5 Reminders for a Better Teaching Year

16543582619_9514979bea_kSharing positives pays great dividends

I think time has shown me that I get tired of doing this each day in my class. At the same time there is an effect of family and brotherly sisterly feelings when I do it long term. This is something to start and not stop doing in 2015-2016.

Morning Routines

Going into the year, morning routines need to be established and followed. This is definitely part of classroom behavior.

Model the correct behavior

I think it’s really important to not escalate kids’ anger. Challenging a student is not a productive strategy. When they have done something wrong, simply remind them of the rule and if they show anger, remind them you are on their side and you will revisit it. Sometimes modeling the right behavior is best. Give them an activity safe to do while they calm down. Later on, in private clarify how they made a wrong choice and discuss better ways of handling it.

Bell to Bell teaching and working

My teaching contract says 9-3:30p To avoid being ridiculed or otherwise criticized by admin or rude and nosy colleagues, the most important part of 2015-2016 is not so much the goals but planning them within the contractual boundaries. These oddball people who are always complaining about the hours and hours they put in off contract time may gain the admin favor but they do not have a sustainable model and are likely to be way more stressed on the inside. I feel the same way about those who spend thousands on their class every year. That’s just unwise, uncalled for, and borderline neurotic. Be great when the contract allots you to do it. The other time is yours.

Do Not Let Supervisors or Colleagues Sap Your Energy or Vision … I Repeat:

Students can make it tough to be a teacher. They can also make it totally worthwhile. Colleagues are the same way. In my experience however, many cannot be trusted. Do not … I repeat DO NOT ever allow colleagues to sap your energy or vision. Make sure your focus is never on them. Your class, your kids is the range or vision you must stick to. Do not deviate into paying attention to colleagues or bosses or you’ll be doomed in this line of work. Your classroom and your students, away from the hue and cry of colleagues and admin, are your only chance to real success as a teacher.

Tech Tool for Organization: “Remember the Milk”

Every day I have tasks to do, I use an online tool to manage them. It’s called “Remember the Milk.” I’ve been using it for well over ten years and it has saved me many times in terms of task management and memory jogging. I recommend it for anyone who wants to be organized through tech but especially teachers because I am one and it helps me. Here’s how it works! You enter a task and a due date along with some optional fields like tags and lists.

You designate when you will be reminded of the task due date. It will remind you any number of ways: email, desktop notification, iphone or Android smartphone app, sms message, and more. You can mark things complete or postpone them with one click. It’s really an ingenious system. You can also enter your tasks many ways.

So far, you can’t use telepathy to input tasks but I anticipate that update soon.

My most commonly used method for inputting tasks is through email. Remember the Milk assigns you a special email address that you can send tasks to and they magically appear in all your RTM places. Taking the time to use a tool like this has proven hugely beneficial. I love Remember the Milk, check it out, it’s free.

Most reading this are teachers it would stand to reason. I have found this free service makes your teaching time management much easier. Google Calendar aside, I have not found a tech tool online as helpful as Remember the Milk. In fact I couldn’t live without these two things it does.

By working from my task list, I am completely satisfied when I have marked my tasks completed. There are many ways to color order tasks and when you have a lot accumulated like I do, it sometimes helps to prioritize. The colors and tag system helps with that. Once you make an account you simply log on and start to enter tasks. This is amazing when you start but I learned more, I began to discover the many ways to remotely and “on-the-fly” ways to enter tasks. These are the “Integration” functions. I can enter tasks on my iphone app, I can email them directly to my task list.

In conclusion, I hope this introduction to a tech service convinces you to try something new. Tech is our friend yet we hesitate sometimes as teachers to try something new, we’re afraid it will sap more time. The truth is, if you are into tech it’s a quick learning curve. Try it out and tell me what you think.

Never Mind the Trivialities, Just Reward!

Sometimes I get caught up in the minutae of how I am going to roll out a new classroom student recognition idea. There’s a great program out called Class Dojo and it works really well if you have a plan and you’ve practiced a lot with it. Otherwise, it’s sort of like heading out on vacation in a Ford up on blocks … you don’t go anywhere. How do you get that experience to make it work? I say, jump in and try it. Kids thrive on recognition. For lack of a better analogy, it’s like a pat on the head for them. If you wait until your system is perfect and you’ve spent $1,000’s of dollars on prizes at Oriental Trading Company, you’re going to miss countless opportunities to validate the kids through rewards.

