My room is done!

I’ve finished setting up my classroom, and it only took one whole week! I’m not really being sarcastic…in the past, it’s taken me at least two weeks, going from start to finish. I credit the faster pace this year with a few key aspects – mainly, the student helpers from last year’s class I had rotating in my room throughout the week. They were able to help with bulletin boards, supplies on kids desk, my classroom library, etc. I am very grateful for their help, and it was nice to catch up with them at the same time.

In addition, this year I finally threw away crap. It’s not that I’m a hoarder by any means, but year to year, items I don’t really use seem to be saved. Last year was especially bad, because I changed schools in somewhat of a stressed manner – throwing everything I had into boxes, instead of sorting through it. With the chaos of moving into my new room, I didn’t get a chance to go through those items last August, either, so I kept them all year long. This year, after the avalanche in my closet came tumbling down Monday morning, I decided, enough is enough.

I didn’t really throw anything away, as we all know one teacher’s crap is another’s treasure. But I bagged up endless storage containers, borders I was never going to use, and other items like that. Yes, I know, teachers love storage, and I do as much as the next guy, but in my opinion, this wasn’t good quality storage. These were old ripping baskets and junky odd-shaped containers that I never used for anything! The same goes for the borders – I find myself, every year, purchasing one new border, and I tend to gravitate towards the same types every time (sparkly, polka dots, or paw prints of some sort). I know myself too well to assume I’ll actually change the bulletin boards often, so to keep seasonal borders is just silly. I probably had 20 different borders, and in a given year, I seem to use the same six. Time to clean! So I gathered up all these excess items (I’m sure my friend S is glad her side of the closet now looks much better as well…my things were taking over!) and offered them to other teachers, including a new special education teacher in my building who is fresh out of college and had nothing. She gratefully accepted. And now, I have a clean closet and a less cluttered classroom. Ta-da!

So, without further ado, I bring you the before and after pics of my freshly-organized classroom:

      

Looking at these pictures now, my first reaction is, where’s all my stuff? Other than the books stacked in baskets in the picture on the right, the rest is literally shoved in the back closet, which you can see the door of in the first picture on the left. Bare walls and an empty room – pretty typical, I’d say.

But I moved some furniture around a bit and rearranged some things, and after one week, my room looks like this:

   

Ahh, so much better! Sorry for the bad quality of these pictures – the products of an iPhone! The middle picture shows only one angle of my classroom library, but all the baskets are put away, and each student has their own book basket, labeled with their name on the windowsill. The last picture is my little corner. Last year, it was filled with clutter and I could barely move behind my desk. Now, I’ve got windowsill space and I actually did a bit of decorating, which is always fun. And look at that cleaned-off desk! I hope I can keep it that way.

This is my new calendar. If I hadn’t mentioned before, it’s not my creation. It came from Bridget at Little Lovely Leaders. I thought it was super-cute, and I love how big it is. I always write down all of our assemblies and activities on the calendar, but the kids could never really see it. Now, they certainly can, and I have handy little magnetic icons to put on for things, like birthdays and holidays. So far, I love it.

As all teachers know, it’s a great feeling when your room is done, organized, and looking pretty. Then, the kids come, and after a week, that all changes. Hopefully, my room will still maintain a more organized feel throughout the school year, and with the amount of junk I got rid of, I think it’s entirely possible!

One week(ish) until the kids arrive!

Writer’s Workshop

As I continue to plow through the set-up of my classroom this year, I have been getting that feeling in my bones: you know, that excited, anxious feeling. School must be starting soon.

And as I roll out endless amounts of masking tape, get dirty and dusty on the floor, and dig out those borders for my bulletin board, I start thinking about curriculum. Not that I don’t do that all year long, but when that kind of thinking takes place before the school year has started, it’s with an extra helping of motivation.

Right now, I’m thinking about Writer’s Workshop.

