Dear New Teacher,

Photo Credit:  Jill Pickle
Author: Amanda               Photo Credit: Jill Pickle

You may notice this post is much longer than anything I have written and that is because I didn’t write it.  I tried to write a letter to new teachers, but it just didn’t come out.  However, my amazing friend and colleague wrote an amazing one to share with the new teachers at our school this year.  Amanda is a second year teacher and her dedication is obvious through this letter.   Who better to give first years advice?

Dear New Teacher,

These are the things I wish I knew as a First Year Teacher, the things I realized along the way, and all the things in-between! In this list you can find small to big ideas. Some concepts may be obvious to you already (great!); others, I hope, may be eye opening to you and the year ahead of you. GOOD LUCK! 🙂

  1. Use contact paper!

You may find it silly, but I spent hours putting clear tape over everything only to spend more hours taking it off. Take the advice and don’t mess up like me…use contact paper instead!

  1. If you have word work built into your writing block, put it at the end of the writing lesson.

I tried placing word work at the beginning of writing, but it ended taking more time out of writing. Bah humbug! Be wise and put it at the end!

  1. Okay, this one may be obvious… Keep student work examples, like reading and writing notebooks.

You can use student work as examples for future classes, to help demonstrate what you are/are not looking for, and to make the work more realistic and achievable for students.

  1. Oh! This one I have been working on a lot… It’s okay to NOT have student input during the modeling/mini-lesson.

My mini-lessons would become not-so-mini when I ALWAYS tried to include students’ input. Keep it short and straight to the point; this will give students more individual time to practice the technique you are teaching.

  1. Don’t stay until 9 o’clock every night…

I am one of those overly exuberant teachers. You combine this with intense dedication and you’ve got a disaster. The first few months were tragic. I practically lived at school. Luckily winter break rolled around soon enough to give me a breather and to wake me up with the realization that I was crazy! Soon enough I would be too exhausted to even teach! Don’t overdo yourself! Prioritize and remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Even perfectionists like me have to realize this.

  1. Never be afraid to ask questions!

I am naturally the question-student, armed with one thousand questions per second. Gratefully, I had a mentor that allowed and encouraged my flow of questions. What I learned along the way, from both my mentor and my peers, is that the question-student gets most of the answers at a quicker rate. In other words, you learn how to fix mistakes and how to better proceed.

  1. Take time for yourself!

Again, a seemingly obvious piece of advice, but isn’t it funny how often we forget to follow this ourselves? Even if there’s a deadline, remember to give yourself a break: take a walk, grab a coffee with a colleague, take a nap, you name it! Personally, I prefer to get out a bit right after school; this way I am refreshed and ready to tackle difficult tasks upon my return.

  1. Hand out “Thank you” cards to colleagues and students.

The weight of a simple thank you card is astounding. I got so caught up in school, planning, and grading, that although I had the intention—I never got around to it. 😦 This is certainly something I plan on changing this year.

  1. Organize your computer folders by subjects and topics/units within that subject.

This will not only keep your computer clean, but your resources will be easier to find and therefore, easily accessible in future years.

  1. Use sheet protectors for reusable games, graphic organizers, fill-in-the-blanks, and so on.

Simply use dry erase markers and an eraser (wet wipes) to clean the sheet when done. Students will be able to practice their math facts on chutes and ladders, fill in graphic organizers to practice retelling…the possibilities are limitless!

  1. Figure out a system to organize and keep track of your classroom books.

I could not decide which system I wanted, so I had a difficult time knowing which books were checked out and to whom they were check out to. 😦 Because of this, I could barely keep track of those books that I had purchased with my own money! Yikes! Don’t let this happen to you!

  1. Almost always construct anchor charts with students.

Unless you MUST do it in advance because… well, I can’t even come up with a decent reason, besides making it look pretty… you should be creating these charts with your students. They’ll remember the information more when you do. When you think about it, is it the prettiness you want them to remember or the information? Information always weighs out!

  1. Post your reading group and writing conference order—and keep it visible!

Great for both you and the students! This gives students a schedule to look forward to and depend upon and it also reminds you when you need to meet with each student.

