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.

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.

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.

Wrapping Up the School Year From Home – Tips for Distance Learners

May 27, 2021

It won’t take long, but this quick checklist can save you time later!

It has been a long and crazy school year, whether you have been at home or on a campus. For those of you that have been students at home, I thought it might be helpful to share some Teacher Tips to help you wrap things up for next year, whether you will still be working from home or plan to return to campus.  Taking these steps will help you start next year off successfully!

CLEAR MATERIALS Whether you purchased, printed, borrowed, or created your materials, chances are that you have LOTS of things collected from the year.  Start by pulling out all materials and sorting through them. What needs returned? What needs submitted? What needs retained for records? What can go? Can any of it be sold, recycled, or passed on? Making these decisions makes the next step of clearing them a breeze. Recycle or trash anything you don’t need.  Post any items for sale or donation on your local community board or drop at a local donation spot.  Anything that needs returned or submitted can be taken in one trip.  Finally, anything you need to retain can be put into a file folder or binder and marked for the school year. This would also be a great time to deep clean the space since it won’t be in constant use.

INVENTORY SUPPLIES Unless you graduated, you will need some school supplies next year, whether schooling at home or back on campus.  Take inventory of what you have and make yourself a shopping list now to pin to your fridge or bulletin board.  Then, you can shop sales all summer or be ready for the back-to-school shopping before school starts.

TRANSITION WORKSTATION Unless you will be doing some sort of summer learning program at home or online, chances are you won’t need to keep the workstation set up all summer.  Use this time to store away anything that won’t be needed (clean it first, you’ll thank me!) and set up the space for gaming, online lessons, or crafting this summer. Repurposing the space will keep from wasting valuable real estate in your home and allow you to truly relax this summer. Plus, if it’s a shared workspace with someone else still working, it will be a help to them.  This is also a great time to talk about how the space will be used next school year and plan for any changes that may need made so you can begin planning or save up for them now.

TRANSCRIPTS Depending on what type of home school choice you made, it may be your responsibility to collect those transcripts and submit that documentation to your local home school/distance learning office yourself.  This is the time to take care of it and you don’t want to be surprised when you go to start the next grade that there is no record of completing this one. 

PLANS FOR NEXT SCHOOL YEAR Whether you are returning to campus, remaining distance learning, or transferring to another school, whether by promotion or change in venue, be sure all parties are aware and planning for it.  Talk to your student about the plans so they can be aware, or even part of the decision, and prepare for it now.  Talk to the school and be sure they know your intentions. If you are leaving one location for another, they will need to get records sent over and waiting until the start can delay entry or be a very long wait. If you are returning to on campus, you will want to make sure they have a seat for you and your records to start smoothly and be prepared.

I know you are just ready for summer to start so you can relax and have one less BIG thing to worry about but taking an extra day or two now to get these things resolved will make it a much more restful summer!  Enjoy that break, you deserve it!

Don’t forget to pass this on to others that it may help!  You can also support me by going to the blog page and clicking the STAR button to like it or subscribe to my blog, so the latest post gets sent to your inbox every week.  Join the conversation in the community on Twitter at AddictedtoTeac1 or on Facebook in the GROUP Addicted to Teaching.

Setting Up for Success – Plan a Weekly Date with Yourself

May 21, 2021

When it comes to getting things done, I have found there are 2 camps of people—the Procrastinator and the Prepper – although some people can fall somewhere in the middle.  Most of the time, I am somewhere in the middle. I will prep to an extent, but then fly by the seat of my pants and am in it for the adventure.  Work is something different for me, though, especially with teaching, and especially as a virtual teacher where I am pretty much in control of my schedule.

I have a variety of life experiences and many different types of supervisors that have helped me learn how to manage my time effectively, from making a list of 6 things to do each day, to making sure I have something to do at all times, even if the job isn’t busy.  In short, I adopted the work smarter, not harder mentality of working.

With those ideas in mind and struggling my first semester, I learned to set up a weekly date with myself to plan out my week.  I tried several different methods and days to accomplish this and have gone through so many types of planners. I have finally streamlined my process and have used it all school year and have found it to be easy to use, quick and not a dreaded task each week.

