Tips to Survive a Professional Evaluation

ELA HomeworkThis one is for my colleagues who are just starting out and maybe a little (or a lot) nervous about being evaluated. Don’t worry, you get used to it. Here are a few tips from my journey. Most teachers fall to pieces when it comes to their periodic evaluation. As a required part of this process, the principal usually comes in formally to observe a lesson. I have asked veteran teachers of more than 30 years if this makes them nervous and they have answered, “Yes, I go to pieces.” The reasons are pretty obvious but unless you’ve been observed for an evaluation you may not realize why it is one of the most nerve-wracking tests you face as a teacher. You could be an excellent teacher and still have a bad observation. It happens and you should do all you can to make sure it does not. There is also a good chance the evaluation will go well. As long as you plan little by little before the lesson and then “show them you came to play” (in a professional sports sense) in the actual lesson, you can be victorious and show your principal, as well as the district, that you have a purpose and a calling to do this that makes you worth your salt. Continue reading “Tips to Survive a Professional Evaluation”

Some Relaxation Methods

Teachers can get very stressed in their tasks and often feel as if their back is against the wall. As we attempt to mold the minds of the future, we must deal with other demands from our own evaluation by principals, parents, the community, and elsewhere. In the midst of all that, we are supposed to care. Depending on the teacher and the environment, this stress can be downright debilitating. I have good news though, you can do simple, quick relaxation techniques during lunch right at your desk to help tackle tension. Being responsible to keeping yourself relaxed and whole will translate in you being a better teacher and person. In being less stressed, you will have a more positive impact on the kids. In short:

You don’t have to put your hectic classroom on hold to chill out.

Here are a few methods of relaxation you can use in the day at your desk during lunch or even as you teach throughout the day:

Practice yoga “lite.” Moving your arms and body slowly and meditating on your space can have a calming effect before the kids come back.

Take off your shoes and do toe scrunches under your desk. This is great and the minimal aspect of it carries great relaxation rewards.

Fake a smile. Studies have shown that the positive effects of smiling occur whether it is fake or real. “Fake it til you make it” in terms of merriment may lead to real smiles and laughter. Continue reading “Some Relaxation Methods”

On Teaching Without Paper, or Less Anyway

copierUsing effective teaching methods often requires all your wit and candor every day. When the copy machine takes more than you have, it kind of wrecks you. Since I started teaching in 1997, I have had a love/hate relationship with copiers and printers. It can be so cool when you have a crisp, stapled presentation ready for 30 kids stacked flush on your desk ready to deliver. It’s even better when the print actually enhances the learning transaction and the standard is internalized as a result.

More often than that though paper is a hassle.

Eight times out of ten when I get my stuff to the copy room, there is a jammed sign on it. Other times it is out of paper in which case I have to use my valuable prep time getting cut on the box and opening reams to load in the machine. Even more frustrating are the times when there is a line of 3 or more of my colleagues all holding their holy grails of lessons in their arms waiting impatiently for the one in front to gather her/his business out of the way. Let me assure you, youll wish you were in hell if YOU are the one who jams the machine with those lines watching over your shoulder. I know there is a longing out there among teachers for more paperless teaching materials.

I’ve often avoided the copier issues by printing the stuff at my computer. We have Brother laser printers and they often work well. It’s never mattered how many trees I massacred as long as the ink was dark and flowed freely, which up to now it always has.

Alas, printers like people, get old I’m afraid. They need routine operations and recently, two in needed to be taken to a nearby cliff (if we had one in the desert) and put out of their misery. I’m speaking of one-half printing. Sound familiar? Lines streaking? Drum light flashing Morse code?

At one point a couple years back, I had all these wonderful road-blocks to getting my lessons taught. You know what I decided? I decided instead of cursing the printing darkness, to light a candle. I declared power over paper.

It would no longer control me! Time for green school ideas.

I set down a what-if scenario for every paper event I can fathom. I decided that the wool had been pulled over my eyes long enough . . . paper and teaching . . . I saw clearly for the first time: I JUST DON’T NEED IT! I am going to learn how to save paper and still be a highly effective teacher. A teaching career can exist with less paper. I believe in that.

Van Gogh said art is done within limitation, not without. I indeed have to get creative at times in order to keep my one-day-at-a-time commitment. My students already have a mother lode of printed material in their texts and their consumable books. I see no reason why I can’t continue this until I retire. My mission is to find alternatives to paper.

Using Acronyms to Be a More Effective Teacher

Teachers can increase the productivity of teaching degrees by following an acronym. I’ve used acronyms a lot in my career to become an effective teacher. My “MAP” strategy below is an example of one.

Teachers can increase the productivity of teaching degrees by following an acronym. I’ve used acronyms a lot in my career to become an effective teacher. My “MAP” strategy below is an example of one.