  1. Praise the small and large achievements—and mean it!

If you get excited when students make little successes throughout the day, they will get excited as well. Students will also be more willing to work for these smaller successes since they can see how much you notice and care!

  1. Contact Parents/Guardians on a regular basis.

Parents need to know what’s going on in the classroom, the subtopics you’re covering, and the behaviors of their child—both bad and good. First you must decide which means is best for communication with your parents. Some may prefer email, while others prefer agenda planners. Secondly, write about the great moments your students have! This will help develop a deep and lasting relationship between you and the student and you and the parents.

  1. Let yourself be seen reading, writing, solving math problems, and so on.

A lot of what we learn as humans is learned through watching someone else—observing another human modeling an action or characteristic and then putting what we observe into practice. We, like parents, are the ultimate models for students. Make sure you are participating in those essential activities too!

  1. Give feedback and give it often!

Just make sure you are focusing on one task at a time! I made this mistake my first year—I guess I was a little eager! I thought the more I said, the more they would know and understand my thinking, but I forgot the obvious…it was overwhelming! Pick the MOST important task to focus on, make a goal, and work on improving it. Once you have achieved this goal together, you can either construct a new goal together or move onto the next task to improve.

  1. Better to give it a shot “your way” than wait for the “perfect” way.

I am extremely guilty of doing this, especially as a first year teacher. I was so stricken with the fear of messing up that sometimes I just waited, put off whatever it was I wanted to accomplish, in hopes of finding the “right” way. I hate to break it to you—surely it broke me a bit too—but the majority of the time, there is NO “perfect” or “right” way. You need to use the information you do know to make your best judgment. Sometimes learning along the way is the best way there can be. Trial and error; think of Edison! I am still learning this too. Just remember when you DON’T try, you surely won’t succeed! Might as well give it a shot!

  1. Let students take the lead and teach.

Whether the student is demonstrating how to solve a math problem or sharing a personal experience, both teacher and peers can learn a great deal from allowing students to take charge. This gives students a chance to share their thinking and their work. You will also get to know the students better through this methodology.

  1. Going along with the last one, don’t forget to be yourself!

Let students see you cry when you’re upset, smile when you’re happy, and admit when you’re wrong (of course all in reason and moderation). My students know that I don’t know everything, that I am still learning too—and that’s okay! How can a student truly trust you and believe in you if you do not show emotion or never own up to being wrong? Believe it or not, students respect you much more when you are honest with them. As we all know, students learn by modeling. If you are not afraid to admit to being wrong, students will mirror this and therefore, will be more likely to take risks.

  1. Students will only take risks when they feel comfortable… so make them feel comfortable!

Applaud their mistakes, since you know what it’s like to get up to try and to feel humiliated when you don’t succeed. The point, my friend, is that they tried! Isn’t life full of silly mistakes and mistakes that we didn’t even know were mistakes at all at the time?! We will certainly never discover the right answers if we do not try, so applaud your heart out! 🙂

  1. Get to know and respect the students as people.

This has to be one of my biggest pet peeves, so I apologize in advance if this one turns into a rant. Don’t forget, students are people too! They want to be heard, listened to, cared for, thought of, and respected. Wouldn’t it be terrible if the people most prevalent in your life only cared about your academic performance and would never listen to your deepest passions and darkest worries? I think so! It tells me that they don’t truly care. To show that you do care, take time out of your day to say a simple hello and ask them about their day. Stop by in the lunchroom, take a seat with them, and share a meal together. Showing these simple signs of affection goes a long way—of course you don’t have to do this every day (that would be a bit much)—but every now and then reminding your students that you value their thoughts, words, and presence like people.

  1. Follow your OWN rules!

I cannot stress this enough! If you expect students to abide by your school and classroom rules, you need to follow them as well! This means not talking in the hallway (Ehhm!), not working or talking during a presentation/assembly—you catch my drift. Remember, we lead by example. If you look around, the best students are likely to be those that follow the best examples: their teachers.