I chose to have my weekly date on Friday mornings and spend 30 minutes completing this task.  I sit down with my Outlook Calendar that is part of my work email, which saves me money and time since this is where my meetings and appointment calls are already plugged in—more about how to print that later.  First, I review my week so far and see what I still need to accomplish that day. If there’s anything I can’t fit in that isn’t time sensitive, I just move it to the next week. Then, I start planning the week.  I find it helps to create recurring tasks that I know I have every week to do—grading, email, reports, even my workouts and lunch time is plugged in since I will work straight through!  I start with fixed time things like appointments from my personal calendar, times I meet with my students and classes, training sessions, meetings, etc.  Next, I adjust any recurring tasks that may overlap or are flexible. Then, I look for gaps since some days are slower than others and can plug in projects or personal development tasks, I have on a backburner that I want to tackle. I do have blocks of time each week just for personal development and projects so I can continuously focus on refining my craft.  Finally, I set work hours for each day and put them in the calendar, too. My hours vary from day to day since I have some early schools, late parent calls, my schools are on block schedules, so the time of classes changes every other day, so I flex my time.

a screenshot of what the printout will look like

Now, I am ready to print my schedule since I like to have a checklist.  I simply choose the print option for my Outlook Calendar (Ctrl + P is the fastest way) and choose the weekly agenda style. Once printed, I like to highlight the day and hours I am working, then highlight the fixed appointments I can’t miss.  I also white out the weekend days to create a notes section so as I think of tasks for next week or future project/personal development ideas, I can jot them down and address them on Friday and avoid getting lost in distraction.

The benefits of having this weekly date with yourself is helping to find a balance of your work and personal life.  I do NOT work weekends and rarely work more than my 8-hour day unless I choose to.  Plus, I only have to think about it one time, then it’s just checking things off or adding in scheduled calls to a block I already have set aside.  This means I have less distractions and more time on task during my week, plus I can anticipate any gaps or conflicts by merging my work and personal calendars.  Since I am not a morning person, this helps me start my day on task and organized, and I can eat that frog right away!  (Not familiar with the Eat the Frog concept?  Check out the blog post from last year here.)

A couple of other things I do along with this include filing that calendar page away in a folder just in case I ever have to show my work hours and tasks. Also, I reset my workspace daily by clearing my desk, and twice per week I clean my office and keep it decluttered since a busy day can make a huge mess!

In reflection, which of these practices do you already use?  Which could you see yourself using?  Do you still have questions or need more help? No problem!  Comment below or find me on Twitter @AddictedtoTeac1 and in Facebook I have a group called Addicted to Teaching. I’d love to chat more and help you out!

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Self-Care for Educators: With a Little Planning, You Can Get the Time You Need for YOU

April 15, 2021

I love my work set up, but that doesn’t mean I have to live here!

I am a workaholic by nature and a very goal-oriented person. I do not like to stop until I finish something, even if that means a very long work session.  If you’ve been in education for 5 minutes, you know we are never really finished.  I have had to work hard to set working hours and an end point to stop at, as well as breaking my goals down into chunks to accomplish realistically. But I am terrible at taking time for myself until I reach the broken and burned-out phase.  I push so hard that when I was a 10-month teacher with summers off, I found it was at least 3 weeks before I’d slow down enough to feel in control and not just caught up in momentum.  When I switched to 12-month in August of 2019, I gave up summers off and last year was tough without that time off and the disconnect.  I realized I had to do something different.

The Covid pandemic and shutdown in 2020 really taught me slow down and that it is very beneficial to make time for myself and to be by myself. I’m a 12-month virtual teacher, my son is a virtual student, and my dad is retired.  My husband is the only one that works out of the house. That’s a whole lot of together time that can be very overwhelming. I learned to find times to get a break and do things for myself or by myself, and it has been a huge help.

As life started getting busier as we gradually reopened, I found myself missing the solitude and extra downtime without outside demands, so I set my 2021 New Year’s Resolution to include more intentional time for myself, or to use the new term, self-care time. I decided to set time each day, week, month, and quarter intentionally for me to relax, rejuvenate, and recharge. I fill that time with road trips, pedicures, massages, hair appointments, hikes, trips to the playground, a coffee, meal, or dessert out with someone I want to catch up with. I also make sure they are budgeted so I don’t go broke.

