Back to School Night

Tonight we had Back to School Night. At my school, this is a night when parents run through their daughters’ schedules and spend 15 minutes with each of their teachers.  As a teacher of both under- and upperclassmen, I get both ends of the attendance spectrum.  Freshman and sophomore classes = standing room only. Senior class…ummm…not so much.

Basically I try to show the parents my website and talk about the methods of evaluation.  I try to keep it light and lively. I teach all the afternoon sessions, so the majority of my parents were coming to me at the end of the night. They were tired. I was tired. I felt like I was repeating myself over and over again.  It makes for a long day.  Luckily for me, our school had early dismissal today so the students were out at 1:35.  I stuck around for the afternoon and worked on my websites and lesson plan book for next week, but I took a break before the parent night to get dinner with some friends. 

In total, I logged 10 hours today.

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Posted by one of my favorite Facebook pages, “teachers with a sense of humor” (click on the picture to check out their page). I made this my new screensaver. I’m pretty sure this is like a mirror image of me when this happens in my class.

Lose the Remote. Actively Engage Your Students.

Confession: I lost the remote. Not the DVD remote – that would be too awful for words. The smartboard projector remote. The one with the magic button that allows me to freeze the screen. How I miss that remote.

On my most productive days, I would freeze the screen when I was projecting instructions for an assignment. Then while my students worked, I could catch up on emails, prep the next part of the lesson or even update grades.

But my remote has disappeared and taken my freedom along with it. (Perhaps, I'm exaggerating slightly here.) As a result, student work time was a new experience for me today.

My frosh were working on an assignment in their interactive student notebooks after we finished our lecture notes for the day. I had an example of the assignment projected on the smartboard. I knew I couldn't remove the example and, since I had no way of freezing the screen, I couldn't work on my laptop while they worked.

So instead, I walked around the room and checked in with my classes while they worked. This is something I do all the time of course, but usually it's just a quick spin around the room to make sure everyone is on task and not Twitter. Today was different for me. Today I took my time and really tried to engage my students instead of just rushing through. I complimented artistic talent. I received invitations to several upcoming sports games. I even traded book recommendations with a couple students. This may sound like we were off-topic but actually the time was quite productive. We only had about 15 minutes to spend on this assignment and at the end of that time, several volunteers shared their complete assignments with the class.

And it turned out I didn't really miss that remote as much as I thought. (I do need to find it though. Where could I have put it?)

When not teaching today, I spent most of my time creating a PowerPoint for my sophomore class. The material in the book is important, but so dry. I've been using really interactive powerpoints to try to add a little something to the material. So far, so good. Believe it or not, the PowerPoint took me about three hours to create, bringing my day's total to 11 hours.

5 (Other) Hats Worn by Teachers

I just got home from my part-time job and I am exhausted. Today I was struck by all the different roles a teacher plays throughout the day. Here are five that come to mind when I think of my day:

  1. Career counselor – I spent activity period talking about colleges and careers with one of the seniors.  She’s considering studying education at my alma mater. *(Woohoo!)
  2. Comforter – As in “one who brings comfort,” not like the bedspread. I handed back quizzes to my frosh today and one girl was very upset with her grade. I tried to tell her that it was just one grade and there were many more opportunities to come, but in the end I think the best I could offer her was a tissue and a reassuring pat on the back. Le sigh.
  3. Image

    I have a poster in my classroom with this quote. Some days I recite it mentally like a personal mantra. 😉

  4. Cheerleader – My yearbook students have begun the process of brainstorming theme ideas and, for me, the first few days are spent encouraging and praising all concepts – no matter how badly I want to say “back to the drawing board!” I know that they’ll come up with a great idea – eventually.
  5. Etiquette Police – “Please?” “Thank you?” “Good morning?” I think I spend half my day prompting students with manner cues.
  6. Lost and Found Box – Planners, wallets, laptops, textbooks, etc, etc, etc…

8.5 hours of school work for me today.