  1. Create a Classroom Family!

If you name your class this, you HAVE to own it! What does this mean, you might ask? You must use the phrase “Classroom Family” day-in and day-out, remind students to stand up for their peers and applaud their successes because they’re a Classroom Family. When there’s drama in the classroom or they need to solve a problem (whether academic or social), tell them to band together as a family to figure it out. Oh, and don’t forget, you’re a part of the family too! 🙂

  1. Be the teacher you would want to have!

Think about all the best teachers you’ve ever had and the worst ones…what’s stopping you from being a super-duper combination of all the best ones?! And as they always say, if you can dream it, you can do it! So do it! Let the “bad” teachers remind you of who not to be, and let the “good” ones inspire you to be even better than the best! Hey, it doesn’t stop with your childhood memories either—good teachers can be colleagues, friends, and even mentors! Let all you know and all you see be a reminder of who you want to be! 🙂

Finally, if all else fails, remember to never stop learning and loving teaching!  All else will follow! ♥

With Love and Best Wishes,


A Writer’s Notebook

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I just finished another great read by Ralph Fletcher, Breathing In Breathing Out:  Keeping a Writer’s Notebook.  It had nothing to do with the Inquiry that I was supposed to be doing, but I couldn’t help it.  I wanted to finish.  I admire Ralph Fletcher’s writing (Marshfield Dreams) and his ability to teach writing strategies (Craft Lessons).  A quick read with insight into a writer’s notebook, it filled me with ideas and forgiveness.


Ralph Fletcher (I feel like his name can’t be separated), among other things, gives his readers categories that could be found within a writer’s notebook.  He puts these into the following categories:  odd facts, questions, odds and ends, lists, lines and insights, artifacts.  Can you believe it?!  I have some of these things in my notebook?!  So here are some of the random things I have written in my notebook this summer, some I may develop and some may go no farther than sharing through this post.

  • Model how you want your kids to act.
  • “Not every day is a good day for writing.”
  • Your choice, your time (regarding writing workshop)
  • Recovering Catholic
  • Themes are necessary for my happiness
  • What was that game called we played at Brittney’s house?  There were fairies , magic, and adventure?
  • Mentors in his life:  teachers and texts
  • Listening to Troy’s Dreams
  • Pruning Bushes- even as adult writers.
  • “Failing is another word for growing.” – Kahn Academy “You Can Learn Anything” video


Ralph Fletch, a published writer, says it is alright for some of your writing to be bad.  Throughout the book he gives many metaphors for a writer’s notebook.  However, regardless of the metaphor that makes sense to you, he says that the notebook is for all writing, good and bad.  In fact, he says that most of the writing in your notebook will be bad.  And that’s O.K.  So, Jennie, I forgive you for a whole lot of bad writing.  Ralph Fletcher says it’s normal and expected.

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Why do I do this?

Why do I do this job?  Why do I do this job that is constantly attacked?  Why do I do a job that requires me to spend my own money?  Why do I do this job that emotionally and physically drains me?

I do it.  I do it because it also fills me.  I do it because it fills me with love.  I do it because it fills me with passion.  I do it because it challenges me on a daily basis.  I do it because it gives me hope and keeps me going. 

I do it because…

My freshman year adviser in college told me I should find a new career path.  She said I was not cut out to be a teacher.  Teachers need to be interested in all subjects, she said, and I just didn’t show enough interest in her class.

Let’s not even focus on how she was constantly canceling class, showing up late, or sending someone in to give us directions for our class.  It was a rough year.  Living several hours from family.  Years before I recognized my own depression/anxiety, but looking back I now know that I was extremely depressed.  Unengaged.

Listening to her, not becoming a teacher, didn’t cross my mind.  Even in a very difficult place, mentally, it never occurred to me to walk away from my dreams of teaching.  I have always wondered why….I am thinking it is because of all of those other teachers and mentors encouraging me in the past.

It gives me hope that the one year I spend with a kid building his/her confidence and guiding his/her learning, will help them.  I get them for only one year.  But maybe it is enough.  Enough to make a permanent difference.  Enough of a difference to get them past the neigh-Sayers they will inevitably encounter.

That is why I do it.

I do it because…

Today, during a PD with the Illinois Writing Project, a college freshman came in to share her writing with our group.  I had seen her around this building, moving furniture, reading and writing.  She is working as a custodian until she leaves for college next month.  It turns out she is a writer and received a writing scholarship.  When our leader asked her to come in and share some of her writing, she agreed.