Feeding peanut butter to 3 dogs at once CAN be done, if I get creative

Daily.  Every day, I have my devotion and prayer time, and I go for walks.  My goal is to walk for an hour a day, however that may break down.  With a young pup, this has become two thirty-minute walks a day to give her an outlet and training time.  I’ve also set the goal to start my day with prayer instead of my smart phone or scrolling social media, and I try to do my daily devotions over breakfast.  Sometimes this looks different, if my son wants to go for a walk or I’m chatting with family over breakfast, but most days I work all these in without issue.

Taking the pups out for a walk

Weekly. This one has been a challenge.  We are blessed to have parents that live nearby and help by letting us have one date night each week (and sometimes, an overnight or weekend!) It’s been great and took us several weeks to get used to not having the kids or to rush back to them.  We go gaming, walking around, get pedicures, go to dinner, play tourist somewhere—whatever we feel like doing.

In addition to date nights, I’ve been working to have one slow day, or Sabbath, to relax and do as little as possible, without filling it with technology (i.e., I avoid movie marathons or binge-watching TV for more than a couple hours). This could be a rainy day on the porch, a few hours out on the water, a road trip with no real destination, or time with family and friends talking, eating, playing games.  We are a very busy family, but most weeks I am getting at least a half day for this.

Monthly. This one has taken more planning and I am just getting to it.  Some months we have holidays and a build in long weekend, but not every month. I decided to sit down with my calendar for home and work and am picking a day each month that doesn’t have a holiday and works with my work schedule, and I am taking a day off to get a long weekend, even if we just stay home. 

Quarterly.  My goal is to take a week off each quarter to get away somewhere. For this, it took a bit more strategy and, truth be told, this was actually my starting point before I planned my monthly days off since I don’t take a long weekend in the months I take a week off.  I’m old school, so for this I grabbed our wall calendar and a highlighter, as well as my work and personal digital calendars.  First, I marked off the holidays and breaks we get built into our schedules from our work calendar. Next, I looked at our typical workflow and volume and what time is available on our team calendar. Then I looked at our family plans—family we want to see, vacations, birthdays, summer camps, our travel wish list—and started plotting.  I try to balance things out to maximize those brain breaks, then I submit my requests.  Can I tell you how excited I am that my husband and I will be off the week our son has weeklong day camp an hour from here this summer and we will get to play tourist and get time together in a fun area to explore!

Somewhere in there, I work in a hair day

I realize that time off is a blessing that most occupations don’t have, but in education, we do.  Most school districts offer personal days in addition to holidays, but there is this stigma against teachers that use them.  Stop letting that bother you!  You earn them.  They are a part of your salary and benefits.  You NEED them, why don’t you take them?

So, grab your calendar(s) and a tasty beverage (coffee, tea, chocolate Dr Pepper, wine) and plot your time off. Talk to your family about what you all want to do.  You can plan for a month or two at a time, or plan for the whole year.  Just plan something or you will constantly find yourself justifying why NOT to do it and feeling overwhelmed or exhausted by your day-to-day life. It will give you something to look forward to on those tough days and be a great reward. Refill the pot so you have something to give to others. It may be awkward at first, but you will get used to it and find yourself enjoying it.

Take care, my friends.

Why I Stopped Failing Students – and How You Can, Too

January 29, 2021

When I started teaching in 2007, I was the hard teacher that had no issues failing a child that wouldn’t work or didn’t complete all their work. It took me about ten years of teaching to realize that, at least through middle school, it was a pointless standard to uphold and I decided to create a “guaranteed C policy” in my classroom.  As a result, student engagement improved and I stopped working so hard. I continued to refine this policy each year and found it to be successful. So I thought it was time to share with you.

