When the Teacher Becomes the Student

#A2TPDClick the STAR to like this post! Comment below with your favorite professional development topics or strategies.

October 23, 2021

If you’re like me, October is when you finally start settling into your classroom routines and things level out. It’s also when things like Professional Development and Professional Learning Communities start coming up as topics of conversations and in meetings.

For many, the first thought is usually a deep sigh. Something else added to our plate. Something else to do. More documentation. I was just getting the hang of last year’s new stuff and it’s working, why change that?

But I want to challenge you to change your perspective. We need to set an example of what lifelong learning looks like for our students. If we dread learning, they will learn to dread learning. But if we learn to embrace this as an opportunity to improve, well, that changes everything. And since our students, and the world we live in, are different every year, learning to embrace that as a starting point will help you be the kind of teacher you want to be.

Some schools and districts will specify what they want they want the focus to be. A few will allow you to choose your own topics to explore. If your school or district doesn’t, but you have an idea, present it to them, you may be surprised to find they will support you!

Start by looking at your routines, habits and techniques. What’s an area that you dread or takes way too long every time you do it? That may be where you need to focus. What has changed in your subject area? Explore the new discoveries! There’s always new technology coming out, give it a try! One requirement we have to be rated highly effective is finding new things, so this is a great opportunity.

Don’t discount the idea of working with others! We’ve all heard the expression many hands make light work and learning can be no different. Learning new things when you are busy can be daunting, so having others to share the load with, bounce ideas off of, practice with and vent to can be greatly beneficial. For the same reason we have students work in groups, we can benefit from those varied perspectives, too.

Be sure to get word out about what you are researching. There may be others with experience and resources to save you time or they maybe interested in joining the team. either way, it helps you broaden your perspective as you gain new insight.

Keep notes on what your thoughts and ideas are an make yourself a big sign or post it you will see to remind you of your focus and your why. When going down the rabbit hole of research, it is easily to get derailed and go off in the wrong direction, losing valuable time.

Gather data. Ugh, the D word. But it’s beneficial to see if what you are learning and doing is working. Remember, not all data is Quantitative and numbers based, Qualitative data can be helpful and gathered by observation, feedback, surveys, interviews, etc. Just be sure to have some method of measuring. If it can’t be measured, adapt your focus so it can be.

Vary your resources that you draw from. Websites, scholarly articles, book studies, YouTube videos, and personal interviews are all helpful, and the more mediums you bring in, the more well rounded your research can be.

Make sure you have an objective to apply your learning. Every teacher has a formal observation in the second half of the year, so make your objective something you can practice and then apply for that observation. Remember, it doesn’t have to work or get the results you want, so don’t worry about failing. Sometimes, how you handle speedbumps and dead ends in an observation can help your evaluation so much more than a perfectly executed lesson for your supervisor.

I want to take a minute to namelessly praise all the amazing educators, mentors and leaders I have worked with over the years that have helped me grow as an educator. The conversations and feedback I have gained from our conversations and projects have stayed with me. And to all the students I have taught over the years, thanks for being my guinea pigs and going along with some of my crazy lesson ideas, and for your authentic feedback on whether or not that lesson should stay in my repertoire or get trashed.

Be sure to click the STAR to like this post and comment below with your favorite professional development topics or strategies. Also, be sure to share this blog with other teachers using the hashtag above, and subscribe so future blogs come straight to your inbox! I blog about teaching, but also food, family, travel and other inspirations! You can also find me on Twitter (@addictedtoteac1), Facebook (Addicted2Teaching) or even on YouTube to check out some videos before I just focused on blogging (Sonya Barnes – Addicted to Teaching) and join the conversation, get more ideas, share your story or just interact with me.

Coping During a Pandemic: 8 Strategies for Educators

#A2TStudentNeedsClick the STAR to like this post! Comment below with how you are going that extra mile to help your student’s cope this year.

October 7, 2021

I saw an infographic on social media a few weeks ago that hit me with a startling realization-this is the 3rd school year we have been in this pandemic. Translation–its been 3 school years since these students had a normal year. My 5th grader’s last normal year was 2nd grade. The 6th graders I mostly work with haven’t had a normal year since 3rd grade. It made me realize, my normal expectations and handlings of typical issues with class have to be handled differently.

Not only are they coping, but so are we. We have our own life challenges we are dealing with, then we are the sounding board for friends, coworkers, parents and students. If you are like me, you have occasionally wondered where the skills you are teaching rank in the grand scheme of things–and are working to adapt them to fit in to today’s world and needs and to make up for those inevitable learning gaps that have resulted from these last 3 years.

Here are 8 Strategies to help you, your students and their families cope while we work through this year.

HAVE A WEBSITE FOR RESOURCES Empowering students and parents can result in fewer calls. Resources like Schoology and class dojo have places to post videos, documents, and resources that they can access for learning, reviewing, self-guided tutoring, and even submitting their work. It can also be helpful when students make mistakes and need to relearn or get guidance. It may take some time to set up, but once in place, a weekly upload is all it will take. Taking the time to make a step by step video for how to complete a lesson that you can post will also save time and be very helpful for your visual learners or those that need to see it modeled more than once. You can do this with Zoom, Teams, or your cell phone, then just upload it to a free YouTube channel you create. I post mine as unlisted so they have to go to my website to find it, not just my Teacher YouTube channel.

OPEN OFFICE VIA ZOOM FOR TUTORING Everyone needs help at some point, but can’t always stay after school, especially if quarantined or ill. Having a set day and time each week after school can help with peace of mind and balancing your own schedule. I set 30 minutes aside each week and invite parents and students to just drop in for help, questions, or anything else needed.