I love to write; obviously, or I wouldn’t have blogs. I’ve always loved to write, and it’s evident through the giant multi-notebook filled story I wrote in middle school that I’ve still kept. And I love to teach writing – specifically, the creative aspects of it, rather than the more tedious editing and revising parts. Don’t get me wrong, those are crucially important, but the fun is in the beginning, when the student’s eyes light up as they realize what they want to write about, and eagerly put pen to page. That’s the best part.

Which is why I love Writer’s Workshop. The only trouble is, I’ve never really followed through with it, usually because standardized tests get in the way and it’s back to prompts, rather than learning to let the creative juices flow. This year, I really want to maintain a healthy dose of Writer’s Workshop all year long.

This book seems like a great place to start. After reading the first two chapters online, I’ve decided it needs to be purchased, pronto, because it is so fabulous. I know how to start a notebook with the kids, but it’s always nice to hear how to divide the rest of my school year with mini-lessons. Unfortunately, it seems to be sold out on Amazon at the moment but that must be a good sign, I suppose.

The fact of the matter is this: anyone can be an author. Sure, some people are predisposed with the talents of quality writing, but anyone can learn the skill. But it starts in elementary school, and if it’s neglected, more likely than not, those children will not turn into writing adults. The same goes for any subject I guess. With writing, you have to teach most children how to be creative; how to see thoughts in their head and turn it into words on a page. But before you teach writing, you really have to teach children how to think. I believe that might be the part that gets neglected.

We, as teachers, love to see that student cranking through a page in her notebook, all about the time she went to Six Flags with her family and went on the water slides, etc. Great. That student already knows how to think about a story and write it down. But what about those kids that don’t? I can picture the student I had last year who could not, for the life of him, think of one single person or animal that he cared about to describe. It involved him putting his emotions to paper, and that was too much for him to handle.

That’s the type of student we need to push when it comes to writing. The kids who stare at the blank page might actually have the most to say, and we’d never know it unless they get the help they need in writing it down. Like I said, this is where Writer’s Workshop comes in.

I don’t have a ton to say about it yet, since school has not yet started and that book is not yet in my hands, but I’ll be revisiting Writer’s Workshop again, with questions and comments for those readers out there.

What do you do with a word wall?

And I’m back. Back to the classroom, that is. With the help of a former student from last year, we tackled the avalanche that is my classroom closet and even put up a few bulletin boards. For Day 1 – I’m pleased. However, there are things ALL over the floor. Mostly empty baskets and containers. I hate throwing them out, but I think it’s time. I just don’t need them!

With building up a classroom comes fresh ideas. I’m sure every teacher contemplates certain things they did in previous years and wonders how to change it. And I’m not talking curriculum, necessarily. I mean set-up and organization, too.

I will have some before and after pics, once I’m done, but until then, I’ll focus today’s post on a specific aspect of many of your classrooms out there. The infamous word wall.

Word walls seem to be most common in the primary grades, as kids are learning to read and need those basic sight words in their vocabulary in order to be successful. However, I have always loved the idea of a word wall in the upper elementary grades. There’s nothing more frustrating than a 5th or 6th grade student who can spell “nostalgic” on a spelling test but messes up “because” in their writing. Drives me crazy! But I know why this occurs. The spelling tests are quick repetition over a week’s time. It’s not sinking deeply into the brain, just deep enough to spell it on a Friday afternoon. It’s like a high-schooler cramming for a test. We’ve all been there. It doesn’t sink in when you pull an all-nighter, but you are sure more likely to pass. That’s where word walls come in. Now, I’ve had a word wall for about three years. I do believe I’m picking appropriate words (with the help of the internet) – such as “probably”, “tomorrow”, and the oh-so-confusing “there”, “their”, and “they’re”. I’m orally calling them “words you need to know how to spell, and if you don’t, look up at this wall”. Commonly misspelled, I think, would be more appropriate. I make the posters, hang them high, and the kids can see them.

The thing is, I never know what to do with the word wall. I tell the kids to refer to it, and some do, but some don’t. The first year I had it, I told the kids that if they misspelled a word, especially when it’s right there on the wall, I’d circle it and they’d have to fix it until it was right. Well, I didn’t follow through, because it was too much work for me with 25 kids. I want them to take ownership of these words.

