Sunday, August 13, 2017

Making Workdays Work For You

I truly love back to school. What I truly DO NOT love is walking back into this...
I've yet to figure it out: I can pack up this room in 1.5 days flat knowing summer vacation awaits, but it'll take me at least three times that long to set it back up.  (Even though I've been in the same classroom for a decade now...) What gives?

For all our complaining about kids with focus issues, let's face it: we teachers are the worst to have focus issues.  First things first: we've got all our teacher friends to catch up with after a [not quite] long [enough] summer break.  Plus, we bought loads of stuff over the summer [at the Dollar Spot] we've got to incorporate into the classroom decor.  And let's not forget we've got a meeting of some sort to attend every other hour. [Seriously- if I work with you, don't let me forget. Speaking of which, where's that new planner I bought this summer?  And the cute pens? Let me run out to my car and see if it's in those bags in the back...]

...this is my [large] bin of items I've purchased for school this summer

It's always amazing to me how quickly a teacher workday passes compared to a day with the students. Coffee, chat, work, meeting, chat, work, lunch, chat, work...the next thing you know you're pulling "overtime" on your first day back. [Do teachers call it overtime? Or just regular life?]

Every year, I say I'm going to do better.  So this year, I'm putting it in writing, both for myself and maybe for some of you if you're interested.  Here are some tips for making these short-lived workdays work for you in a way that will hopefully have lasting effects.

1.  Prioritize. 

Make your first tasks the ones that must be done in your classroom (furniture arrangement, bulletin boards, library organization, etc.).  Save small things, like writing name tags, to do at home in front of the TV so you don't have to stay there all night.

Start with the things that have to be done by Open House. As tempting as it is to reorganize the inside of a binder for a unit you're going to teach second quarter, don't do it! [That's a message to my later-this-week self.]

2. Socialize sparingly.

Don't get me wrong; I enjoy gabbing with my teacher besties as much as the next person. But oh how quickly time gets away! If you do want to chat, try to bring something into their classroom you can work on while you talk and remind them to do something while you talk. Then switch classrooms after a while so you can do a bulletin board while they do paperwork.

I still remember some solid advice from Erin Cobb from Lovin' Lit at the TPT conference two years go.  She said if someone is in your classroom talking and you just can't shake them, make up an errand. Say, "I'm going to the office, want to walk with me?" or pretend you have to use the bathroom. It's not personal; sometimes it's just necessary to get the job(s) done!

3. Set short-term goals.

I'm talking hourly here.  We all love a checklist, but by the end of the day, how much of it really gets checked off?  Count the items on your daily checklist at the beginning of the day. Then divide it up by how many hours you have in your classroom.  Then you'll have in your head, realistically, how long you have to spend on each task.  Otherwise, you'll still be reorganizing that first cabinet at noon when your teacher bestie yells, "When's lunch already?"

4.  Enlist help.

Especially if you have a couple of non-official teacher workdays to spend in your classroom, ask for help! I know we like to do it all on our own because we're perfectionists [control freaks] but I'm always amazed at how much non-teachers enjoy seeing the inner workings of a classroom given the chance. [This is not necessarily true of your husband, but he IS still required to come help you move the furniture.]

Ask a college student who hasn't started back yet or a retired friend to come help you for a few hours.   Before they come, make a list of things they can do without your help and while they're there, focus on things they can't do.  In other words, don't label folders or hang border if someone else in your life is willing!  It took me too long to learn this lesson, but it's a lifesaver.

5.  Give yourself a break.

Don't walk around and compare your progress to the teacher down the hall. Don't see something they did that you wish you had done and spend an extended lunch break running to Target to get the supplies to [almost] copy them. Don't feel like every corner of the room has to be perfect by Open House. It's okay to have a blank [but neatly covered] bulletin board and there comes a time when you have to shove the stuff you haven't organized in a closet and forget about it for a while. It's okay.

There are many aspects of the teaching profession that make it unique, and the magic act we perform on our classrooms in a week's time each August is one of the highlights.  This social media driven world we live in adds extra [but unnecessary] pressure.  However, the students who walk into your newly transformed classroom in the coming days are going to be much more interested in the smile on your face than the decorations on the wall.  I keep smiling!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Five Reasons to Teach The Lemonade War

Click here to enter my latest giveaway!  Contest ends TONIGHT (8/1) at midnight!  

I know the The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies has become very popular over the last few years (maybe even too popular because it's hard to find kids in fourth or fifth grade who haven't already read it).  However, it's for good reason and that's why I chose it as my Summer Giveaway book.  Whether you win the giveaway, already have a class set, or have never heard of the book, I wanted to share a few reasons why this novel really is worth your time if you teach grades 3-5.

1.  The Lemonade War has direct correlations to standards in economics and personal finance.  Each chapter begins with an explicit definition of a word related to these social studies areas.  Then, the chapter illustrates that term with a kid-friendly situation in the plot of the story.  It really brings economics to life!

2.  The author changes perspective each chapter.  Point-of-view and perspective is an important standard in the upper elementary grades.  Reading a book that stays in first person limited but switches back and forth between the two main characters is a great opportunity to reinforce these skills.

3.  Davies' figurative language game is strong!  This book is chocked full of similes, metaphors, and idioms and even throws in an adage or two.  Some of my favorites (featured in my Comprehension Packet) include, "It was like having a chestful of bats, beating their wings, fighting to get out." (p. 4) and "Evan was a straight shooter." (p. 17)  And, of course, who could argue with Evan and Jessie's grandmother's voice in their heads warning, "Pride goeth before a fall?" (p. 96)  So many teachable moments!

4.  You can also easily integrate math into reading this novel, and my Comprehension Packet does just that.  From calculating how many cups of lemonade the characters can make to how much money they earned on any particular day, there are math problems scattered all through the book.  I often catch my students checking behind the math or arguing about the way the characters solved a problem.

5.  Last, but not least, who doesn't love a book or lesson that calls for a food and/or drink treat?  Once you finish the book, you must enjoy lemonade together.  That's a non-negotiable.  Even if you're like me and just buy the cans so you don't have to squeeze it or mix it X 24ish. That smile says it all!