USE AN APPOINTMENT SCHEDULER Since your open tutoring time may not fit for everyone, capitalize on the free appointment schedulers available, such as calendly.com or setmore.com to allow them to schedule on their own. You can block off holidays and days off, set up work hours, and even categorize the appointment type so you know what they will need. Then just choose what times and days you will have availability and you can help them. I have this link on my website and it’s included in every email I send, but some still text or call. If I am in the middle of another task, I simply tell them my next available time, ask if they want me to reserve for them, and then I schedule it and reach out at that time. They can get help, I can maintain focus on the task I am doing

GOOGLE VOICE FOR CALLS AND TEXTS Yes, they can contact the school, but it is just easier to reach you if they need you. But you still need to keep your personal number personal, so Google Voice is a free option to set up a number and use it for calls and texts. It has an app you can download to your phone, or just use the website on your work computer. The best part is the Do Not Disturb hours and days you can set up so they won’t come through during that time. You can also add names and labels to these so you will know who is reaching out to you when you do check messages.

SEND WEEKLY GROUP EMAILS I like to send an email every Friday to my parents and students reminding them of what should be turned in by now, a preview of next week, any upcoming important dates, as well as links to reviews, resources, and my appointment scheduler. I also remind them I will be unavailable on the weekend and I will get back to any replies they send on the next school day.

SEND BIWEEKLY PROGRESS REPORTS This may sound overwhelming, but an informed parent is a supportive parent. Since most school gradebooks are digital and have an option to copy and paste or download to a spreadsheet, you can actually do this quite quickly. Get an email from every parent at the beginning of the year, if your school doesn’t do this already. Have it in the spreadsheet or a comment section on your gradebook and include it in a column of your spreadsheet. Then, open your Office Word program, create a short but sweet blanket letter, then go to the Mailings tab and choose Start Mail Merge and use the mail merge wizard to walk you through step by step in setting up fields, choosing the source and creating emails via your Outlook email (if you don’t already use Outlook, but have Microsoft, it is very easy to set this up no matter which email you use). If you are not a techy person, there are several YouTube videos available to help with both of these set ups. Once your mail merge letter is created, just save it and you can open it and reuse it. If you have a lot of students, create this as a weekly task and just split your students into 2 groups to make it easier to field responses.

HAVE GRACE This should apply to you as well as your students and their families. Allow extensions and redos, but within limits. Maybe 2 weeks extra time and 2 additional attempts to correct. This puts the focus on learning and not just completing, and keeps you from having to worry about who is allowed what if it is a blanket policy. If you are having a difficult day, modify what needs done and do what absolutely needs completed. Repeat after me: there are no emergencies in education.

HAVE BOUNDARIES If you don’t set boundaries, you will work too hard and not have time to replenish yourself. Set work hours each day, set work days and take weekends off. Say no to additional requests. Don’t drop everything to do something now, schedule it in your next open appointment time. Eat lunch. Use the restroom. Talk to friends. Go for a walk. Those papers to grade, lesson plans to submit and emails to answer will keep until your regular work day. If you can’t fit it all in, then schedule time with a mentor or administrator to talk about your tasks and time and see how they can help guide you-sometimes that fresh outside perspective can help us see things we missed.

Remember to take care of yourself so you can take care of others. Going in all directions all the time is not sustainable. Creating these tools can empower your parents and students, making your life more manageable and theirs, as well. You’ve got this!

Be sure to click the STAR to like this post and comment below with how you are going that extra mile to help your student’s cope this year.. Also, be sure to share this blog with other teachers, and subscribe so future blogs come straight to your inbox! I blog about teaching, but also food, family, travel and other inspirations! You can also find me on Twitter (@addictedtoteac1), Facebook (Addicted2Teaching) or even on YouTube to check out some videos before I just focused on blogging (Sonya Barnes – Addicted to Teaching) and join the conversation, get more ideas, share your story or just interact with me.

Using Your Inbox as a Task List

#A2TInboxClick the STAR to like this post! Comment below and tell me if you are an email collector or prefer to keep your inbox cleared out.

September 30, 2021

I don’t know about you, but I get a ton of emails, both at work and at home. And for work, I have 2 different email systems I use for communicating with coworkers, the organization, parents, schools I work with, and students. At home, I am juggling emails for my kids, our extracurriculars and commitments, family and friends, bills, travel and entertainment. They can really add up. If you are interested on when to find time to work that in, check out a prior blog post about setting a weekly date with yourself HERE. But that isn’t the focus of this post. I want to share how you can use it as a task list.

Let those inboxes work to your advantage and be used to guide your progress each week.

SEPARATE EMAIL FOR WORK AND PERSONAL It may seem like a good idea to have one account, but it can get overwhelming, especially if you run your own business. A best practice is to have one for personal and one for work to focus on during those times. If you have more than one job or run a business or side gigs, like so many do these days, consolidate! This will also allow you to have a professional address to give out for interviews, work connections, etc. But make sure your personal one isn’t too tacky either, especially if you have kids. It’s awkward to email a parent about their child and send it to juicybooty@randomemailaddress.com.