Continue reading “Never Mind the Trivialities, Just Reward!”

What You Should do in the Morning

imageEvery class is different in the morning, even when the daily schedule is the same. While teachers and classes may vary, the needs of schoolchildren are the same. Over time I have found that in the morning you should:

Take attendance. If you don’t the secretary gets annoyed. Plus, it’s how we get paid.

Greet as many kids as you can with a kind smile that says, “I’m glad you are here and that I have a chance to be your teacher. If you miss a few kids, make sure they at least hear you greet a student. This lowers their affective filter and tells them you’re not in a bad mood.

Preview the day. Most teachers do this on the board but I’ve found a pep talk about the day gets the kids more dialed in. Continue reading “What You Should do in the Morning”

The Role of Admin and That of Teachers

Left to Right: Secretary of Education, California Jack OConnell, Me, Superintendent of San Bernardino County Herb Fischer.  2007

Everyone tends to go to pieces when the “suits” aka administration walks in ones classroom. You could be sitting, which can be fine as long as you’re teaching. The most ideal by their standards is that you’re standing, burning calories teacing the future of America. Never mind they may have been sitting all day at their desks processing complaints and categorizing taxpayer funds. You’re expected to be the professional, doing whatever you need to be doing to get every child to the expectation they set. Remember however that you have an intrinsic calling to what you do. You don’t need a suit to be important. You use all the materials at your disposal to help kids gain equal access to the core curriculum. You are the true professional and hero in my eyes.

Most districts have more teachers than mine but mine has about 300. The people who run the district office number at about 6-8. Of course, beyond them there are clerical workers and such but the higher administration number is about that small. They spend the money that taxpayers earn. They decide how much teachers can make and how much can be spent on the curriculum that they choose. Currently, all curriculum we are mandated to use is Common Core. Continue reading “The Role of Admin and That of Teachers”

Intrinsic and External Motivation

Having been a teacher since 1997, I’ve analyzed myself and other teachers quite a bit. One thing I have come to identify is when I am working and planning from internal motivation as opposed to external. Internal motivation has to do with ideals and morals. It is the extra plan you make for Johnny who is in fourth grade and still can barely read (hypothetical name and situation). It is the goals you set for yourself as a teacher and the expectations you set for your kids based on what you think is their best interest.

The external motivation is your evaluator. It is the way you will be perceived. It means putting up a wall that is required as opposed to using creativity to make it your own. I admit we cannot escape external demands on our profession. We must adhere, to a degree, to the required parameters we are mandated to. At the same time, I think it is abhorrent that some teachers identify this as the bare minimum and they only go as far is the external motivators require. There must be a balance.

Someone I knew at the district where I work died today. He was quite young and had a lot going for him professionally. Though he wasn’t in the classroom, he was revolutionizing the profession with technology and training hordes of teachers to use his website. His death was sudden and unexpected. It touched me because I respected his internal motivation. It was clear he wanted to help teachers and students succeed and accomplish great things in math. I remember him that way.

This has me thinking once again about my own motivation. If I want to be remembered for something I ought to be doing it. That is where the internal motivation comes in. Am I being true to my conscience as I plan and teach kids? Or, rather am I getting by on the bare minimum of mandates. Also, health needs to be a concern. It’s not always the I feel the best idea to work harder, sometimes you need to stop chopping and sharpen your axe. teachers are ones who can exceed mandates while being true to their own morals and values as educators. If this post does anything for you I would hope it caused you to ask yourself what your own mandates are. I call that internal motivation.