I also don’t want to spend too much time on them. These are not new words; the kids mostly already know them. They just don’t spell them correctly.

This new blog of mine still hasn’t really gotten out there yet, but if you’re reading, what do you do with your word wall? How do you get those older students to take ownership of correctly spelling the basics without giving yourself a ton of extra work?

Should parents have to buy school supplies?

It’s been a little while since I decided to start this blog about all things teaching. I’ll chalk it up to it still being summer, but as I start to get into full-on “school mode”, I have some posts rolling around in my head I’d like to share. Today’s focuses on perhaps a slightly controversial topic: school supplies.

First, a little background info: I’m a 5th grade teacher, and this is my second year in that position. Prior to that, I enjoyed four years of teaching 6th grade at the elementary level in a low-income school that my district closed down, unfortunately. The transition to a new school, with a new staff and a new grade, was challenging at first. However, besides the age difference and changes to the curriculum, I’m still teaching students in their last year of elementary school, preparing them for middle school. I love that. Every year, I have students who are excited, nervous, and every other possible emotion regarding going on to middle school, and I love to prepare them as best as I can, as well as celebrate the end of the year with fun trips and events. It’s a good time. I’m starting my sixth year of teaching, and I’m hoping not to move schools or grade levels again. :)

As for today’s topic: I started thinking about it a few days ago, sitting in the waiting room at a doctor’s office. The TV was on; the Today show or some such program was playing, and the topic of purchasing school supplies for students was the hot news of the day. Parents were interviewed, as well as teachers and administrators, and basically, you could cut the divide between them with a knife. Parents thought it was ridiculous, while teachers and administrators said it was necessary, especially in today’s economy. Well, one parent’s words in particular resonated in my head, and her comment went something like this: “If my child was going to a private school, I could understand purchasing supplies for them. But at a public school, I shouldn’t have to do that. That’s why I pay taxes.”

I’m all about putting myself in other people’s shoes to help understand an argument, and I decided that when I’m a parent someday, especially of an elementary school student in a public school, I won’t be thrilled about spending more than say, $50 on my child at the start of the school year. However:

1) If I need to spend a little more than that for some reason, I will. As a fellow teacher, I understand how many supplies students go through in a year.

2) It really depends on what we’re talking about here. What supplies? A TI-83 calculator (do they even use those anymore?) or a few pencils? Toilet paper or white-out? That same parent made a comment about purchasing, among other things, tissues and paper for her child. It is a very sad reality that there are districts in this country that do not have the money for things like tissues and paper. But it is a reality, and I am sure this parent would rather her child have those items than not at all.

I guess I’m biased, and I’m also not a parent, but it seems to me that parent didn’t understand what was happening here. It’s not as if schools are collecting “tax money”, stuffing it in a drawer and then demanding parents buy things for their children. Our economy isn’t in a good place right now. The money simply isn’t there! Some schools do need paper and tissues, while others have the basics, but need the extras. Not to mention an even more controversial idea: Even if a district has a lot of money for supplies, should parents buy their children things anyway (assuming they can afford it)? Because they are their children? I’m not sure, and that’s where I come into this little scenario.

As a former teacher at a low-income public school, I completely understand how hard it is sometimes for parents to purchase things for their children. This is why I didn’t ask for anything. Not in four years did I ask for a single item, and knowing the backgrounds of my particular students, that was the right decision. Not to mention, our school received Title 1 money from the government for that very reason, and part of that money went to supplies. My students came to school on Day 1 with notebooks, paper, folders, markers, crayons, you name it – on their desks and waiting for them. And I believe that was absolutely the right thing to do.

Now, I am in a middle-income elementary school. Money isn’t plentiful, but my students are in a much better place than my former students. Not only that, but we do not have access to the supplies we used to, so I learned last year that scrounging around for materials was rather difficult. Then it dawned on me, as I was wondering how I was going to get my hands on all the supplies my students need this year – why not simply ask for them?