Wow!  Out of all experiences I have had in the last few weeks, this is one that will stick with me the most.  Yes, her one 130ish word sentence was beautiful and well written.  However, it was her passion for writing and her story that, even now, brings on tears.  She told us about how in third grade a parent came in and did a creative writing talk.  She explained to us how that was when she realized she loved it.  That was when she realized she was good at it.  Third grade!  And now she off to a creative writing program in college, with exciting plans for her future.

This is why I do it.

I do it because…

At the end of this past year, on the last day of a very difficult year, a parent came up to me to thank me.  He shook my hand and thanked me for everything that I did for his daughter.   He didn’t usually pick her up from school, but he made a point of not only picking her up, but shaking my hand and thanking me.   He said that she learned from me, that I impacted her.

That is why I do it.

What I’m Loving Wednesday 7.22.15

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 2.05.13 PMcrafty♥  Troy’s version of American Ninja Warrior – Even if it left my couch more broken and bruises on Troy’s legs!

♥ Purple Pens (I need to buy a new box of them for the new school year!)

Drive Me Crazy is on Netflix!  I know it isn’t the highest quality acting or story, but I love it anyway.

♥  Staple Guns!  This was my first time using a staple gun and it was so fun!  It probably helped that my projects were successful!

♥  Waking up to this crafty mess!  Yep, I’m strange like that.  I absolutely love crafting and messes.  Waking up and seeing all of the things we had created was a great feeling!

♥  Friends – Especially nerdy and weird friends!

My friends like to craft.  They get excited about creating.  They love Disney movies.  They enjoy writing and are willing to spend 12 days at an Illinois Writing Project PD and an entire day writing at a writing marathon.

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Big Butts

We sat on a bench outside the ice cream place waiting for my sister.  My nephew was with my son and me, anxiously waiting for frozen yogurt, when a tall man walked past the bench.   My nephew said, “Look at that big guy!  He has a big butt!”  (You need to know Landon doesn’t have a whisper voice.)

My son and I just stared at each other with big eyes.  I am sure the guy heard, he had to have heard.  Luckily he didn’t turn around, but I was mortified!  The rest of the time spent waiting was focused on distracting him so he wouldn’t comment on the derriere of any other passing strangers…

Oh…the joy of being publicly embarrassed by a three year old…One day I will get my revenge.  One day his crazy Aunt Jennie will embarrass him…That is a promise!


Note to Self: Bring Bug Spray!

One of the other teachers here, at the Illinois Writing Project Workshop, wrote about how she was distracted by something and couldn’t get past it to write.  She was so right!  (Thanks Anne!  I hope everyone realizes that whatever you say in the presence of a blogger, might end up on her blog.)20150716_100054

Sometimes you get that one thing that annoys you, distracts you and you can’t get to a place where you can focus on the writing.  Unfortunately, it’s probably going to happen in our classrooms no matter how we try to control the environment.  There will be pencils tapping, kids whispering, teachers conferring.

So, maybe we need to teach kids how to move past it.  How to deal…Easier said than done…

One option is to write about that thing that is taking up all your focus. Then, once it is on paper, maybe it will leave your mind.  It worked for me during an amazing writing marathon last week.  The bugs were swarming because of the rain and it was all I could think about, so that is what I wrote about.  Once I had it on paper, I moved on to write about something else.  (Of course, bringing bug spray would have made this a non-issue!)

I know this idea won’t always work so, I would love to hear any ideas you have for helping kids get past the distractions during writing workshop.  What do you have?  Please share!

Dear New Co-teacher

Yes, the world has ended.  Jill Pickle has left me and I will be working with a new teacher this year.  I know, I will survive and develop another great relationship.  I am past my self-pity and looking forward to meeting my new partner.  Since co-teaching is like a marriage, I want my new partner to have a heads up.

Dear New Co-teacher,

I don’t know who you are yet, but very soon we will be a team.  We will be spending so much time together our cycles will sync.  (TMI…I know, but get used to it.)  Here are some things you should know about me.

1.  I may look angry, but I’m not.  Some people call it the “resting *itch face.”  Don’t be intimidated.

2.  Smiling and small talk don’t come naturally to me.  Please don’t take it personally if I look at you and don’t greet you.