First, ask yourself why we fail a student? Because they don’t complete their work, right? End of story. But what if we kept digging into our thought process?  Shouldn’t a classroom be a place for learning to happen, exploring many different methods of executing a task? Thomas Edison’s response to failing was that he didn’t fail, he found ways NOT to do something. In his case, a lightbulb. So why do we hold students, especially in Kindergarten through 8th grade, to a standard higher than that of one of the greatest innovative minds in history? If you can think of an answer, you’re better than me.

Sure, students need to learn to work, to complete the tasks, and do all the things. It’s a life skill that will benefit them in all the do. But every single person learns at different rates and through different experiences. And it is easy for a middle school student to feel deflated or defeated and give up. So, I say we focus on creating an environment focused on learning and mastery of foundational and lifelong skills, not the grade on a report card.

I open my grading policy conversation with parents and students by asking ”What if I can guarantee you a C or better in this class—would you put in the work to focus on learning?” And of course, the answer is a resounding yes, with piqued curiosity for me to explain.  And it is as simple as this:

DO EVERYTHING I ASSIGN, ANSWER EVERY QUESTION, FOLLOW EVERY DIRECTION, AND TRULY TRY WITHOUT GIVING UP.

Yep, that’s it.  Now, it’s that simple for them, but it does take some preplanning as an educator to make it happen.  Here’s how.

  • Vary the assignments graded in the week and weigh them, either by points or by percentages (however you create your gradebook) to equal a minimum of 70%.
  • Build in opportunities for self-check and redoing until mastered when they get to the next level, as well as allowing for collaboration. This lets them test ideas out and hear how they sound out loud.
  • When they get to demonstrating mastery, be sure they have all the tools they need for this. Notes, examples, feedback.

So what did that look like? I made sure the tasks are weighted by level of learning. Here’s what I mean:

  • In *DOK 1/introduction and recall level, everything is based on completion that lets them try again—a ticket out the door, notes completed, matching activities.
  • For *DOK 2 or 3/changing the variables level, give some risk of getting it wrong, but offer support like collaboration, open notes, phone a friend or ask a teacher passes (these are fun to reward with on recall/introduction days when checking for understanding)
  • For *DOK4/applying to other areas level, have them create something using the skill that they have control of the platform so they can use skills they already have mastered to work in the new skill. Using technology such as music, PowerPoints, videos, and photographs, allow drawings, comic strips, songs, collages, or a million other ways to check for mastery of a standard (Google alternatives to writing assignments for inspiration). Not everything has to be a writing assignment.

My method was to have 3 grades per week. One was a participation grade—note checks, ticket out the door, etc. that earned them an A just for doing it. The second was a check for understanding assignment that I would grade but gave 60% for completion and the other 40% came from accuracy—then I gave them a chance to correct to earn those lost points back. The third was a standards mastery task that they got 50% for completion and the other 60% was from accuracy that, if missed, they could correct to earn half their lost points back. I also provided a rubric for them so they could self-assess and have an idea where they were at. I would give feedback and mark the rubric when given back so they knew what to fix. If you are doing the math, here’s a breakdown: 100% + 60% +60%=220%/3= 73.3%. So even if they never go back and attempt to correct, they still get their C.  But, by doing ALL the work to get to that point, they increase their learning potential, and many do go back and try for at least some of the points.

I also found it helpful to clear grading every single week so they stayed on top of things and knew where they were.  With digital grades now, it’s much easier than when I printed grades each week with a student code number/name to post for them to check.

I do realize that, at some point, failing does need to be a part of the educational since it is a part of life, but who decided they should fail starting so early in life?  I personally feel that should apply from 10th -12th grades, possibly as low as 9th grade, since K-8 are mostly foundational skills, especially looking at common core standards.  If we fail children in elementary and middle school when they are trying and still learning, we can inadvertently instill a fear of failing into them that will establish a comfort zone that will be hard to break free from.

How can you adapt your methods to increase their confidence and have a classroom focused on learning, rather than grades?  If you want to try this method, but are drawing a blank at how to apply it, let me know and we can brainstorm together!

*DOK is Based on the teachings of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. Here’s a great video that makes it simple to understand *DOK is Based on the teachings of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. Here’s a great video that makes it simple to understand using a chocolate chip cookie analogy.

