Wednesday, August 31, 2011

We can never know about the days to come...

... But we think about them anyway. (bonus points if you can name artist and song. hint: it's probably much older than you - ask your parents, or grandparents!)

Some of you started school this week, and others are gearing up for a first day after Labor Day. What an incredible time! Most first year teachers go through a bit of a cycle in their learning (and surviving) the first year. Right now, it's likely to say that you are rooted in the Anticipation Phase. You are deeply committed to the work ahead, excited about the possibilities, enthusiastic about the goals you have set for yourself. This high, which probably began in your student teaching experience, usually lasts several weeks, despite how exhausted you might be at the end of each day! If you're anything like me, there are moments each day where you walk into your classroom and you can't believe you're there, you're a teacher. It's pretty amazing, isn't it?

The thing that you realize quickly, though, is that every day has a huge learning curve. And the way to help yourself through these first few days and weeks is to remember to take deep breaths, reflect as much as possible in writing, and try not to sweat the small stuff. There will be mistakes, for sure, lessons that flop or classroom management ideas that bomb. But at the end of every day remember that there is a new day around the corner. A chance to try again. The kiddos in your classes are lucky to have dedicated, enthusiastic, smart teachers like yourselves. Remember that!

We'll talk a lot about how to overcome some of the most common concerns of first year teachers (classroom arrangement and management, curriculum planning and pacing, establishing a grading system that’s fair, parent conferences, work/life balance) in the coming weeks. Know that you're not alone, and we're here to help. Send me a comment or write me an email if you have ANY questions that we can help you with. Together, I hope, you'll not just survive, but thrive!

Reference: New Teacher Center (NTC)

What has been your favorite "I'm a teacher!" moment so far?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

first day of school read alouds

I always plan a read-aloud on the first day of school,  no matter if I am teaching 4th grade or college. A great read-aloud can build community, make people laugh, start a conversation, ease anxiety, and set the tone for the year. It says that books are valued. It says that stories are important. It can give voice to those who need one. Talk with teammates and your school librarian for some suggestions. But here are a few titles to get you thinking.

Elementary School 

A hands-down favorite is Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. Henkes is a fantastic author/illustrator and his book about little mouse Chrysanthemum, who loves her name until she goes to school, is perfect for launching a discussion about names. If you don't know Henkes' work, take a look. His books are beloved by children and adults alike.

A great one for first-year teachers is First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg. Sarah Jane is nervous about starting at a new school, and doesn't want to go to the first day. Kids find it hilarious that in the end, it turns out Sarah Jane is a teacher! Even teachers are nervous at the beginning of the year.

Never Ride Your Elephant to School, written by Doug Johnson and illustrated by Abby Carter is a silly cautionary tale. Most students wouldn't need convincing that bringing an elephant to school is a bad idea, but just in case, this funny read will warn them sufficiently.

Minerva Louise at School, by Janet Morgan Stoeke tells the story of a wacky chicken who decides to check out the elementary school she mistakes for a 'big, fancy barn.' It shows the school through the world-view of a chicken, and you'll fall in love with Minerva Louise.

Wish I Were a Butterfly, by Ed Young. After being told he is ugly by a frog, a little cricket wishes he were a butterfly. But when the butterfly hears his music, it wishes to be a cricket, sharing with students that we all have gifts to share instead of being jealous of one another. This book is appropriate for older students as well.

The North Star by Peter Reynolds. We're all on a journey, though it is sometimes hard to know what path to follow. In this book, we learn to embrace our unique journey through life. This book is appropriate for older students too.