FLAGS, REMINDERS AND CALENDARS These tools are already built into most email domains, or you can set it up to go through Microsoft Outlook on your computer, regardless of what domain you are using. Flags can allow you to mark something important that you will need to do, but may not be able to tackle now due to time or needing information. Reminders are great for things that have deadlines to meet and can even set up alerts. For appointments, tasks and meetings with times designated, dragging these items to your calendar will let you block time off to complete it. I have even done this with emails that are about projects so that I have all the details right there in the email and time set aside to complete it. (I do still keep it flagged and in my inbox until complete)

CREATE FILE FOLDERS WITHIN THE INBOX Some emails we don’t want to delete, even when we finish them. Creating a file folder within your inbox gives you a place to save it and find it later. I get all my receipts sent electronically and file them away for that year. I have one for school and each of our extracurricular activities, and entertainment files. I do not want to lose that recipe, but it doesn’t need to stay in my inbox. Do set up a time the first week of the year (or quarter) to go through each folder and clear it out, and be sure to clear deleted items and sent items on a monthly basis to save on storage.

UNSUBSCRIBE OR BLOCK JUNK We all end up on mailing lists from time to time, but we don’t have to stay on them. If it isn’t useful, look for that unsubscribe link in the message or login to it and manage your preferences. If that isn’t an option or it doesn’t cut them out, you can block the email address or domain from sending you anything at all. Then just delete the message. Don’t give up valuable mental space or digital storage to things you don’t need.

EMAIL YOURSELF It never fails, I have a flash of a brilliant idea for a lesson on the weekend or I think of a chore or call I need to make while at work but can’t do then. Other times I will have a conversation and commit to doing something and don’t want to forget. I just send myself an email! This allows me to keep it in my inbox until I have a chance to complete the task, then I can delete it and move on. When committing to something after an important conversation, this can also act as a summary follow up to send to you and the other person to make sure you have the details right. I also CC myself on important emails so I get a copy to file away for future reference.

I’ve been doing this since I started using email, but until my supervisor shared it in a weekly update last week, I never thought about sharing the idea with others. I should have.

Some of my friends and coworkers are email collectors, with an inbox with hundreds of messages, many of them unread messages. Some of you reading this right now know it’s you.

Some of us are borderline obsessive about keeping it cleared out. That notification and unread message number makes us ache.

Whichever camp you fit into, start putting that inbox to work and let it help you become more productive.

Be sure to click the STAR to like this post and comment below and tell me if you are an email collector or prefer to keep your inbox cleared out. Also, be sure to share this blog with other teachers, and subscribe so future blogs come straight to your inbox! I blog about teaching, but also food, family, travel and other inspirations! You can also find me on Twitter (@addictedtoteac1), Facebook (Addicted2Teaching) or even on YouTube to check out some videos before I just focused on blogging (Sonya Barnes – Addicted to Teaching) and join the conversation, get more ideas, share your story or just interact with me.

I Lost My Balance This Week

#A2TBalanceClick the STAR to like this post and comment below with your best ideas for keeping balance and not getting lost to the job.

September 24, 2021

It’s been a busy month. Not just with work and the start of the school year as a teacher, but with life. We have celebrated successes, grieved lost loved ones, had home projects and chores to tend to, refinanced our house (yay for lower interest rates) and prayed without ceasing over illness and struggle.

And there has been so much struggle.

I got consumed in trying to take care of everyone else, I forgot to take care of me. The other day, I lost it completely and was in tears. Major anxiety attacks over things that weren’t worth it. And I have never really been one to get to this point, until the pandemic. I could usually rationalize, make a list, go for a walk–something to regain balance, then tackle it and get through. None of that worked this time.

I called my husband, being the steady rock of logic that he is, and he helped me immensely. you know what he told me: stop worrying about helping everyone else and focus on you.

SMACK!

So I did. I went through my work schedule and cleared anything that wasn’t necessary. I had my youngest son help with a few tasks as his “big helper chores” for the week. I avoided committing myself to others, other than just to pray for them. The biggest thing he said that helped was taking a break from social media.

I’m like most people and check the streams on two or more apps several times a day. So I posted that I was hitting a rough road and taking a break. It’s now been a few days. Several friends and family members called or texted just to check on me, which was amazing. My brain hasn’t slowed down, but it has refocused. I got through this crazy week of obstacles and created a plan of attack for the next two super busy weeks at work, and I set my boundaries of hours and stuck to it. I said no, and that hardly ever happens. Most importantly, I focused on my faith–my anchor in life–and prayed several times a day, even if just to say hi and thank Him for my porch swing and the cookie I was enjoying.

If you are like me and feeling overwhelmed, I hope that you can also find balance by eliminating what isn’t necessary. I hope you also have someone you can reach out to that can help you and be a voice of reason. I hope that you have faith or a connection to a higher power or life force than just you.

We can’t escape struggle or challenge. There is no easy way around it, avoiding it makes it worse, so all we can do is get through it as best we can.

I may check my social media pages tomorrow, when I am off work and relaxed. Or maybe I will go for a walk, call and have a long chat with someone, or explore someplace new instead. It could really go either way.

Be sure to click the STAR to like this post and comment below with your best ideas for keeping balance and not getting lost to the job. Also, be sure to share this blog with other teachers, and subscribe so future blogs come straight to your inbox! I blog about teaching, but also food, family, travel and other inspirations! You can also find me on Twitter (@addictedtoteac1), Facebook (Addicted2Teaching) or even on YouTube to check out some videos before I just focused on blogging (Sonya Barnes – Addicted to Teaching) and join the conversation, get more ideas, share your story or just interact with me.

Data Day is Coming – Make It Meaningful

#A2TDataDayClick the STAR to like this post and comment below with your best Data Day suggestions .

September 2, 2021

It’s September, which means many schools will soon host a teacher work day to look at student data and formulate a plan for lower-tiered or struggling students. For some schools, this can mean asking teachers to look at students test scores in last year’s state standardized tests and, if they are below a certain level, or close to the next level, they are added to a list of target students to maintain focus on and provide additional structured support. Then a form is completed and submitted with the names and some ideas of how you will support them.

