Tuesday, June 27, 2017

One of those years...... #truth

This past school year, was just one of those years.  A year with far too many challenges yet little support.  Who can relate? Probably more of you than not.  I am actually annoyed with myself for letting one of these years, be the one that takes me away from doing things I love, such as creating and blogging.  No, it wasn't my personal life.  Actually, quite the opposite...it was challenges in my professional one.  

As a special education teacher, I've always had challenges to deal with but this year was an exceptional one.  Not all challenges were in special education; and not all challenges are created equal.  Often times, just a special mixture of students is enough for the proverbial "perfect storm."  The mix of personalities and issues proved to be difficult.  I am extremely thankful I have a co-teacher, because I don't know if I could have survived without her.  LOL!    And yet I was also thankful that it wasn't just our class; it was the entire unit.  Every day was a new challenge, yet everyday we showed up, put on our "big girl panties" and did what we had to do or deal with on a particular day.  There was no other choice!  I couldn't even count the number of "hats" we wore this school year.  Often times, we found ourselves wearing 10 "hats" at a time without even switching.  As I write this now, all I visualize are the illustrations of Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina.  That was us...the peddlers wearing a dozen hats at a time, which felt like total monkey business.  We've all been there one time or another, right?!  I know...I'm speaking to the choir?! :) 

Some days, I felt defeated and exhausted.  Other times, I was feeling guilt for my students that were the ideal students.  (But what really is an ideal student?! Ideal is subjective.)  Anyways, I hope they forgive me for just not being on my game this year.  Shame on me for not.  We tried it all; new behavior plans, flexible seating.  You name it, we tried it!  At times, I even second guessed my career choice.  As much as I love what I do, this profession takes a lot out of you and this year I felt like I went a full ten rounds of a boxing match almost daily.  Some days you feel like you get no support from administration and it's a losing battle.  I often felt that I gave stiffer consequences than when I would direct a student to the office.   Much of the time, it felt like a losing battle.  

Mornings were better than afternoons.  We had to teach social skills ALL day long.  Students knew how to handle certain situations and ways of dealing with their frustrations but they never utilized it when needed.  Something always happened at lunch or recess and we were just putting out fires left and right.  If only it were enough water to douse the drama that ensued for the entire year.  

I'd often find myself saying that I was happy that I don't have my own children because I know I couldn't go home and deal with another living thing that looked at me the wrong way. I couldn't stomach another insult or fire to put out, and I know if I wasn't on my teacher game, I'd certainly not be on my mommy game either.  Although, many of my teacher/parent friends disagree; I just didn't want to imagine it for myself.  

What I realized was that the challenges that many of my students were dealing with on a daily basis were never things that I ever had to go through at their age, and tended to be things they brought with them to school.  It saddens me that I had students that had to wake themselves up in the mornings; take care of a younger sibling; not be able to go out and play after school; feel the need for pure competition; deal with a parent who lived across the country; not knowing a parent; a child who needed to lie to feel better about him/herself; the need to be perfect; a child who could not control their body, let alone sit and focus on a lesson; not having clean clothes to wear on a daily basis; having 9 other siblings to deal with and fight or the attention of their parent; being homeless; kids exposed to sex, and so much more.  Some kids are not parented; some have never learned how to play or share; some kids need instant gratification; some were never corrected; some were never taught respect for others or even themselves.  So many extremes; yet will it really ever change?!  Who really knows.... There will always be situations that are out of our control!  I wish I could say that there won't be other years like this one, but I know the reality of that statement.  

One of the best things about our profession, is an entirely new start each September.  A fresh start with a different group of students, a different set of parents, sometimes a different set of staff and/or a different set of administration.  New hopes for a great year, new goals for my students and myself, and new challenges that lie ahead.  