Some additional suggestions include: My Name is Maria Isabel by Alma Flor Ada, Beatrice's Goat by Page McBier, A Fine, Fine School by Sharon Creech, Once Upon an Ordinary School Day by Colin McNaughton, Stella Louella Runaway Book by Lisa Campbell Ernst, No, David! by David Shannon

Middle School / Junior High

For middle school / junior high reading and English classes, I used to pick a book that would be completed fairly quickly and that had a hook within the first couple pages.  Some books that I found kids loved include: Found or Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick, Out of My Mind or Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper, Knuckleheads by Jon Sczieska, and We All Fall Down or Fade by Robert Cormier. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens is often a hit too. Math teachers can choose Math Curse by Jon Scieszka, Sir Cumference and the First Round Table by Cindy Neuschwander, or G is for Googol: A Math Alphabet Book by David Schwartz.  For social studies classes, I usually selected a historical fiction novel that linked to the time period we'd be studying. A good place to look for good nonfiction for social studies or science classes is to search the Orbis Pictus award winners. Some of my recent favorites include Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery, If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge, by Mark Aronson, The Frog Scientist by Pamela Turner, and An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1763 by Jim Murphy. Other authors to consider include Jacqueline Woodson, M.T. Anderson, Walter Dean Myers, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Pete Hautman, Gordon Korman. The Newbery Awards are always good places to start, but I also like YALSA's Teens' Top Ten, since those are voted on by kids (instead of grown-ups like the other awards).

High School 

Read alouds might seem like a harder sell for older kids, but you'd be surprised at how they love having a book read aloud to them too. A lot of the suggestions for junior high hold true for middle school as well. For high school, something to think about is reading current newspaper or magazine articles pertaining to your content area, showing students early the connection of your discipline to their lives. The New York Times published links to NYT stories from recent years that have interested high school students as read alouds. Check out the page - there might be some that fit your content area well! Authors of fiction that might be great for high school classes include Sherman Alexie, Sandra Cisneros, Markus Zusak, Chris Crutcher, Sharon Flake. If you don't know YALSA yet, check it out. Tons of recommended read lists. Check out the Alex Awards, Michael Printz Awards, the Pura Bupre Award, and the Coretta Scott King Awards, all sponsored by the American Library Association for some quality suggestions.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

learning the ropes: ask, ask, ask

Yesterday I met with two teachers who will be teaching new curriculum in their 7th grade class, and I asked them the question I've been asking all the teachers I run into lately, "What advice would you give first year teachers?" They had a great response - don't assume you should know everything.

What they meant by that was that it is natural to want to portray yourself as "in the know," to have everything under control. But they each said they spent far too much time their first year of teaching trying to figure things out on their own that would have been much easier if they had just asked someone. From things as simple as "where do we keep extra pencils, tissues, paper, staples, etc?" and "how do I make copies?" to bigger questions like "what are the grading policies and procedures?" and "how does the school/team log communication with parents?"

No doubt some of you have already completed new teacher orientation, and if you're anything like I was, your head is spinning and maybe, at some point, refused more new information. That's ok! But what I've found in working with teachers is that the new teachers that were willing to ask questions ended up being the most successful. You can't know everything the first day. So giving yourself permission to ask lots of questions can ease those overwhelming first days.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

opening days of school: get to know your students

One thing I got better at over my years of teaching was devoting time and energy to really getting to know my students. And when I asked teachers for advice, this was something that came up over and over again from experienced teachers. It's hard work, learning about your students in deep and authentic ways. Knowing your students is the key to developing relationships, planning appropriate instruction, and being a culturally responsive educator. Below are some basic things you can do early in the year to start the process and show your students that you genuinely are interested in them as people, not just students.

To that end, I can't stress enough how important it is to learn students' names as quickly as possible. This is hard for me - I'm terrible at memorizing names. But I plan many activities the first day (and days) of school where I'm using students' names very often to help the process. I also require the students to learn each others' names. You'd be shocked at how long you can call on students and still have kids in the class that can't refer to each other by name. Shocked. So having time for everyone else to learn names is important too. You'd also be surprised how long students can without hearing their name spoken to them (days. yes, days). So learning students names and using them frequently helps create a culture that shows students that they are important. Here are a couple different resources with  name games to try. As you'll see, some are more appropriate for younger and some for older grades.

No doubt you'll have some assessment data on your students, or you'll be engaged in assessing students at the beginning of the year. This can help you learn about your students as learners. In addition, an interest survey is another important step to help you know your students. An interest survey There are a ton of these available on the web, and I usually pick parts I like from multiple resources to create my own to fit the grade level I'm teaching. Favorite color might not be super helpful in learning about your students, but knowing what they might wish for if they had three wishes, what they do in their free time, if they have a homework routine, and who their friends are sure could. Here are several to get you started thinking about a survey for your students.