3.  Along the same lines…sometimes I will respond in my head and not verbalize it.  (And not realize I didn’t say it.)  I apologize in advance.

4.  I am a morning person.

5.  I have some control issues.  I don’t delegate well, but I am working on it.

6.  I am dedicated to these kids and will do everything that I can to help them learn.

7.  I am an organized mess.  Although, from the outside, it will just look like a mess.  I will try to change, but I just don’t think it will ever happen…

8.  I want you to tell me if I make you angry, upset, frustrated, etc.  I can’t fix what I don’t know.

9.  I whole heartedly believe that co-teaching is the best for ALL students.  All of the students are OURS and together we will help them grow.

Good Luck!

Your New Partner,


Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 11.58.24 AMTo go along with Michelle’s BigTime Blogging Challenge, here’s a poem…

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Creating Writers

I am in day three of a twelve day workshop with the Illinois Writing Project and it is already a fantastic experience.  I have learned so much in just a few days, but I have also realized how far I have come in my writing instruction in two short years.  You know how when you see your kid every day and so you don’t always notice how tall his is until one day the top of his head comes above your chin?  Well, that is how I feel about writing in my classroom.

I think about where I was with my knowledge two summers ago – just learning about workshop.  Two summers ago I was reading through Lucy’s Units of Study for third grade.  I was taking notes, wondering if this would work.  All of my thoughts were hypothetical.  It was going to be my first year as a classroom teacher, after four years as a reading teacher.  It was also my school’s first year implementing workshop and Lucy.

Now, I see how far I have come and how much my students have grown.  I know what aspects of my writing instruction and workshop need to be strengthened.  I know where to look to find resources.  All of a sudden, I realize how much I know and how much of that knowledge has been gained in the last two years.

When asked to write a poem using only prepositional phrases today, I ended up thinking about how writing workshop has been essential in developing my third grade writers.  Writers with skills, willing to write, and confident in their writing.  Writers writing EVERY day.  But just like my son’s height and my writing instruction, they don’t really realize what is happening until the end.  Until that all important publishing.

at the beginning

at war with

with the help of

in collaboration

for better or worse

at a distance

by my watch

in confidence

in the end

to THEIR astonishment

A Story of Persistence and Resilience

“Life is like the ocean.  Every time a wave knocks down your sandcastle you build it again.”

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We sat on the beach, dropping wet sand into piles, creating a castle.  Honestly,  the castle looked more like a giant pile of poop, but she seemed to love it.

After a while, the ocean came up and washed the castle away.  With only a short pause, she started dropping sand again, demanding that I do the same.  Not much time passed before the same thing occurred.  And again, she just started dropping a new sand castle.

After three times, she moved further from the water to build her castle.  This time it didn’t get washed away.

The thing that astonished me was that each time the ocean washed her castle away, she began building again with only a moment’s pause.  She didn’t give up.  Eventually, she learned from her mistake and moved her castle where the water couldn’t reach it.

Persistent and Resilient.  There is so much we can learn from observing children.  There is so much to admire.

Sunday Letters 7.12.15

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Dear Nephews,20150712_105331

I love you like you are my own.  But…you are exhausting!  Spending the day with you was lovely, but so is sitting in my quiet house without anyone jumping on me.  I think it will be an early night for Troy and I!


Your Favorite Crazy Aunt


Dear Son,

I love playing with you and your version of American Ninja Warrior was tons of fun.  However, we should probably stop jumping off the couches.  😦 It’s just not responsible…Plus they won’t last much longer if we keep up this abuse.


Your Mommy


Dear Coffee,

I don’t NEED you as much during the summer.  However, I still enjoy you and crave you.  Thank you so much for all of your comfort!


A Fan


Dear Former Co-teacher and Current BFF,10846316_595979705718_467228639772971894_n

I miss you!  I haven’t seen you nearly enough since we got back from Florida.  Every once in a while I remember that I won’t be seeing you every day once school starts and I have to push the thought away.  You know I don’t care if people think I’m weird, but crying in the middle of Target might be over the line, even for me.  Movie night soon!


Your BFF