Monitor – The M in MAP stands for the time you analyze and place students.  This can be through standardized test scores or results of local assessments.  Once you see where you kids need to be and then learn they aren’t there, you can better move on to sections A, and P.  Monitor can cover a whole slough of things teachers do when analyzing data for better instruction.

Assemble – Now don’t get that confused with assessment.  This is not that at all.  This is the step where you gather the curriculum you have to address the needs you discovered in “monitoring.”  If you’ve been a teacher the last 10 years you will agree with me that teaching is changing to less of a “district hands down the holy grail to teach with” and more to a “go through the smorgasbord and take the stuff you need” kind of approach.  The “A” represents that time to assemble the tools you need to address the need. One may be beginning to see the teaching degree requirements aren’t everything teachers need?

Prepare – The reason I created this method was for P.  My copier went out again and I had to time to get what I needed for the next day.  Later I went to the copy machine and realized I had no idea what to copy for the next day!  I created the 3 items in this acronym to keep myself aware of my students’ needs, the materials I have, and to be prepared.  The “P” is the copying, the getting it all together.

Time passes quickly in ones career. I recall when the online teaching degree came on the scene. Now, it is as common as a traditional one. If you follow the M.A.P. strategy as a teacher (or another professional) you can be a trendsetter. Of course, you may come up with a better one. Please leave your ideas in the comments to help us all be better teachers.

Problem of the Day as Routine

teaching kidsI was so glad to hear that Common Core had less standards that the 1997 set in California. When you look at the pages of standards you have to teach in a year, it can produce anxiety. A reasonable response to that anxiety can be to schedule too much each day. It’s been said it’s better to aim at something and miss than to aim at nothing and hit your target. A problem of the day for math and language arts can seem miniscule but if done every day, you can get a lot done over a year. 185 standards covered in both ELA and math, that sounds good to me! I can feel anxiety lifting as I type it. If you go through them as a class, you have a different approach that isn’t possible all day long. Plus, the mind likes routines and chunks of information. All these things are the pros of doing a problem of the day. Continue reading “Problem of the Day as Routine”

Reflections on the Reflective Teacher

Taking time to reflect is beneficial to all human beings. My daughters seem to remind me it’s time to color or otherwise stop what I’m doing at the most inopportune times. I find, however, that those times yield some of my best ideas. Along those lines, it is crucial, in my opinion, to be a reflective teacher. Time off work, out of the classroom is an excellent time to practice being a reflective teacher. Like Winnie the Pooh says: “Did you ever stop to think and then forget to start again?” I think he meant because it can be so wonderful to “stop” that you neglect starting as you were. We need to stop as human beings, especially by our teacher definition. We are entrusted with children and teaching them academics. This is of course one of the highest callings of a society.

Quotes and stories can be excellent sources of teaching inspiration. I like to remind myself of the story of 2 lumberjacks trying to chop more wood in a competition. The first was a busybody with a great work ethic. He chopped until it hurt and then kept right on going limping to his bunk at night. The second was seen taking regular breaks and meditating. At the end of the competition, oddly enough the resting lumberjack had cut down far more trees. When number one asked him how he achieved such an accomplishment he replied: “I stopped regularly to sharpen my axe.”

If we don’t stop we can become fatigued and worse … burned out. Here are some ways I try to be a reflective teacher. Let’s define that here as a teacher who is willing to “stop:”

  • Meditate. While you should have a daily time to stop and meditate to stay healthy, set aside a short time to meditate on your class. Picture it empty, then any way you imagine it. Try this a few times and see the sort of ideas manifest themselves.
  • Make a list. Motivation theory shows that with pen and paper, it helps to start writing ideas down. You might start with the prompt of: “What could be better in my classroom?” Make up other questions and remember the reflective teacher is truly “stopped,” unstressed by the demands of every day work things. Only when you get outside of the routine can you see things differently and fix them.
  • Examine your daily schedule. Look for the times where the day goes smoothly. Can you think of a way to make the who day go more like that? Try the vice versa as well: Where are the long parts of the day that drag on. Chances are, they do the same for your students. Can you help that in any way?
  • Acknowledge the importance of stopping and being a reflective teacher.

In the past few years, I have come to know the healing powers of meditation and relaxation in my personal life. The same practice brings better lessons and better classroom management. Americans as a whole are so caught up with working and doing. I hope you agree that “stopping” and meditating as a reflective teacher will make you more effective.

Ideas for Better Teaching 2011-2012

This is my 13th year teaching public school. Like most things that matter it has taken time to achieve what feels like some level of mastery. This past year I found it helpful to keep a small section of my whiteboard for writing down ideas and solutions.This is important because many times I forget about “light bulb” solutions that take things like a trip to Staples or laminating to make happen. Here are some teaching strategies and tools I plan to use in the 2011-2012 school year.