Eating the Frog – A Taste of a Teacher’s World

One of the frogs living in my garden in progress posed for a picture with me

By Sonya Barnes 4/4/2020

I’d love to hear what your frog is!  Comment below or join me on social media: Facebook join the group Addicted to Teaching or Twitter follow me at AddictedtoTeac1. Don’t forget to like this article and let me know you like it so I will keep them coming!

There is a story from my childhood that comes up from time to time about when, after reading about the frog prince, I went outside, gathered a bucket of frogs and, one at a time, kissed the frog then tossed it over my shoulder and moved on to the next one when it didn’t turn into a prince.  I adore frogs, but the idea of eating one seems completely out of the question.  So when I was having a monthly chat with my instructional leader and she asked me about eating the frog, I definitely raised my eyebrows, before she went on to explain to me and encouraged me to share this concept with all of you.  So here I am.

Brian Tracy wrote a book on this catchphrase of Mark Twain’s, equating it to our modern day lives        and the tasks we do.  As educators, we have many things we must do regularly, and they are not always enjoyable tasks.  It took me many years to figure out effective strategies in my classroom for managing everything and that seemed to change from year to year depending on several factors from leadership to level of students in my classes.  When I moved virtual teacher and working from home, it became even more apparent that time management was incredibly important, especially with family home during the day when I was working. 

If you haven’t caught on my now, this phrase has little to do with literally eating frogs and everything to do with the figurative element of it.  You see, eating a frog is a repulsive idea and something we will put off if possible.  But the gist of this phrase is about taking on the most difficult thing to do and doing it first thing.  For me, grading has always been the bane of my existence—grading is my frog.  I have primarily taught reading and language arts in my career field, so grading meant reading a great deal of writing assignments several times checking for content and mechanics to help improve their skills.  I’d procrastinate on this task due to having so many other things to do and not wanting to, that I’d have a massive pile with hours of grading to do. Sometimes, I’d have so much when it was quarterly writing time, that I’d burn a personal day to spend grading just to have a quiet house to work in—and I’d still procrastinate.  I justified it by saying I was more effective if I graded at once, so I had the same mindset for all and wasn’t so subjective. 

Attempting to catch a frog in the garden was about as challenging as trying to eat the frog in my work day!

Now that I teach a technology course virtually, the grading isn’t quite as time consuming for each item, but it is still time consuming since many of my students will complete more than one assignment in a day and we have an expectation of grading within a certain time period.  This has helped me make sure I make time for it in my day.  I used to work it in when I could, sometimes leaving it to the end of the day, sometimes forcing myself to do it both in the beginning and end of my day. I even tried only grading every other day so that I didn’t have to deal with it as often but could still make the expectation. But after that conversation with my leader last month, I started grading as my first thing of the day every single day.  My brain is fresh and rested and I can start on it early before everyone in the house is awake and moving—which is much more of a distraction now that we are all at home during the Covid-19 orders. 

And do you know what I found?  It really does work.  Not only is my most challenging task completed, but it helps prepare me for the rest of my day.  I can then run an updated report to see the exact status of my students which prepares me for the phone calls I have to make during the day to students and parents.  If my student is successfully ahead and I call and they are stressed about some upcoming test or project, I can talk to them to plan around it. If they are behind or have a poor grade, we can talk about how to catch up or improve their grade and I know exactly what is needed.  It makes these conversations less about what they are supposed to be doing based on a checklist and makes it a more personal conversation about their individual learning and success. 

Considering parent calls were my second frog that I used to avoid in my brick and mortar days and now it’s a routine part of my day, finding this change has made those calls the most enjoyable task (second only to checking things off of my to do list!).  I can tell mom, dad, guardian, student not to stress or worry, we can do this together— do you have a plan or here’s a few options, which works best for YOU? 

This approach to my interactions has allowed me to be a blessing and they answer my calls, instead of the annoyance they send to voicemail.  When I have called home during this challenging time of everyone home and sharing devices, I have been able to be the calm and kind voice in their day.  I can hear the smile in their voice when they answer and saw me on caller ID or hear my name.  I want to be a blessing in people’s lives, so if that means I have to eat that frog every day, I will do so with a smile.

No frogs were harmed in the making of this blog.