This isn’t necessarily bad, or wrong, but it is monotonous work that is often unproductive or meaningless to simply check a box that it was done. Which can leave teachers dreading the experience and the lost time.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

First and foremost, we must remember the WHY. Every child learns and excels at different times, in different ways, and at different things. As educators, we know this. This day is about identifying students that struggle and need extra help. These get grouped into Tier 2 and tier 3 students, based on how much help they need. But when you are in a low school and MOST, if not ALL, the students meet the criteria, choosing them based on other elements, such as how many points they count for at the school, this can feel overwhelming.

Not to mention, this can leave teachers feeling invaluable since this doesn’t get them beyond a DOK level 2 and a deeper thinking in their field, or use of their skills and trainings they’ve spent time on. Knowing who and what isn’t enough, and knowing when it is simply because of low test scores doesn’t reflect a teacher’s personal experience, knowledge and observation, or really dig into the HOW to achieve this goal.

So, let’s talk about how we can add value to Data Day for our teachers and our schools, and capitalize on their expertise.

BEYOND THE REPORTS – MEETING AS A TEAM The data is great to have, but, let’s be honest, processing data is time-consuming and strains the brain. Once this step is done, most are too exhausted to go beyond this point with any real meaning and may plan to come back to it, but can get too busy to do so. The most beneficial use of time is for the data to be processed ahead of time, given to the teachers, then let them use their time to plan for interventions and supports to build into their curriculum. Have you ever seen a group of excited and inspired teachers get together to plan? They are an unstoppable force, which can result in better ideas created and implemented. This can be great when you have new teachers to education or the subject area that can benefit from veteran teachers and their expertise. Also, it can be very beneficial for students since it will give them consistent support in multiple classrooms and allow them to find value in seeing it in use in other areas. So, how can these teams be broken down? Well, that depends on your school and how it is structured.

STUDENT DATA PROCESSED IN ADVANCE–BY TEACHER Many schools will pull the data by teacher and give them spreadsheets of test scores, then ask the teacher to process and find the target students. This wastes valuable time the teachers could be spending on planning for Tier 2 and 3 supports and interventions. After years of experience, this is not the best method to use, but it is the one most frequently used because it is easiest.

STUDENT DATA PROCESSED IN ADVANCE–BY SUBJECT Another option is to already have student data pulled and processed by subject area to allow the teachers in that subject to plan interventions together. This will allow them to focus on the core subject area and share strategies that work well for various student types, while learning knew ideas from other teachers they may not get to co-teach with. And it may inspire them to co-teach or swap on some subject areas.

STUDENT DATA PROCESSED IN ADVANCE–BY GRADE This option is great with lower grades or upper grades that use team teaching since it allows them to work as a team to plan supports across the curriculum. That means that all the teachers can be consistent and focus on their subject area, as well as examine opportunities to co-teach between complimentary subjects on projects to truly engage a student.

INCLUDE THE ELECTIVE TEACHERS These teachers shouldn’t be left out of the intervention planning and support process. Often, struggling students look forward to these classes, so giving them an opportunity to engage in them and build their academic skills can help them see the value of the skill in action. But some elective teachers are experts in their field of expertise and may still be building their “teacher tools”, especially when it comes to tested areas. And since many of them teach multiple grade levels, they can miss out. A great plan is to have them meet with the intervention specialists/academic coaches to match skills and practices to student and subject area. While it may make for challenging scheduling, it is extremely beneficial if they can meet after the academic teachers have met and have their intervention supports shared so that it is an extension of, not in addition to.

DON’T LEAVE STUDENTS BEHIND This seems like a no brainer, but I have seen students that are performing on target, are average and doing okay, left to struggle and fall into needing support.

COME BACK TOGETHER Whatever you do, come back together to talk about it, not just on that day, but make this a part of the weekly meetings so it isn’t forgotten. If the objective of the day is to fill out a form, it can make buy in from teachers very low. Some may rush through it and move on to other tasks that need their attention. By working together to plan and discuss successes and failures and to make adjustments in meaningful ways throughout the year, not only will their be more teacher engagement, but the success rate of the students will improve.

The key to a successful data day is that it works to the benefit of the benefit of the student, and the best way to do that is to use the “work smarter, not harder” principle.

Be sure to click the STAR to like this post and comment below with your best Data Day suggestions. Also, be sure to share this blog with other teachers, and subscribe so future blogs come straight to your inbox! I blog about teaching, but also food, family, travel and other inspirations! You can also find me on Twitter (@addictedtoteac1), Facebook (Addicted2Teaching) or even on YouTube to check out some videos before I just focused on blogging (Sonya Barnes – Addicted to Teaching) and join the conversation, get more ideas, share your story or just interact with me.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect

#A2TImperfectTeacherClick the STAR to like this post and comment below with what you stress the most over as you start the school year.

August 4, 2021

For most teachers, summer is drawing to a close very soon, if not already. Classroom plans and projects are starting. Boxes are being unpacked. Meetings are beginning to appear on your schedule. Your email inbox is starting to fill up. And those mixed feelings of not wanting summer to be over, but ready to start fresh and execute all those visions and ideas are consuming you and you are ready to make them happen!

But, somewhere along the way in our school year, we lose this refreshed feeling, that excitement. How does that happen?

In short, we tried too hard to make everything perfect, putting too much on our plate and spreading ourselves too thin, and lost the most important thing we have to offer–ourselves.

When you work 14-16 hours a day, six or even seven days a week, you lose yourself. You are trying to fit in family and responsibility around work and you just burn out. Sound familiar?