Get to Know You Gallery Walk

You know it’s going to be a long day when your students can’t talk about anything except what they’re going to do over the long weekend – and it’s only Monday.

Between lesson plans and grading, planning a yearbook theme and preparing for back-to-school night, it’s easy to just get sucked into the whirlwind of the work week. Time flies and, before you know it, your students are racing for the parking lot on Friday afternoon.

But every now and then, a moment stops you and tells you to just slow down and enjoy yourself.  It’s important to embrace those moments.  It’s in them that relationships are formed and you begin to build trust with your students.

My frosh classes had a quiz today.  Generally I like to follow up a quiz with an independent assignment.  That way, students can work at their own paces and they each have something to work on once they finish.  Today was a bit different though. Last week when I informed the classes that we’d have a quiz on Monday, they told me that many of their other classes were giving tests and quizzes as well.  I hated to add to their stress, so I promised them some “lighter work” after the quiz.

So after the quiz, we did a little in-school service and I sent the girls around to take out the classroom recycling bins.  I consider this one of those moments I mentioned earlier. It’s easy to get caught up in the work. In the curriculum. In the grades. It’s easy to want to plow onward. To get caught up in our own goals. To forget that learning is a cooperative act. And that students are much more willing to cooperate if they know they are respected, cared for and part of a team.

So I slowed down. I took a moment to do something else and it was a good experience for all of us.  The students got a well-deserved break during a stressful day. The teachers got their recycling cleared (yay!). And it gave me the opportunity to get to know some of my students better – which ones jumped right into the task, which were hesitant, which had the most fun with it.

After the recycling was taken care of, we began the last of the icebreakers I use with the frosh.  Last week, I assigned them each to create an “About Me Collage”. I showed them an example of my own and required them to include specifics about their families, interests/hobbies/skills and virtues.  They were encouraged to decorate the collage and to use pictures.  I use Interactive Student Notebooks with my freshmen so the collages go on the first page.

So today we did an About Me Gallery Walk.  I asked for nine volunteers to share their collages (we will do three sessions of this activity, so everyone will take a turn eventually).  The nine volunteers each claimed a spot around the classroom as their station.  The rest of the class was divided into pairs. Each pair took a turn at each of the stations where the volunteer shared their collages.  90 seconds per station and then we rotate.

My class requires a lot of collaborative work among the students, so I want them to learn a little about one another.  This icebreaker is a fun no-stress activity that allows them to do so.  I take a turn at each station also and make it a point to comment on each student’s collage.

Seems as though the school year is in full-swing now.  Grading, planning, prepping, and writing another article for the school’s publications (this one was on an award the yearbook staff just received) = 11 hours today.

Roadblocks in Lesson Planning

Over the weekend, I’ve been able to work in a total of about 9 hours on schoolwork – in between being SuperSalesGal, doing some yardwork, catching up with the family and escaping through a bit of retail therapy.  Unfortunately those 9 hours were grasped here and there and, as a result, left me feeling a bit disjointed.

This isn’t really anything new. It’s kind of the nature of the beast when you have a job that just won’t stay at the “office,” so to speak. You work when you can and try to keep a hold of your relationships (and sanity) the best you can. This is why I’m such a big fan of to-do lists.

At the end of each week, I place a post-it inside my lesson plan book.  Before I leave school on Friday, I fill the post-it with jobs and tasks I need to accomplish for the coming week.  When I find a minute to work over the weekend, I choose one item from the list to tackle. An hour enjoying my coffee when I first wake up = updating participation grades online. 30 minutes before I need to leave for the retail gig = writing a journal prompt for the sophomores.  The method works for me most days, but I struggled with it this weekend.