Never have I asked a parent to supply their child with anything, and this year, I think it’s time. I can’t say I’m very comfortable doing it, and we will call this year a trial run. But I’m not asking for a lot, I don’t think. Here’s my list, copied from the letter I plan to send home in a few weeks:

-4 pocket folders (any type is fine)       -4 single-subject notebooks

-At least 1 whiteboard marker (plus replacement…they go quick!)       

- Dark-colored sharpie (1 is fine)           -Scissors                    -Pencils

Optional items:

-Ruler             -Glue              -Pencil sharpener               -Crayons/Markers

            I will provide other craft supplies, as well as homework agendas, pens, paper, whiteboards/clipboards, calculator, pencil boxes, and extra pencils, notebooks, and folders, but I did not have enough for everyone, unfortunately. I appreciate your support and cooperation!

What do you think? Does this sound unreasonable?

The fact of the matter is, this debate depends on so many factors, and differs by state, district, and type of school. The fact that a national news story was created to discuss this topic is a bit unfair, because you can’t lump everyone in together like that.

Regardless, I’m not used to asking parents for things, and this will be a first. We’ll see how it goes when the kids show up on Day 1.

I want to thank you for reading my new blog, by the way. I’m having a little issue with connecting my readers from my other, non-related blog to this one, so if you aren’t getting the email and you should be, let me know!

Teacher blogs, resources, giveaways – oh my!

As I begin to develop this little teaching blog, I can’t believe how many amazing resources are out there. It’s insane, and I feel like a kid in a candy store, clicking away to my heart’s content. So many blogs – so many giveaways – so much to read! So as I begin to stumble upon these blogs, I want to share them with you. If you aren’t a blogger but you are a teacher, you may want to check these sites out for all the wonderful ideas they provide. If you are a blogger, you might not have seen these blogs yet, or you have, and want to share others I might have missed. Either way, they are worth mentioning, for the simple fact that they are handy teaching resources right in front of all of us.

To start, I’ve found the mother of all the teaching blogs. Well, to be more specific, there is a host site for categories of teaching blogs, based on grade level. This is Teaching Blog Central, which is also in the form of a button at the bottom right-hand corner of my blog. This site is amazing, because it provides you with an endless amount of teaching blogs based on the grade. From there, I’ve fallen in love with Fifth Grade Flock, the (obviously) fifth grade subsection of blogs. You can check it out via the button I’ve put below Teaching Blog Central.  I’ve added my own new blog to the list, and it should appear within the next week. Teachers, these two websites are the best places to start if you’re looking for some great ideas out there.

It was from the list on the “flock” that I found my first two teaching blogs that I believe are worth mentioning. The first is Little Lovely Leaders, and Bridget knows how to make the best of her spare time! This site is just inundated with amazing, crafty, creative ideas. Yes, crafty. It’s always amazing to see what crafty people can do. Check out her most recent post for some cute ideas to set up your room this year. I’ve already decided to try out making a bigger calendar using electrical tape on my whiteboard, rather than using the small one I have had for a few years. I want to save some space and free up one of my bulletin boards, and making this calendar seems like a great way to do it. Bridget has a great following, and does some pretty crazy giveaways. Very cool.

The other blog I’ve found is Tales From a 4th (and 5th) Grade Teacher. Patti also has a large following and has links to a ton of other blogs, which I am looking forward to checking out. She brings up topics that are of great interest to me, and I’m sure I’ll blog about them at some point, including desk arrangements and items in the classroom she can’t live without. She’s a great resource for any teacher!

Finally, I’ve stumbled upon Teaching Blog Addict. This site is another place where educators can gather together and share resources. One thing that makes the teaching blog community different from any other out there is that teachers are all about sharing their ideas. This community keeps presenting me with opportunities to win things, or share my own thoughts. This place is one of those types. There’s this thing called “Freebie Friday”, where teachers post great ideas that they have, such as 70+ Elementary Science Experiments. I mean, how awesome is that? There’s a whole section of the freebies you can get on a Friday, and it takes you right to their blog. At some point, I will add an idea of my own to the list.