The weight of this past school year has since been lifted, and relaxation has set in for now. Here's to getting back to me!  Here's to our recharge!   Here's to teachers!!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Flexible Seating Update No.1

FINALLY!   As September is coming to a close, I am able to take some time and jot down some thoughts about our venture in trying out flexible seating in the classroom.  First off, big hit from students AND parents alike.  I was actually quite surprised at the overwhelming response we received from parents.  For some reason, I thought for sure we'd be getting some complaints, but we received nothing but compliments.  The only grunts came from siblings that we jealous because they didn't have these options in their classrooms; go figure! 




As both experienced teachers, we knew kids and things that might need to be in order at first.  We knew that we needed rules set in place from the start.  We discussed this with our students day one.  We wanted to stress that this was a privilege; therefore, rules needed to be in place and stress particulars about certain seating options.  For example, stability balls are not to be bounced on or kicked around the classroom.  We also wanted students to know that we had the option to remove them from seating if they are not using it responsibility. We of course felt that students can learn best when they felt comfortable and with some movement; but others may need the structure of a desk so we left a few in our classroom! We offered a variety of options for the students to use, such as ottomans, yoga mats, a lounger, foldable seats, stability balls, and husbands. To ensure more flexibility with places to work , we provided a standing table (a table with bed risers) and a table with no legs, so that students can sit on the carpet! Clipboards also needed to be provided so that students not at tables can still write or complete activities.


As with anything new; this is a learning experience for myself and my co-teacher.  These are the things we learned.

1. Certain seating options need to be located in a certain area of the classroom.  For example, certain chairs like our chairs with wheels, need to stay in their location.  We found that certain students loved certain chairs yet wanted to move them around the room after EVERY subject, and too much time was used to get them settled are start of a new lesson! 

2. Often times as we were teaching, kids would be all over the classroom and we realized!they simply could not focus! We decided that for whole group instruction, they needed to be in certain spots in the classroom. Likewise, certain spots were off limits too during this instruction too! As an inclusion classroom, some students needed modifications that were more challenging for me to provide when they were all over the classroom. This allows me to work smarter, not harder. Therefore, larger tables needed to be used during testing. 

3. We realized that we needed more desks! Some students actually prefer an actual desk to call their own. This would have been me as a child! Quote simply, some had to have their own working spot, especially to help with the organization of their supplies. Even though we had certain spots in our classroom allocated for certain supplies, and students were given their own bin; this still posed to be a problem. Some also could not handle sitting with friends, but if they were moved to a desk, they clearly understood it was for their benefit! 

4. We realized that the variety of choices could be considered as a negative too! Some students became overstimulated and overly concerned if they were able to get certain seating, and it became a problem with bickering and the like. We tried to combat this problem, by allowing only our two helpers of the week to be allowed in sit in certain options like our lounger! Additionally, there was a need to clarify a need to switch seating after a certain lesson.

5.  We also had to clarify the need to respect our seating options. These cost of these options, came out of our pockets and there was a need to reiterate to respect any and all "furniture".  No placing feet on desks, chairs. No laying on options that were meant to sit on! No kicking ottomans! No tilting in chairs with four legs (we actually lost a couple of stools due to bent legs.)

6. Some students were using multiple seating options at a time; that too needed to be addressed! This proved to destroy some of our options and kept other students from using these options! 

7. Finally, some seating needed to be taken away to later be reintroduced back into our classroom. For example, students were not using the stability balls correctly. Since being a hot commodity, we felt the need to remove them from our classroom. This again, goes back to respecting our items! As students can demonstrate their respect for other seating options, we will slowly reintroduce the stability balls! 


As for now, with having worked out a few speed bumps, we are all smiles (for now).... More to come in the future! 



Monday, September 5, 2016

Grade 3 Math Interactive Notebook

Holy cow!  I think I need to go out into the world, because I have been glued to my computer ALL of Labor Day WEEKEND!  I have been working on my third grade math interactive notebook for what seems like forever.  Ok, not forever, but a really, really, really long time.  I had created notes and interactives for my students last school year because I felt it would be something they could go back to and use as a reference and even enjoy doing the activities.  Even though, I had it all saved I didn't have it all together organized.