Planning some icebreakers is good too. These can start with name games, but the more you can have students working together as a team, the more you can reinforce a collaborative environment you want to support in your classroom - we're all in this together! Here are several to give you some ideas.

The work of getting to know your students doesn't end when you've collected this information and played these games. But it gives you a start. We'll return to this topic several times throughout the fall, to give attention once again to learning about your students.

Friday, August 19, 2011

classroom management: establishing noninstructional routines

Anyone who has spent any time in a classroom knows that classroom management is essential to an effective learning environment. And anyone who has worked with new teachers knows this is a real area of anxiety for those new to teaching. It is a topic we will spend LOTS of time on through this blog forum, and I'm hopeful that you, dear readers, will participate in the dialogue to share ideas and strategies that work and need work for you.

This first installment is going to prompt you to think about classroom management from the perspective of developing noninstructional routines. Some things that might benefit from discussion of routine include:
  • how to enter and exit the classroom
  • what to do when class begins
  • what to do when class ends
  • what to do in case of an emergency
  • opening exercises - warm-ups, morning meeting, lunch count, attendance
  • using the restroom, getting drinks
  • when and how loud to talk
  • where to get supplies
  • how to behave in each area of the classroom
  • where and when to submit completed work
  • how to gather and complete work when absent
  • who will and how to help a substitute
Which routines are important, of course, will depend on your content and the age of the students in your classes.

When I ask practicing teachers what advice they wish they had been given when they first started, over and over they tell me that building community and establishing routines and procedures is always time well-spent. It may seem like it's taking a long time to get to the content of your subjects, but if students know what they are expected to do at each step of the school day will help enlist the students to help manage each other and answer questions about these established routines. Students appreciate routine and predictability in the classroom, and setting these routines can help assuage anxiety about school.

One thing to remember is that one explanation and practice is not enough to ensure that all students will be able to internalize the routine. You'll need to reiterate the expectations of the routine each day for perhaps the first two weeks, starting with a couple and adding a routine each day, and over time, students will have mastered these routines to the point that they can engage in these even in your absence.

A great way to think about establishing these routines is to use the gradual release of responsibility model (which, I'm sure, most of you heard about in your preservice teaching program). This model asks the teacher to take the responsibility of explicit instruction and modeling to start, guided practice with descriptive feedback next, and then gradually allow students to practice the routine independently.  To think about it another way, the teacher begins with "I (the teacher) Do, You (the students) Watch," then move to "I Do, You Help," eventually moving to, "You Do, I Help," and then students are independently, "You Do, I Watch." You're likely to have to reteach and refresh routines, perhaps revising routines that just don't work for you or the students throughout the year.

So why spend all this time on noninstructional routines? Because your time is so limited with students, the urgency to teach so great, that you don't want to spend time answering the same questions every day, redirecting the same behaviors every day, when you can set clear routines and expectations up front. You won't regret thinking about this!

What other noninstructional routines might you consider teaching your students?

* Adapted from: Guillaume, A. M. (2012). K-12 Classroom Teaching: A Primer for New Professionals (4th Ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

setting up a classroom

Can you believe it? You have a classroom! For those of you who have been fortunate to land a job, you are likely anxiously and excitedly setting up your first classroom. If you are lucky enough to have a space all to yourself, you get to make all those classroom decisions yourself. Often times, setting up the classroom ends up being a primary focus the weeks leading up to the first year teacher's opening workshop week. This is a natural result of your excitement and need to control something, when you don't really know what to expect once those kiddos show up. So, we'll talk classrooms today, and then I'll have some other issues for you to consider leading up to starting school. Besides, looking prepared can help you feel prepared!