But, it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to have everything perfect, or even done on that first day they come back. There are two keys to successfully keeping that burnout at bay: keeping it simple and setting boundaries.

KISS Strategies–Keeping It Super Simple Strategies

Most of us have all had to calm a stressed out student that was overthinking a task or a question, yet we do this to ourselves on the regular. We put in crazy long hours to get our room ready for orientation or the first day of school, and by the time we get there, we already need a vacation. How do we let that happen?! Here’s a few things I have learned over the years to simplify and still be ready.

  • Two bulletin boards: one as an information posting area–calendars, lunch menus, due dates, resources, monthly tidbits–and the other for posting student work, pace or success tracking, tickets out the door, a parking lot for questions or ideas, whichever best suits your style of teaching. Both only need a basic background and a simple border. I have done the same border all year, or the quick change every month to rotate way. Bonus, I usually had a student, parent or a para/intern that wanted to do this for me, so I only had to choose which one.
  • Procedures. Every room has procedures for how to do things, so have them posted. Littles can’t remember them all and older students have multiple classes and different teachers with different procedures–compliance is easier when they know where to look. If you can work this in on your informational bulletin board, even better!
  • Supply and Work station: a turn in bin, an absent bin, and a place to finds needed supplies (borrow pencils, paper, handouts, student files or binders, etc.)
  • A clock. Realistically speaking, a digital is best, modern society doesn’t really use an analog clock, so why hang one that will cause a student to be distracted from your lesson or their work while they try to figure out the time for a hall pass or how long until class ends or lunch?
  • A place for students to work. Versatile seating can be great, depending on content area. Single seats, pairs, groups, floor seating, standing seats. Students work best in a variety of ways, so providing options can be great. Do you really need a seating chart? That is time you could save, especially at the beginning. Pro tip: if you must have a seating chart, seat them the first day and take a picture, then print this out as your seating chart. Faces will be way more helpful for a substitute than a name will be!
  • A place for YOU to work. I rarely sat, but needed a place for my computer and for grading and planning. Some years, it was a cart I could move around the room, but mostly it was a desk with everything needed.
  • A health station. Even pre-Covid, I needed a healthy classroom for myself and for my kids. I kept tissues, hand sanitizer, soap and towels (if I had a sink that year), alcohol pads for technology, wipes or spray and cloths for sanitizing desks (and a bucket for the cloths so I could take them home for washing–old t-shirts are great for this!). I also kept a broom and dustpan in the corner by my trash and recycling.
  • School/District Requirements. Some schools and districts have things they want posted in your room at all times. These can make it feel pretty cluttered. I met the requirements and reduced the overstimulation by creating a PowerPoint show that continuously looped and had all the things on the slides. I even included our agenda for the week. Then I set it up on the overhead to scroll unless I was using it for a lesson. I had a fellow teacher use this strategy, but had a spare computer and had it loop and it hung by the information wall.
  • Things to avoid: cluttered rooms, too much stuff, too much on the walls, Fire Marshall hazards (you don’t always know they are coming, so why play the “I’ll hide it when they get here” game). And of course avoid assigning too much work and additional work. You, and they, don’t need MORE, but rather, MORE MEANINGFUL. So get creative and cut that workload!

I use the “could I move and reset a room in an afternoon” mentality of setting up my room. Because changes happen, and I did not like giving up my weekend or evenings to have to get it done. I also try to use the “I should be able to grade the day’s work in one class period approach” as a means of measuring workload, although when I was an ELA teacher, that was harder. Pro tip-we wrote essays in chunks as “drafts” and I scored the draft each day, then it was turned in with the final so a quick read for corrections and technical elements made it possible.

But I digress…

Setting Boundaries

I have blogged about different strategies for making this happen, so I won’t revisit all of these again. But I will stress the importance of not letting your job consume your entire life–even if this is your passion, even if you feel like you have no life outside of teaching. Even Jesus took time off from his purpose on Earth to replenish himself, so there is nothing wrong with you doing the same. Learning how to get the desired outcome with less effort on your part is key to finding that balance of being an amazing teacher and getting that time you need to rejuvenate. There are many topics covered in my blogs, but here’s a compiled list and links for some of those areas to tackle:

Your students come through that door needing two things from you, an education on content areas and someone who truly cares about them. Focus on creating a space that facilitates those two areas. Be the teacher that has time to talk to the students. The place they can come eat lunch, do homework or get help before or after school, the safe space for the student that has a stressful life. In ten years, they may or may not remember that theme or poster you spent so much time stressing over, but they will remember the conversations, the time spent with them, the lunches in your room where they could relax, the place to get homework done since home wasn’t an option. Be that teacher.

When your teacher work days have come and gone in a blink and you didn’t get everything done, don’t worry. It is better to have an undecorated classroom that can come together over the first few weeks, than a burnt out teacher on day one. Remember your WHY-why you became a teacher, why you stay a teacher. Write it down and put it in your planner or as your background on your phone if you need to, just remind yourself regularly. You’ve got this!

Be sure to click the STAR to like this post and comment below with what you stress the most over each year. Also, be sure to share this blog with other teachers, and subscribe so future blogs come straight to your inbox! I blog about teaching, but also food, family, travel and other inspirations! You can also find me on Twitter (@addictedtoteac1), Facebook (Addicted2Teaching) or even on YouTube to check out some videos before I just focused on blogging (Sonya Barnes – Addicted to Teaching) and join the conversation, get more ideas, share your story or just interact with me.

Homemade Croutons – Louie’s Recipe

#A2TCroutonRecipe Be sure to click the STAR to like this post and comment below with whether you like croutons as a stand alone snack or if they need to be eaten with something else!

