Monday, December 11, 2017

Stressed Out in December? Ten Suggestions.

December 11, 2017

     It's not secret that teachers are stressed in the days leading up to Winter Break. There is a lot going on in our personal lives as well as in our classrooms. The demands of the curriculum that must be covered and the looming standardized tests don't vanish just because a holiday season is approaching. Add excited students to the mix and the ingredients are all in place for serious teacher stress.
     Although there are many different ways to deal with stress in general, there are some that are particularly helpful for teachers and that don't involve chocolate and alcohol. Here goes:
1. Go to your school’s media center and escape into a good book or read a newspaper for 10-15 minutes.
2. Talk things over with a sympathetic colleague or mentor.
3. Take a brisk walk around the perimeter of your building.
4. Refuse to take it personally when students are rude or disruptive.
5. Find a quiet spot and practice deep breathing exercises.
6. Slowly count to one hundred before you speak in anger. Still stressed? Keep counting until you feel yourself relaxing.
7. Try to lighten your mood by changing your perspective. Find a way to laugh at yourself or the situation.
8. If you have too much to do, divide each task into manageable amounts and get busy.
9. Turn on some music to change your mood.
10. There are lots of free apps for mindfulness or meditation. If you would like to try one, a good place to start is with Calm (

Thursday, December 7, 2017

It's Not a Happy Holiday for All Students

December 7, 2017

               For many students, the contrast between their classmate’s lives and their own can be particularly painful during December. It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone in your class is going to have a merry holiday filled with presents and loving families. Children of poverty are not the only ones who struggle this time of year. You may have students whose home lives appear on the surface to be happy, but they may be dealing with family conflicts, family substance abuse, or any other of the perils of modern life that can be so difficult for all children.

               Of course, it is only natural that caring teachers would want to celebrate the joys of the season with their students, but thoughtful teachers will strive to keep the impact of the holidays on their classrooms as low key as possible. Here are some ways you can keep your students focused on school instead of the holidays in the days ahead.

·        When students veer into discussions of the holiday, gently steer them back to learning. You don’t have to be the Grinch to do this, just be gentle, pleasant, and firm.

·        When your students beg for a class party, offer a celebration after the holidays to commemorate classroom achievements instead.

·        If students bring you gifts, handle them tactfully and as privately as possible. Honor the giver with a sincere thank you card rather than making a big deal of the gift in front of students who were not able to give gifts.

·        Recognize that the distraction and excited buzz that many students feel is completely contagious.  If you are used to one or two students being off task, expect to see many students off task now. Add in activities that help students stay on task: use manipulatives, have them work in pairs, use checklists and choice whatever will appeal to your students’ interests so that they will want to work.

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Service Project Where Everyone Learns

December 4, 2017

     Although this is traditionally the season of giving, not all of students will be able to participate in the many charitable activities that occur in schools everywhere this time of year. While some students will bring in heavy bags of canned goods or armloads of warm winter clothing, many students and their families do not have the means to do so. The challenge for a compassionate teacher is to find charitable activities where every student can participate.
     One of the best ways to do this is to have students play an online game that allows them to learn and help others at the same time without having to spend any of their own money. Free Rice ( is an addictive charitable game that any student who can read can play. For every correct answer, ten grains of rice is donated to the World Food Programme.  It is a legitimate enterprise with thousands of players around the world--and loads of fun to play.
     The photo above is a banner my students and I made to celebrate the total number of grains of rice they donated in one month several years ago. After they learned to play the game, we made it a class goal that they would use their spare time in class to play the game to help others less fortunate. (We were fortunate enough to have a one-to-one laptop classroom.) They set a goal near the end of January that they would try to raise one million grains of rice by the end of the school year in June. They reached that goal by the end of February. The banner is a representation of how proud my students were at being able to help others. And what a gratifying way to spend any extra time in class: a shared class project that provides differentiated learning opportunities for all players, does not cost students anything but time and effort, and encourages students to do good deeds. It's worth a try.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Fifty Things I Wish I Had Known When I Was a New Teacher

Some things never change. Even though I have posted this list before and shared about a zillion times when people email me requesting a copy, the advice in it still makes sense.

Being a first-year teacher is not easy. If you are a mentor or someone else who works with the new teachers in your school or your district, you may want to print this list and share. It never hurts to know that you are not alone with your worries when you are just starting out in a new career.

  1. Don’t be afraid to experiment and have fun learning with your students. It’s okay to fail sometimes.
  2. Realize that you will have to prove yourself all year long. To students, colleagues, parents, yourself…
  3. Being regarded as trustworthy is an invaluable goal.
  4. There will be plenty of opportunities to learn from mistakes.
  5. If you don’t spend time reflecting on your teaching each day, it will be very hard for you to improve.
  6. There will never be enough time to get all of the things you want to accomplish with your students done.
  7. It’s important to think about student activities in terms of small blocks of time so they stay on task.
  8. Leave your problems at school at the end of the day. Balance is key.
  9. It’s important to show students how to help themselves. Learned helplessness does not have to be permanent.
  10. Take good care of school resources and teach students to do the same.
  11. Use your personal strong points and teach your students to do the same.
  12. Be selective. Don’t fight battles you can’t win. Ignore the small stuff.
  13. Focus on what you can change and get then get busy doing it.
  14. Use a multifaceted approach when presenting material.
  15. Don’t just react to a problem. Solve it.
  16. It takes time to get to know your students and even longer to gain their fragile trust.
  17. Make it a point to build strong relationships with your colleagues. You need each other.
  18. Parents do indeed expect you to live up to their ideal of what a teacher should be.
  19. If you act like a professional, you will make it easier for others to defend you when you make a mistake.
  20. Paperwork must be dealt with accurately, quickly, and efficiently.
  21. Patience. Patience. Patience.
  22. You are a role model, ready or not.
  23. When you teach students to believe in themselves, you create lifelong learners.
  24. Don’t allow any student to be invisible. Draw them in. Build confidence and engagement.
  25. Establish routines for yourself and for your students. Everyone will benefit.
  26. Students need structure. They also need fun and creativity.
  27. Get them up and moving. Active students tend to misbehave less than those who are bored.
  28. Be prepared for class. This means having a solid Plan B.
  29. Spend more time telling your students what they do right than what they do wrong.
  30. When you make a mistake, admit it and move on. Teach your students this, too.
  31. Be unfailingly positive. After all, if you don’t believe in your students, who does?
  32. Students are far more concerned with the idea of “fairness” than you can imagine.
  33. Set goals for yourself and work with your students to set goals for them.
  34. Stay away from those negative colleagues. They will poison your day, your week, your career.
  35. Ask for help. We all need help at times. Speak up.
  36. Actively work to improve your skills and knowledge about teaching.
  37. Create your own PLN. Use social media to reach out.
  38. Volunteer for extra jobs at school with caution.
  39. Work hard to let your students know how special they are to you.
  40. The worst students deserve the best in you.
  41. No one comes to school determined to fail—despite evidence to the contrary.
  42. You will make a difference in the lives of your students…it takes time, however.
  43. Ask, “How can I help you with that?” and watch the magic happen.
  44. Say, “I know you’re better than that” when a student misbehaves.
  45. You will have some hard days as a teacher. Plan ahead how you will manage stress.
  46. You can’t ever predict how a lesson will go or what your students will do.
  47. Laughing with students is a great way to build a community in a hurry.
  48. Connections with students are vital if you want to have happy days at school.
  49. A well planned lesson is the best discipline plan you can have.
  50. Never, ever forget that you may be the only person who shows a student that you care.