  • Teach higher volume in answering voice – Teaches all and reduces class boredom.
  • Fruit: Our school gives each class a basket of fruit every day that is provided by a private grant. My rule: must eat all 10 minutes prior to recess or no recess.
  • Random Non Volunteer Cards. Begin use on day 1. #’s work better than name cards.
  • #’s on desk a priority that requires maintenance make a dedicated spot where you can maintain the numbers when kids pick them off etc. Make replacing damage they do an easy task I am prepared for.
  • Plastic “glass” overlay for desk to show observation papers etc. Helps with focus and anxiety over the unknown.
  • Homework is Focus Reading Comp etc. packets. Also Scott Foresman Math. CFU first thing in am with questions. They must be ready to answer my question of “why.”
  • Have a central location to file report cards etc. Organization takes effort but saves mental and physical energy in the long haul.
  • Desks rows and “away” areas for troubled students. Protect the rest.
  • Pick days to stay after school and do copies. This will avoid traffic jams there and hence discouragement. Take the let downs away before they happen.

These are just a few things I plan to implement to make my year better. Have you taken the time to reflect upon your year last year? What worked and what didn’t?

Classroom Expectations – Take Your Time, do it Right

Most teachers I talk to agree the beginning of the year is the time to establish authority, rules, and expectations. What they don’t all agree on is how to do it.

Classroom management and expectations are a teacher’s best friend or worst enemy. 

It depends on how well a teacher conveys them to the kids. Research I’ve read shows that the beginning of the year is the best time to declare your classroom rules and expectations.  If you fail to get the point across at that time, you have exponentially less control in the classroom until year’s end. You might say it is the most crucial learning objective you’ll have.  Most teachers I talk to agree the beginning of the year is the time to establish authority, rules, and expectations.  What they don’t all agree on however is how to do it

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I knew one teacher who believed in passing out a handout with the rules and not going over them.  I knew another who would would take the entire first week of the school year modeling, explaining, and getting the kids to act out every scenario imaginable.  He actually used puppets and the kids would “ad-lib” scenarios with him such as: “Hey, imagine the puppet is a kid outside and he says: ‘Your momma is ugly.'” The kids would horse around and make the puppets fight.  Then, that teacher would take the teaching opportunity to talk about how silly it is to fight over words. What he’s really doing is setting the stage for child discipline. I feel the second teacher had a much better approach. Believe it or not, puppets are excellent classroom management tools.

I don’t focus solely on behavior management the whole first week, but I use most of it to set the curriculum aside and teach rules and expectations.  I had kids the first week holding up crossed fingers and I had no idea why.  I found out their teacher last year used that as a signal to go to the restroom.  This is an example of why teachers should take time establishing new “grooves” of activity in the classroom.  There is something called the “affective filter” that hinders kids from feeling comfortable learning and taking risks in the classroom.  When the rules are unclear, an anxiety permeates the room.  This anxiety can keep kids from learning to their potential and cause all sorts of mayhem.

I don’t recommend an entire week of nothing but rules and expectations but I think at least half a week with time for followup is a must. You can look into the classroom management books on this one.

Last week I noticed on Thursday that my kids were still not quite sure how I check for understanding.  My method is different from many teachers as you may know if you’ve read my pieces on that.  To summarize it, I say the question, wait, and then call on a random non-volunteer.  This breaks with the traditional method of checking for understanding by forward questioning. I decided I would review and practice it until the kids were “awake” and answering when their number was called.  They eventually did get it and we are ready to start the year strong. When things like this work, I share them here as teacher tips.

Have you thought about your style of class management? Is there a way you could convey it more clearly at the beginning of the year?

Value Criticism as Much as Praise

tumblr_nhul7x1xor1u06rnxo1_500Teaching is a job that requites intrinsic motivation. Like an artist will get many varied criticisms of her/his work, so it goes with a teacher. So how do you keep it all together and improve? I say you need to keep an open mind, have a thick skin, and learn to separate the helpful from the useless remarks and criticisms that come your way. Those who offer valid criticism should be appreciated. They point our your weakness so you can fix them. Keeping a humble attitude will take you far, especially when you start with one. As you teach and learn and grow, people will be drawn to your humble attitude like moths to a light bulb. It’s very rare to find in fact. It makes you more approachable. Continue reading “Value Criticism as Much as Praise”

Think Outside the Box with Kids

One thing I have learned in years of teaching is that kids remember better when you teach non-traditionally.  There is a lot of value in traditional frameworks but it is when you step outside that you really imprint to memory.  I remember when I was in college I had a college algebra professor who would pick a chair up and smack through the seat to show how important the correct equation was to building a chair.  If you got the equation wrong, the seat would fall through.  i will always remember that as the importance of math.  Kids of all ages are the same way.  use props, act things out, give visuals.  These quirky things outside the box are what make kids remember abstract concepts in concrete ways.