Some Things About Teaching That Will Never Change

IMGP2724Common Core is the latest change that has teachers and families scurrying to absorb. Yes, it is the law of the law these days, the trend as well. Still, why get bent out of shape over something that is new and eventually, passing. The core standards of California are gone now, as an example. I internalized them along with teachers in the huge state I live in. We made progress toward goals and then they took the goals away. Any time there is change it causes stress. Technology is another thing that is causing millions of teachers to stress. This can, in turn, reduce the effectiveness of a teacher. Do you want to do that to your students? The reality is, rather than focus on the changing landscape of education, you can keep your feet securely planted. There are some things about teaching that will never change. Continue reading “Some Things About Teaching That Will Never Change”

Less is More Lesson Planning

If your district is like mine, you’ve been mandated to teach with a whole new curriculum this year. Lots of people are overwhelmed by this due to Common Core revamping. Everyone wants to see teachers using technology and asking higher level questions rather than the explicit A) B) C) D) choices we’ve taught to all these years. lessI applaud the Common Core and have been teaching these standards now so I know what they are. There is no trouble there. On the other hand, all the new curriculum is almost too much to process. I needed a way to break it down into bite size chunks. Out swimming today I got an inspiring vision of how I might do just that and be more productive in my teaching week. Continue reading “Less is More Lesson Planning”

No Easy Way to Learn Multiplication Facts

One might argue that nothing is easy to learn. The very essence of the word learn means you don’t have knowledge that you must acquire new knowledge and acquiring it comes by a lot of work. Still, there are an abundance of videos on Youtube that claim they are an “easy way” to learn your times tables. I’ve looked at a lot of them and none of them live up to that claim. Some of my fourth graders are dragging their feet about learning their times tables and I’m finding they fail because they expect it to be easy when it isn’t. I remember when I was in 3rd grade, my mom sat me down on the couch and began drilling me with flash cards. I was missing a lot back then and she would put the ones I missed in a pile separate from the rest. The ones I consistently knew she put away next to her. That was the “no duh” pile. I would work on the harder ones until I had them. I specifically recall she wouldn’t let me off the couch to play or do anything until I could answer them all correctly. I remember that particular night I was able to go through the whole pile correctly. More or less I’ve had them memorized ever since (from age 9 to 45). Kids today seem to not understand that a little bit of discomfort can shield you from discomfort the rest of your life. I think one of the problems with society these days is that the students of America think learning should be easy. Continue reading “No Easy Way to Learn Multiplication Facts”

Is Homework Always Helpful?

Sometimes when I was making homework packets, I was almost asleep it was such a part of my muscle memory routine as a teacher. About 5 years into it, I began to really challenge the idea of homework. Was it doing any good? Was it doing any harm?

homework.I have asked myself the question, “Is homework helpful?” many times since I started teaching in 1997. I have stood at the copy machine and reloaded reams of paper time and time again. Sometimes when I was making homework packets, I was almost asleep it was such a part of my muscle memory routine as a teacher. About 5 years into it, I began to really challenge the idea of homework. Was it doing any good? Was it doing any harm?

Homework is perceived by most parents as a worksheet or packet their child is to do in a straight-backed chair at the kitchen table. Rarely in low socio-economic settings is there home tutoring. Parents are usually disengaged from this event and rarely assist their children when they do it. My son’s homework has usually been “disconnected” from the lessons he had that day. Math is usually most closely aligned but even still he always has questions when he does his homework. He is lucky I am a teacher and even more that I am a caring, involved parent with time to help.

I hate to say it but most kids I teach aren’t guaranteed homework help. Moreover, teachers sometimes give homework in haste to appease parents. They don’t always select it as material they’ve already taught. What is the result? Kids work in homework packets and on worksheets they often do not understand and make mistakes over and over that never get corrected. With the demands of instructional minutes, well-meaning teachers often don’t get to correct the homework and kids never see what they did wrong, or right. There is an option of online tutoring but in families where paying the gas bill is a luxury, it’s not very realistic.

I assign 30 minutes silent reading as homework. This is help with spelling and reading comprehension. I also applaud and assign practicing times tables on index cards. I recognize that many parents will “demand” homework from the teacher because it has been a traditionally automatic thing expected of teachers. To some extent I share with parents my feeling on homework but if they still have a problem with a “no homework” policy, or a “low homework” policy as I have, I will have a sheet or two for their child that is material they already know how to do. If tutoring is available, then homework becomes much more helpful.

New material should never be given as homework for reasons I have already stated. The buzz word in education in the 60’s and 70’s was “practice makes perfect.” This is true in a certain light. We should also consider the student who does homework or any work incorrectly over and over. In that case, the phrase should not be “practice makes perfect” because incorrect is the converse of perfect. In that case the phrase should be adjusted to say: “Practice makes Permanent.” As we explore this concept in a new generation, I invite your comments on homework and homework tutoring.