It wasn't until recently that I had a parent of one of my students ask if I was going to sell my notes and foldables on Teachers Pay Teacher.  She happens to be a third grade teacher in another district.  Not only was I excited; I was flattered!  And this is where the last two weekends of my life have been.....in front of this computer. I'm even shocked I'm sitting here now, writing this post!  I just can't contain my excitement!  Who knows what I'm talking about?  


Literally, when this was officially uploaded (like 10 minutes ago); I SCREAMED!!!!!  What a relief! Picture me doing all of those happy dances from the 90's.  Seriously, I did that!

Check it out here: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Grade-3-Mathematics-CCCS-Interactive-Notebook-2770146

Now, onto start my fourth grade interactive notebook!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

O-Emoji?! Back to school already?

O-Emoji! I mean, OMG!  Back to School is upon us....Whomp, whomp!  New school year means a fresh start; although not if you follow your kids up to the next grade level.  I will be doing just that; moving from third to fourth grade.  I am NOT looping with my kids, but I will have some of the same students I had last year (I hope they aren't too disappointed.....some of them might be, as I know the tricks some of them like to pull).

Anyways, being that I will have some of the same students, I needed to up my Back to School activities game.  With being on trend, I wanted to do something fun with emojis.  Something simple, but would still include how they are feeling about their first day of school.  Will they be nervous, surprised, excited about etc?!  (P.S - Writing tasks using emojis will be coming at a later date.)



One of my favorite back to school activities that I love, Stump your Teacher!  It is similar to Two Truths and a Lie; I just have students list three truths.   This is such a fun activity to get to know your students.  Some of them can get very creative and I love trying to figure out what they are fibbing about.  It always gets a lot of laughs.  


Since back to school activities are often about the teachers getting to know the students, I find that the students also like to know a little about us too.  Due to that reason, I have created a teacher true and false.  I have kept it fairly generic; however, you can recreate it to make it more specific to you :) Again, this is another classroom favorite that tends to get a few laughs.  

These are just a few of the activities that I have in my Back to School bundle.  Other activities include #MySelfie, classmate scavenger hunt, classmate interview, goals for the school year, and math about me.  To see more details about each activity check out my link to the bundle here.  Or simply head on over to my store on TpT.  

Welcome back my friends!  


 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

My Yearly Eye Opener



For the past nine summers, I have been fortunate enough to teach during our Extended School Year program.  Extended School Year (ESY) is offered to special education students that need to continue to work on their IEP goals during the summer because they could digress.  It is often offered to students that are in self-contained classroom settings during the school year, or for students that could continue to use services (Occupational Therapy, Speech and Language, and Physical Therapy).  Out of the nine years, I have been teaching ESY, I have only taught what I was teaching during the school year once.  Yes, ONLY ONE TIME.  During ESY, I have taught in the following programs; Preschool Disabilities, Autistic Classroom, Learning and Language Disabilities, and Multiply Disabled.   

These experiences have made me a BETTER teacher, no doubt.  Why do I say this?    I do because, you are challenged to a new degree. You learn more from others, such as assistants that are in these type of programs throughout the school year.  You become experienced in working with varying abilities (notice I did not say disabilities!); different age levels; different obstacles. 

In my twelve year career as a teacher, I have primarily taught inclusion at the upper elementary level.   So when you are in an entire new setting, you tend to appreciate what you have throughout the school year and have respect for those that do it day in and day out.  For example, I LOVED teaching the autistic classroom during the summer, but it is another thing to be a teacher in  that classroom during a FULL day during the school year.  You learn to respect the challenge that these teachers face daily.  

A benefit I would add, is that it is a nice way to REFRESH yourself as a teacher.  Let me explain.....When I experienced my most challenging year as a teacher in sixth grade, I seriously wanted to walk out on my job twice, no lie.  I literally did cartwheels on the front lawn of building as the buses drove away on the last day of school.  That summer I was given the job of teaching a Preschool Disabilities classroom for ESY.  Can I just say, working with those kids was the breath of fresh air that I NEEDED.  Working with those 3 and 4 year old during those four short weeks reaffirmed why I got into teaching in the first place.  