First of all, consider your layout. Are you going to have different areas for students to work? A small group area, partner areas, individual work spaces? Will you want a space kiddos can gather on the floor together? Space for a classroom library? Do you have computers? Do you have a window? Where and what time will sun be coming through, and will it affect students' view of anything? What about a chalkboard/whiteboard/smartboard? Determine what makes sense for these areas and the flow of traffic. Also think about spacing so that when you're working with the whole group, kids have unrestricted views of the smartboard or whatever space you'll be using to put up materials. Desks in rows? Pods? Pairs? Horseshoes? This will come down to your preference. Think back to classrooms you've visited, your practicum and student teaching classrooms. What worked in those classrooms, what did you like, what didn't work and what didn't you like? Think this through to help you decide how you want to layout your classroom.

Supplies. All of you will have specific supplies that students will use regularly, whether those supplies are calculators, reading response journals, markers, dictionaries, whatever. Where will you keep these supplies that make them accessible? What about extra copies of homework (cuz goodness knows kids will need extra copies)? Tissues! You will go through so many tissues (but they are often on your students' supply list, so don't worry about that)!

Let's talk bulletin boards. There are tons of cute borders and posters in all sorts of teacher stores. I spent a lot of money on those (one tip I learned for my second year of teaching was that cheap fabric works fabulously as backgrounds for bulletin boards - it doesn't rip or fade, so you don't have to change it like paper. I raided the clearance bins at fabric stores). And those are great. But don't forget to leave space for your students to put up their work and for you to display new materials early in the year. Some givens are a calendar with announcements, an assignment/homework wall, a word wall. After my first year of teaching, I usually only prettied up a couple bulletin board in my room. For the rest, I put up background paper and then left it to the students to produce the content of the boards. But some principals will want something on all the bulletin boards, so that's just something you'll have to find out. The most important advice I can relay is to consider the distraction-quotient of what you're putting up. We all remember those classrooms where there was so much on the walls you had a hard time paying attention in class. Make sure that your classroom is inviting but not so chock full of stuff that kids don't know where to look.

Your desk. You're unlikely to have any time to sit at your desk the entire length of the school day, so put your desk in a place that won't get in the way of your teaching space. The caveat is if your computer is connected to your LCD projector and you'll want to use it for teaching.

Bottom line is that your classroom should be friendly and inviting and allow students to become part of the room. Make sure resources are available to students. Have an organized system, as you'll be so busy during the day, you won't have time to reorganize until the kids leave for the day and you collapse at your desk to plan the next exhausting and thrilling day. Teaching is so wonderful. Your classroom will be too!

What about your new classroom are you most excited about?
Any cool bulletin board ideas or layout plans you're proud of putting together?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

professional organizations: art organizations

One more professional organization post. This time for... Art teachers! You have great state and national organizations to consider as well.

The state organization is AEM-MN (Art Educators of Minnesota). Art Educators of Minnesota is the only professional organization for educators in visual art and media arts for the state of Minnesota. AEM serves K-12 teachers, museum educators, arts organizations, higher education instructors and students in art education certification programs. Join their Facebook page to stay updated on the latest AEM info. AEM's annual fall conference is coming up in November, and proves to be a valuable couple days learning about and with other art educators. AEM also organizes a spring conference every two years in Duluth in conjunction with the Duluth Art Crawl. Sounds like a great time! Aside from the conferences, AEM also organizes member exhibitions for members to showcase their own art exhibits. Pretty cool, huh? Check out more exciting info in the AEM newsletters.

Along with the state organization, the national art teachers' organization is NAEA: The National Art Education Association. The national NAEA Convention is being held in March in NYC. Fun!  On that page, there's tons of professional development info available - check out the great links. The site also has an instructional resources gallery to help with lesson planning. NAEA links to blogs and videos of mentor members to provide support for art educators around the country. And NAEA has several social networking connections for whatever platform you like best - Facebook, Twitter, Ning, LinkedIn, you name it. NAEA publishes advocacy information; as we all know, art education is often on the chopping block in school budgets. We need to advocate for this essential component of students' education! The site also has incredible links to research, publications, and policy briefings. Check out this great organization!

Friday, August 5, 2011

professional organizations: ELL organizations

One thing is for certain, the demographics of MN schools have been changing in exciting ways over the last 20 years. As Minnesota has become home for more immigrants and refugees, so to has grown the number of students in P-12 schools who speak a language other than English at home. MN ELL teachers are an amazing and hardworking group, helping students learn English and navigate new school experiences.

