is kept in our desks vs. our lockers
- When is it appropriate to clean our desks
- Fire drill/lock down routines
- How we assign class jobs
- What to do when I am speaking to another teacher or on the phone
-When we eat snack
- How to ask to go to the nurse

What procedures are your must-haves for the first few days of school? Did I miss any? I'd love to hear how you teach procedures :)

XO Emily

Sunday, August 2, 2015

First Day of School Activity

I'm linking up today with some of the most fabulous teacher bloggers to share our tried and true first day of school activities. Thanks to Undercover Classroom & Education Electrification for hosting!

My favorite is back to school activity that I learned back when I was getting my masters, before I ever had a classroom of my own. I've done it for the past two years with my kiddos, and they absolutely LOVE it! This activity is great for practicing communication skills and building teamwork. It's also just a ton of fun!

The Materials

1.    Two fairly generic and simple pictures. They can be black and white or color, but your students will be drawing with only a pencil, so it doesn't really matter!

These are the pictures I used with my students. You want the pictures to be fairly simple and easy for anyone to recreate.

2.    A computer & projector to display the pictures OR a small print out of the pictures for each student.
3.    Two plain white pieces of paper
4.    Pencils
5.    Blindfolds (optional)
6.    A sense of humor ;)

The Rules

Students will work in partners to draw a picture that looks like one of your two sample pictures. The catch is that one student will be blindfolded and the other must give them directions to draw the first picture! 

1. Partner students up and position one student so that they can see the photo. Turn the other partner's back to the photo and have that student close their eyes (or use a blindfold).
2. Reveal the first photo and have the students start verbally describing the photo to their partner, giving them directions on how to draw it. Be sure to monitor students' voice volume because a lot of students will be talking all at once!
3. Give students anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes to work. Some years my kids seem to take forever, others they whiz right through it!
4. Once time is up, show the blindfolded students their own drawing, as well as the photo they were trying to create. Get ready for lots of laughter and talking!
5. Allow partners time to discuss what worked well and what didn't when giving each other directions.
6. Repeat the process, now with the first student blindfolded and the second student giving directions.
7. Once both partners have had a chance to draw and give directions, you can either lead a class discussion on the reflection questions below or have students work together to write their responses.

Reflection Questions

1. What was difficult or frustrating about this process?
2. What was easy or fun about this process?
3. What strategies did you and your partner use to communicate clearly?
4. How would this activity change if you and your partner were angry with each other? What about if you completed the activity with a parent? Your teacher? Why would it be different with these different people?
5. Which photo was more accurately drawn- the first or the second? Why do you think that is?

Not only is this activity totally hilarious, it helps students to become aware of how they speak to each other. Do they speak very fast? (I'm guilty of that one!) Are they vague in their descriptions? Are they impatient when their partner doesn't understand a direction? All of these are skills that our students must learn if they are going to be successful in whole group, small group, and partner settings. This activity is great, because it allows them to work out those ideas out in authentic context before any of those issues arise. 

What do you think of this activity? Would you try it in your own class?

I can't wait to see the other teachers who linked up!

XO Emily
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