8/3/2021

The hardest part is watching them toast!

My 10 year old loves croutons and eats them like popcorn. Who am I kidding, everyone in our house does. Homemade ones can be lots of fun, and a way to use up bread that may not otherwise get eaten, and it’s a quick and an inexpensive treat! So when we had a part of a French baguette left from the weekend, I asked if he wanted to make some croutons. Spoiler alert–they were so GOOD! Here’s the super simple recipe we used.

Louie’s Garlic Parmesan Croutons

Ingredients:

  • French baguette chopped up (3/4 to full loaf, or substitute with any other bread that can toast well)
  • olive oil 2 tbsp
  • grated parmesan cheese 1/3 cup
  • garlic powder 1/2 to 1 1/4 teaspoon (depending on your preferences)

Start by cutting baguette into chunks. We found it easiest to cut it in half lengthwise, then cut those in half again, then cut into chunks. Next, place the olive oil into a gallon ziplock bag or large storage container. Then add in your parmesan and garlic and mix well into the olive oil. Add bread cubes and shake until evenly coated. (According to Louie, it’s best to taste test here to see if you need to shake or add more seasoning).

Spread out evenly on a baking sheet. We used a toaster oven today, but have done this in our conventional oven before, too. If you use the toaster oven, first, broil for 3-5 minutes to dry out a bit, then toast light to medium, flip and toast again. If you use a conventional oven, broil for 5-7 minutes or until crispy and golden brown.

Allow to cool completely, then store in an airtight container or a large baggy, keeping as much air out as possible. They will keep for up to 2 weeks this way, although they won’t last that long in our house! They can be eaten as a snack alone, or added to salads or pasta dishes.

Enjoy!

Be sure to click the STAR to like this post and comment below with whether you like croutons as a stand alone snack or if they need to be eaten with something else. Also, be sure to share this blog with other teachers, and subscribe so future blogs come straight to your inbox! I blog about teaching, but also food, family, travel and other inspirations! You can also find me on Twitter (@addictedtoteac1), Facebook (Addicted2Teaching) or even on YouTube to check out some videos before I just focused on blogging (Sonya Barnes – Addicted to Teaching) and join the conversation, get more ideas, share your story or just interact with me.

In The Kitchen for Shepherd’s Pie

July 29, 2021

2 Shepherd’s Pies – quick and easy to make, ready to cook in a flash!

Hey everyone! I hope your summer is going well, but, if you are like me, you are already plotting and planning how to be more efficient and getting ready for back to school season. One thing I am always trying to do is meal prep and plan to make life easier, so we are headed back to the kitchen this week for an old household favorite that can be made same day or prepped in advance, and both are pretty easy. I’m sharing my Shepherd’s Pie recipe!

There are four main ingredients and they are simple and can easily be substituted for your dietary needs or preferences. I’ll share what we use and you can substitute as needed. This recipe can make a large casserole dish that will easily feed 8-10 people, or can be split into two storage containers for reheating later. This recipe even freezes well and will keep for a few months, so can be prepped and stashed for the future.

Ingredients:

  • 1lb ground beef
  • 10-12 servings of mashed potatoes
  • 1-2 cans of sweet corn
  • 4 cups of shredded cheese

First, brown your beef (or whatever meat you are using) and drain it. If you forgot to defrost your meat in advance, don’t worry! Ground meat can be put in the skillet on low-medium heat with a lid, then slowly cooked and then just scrape off the cooked layer until it is all defrosted and cooked!

Second, prepare your mashed potatoes (or substitute). We use potatoes a lot, but Florida humidity is not our friend, so we just keep dehydrated flakes on hand and prepare those. This recipe is great with homemade mashed potatoes from scratch or leftover potatoes from a holiday meal or take out.

Third, open your can of corn and drain the liquid. you can also use frozen corn or even mixed veggies for this recipe.

Next, is putting it together, and the method is a matter of preference. We like to mix ours all together, but some like theirs layered. If you mix, like me, just use a big mixing bowl and mix it well. Then, you can put it into your baking dish.

These are 8×8 baking pans from Amazon

Finally, add a layer of shredded cheese to the top as thin or thick a layer as you like. We like to use Mexican blend since we usually have that on hand for taco night, but I’ve used Mozarella left from Italian night before, or even used partial leftover bags of both mixed, and, in a pinch, have even just put sliced cheese on top. Whatever works for you!

At this point, you can either let it cool and then cover and freeze, or pop it in the oven to bake. If you go strait to the oven, bake at 350 degrees F for about 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. If you prefer to freeze it, then you’ll want to let it set out from the freezer for a bit, if you can, then bake at 350 degrees F for about 45-60 minutes, or until hot all the way through.

And that is it! Enjoy!

I hope this helps make dinner, for at least a night or two, one less thing to worry about this month!

I’d love to hear your feedback on what your family thought of this recipe, or how you adapted it for your own tastes! Don’t forget to click that star and like this post, and be sure to subscribe to my blog to get them sent to your inbox every week! Wanna join the community? Find me on Twitter at @AddictedtoTeac1 or on Facebook at Addicted to Teaching where we all chat and share ideas, strategies, experiences, and job posts at our schools!

Teaching Is Hard

July 22, 2021

You know the saying “If you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”? I heard someone say it recently and it got me thinking. And I personally think it’s not entirely true. But, then again, I don’t buy into the YOLO mindset either because, why would we do anything that wasn’t easy?