The national organization for ELL teachers is TESOL, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.  TESOL was founded over 40 years ago over the concern that there was not an all-inclusive organization to bring together teachers and administrators at all levels teaching English to speakers of other languages. TESOL publishes books, journals, and newsletters, and I've always found the information extremely helpful in the publications I've read through TESOL. The organization has some great links to issues in advocacy, research, standards, and assessment. TESOL holds an annual convention every year, next year in Philadelphia. The website has tons of links, so check it out!

The state organization for ELL teachers is MinneTESOL, MN Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.  MinneTESOL is dedicated to supporting teachers working with students learning English at all levels of public and private education.  MinneTESOL supports ELL teachers by: collecting and disseminating information pertinent to English as a Second Language, English as a Second Dialect, and Bilingual Education, promoting and assisting programs in local communities, fostering the professional development of its members, voicing the socio-political and employment concerns of its members, and establishing and maintaining contacts through affiliation with the international organization TESOL, and through cooperation with other organizations which may share similar purposes, interests, and clientele.Wow, that's a lot of good stuff. MinneTESOL has a fall conference, this year in November in Minneapolis. Members of the organization get the newsletter and access to the online journal, a network directory to connect you with other ELL teachers, and invites to lots of great events.

Next post: art organizations

Thursday, August 4, 2011

professional organizations: music organizations

The emphasis on reading and math in schools has had a tremendously unfortunate impact on arts in schools.  The broken logic in that is that there is a wealth of research indicating that studying music positively influences the way kids learn and process information. I'll admit that this is an issue close to my heart, as I participated in orchestras and choirs from before I could read words straight on through to today. Music teachers do amazing things for kids. Here are the two main teacher organizations for music teachers.

MMTA is an organization dedicated to improving the quality of music education in the state of Minnesota.  You can learn quite a bit about MMTA by reading their newsletters, available in pdfs on the website.  MMTA has an active mentoring program for new music teachers.  You can find information about state and national certification on the website too. Like most organizations, MMTA sponsors an annual convention - though you missed this year's already (it was in June).  Even if you're not a music teacher, you can see their "Find a Music Teacher" page to find music teachers in your area for any instrument for your students, your children, yourself!

The list of benefits for MMTA members is huge. Take a look:
  • Programs for students and teachers, including contests and comprehensive examinations for piano, voice and other instruments;
  • Composition contests for both students and teachers;
  • Ensemble festivals and other programs designed to nurture and inspire the developing musician;
  • Syllabi and teaching materials that support students as they learn repertoire, music history, theory and sight playing skills;
  • Membership publications, including a bi-monthly newsletter, the annual calendar listing events and program entry rules, and a directory of members;
  • Annual state convention offering a rich variety of presentations on pedagogy and performance and features guest artists and concerts;
  • Mentoring program to help new members become acquainted with programs and procedures;
  • Opportunities for continuing education;
  • Network of local organizations throughout the state where members can meet for collegiality and support.
A member of MMTA also becomes a member of Music Teachers National Association (MTNA). Founded in 1876, MTNA is a community of committed music professionals which offers to its members a variety of programs, services and benefits, including:
  • American Music Teacher, an award-winning bi-monthly journal containing features on various topics of importance to the music teaching profession
  • National convention, held annually, offering opportunities for education and networking
  • National certification program, providing a path to recognition and promotion of the highest standards of music teaching
  • Financial services including health insurance and retirement savings
  • Blanket music licensing agreement with ASCAP
  • National job placement service
  • National performance and composition competition for students
So let's more of a look at Music Teachers National Association (MNTA). MTNA was founded in 1876(!) to advance the value of music study and music making, and to support the professionalism of music teachers.The MTNA resources page is a treasure trove of teaching tips, music websites for kids, search engines for resources, and a professional support phone line and email.  A great resource for anyone, like the "find a teacher" above, is the How to Choose a Music Teacher resource page.

Next post: ELL teacher organizations