I tend to like to organize and plan ahead.  My lesson plan book has a special home behind my desk.  It sits on my podium during every class and I’m constantly updating it and making adjustments.  And yet…

It’s so hard for me to plan at the start of the year.  I think it has to do with not really knowing my classes well enough yet.  I’m so hesitant to work more than a week or so ahead of the class.  I feel like I’m constantly over- or underestimating the amount of time it will take to complete assignments in class.  

I know that this is a temporary problem. I realize that becoming acquainted with classes is a process that unfolds naturally and I’m confident that, before long, I’ll be buzzing along with my lesson-planning at a pace that feels comfortable to me.

For now though, I just try to take deep breaths and remind myself that a blank box does not mean that I’m unprepared – just that it’s a class filled with possibilities. 🙂

Pop Fridays – It’s Going to Be Huge!

Just a quick update to say I only worked 8 hours today. My yearbook class is Monday through Thursday, so we had the day off and I only stayed late enough to write out a to do list for this weekend.

I'd also like to offer this for consideration –

How much easier would a teacher's life be if we could randomly assign Fridays the way we assign pop quizzes? Think about it. Students are just going about their day like it's any other day and then at the end of class…bam! “It's a pop Friday! See you in a couple days!” Just imagine the ease it would bring to classroom management. 😉

My previously mentioned to do list for this weekend is quite impressive, so I'm sure I'll be updating more very soon. For now though, happy Friday!

Five Things Yearbook Taught Me

I had just finished my second year of teaching when I was approached by a school administrator who asked me to take over the yearbook program the following year. I had never served on a yearbook staff myself. I’m not a photographer or designer. (To be honest, I earned a C in Intro to Art.) Writing is a hobby of mine, but I certainly don’t consider myself a pro. I was in no way qualified to take on the task.

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What is a “yerd” and is there a vaccine?

Now I’m entering my seventh year as an adviser.  I’m still not a pro at photography, writing or design, but I’ve come a long way.  Today I spent my planning period meeting with my yearbook rep. We reviewed the budget, set our deadlines, discussed a workshop opportunity for my staff and planned my goals for the year. She also brought us a surprise – a shiny new plaque to add to our award wall.  Our 2013 book was accepted to our publishers gallery of excellence – making it the third book I’ve had the pleasure of advising to receive this honor.

So I got to thinking. What skills have I picked up over the years advising? Here are five.

Yearbook has taught me…

  1. the rule of thirds. Never will I ever take another photo with the subject smack-dab in the center. I’ve also learned an appreciation for candid shots that fill the frame. And show emotion. And, when possible, interaction. Ok – so let’s just say the basics of photo composition; that’s something yearbook has taught me.
  2. that high-end makeup brands must spend an insane amount of money on their product packaging. No, really. Those boxes have a matte lamination finish, silk screening and, often, embossing AND debossing. Isn’t that nuts? Some even have hot foiling. That is some pimped-out packaging. “Who cares,” you ask? A yearbook adviser who tries to guide her staff’s cover ideas while watching the budget – that’s who.
  3. there is a right way to create a bulletin board collage. Or hang photos in your home. Or place products on a shelf.  And none of them involved TRAPPED WHITE SPACE. Call it what you will…the magic diamond, the target, the missing brick, whatever.  Yearbook has taught me a new appreciation for visual balance.
  4. not all fonts are created equal and there are people in this world (primarily yerds) who will judge you based on your font choice.
  5. to love learning.  I am not a photographer, designer or journalist – at least, not by trade. Advising yearbook has pushed me to educate myself in all of these areas and more. I’ve bought text books, taken classes, networked, attended workshops and conventions, and followed pinterest boards from publishing companies and industry professionals.  I have a lot to learn, but I’m not intimidated by it.

After meeting with my rep today, it was a yearbook afternoon for me.  I prepped some lessons and wrote out an agenda for a staff meeting.  I also stopped by a local camera store and picked up some new equipment. That’s one thing about the job on which I didn’t need a tutorial. When it comes to shopping, I’m a natural. 😉

11 hours for today.