But I digress. I think that doing something you love actually means you will work harder than you ever did in a job you weren’t passionate about. And that is good. I loved DeeJaying at the skating rink in high school, but that meant we had the job of cleaning the bathrooms…used by little kids on wheels. I didn’t love that job, but I still did it well because who wants to do a hard job twice?

Teaching gets a bad rap, and mostly from people that don’t do the job or weren’t cut out for the job. No shame to either of those categories–things always look different through different perspectives and, until you’ve experienced it, you really don’t know. And if you had a negative experience, it can cloud perspectives, too.

Teaching is hard. And it doesn’t matter what you teach, this statement can apply to teaching in any field, not just in an academic classroom. You have a short amount of time to complete a bunch of items on a checklist required by various government agencies and departments in the district that want bell to bell teaching with tiered lesson plans that calculate precise and engaging learning for every student in your class, and for every minute of every day–and in writing. You have limited resources, materials, time–and in some subjects limited attention span from the students. And I can’t blame them–I am not good at some skills and I don’t work in those fields on purpose. Yet, in education, the lack of engagement reflects on teachers. And their job, their life, their family, depends on whether or not they can engage the student in the activity and make it stick long enough to pass a standardized test or licensing certification.

Then, there’s meetings, and paperwork, and duties, and committees…which usually mean work goes home with you. And, in a job that is never done, that can result in lost personal and family time and working 7 days a week if you don’t put boundaries in place. Of course, even when you do, you may endure public criticism or lack of promotion/high ratings.

And we all know teacher pay is not comparable to other occupations with similar requirements of degrees, certifications and experience.

But, from another perspective….

The challenge, while tall, can be so rewarding when you see that student get it and then light up, or better yet, share with someone else and help them. When you help that overwhelmed fellow teacher and cover their duty so they can catch up on grading or parent calls or tutoring that they are behind on. When you help out school leadership and join or lead a committee at school. When you take on a spot to coach a team in a sport you’ve never played, but you being there means that they get to play that year instead of not having a team. When you call a parent of a student you’ve called a hundred times for problems to brag about something they did well at that day and hear their pride (if they actually still answer your call). When you stay after school and help the school secretary copy and count out flyers to go in teacher’s mailboxes that need to go out tomorrow and dozen things went wrong so it’s getting done last minute and their duty day ended an hour ago, too. When you take the time to have students pick up trash, or stack chairs on desks, or you do sanitize your classroom, making it easier for that stretched too thin janitor to come in and quickly tend to your room before moving on to the next one, and the next school they have to clean during their short shift due to budget cuts. The rewards are endless and have lasting impacts on both us and them.

Teaching requires passion, but it also requires compassion.

Every person, at every level of education plays an important role in making it happen effectively.

I’ve heard the saying about how we should treat the CEO and the janitor with the same respect. I wholeheartedly believe this, and especially in education.

I’ve heard that we should never quit teaching on a bad year, but should come back for another one and try to do better. Then, if it still isn’t a good fit, at least you move on knowing you tried your best.

Most educators that chose to make this a career have bad days, too. But, after a bad day that left them screaming, crying, cursing, ready to quit–they talked to a co-teacher, a coach, an administrator, a mentor, and honed in on what went wrong, planned a new approach, and got back up the next day and tried again to get it right.

We have all had days where it wasn’t clicking, for whatever reason. The students were distracted by a holiday or a world event. You just weren’t feeling that lesson for whatever reason. The students weren’t connecting. You weren’t connecting. The students managed to sidetrack you with a million questions and the bell rang before you ever even got to the lesson (a life goal for many a middle school student). And we tried again the next day. We acknowledged that we weren’t connecting. We tried a new approach. We didn’t give up.

We’ve all had those days where we questioned ourselves. Did I do enough? Did I talk too much? Too little? Did I allow enough practice? Did I assign too much work or homework? Did they connect? Did I teach them all they need to know? Should I have done X instead of Y? What could I have done differently to get this student to engage or that student to understand and not leave frustrated?

Because, while we need to teach our content to our student, we are entrusted with teaching so much more. Kindness. Perseverance. Follow through. Keeping your word. Helping or serving others. Integrity. An open mind. Trustworthiness. An unbiased perspective. Respect.

And we do this with aching feet, sore backs, empty bellies and overflowing bladders through side effects of chronic dehydration. Because it’s our passion. Because we love what we do and want to pass on a love for the subject, the skill, the career field. And because we have compassion for each individual person that crosses our path.

Teaching is hard. And it isn’t for everyone. But, if it is for you, go do your best every day. And, if it’s a bad day, that’s okay, too. Keep getting up and trying again. Showing up matters. Yes, the world needs you, but so does that student that sits in the back, acting like they don’t want to be there, even though you are the only reason they came to school today. Or the student that is hungry that knows, if they give a correct answer and are paying attention, they will get a piece of candy to take home and have something to eat later when the hunger pains are too much. Or the student that waits until last to come into your room so they can get a few extra seconds to talk to you and a hug since that is the only kindness they will get in their day.

And just when we think we’ve got it down at the end of a great year, the curriculum changes, we get new resources, we are moved to a new school/grade/subject, the dynamic or achievement level of the new students is different from the last group. So those lessons we spent hours on and thought we’d be able to use again and again–it’s back to the drawing board.

But don’t let this distract you from your calling. The student is our entire reason for being here. Planting a seed and ensuring it will grow–whether it’s in our classroom or years later on their journey–is what we do.

You are amazing.

You are a teacher.

You are changing the world.

And if you are a brand new teacher, welcome. Don’t give up too quickly. We’ve all been there and are here to help you succeed.

