Sunday Letters 9.6.15

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 7.02.01 PMDear New Third Graders,

You are amazing!  Each teacher from your past has told me how wonderful you are as a group and they are not exaggerating!

Thank you for all of the notes and pictures that you have made for me.  To spend you quiet time making me pictures shows how kind and considerate you are.  You are already cooperative, assertive, responsible, empathetic students with quite a bit of self control. Now you have words to describe all of your positive attributes and you are building on them each day.  It is because of you that I can be the nice, fun teacher you claim I am.

Your writing stamina, ideas, and enthusiasm has grown so much over the last week!  Only one week of writing workshop and you are hooked!  I love reading all of your writing:  lists, fictional stories, letters.  Your topics are so diverse and entertaining!  Letters to Taylor Swift, each other, and even tacos!  Fictional stories about robotic ducks and a fight between Spiderman and Venom over a Starbucks card!  I can’t wait to read what else you have inside you waiting to come out on paper this year!  Enjoy decorating your notebooks this weekend!

I hope to give you an environment that allows you to take risks and grow this year!  You will learn and grow as students and young people, I promise you that.  I can’t wait for all of the adventures we will have together this school year!

See you Wednesday!

Ms. Bless

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Sunday Letters 8.23.15

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Dear Classroom,

Enjoy being clean and organized.  Enjoy being relatively germ free.  All of that will change Monday when the kids arrive.

Don’t be too sad, though.  Once the kids enter, you will not only be filled with germs and stuff.  But, you will also be filled with excitement, energy, love, and laughter.  Maybe some learning, too?!

– Ms.  Bless

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Dear Teachers,

This isn’t directed to all teacher – just those of you putting specific color folders on the supply list.  I understand your need for color coded supplies.  However, as a parent, it drives me INSANE!  Last year I went to store after store, searching for an orange folder.  This year…it was the (apparently) rare yellow plastic folder with prongs.

– A Mother

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Yes! I wore this on our opening day institute.

Dear Pin,

Thank you so much!  Although not everyone understood you, those who know me couldn’t help but laugh.  not to mention I smiled a little more than normal.  So, thanks!  🙂

                                                            – Lady with a Resting *itch Face

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Dear Teacher Across the Hall,

I know you are stressed.   I know you doubt yourself.  But, I promise you this…

I promise your students will love you the second they enter your room.

I promise you they won’t care about boxes still needing to be unpacked.

I promise you are completely capable of being their teacher.

I promise you are amazing!

– A Fan!

♦♦♦♦♦

20150809_085744Dear My Son’s New Teacher,

You asked for three things I want you to know about him.

  1.  My son is creative.  He loves to create, on paper or with Legos.  When he gets an idea in his head, he can’t wait to make it real.  He can sit for hours building a Lego baseball field.  His backpack holds several notebooks, just in case he feels inspired.  I love his creativity and try to encourage it as much as possible.
  2. My son is a perfectionist.  He likes to do things perfect the first time.  Therefore he tends to shut down or not show all he knows because of a fear of being wrong.  However, he never truly gives up on anything – he just practices in private until he has it mastered.  Although I know this, I don’t know how to help him and I am open to suggestions.
  3. My son keeps his own feelings private, but he is very empathetic.  He is friends with everyone and is very funny.  However, when he is upset, he isn’t going to tell you how he feels or why he feels that way.

As you can see from the length of this letter compared to the others, I love my son and can talk about him nonstop.  Thanks for asking!  🙂

– A Proud Mommy

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,

Amanda

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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You know you are a teacher approaching the beginning of a new school year when…

  • You spend way too much money and too many shopping trips to JoAnn’s, the Dollar Tree, and Walmart.
  • You buy 20+ of things that the average person never needs in bulk.  (ex:  yoga balls, clearance door knobs, various shaped containers)
  • Your TO DO list looks something like this, more things being added than crossed off.20140816_191533
  • You pull out your to do list at the movie theater during the previews of TMNT because things that need to be done keep popping into your head.
  • You get 2-3 hours of sleep a night because you head is swarming with things that need to be done and things that could go terrible wrong.

 

What else do you have?  Please share!

Back to School DIY Begins…

I just realized I use the … a lot…

Last year we went with the Hollywood theme.  We wanted to change it up for the new year, but had to figure out how to keep our awesome classroom library. So….Superheroes!  There are ton of superhero movies after all and we are going to be VERY boy heavy this year.

I found this perfect fabric for a bulletin board…Score!

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The first DIY I finished is for the birthdays.  Each kid will have a star with their name and birthday.  The star will be hot glued under the month they were born.  I did this last year too (A Star is Born), not an original idea.   I found it somewhere online.

20140722_181920Second, I painted new Popsicle sticks. (Also not an original idea!)  These are much better than the traditional Popsicle sticks.  We used these last year for our morning meeting and they worked great when we remembered what color we were picking.  🙂  During the days that we do an open share for morning meeting, we pick a stick and then turn it to the other color.  This way we can make sure everyone gets a turn over the course of the week.

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I’m also working on the fairy throne/garden that I wrote about here.  What next?  Hmmm…..