I think that’s enough linking for one post, but be warned: there will be more. I can’t get over the amount of information out there that I never knew existed, and I’m so excited to be adding myself to the mix!

“You look like one of the kids!”

Hello, fellow teachers and friends! So glad you’ve stumbled upon this little blog of mine, which is actually my second blog, though my first related to teaching.

Let’s see – assuming you have read Why This Blog? at the top of the page, I’ll spare you the polite details of who I am. I’m extremely happy to be joining this online community of amazing teachers, who have the most incredible ideas. I’ve already spent some time looking over some of your blogs, and I can’t wait to read about your tips to a happy classroom. As it’s currently August, and I’m still two weeks from even entering my room, I’m going to use the rest of the summer to post about general classroom thoughts, and as the school year kicks off, I can only imagine what goodies I’ll be dying to share with you/pick your brain about.

First of all, though, a disclaimer: Fear not, this blog isn’t about the kids. Well, it is, I suppose. What I mean is that it’s not about specific kids. I have wanted to write a teaching blog for a while now, but what was holding me back was the confidentiality aspect of my job. Then I realized, I have no interest in that aspect of sharing, anyway. I don’t agree with talking about it here. This is not that kind of a blog.

I will not be talking about specific kids, with the exception of looking for some general advice (“I can’t get one of my students to keep his desk clean, any suggestions?” for example). I’m not here to whine and moan, though I can’t promise it’ll never happen. No, the purpose of this blog is to share ideas, and that’s really it. Unlike my first blog, which took a bit of a diary-like turn, this blog was made to pass along ideas of mine to you, or ask you a question about one, and through your comments, create a sort of question-and-answer space.

My friends know I enjoy writing in my two blogs, but as you fellow bloggers know, it’s a bit risky at times. You find the enjoyment in sharing your thoughts, and finding others who feel the same way you do, but to get to that place, you have to put yourself out there. I’ve always been a very trusting person (perhaps too much so…), and I trust that if you are reading this and are a teacher and a blogger, you understand how important this supportive community is. I’m looking forward to getting to know you, teacher bloggers. :)

Finally, as for my post’s title: Ugh. I wish I could say that this comment has never been uttered in my direction, but alas, it has. Often. In fact, the last few months of my previous school year, I had the kids keeping a count. How many times would another adult come into our room, see us in the hall, find us on the playground, or spot us in an assembly, and blurt out, “Oh, hi! I didn’t realize you were the teacher. You look like one of the kids!” In late June, the count was closing in on five, and that was only a few months’ worth of counting! I get it all the time. And not just in school. I get the “you look so young” comment in every place imaginable – from Costco to the exit seat of an airplane. I’ve learned not to be frustrated by the comment, and in fact, have recently been finding it hilarious. Really? I look like a 10-year old, is that what you’re saying? Really? I suppose it doesn’t help that I frequently (read: almost every day) wear my hair up in a ponytail or bun (hey, I have a small forehead, and I’m just plain lazy in the mornings!) It also doesn’t help that at 5’6″, I’ve got a student or two every year my height or taller. When adults come into my room, more often than not, I’m seated on the floor with the kids, or sitting at a student’s desk conducting an informal conference. I try to stand in front of the room as little as possible – so yes, it’s a little harder to find me. I’d prefer to think of it like Where’s Waldo, rather than “Guess the teacher’s age”. Yet, honestly, a day will come where the comment will no longer find me, and I’ll be sad, assuming I finally do, in fact, look my age. Until that day comes, I suppose I should be grateful to be looking “young”. It’s just helping me forget 30 is around the corner.

As I try to find all of you out there, I’m going to ask you in my next few posts to leave me a comment with either your blog’s link, or the blog of an awesome teacher that someone new to the community should know about. Who has a great teaching blog out there?