Be sure to like this post, share with fellow educators, post comments, and subscribe to my blog for future posts to be sent to your inbox. Want to join the community or personally connect? Find me on Twitter at @AddictedtoTeac1 or on Facebook at Addicted to Teaching.

Summer Reset Series – Part 2 The Home

#A2THomePurge

July 15, 2021

Last week I shared with you some tips to reset your classroom by purging items so you can be more efficient, so this week I wanted to share some tips to do something similar with your home. Wait! Before you close this, hear me out. By purging your home in at least a few key areas and making it more efficient in areas you touch daily, your schedule will be more efficient, making your days smoother when you are juggling work and home life. Don’t worry, we are not clearing your home of everything!

Still with me? Great!

So, let’s break it down by areas of our home so you can focus on those you need and skip those that you don’t, or don’t apply!

BEDROOM Starting here is vital since this is your sanctuary and place of rest and rejuvenation! The key in this space is to remove things that don’t bring you peace or make you feel relaxed. Eliminating clutter from surfaces will help your brain turn off, so find a place to tuck away those as many of those things on display as you can. Some experts say to even remove electronics from your sleeping area, but some of us like to curl up and watch shows before bed, so it’s up to you!

BATHROOM/DRESSING AREA I like sleep, or at least being lazy in the mornings, which means I wait until the last possible minute to get moving. It has helped me immensely to purge grooming products to only what I need (I even gave up make up to save myself 15 minutes!) so my morning routine takes me 10 minutes or less. Likewise, I keep my wardrobe super simple and rotate things out each month so it’s easy for me to get dressed in the morning. If you want to learn more about this, check out my post from a few weeks ago here and see how I live like I am on vacation.

LIVING SPACES Just like your bedroom, this is a place you use to unwind. If you come home from a crazy day and are greeted by clutter, piles, or a lot of visual stimulation, it can be overwhelming. Go through those stacks of books and magazines and create a home for those that you are waiting to read and pass on those that you are done with! Keep only pillows and blankets out that you use daily or tuck them away and grab them out when needed. Decluttering surfaces can be helpful here, too, since it won’t overwhelm you when relaxing and makes cleaning faster–when you can get to it!

KITCHEN/EATING AREAS These areas are used multiple times a day and often get the most use, so it makes sense that this is where everything gets dropped…and gets cluttered. Make sure you have the cooking items you use regularly readily available. Those items that are less frequently used can be stored in an out of reach shelf or cabinet, or boxed to find when you need it. If you don’t use it, pass it on! Next, take a few minutes each week to meal plan and do the shopping. There are many methods for doing this. In our house, I have a dry erase board calendar that we meal plan on and one for our shopping list. I splurged and use Instacart so once a week, I put in our grocery order and they are delivered within 2 hours. Coincidentally, this is also the time use to clean the house, so it all gets done at once! Since mail can be a huge clutter in this area, sort it as it comes in. I have a shredder for junk, an outgoing mail clip by my door, and a paper weight for bills that I clear out weekly (or biweekly, if it’s crazy times!).

WORKSPACE If you work from home, or have a home office you use for planning, grading, etc., this space can also get cluttered. That clutter can make us dread getting things done, so plan ahead for it. Sort through all your papers and items that are in the space, leaving only what you need on your desk surface, and have a place to put things you need to work on so you will know when they are on your TO DO list, or when they are a TADA item and done! Bookshelves can easily overflow, so make sure that what is on it is something you use at least once a year, can’t find online, isn’t outdated, or needs to be kept. Then just make sure they are organized in a way that works for you. I’m a bookworm, so ours has non-fiction on one shelf, then a fiction shelf for each of us. If we run out of room, something has to go, which makes it simple to decide what comes and goes.

STORAGE Whether you have a garage, carport, large closet or shed, you keep tools and supplies for your home, hobbies and possibly your vehicle. When you need them, you don’t want to have to search, or worse, go buy more since you can’t find them. So clearing extras, trash or what you don’t need (like those wiper blades from a car you haven’t owned for 5 years) you will be able to find what you do need quickly and easily. Organizing it into zones will help, too, and make it easier when you have time to go back and better organize it! And if it’s a garage–maybe you can park your car IN it, making life easier for coming and going!

CHORES Now that things have been decluttered and your home should be slightly less overwhelming, you can create a routine to keep up with everything. Some things will need done daily, some weekly, and others either as needed, or less frequently. If there are others that live in your home, this can be a great thing to meet and talk about and divvy up those tasks. Even little kids can do somethings, like a quick daily sweep, putting toys away, or gathering laundry. Dishes and cooking need done daily, so someone can take charge of that or you can rotate! Assigning weekly chores that can be done on a designated day as a family can help, but if that’s not possible in your busy household, try assigning at random around someone’s schedule, or better yet, assign everyone a room (in addition to their own room) and then you won’t have to worry about waiting for others to get your chore done. We also do a daily reset before bed to put away things like toys, blankets, things that came out and got used during the day, so that we can start our busy morning with a clean space. Sometimes, it doesn’t happen, but most days it does. And my rule with my little? If it’s out after he goes to bed, it’s mine to do with as I please. This tends to get things put away frequently!

See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? It may take some time to get each of these areas to a place that helps you, and you may have to do a reset every so often. In our home, we have crazy weeks of meetings, work schedules, appointments, or the weeks after a vacation that turn us upside down. Then we make the time to do a reset so we can get back on track when we get an hour or so.

Good luck to you! Be sure to like this post by clicking on the star if you like the idea of creating a relaxing home space, and comment below with your trouble areas–let’s work together to solve them! I’d love to see those before and after photos, so use the hashtag #A2THomePurge and post them on social media so I can check them out!