Change is GOOD sometimes (at least during the summer months).  Don't get me wrong, I cannot stand moving from different grades or even different classrooms from year to year because it IS A LOT OF WORK.  But, sometimes teachers need change.  This is the small dose of change that is good for me.  Too often, I have seen teachers become complacent and set in their ways.  In MY opinion, if you have been in the same grade level for 20 years, it's quite easy to say that teaching one grade over another is easier.  But if you have had a change every so often, you tend to appreciate how hard others have to work too!  I can tell you firsthand, that teaching preschoolers how to identify letters and count seems easy enough, but it IS NOT!  Preschool teachers are teaching these students the fundamentals of subject areas, but they also how to teach students how to stand in a line, walk in the hallway, proper ways of going to the bathroom, how to raise their hand, how to take turns, how to be respectful, how to be a good friend; silly things that teachers in upper elementary can take for granted.  

I will never say one grade is easier than another.  Teaching ANY grade is challenging; but for different reasons.  Unfortunately, it feels that if you teach a TESTED grade, you are under more pressure.  So I can see where there is a divide; but just be open-minded and know that everyone's job may be a bit different; but they are all still difficult.  I'm thankful that I have this reminder every summer!  

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Do you Kahoot?

Talk about a Hoot?! This game was introduced to me by my good friend, Jill! It is a great way to review a skill or check students' understanding that gives immediate feedback.

My students love games and even more so when technology is incorporated! As a teacher I can sign up for FREE; create my own account; create a Kahoot game or check a ton of other Kahoots that fellow teachers have created and use with my class. 

I can easily create questions and provide four different responses. I check off which one is the correct answer. Instead of ABCD choices; shape/colors are the  responses. Each question can be given a time limit as well! I can create as many or as few questions as possible. It is extremely easy to do and very user friendly. 

Here's how it works.... Once I found a game or created one; I start the game. I project my game onto my class overhead projector. Students have to enter the game pin on their own device to get the exact game! This allows for connectivity and interaction! Students are asked to put in a nickname and once they join. As a class, we can see the names of those that have joined, as well as the number of participants that is displayed for all to see on the overhead. My classroom has ten iPads; so I either have students pair up or  borrow iPads from another class! Personally, I prefer the latter so that all students are engaged! 

What I love about the game is that the question and answer choices are only on the teachers version which is displayed for all students to see. The student devices only show the shape/color of the answer choices! 




As students answer, the number of participant responses pop up on the teacher version; therefore, I know how many answered quickly by either knowing it just trying to rush. I know this because after the time for each question is up; a bar graph shows up displaying the number of students that got the correct answer and the number of students that answered each of the other responses. If I am in the back of the room, I can easily see who got answers incorrect because their screen is red and will remain that way until I move into the next question. This provides me with quick feedback, and I know which students that I need to continue working in the particular skill with during guided reading/math groups or for intervention purposes. Since each child provided a nickname, each student is awarded points for how quickly they answered the correct response. On the screen, it will show the leaderboard after each question based on their point value. It even tells each student what place they are in on their individual devices. 




The students proclaimed this as their favorite classroom game all school year. I can understand why.... It is a must try classroom tool. It motivates and gets all students engaged especially as we wind down the year! I would love to hear your experiences with the game too, so please be sure to comment!!!



Thursday, April 14, 2016

Motivation for Testing

I don't know about you, but my third graders start PARCC testing on Monday.  This is the first time that they are taking a state assessment; so their anxiety is at an all time high!  It's this time of year that I use my Motivational labels along with a small treat to let them know that they can do this and ROCK that assessment.  You can find them here at my store for FREE!  My students have loved the little motivators in years past; yours might too.  Check them out!