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Work Life Balance

August 13, 2017

Do you find yourself bringing home piles of papers to grade every night? Staying up late working on lessons plans? Coming into school early AND staying late? Do you find yourself wondering where all of your time went during your planning hour?

If you answered yes to any or most of these you might be struggling to find a healthy work-life balance. As a new teacher, I thought the more I worked the better the teacher I would become. But after a few months of late nights at school and Sundays spent surrounded by piles of papers I knew I needed to make a change so I didn’t burn out.  I decided I needed to work smarter not harder…and to not feel bad about leaving my teacher bag/pile at school (gasp!)


Some of my best advice I can give to new teachers is finding ways to eliminate meaningless tasks so you can focus on what is actually important…teaching your students!

    1. Have your students help! I was very lucky to have a “safety” in my classroom. She was an older student who came into my classroom 10 minutes before the bell rang and at the last five minutes of school. She did all of the small tedious tasks that take up my valuable time like; unstacking chairs, setting up breakfast, passing out homework/notes, and recording behavior chart data. If you don’t have a “safety” you could always ask another teacher for help from an older student or even invite a responsible student from your class into school early.
    2. Student Jobs– Just like my safety did tasks before and after school, my students helped save me so much time during the day so I could focus on teaching. My students would help me organize my library, pass out mail, and even check in homework!
    3. Smart Copying– I used to make a trip to the copy machine every day! It didn’t seem like it at the time, but these 5 minute trips really added up by the end of the week. Instead, I created a copy pile that I would gather the week before I was teaching the lesson. Then I could dedicate one of my planning hours to spend copying. After copying, I would file away my copies until I needed to use them. Not only did this save me time, it also saved me the stress of waiting for a machine to open minutes before your kids were ready to walk in the door!
    4. Smarter Assignments- At the beginning of the year I would “grade” everything; every worksheet, every reflection, every exit ticket…everything! But when I thought about it I realized I was creating way more work for myself than was necessary. Most of the time, I already knew how the kids did on the assignment because I was working with them…so did they really need a sticker or star on the top of their paper? Usually, the answer was no. Once I decided to stop spending time grading assignments that weren’t assessments I was able to save myself SO much time.  
    5. Parent Communication- At the beginning of the school year I had notificiations for Class Dojo connected to my phone and I would check my email at any hour. It was hard for me to get out of “school mode” when I was at home answering questions about lunch money as I was getting ready for bed. Although it was hard for me I decided to let my parents know that I would not be responsing to any messages between 6:00 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. and to my surprise no one cared! I was so worried about them being mad at me for not replying right away but they were very understanding and this simple act really helped me separate my home and school life.

Hopefully one or more of these tricks will help you leave the stress of school in the classroom and help you learn how to work smarter not harder this school year.

Back to School Homeschool Motherhood

Why We Start School BEFORE the First Day of School

August 11, 2017

One of the things I love about homeschooling is the flexibility of the schedule. Now I’m not just talking about the day today schedule  – I’m also talking about the yearly schedule. If you look into the legal requirements for homeschooling in your state, you’ll find that most states require a certain number of days or hours, but it doesn’t dictate when those days or hours have to be. So, for our family, we start “school” before the formal first day of school to get some of those hours in ahead of time.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for summer break. Believe me. I was an elementary school teacher for 8 years, and my husband is currently a teacher……so we LOVE our summers. We also know that the kids need that break too. So we always take a few weeks completely off, and we definitely don’t do school when we are traveling, visiting family, or on vacation. But for those weeks in the middle and end of summer when we’re home, we definitely try to put a few hours of school into our week.

Our “summer school” days are not our typical days. We only put a hour or two in, as opposed to a full day, but you’d be amazed at how much you’re able to cover in that seemingly short amount of time. We also don’t try to cover all of the subjects. One day we might focus primarily on language arts and art project. The next day we may dig into a fun science activity and review some math. And although I don’t count these days as full days in our calendar, it really gives us a jump start in to the year.

There are few reasons we really love this approach.

Number one. Starting school in the summer gives me some time to figure out what using my curriculum really looks like. The teaching guides and what I think should happen is one thing, but when I actually put the material in front of my kids, it could be something totally different. So spending some time before we’re in our formal school year figuring out just how long that reading lesson will take or just how much prep time I need for science is super helpful. Though the time each day is limited, it gives me a chance to kind of experiment with the curriculum so that I can better prepare and plan when the formal school year starts.

Number two. If you’ve been anywhere around the teaching world, I’m sure you’re familiar with the term “summer slide.” Basically, it means that during the summer a lot of kids lose some of what they’ve learned in the previous school year and they’ve “slid” a little bit backwards in their learning progress. It’s totally normal, but by keeping my kids involved in activities that review what we’ve done the previous year it helps prevent them from falling into the summer slide trap.

Additionally a lot of the material we cover at the beginning of the year is review of the prior year. For instance, this year my son is starting first grade. Having looked at and planned some of the curriculum, it’s clear that a lot of the material in the first few weeks even the first couple of months reviews what he learned in kindergarten. So, by tapping into some of that material over this summer, we’re not only engaging in our new curriculum, but we’re also continuing to review concepts and material that he learned or was introduced to last year.

And number three – (and perhaps my favorite) – by putting some hours and days in during the summer, it gives me a little bit more flexibility during the actual school year. If we have to take a few days off for travel, sickness, or if we just simply need a break, we’re able to do that (and still meet or exceed our requirements) because we’ve built a little cushion during the summer. And we all know that sometimes we just need those random breaks.

So, if you’re planning on homeschooling this year, and just can’t wait to dive in, go for it! Take it a couple of hours at a time, and you’ll learn so much – even before the school year starts!

Back to School

Back-to-School Craftivity

August 9, 2017

Call me “old school” but there’s something about a good apple craft that really gets me in the Back-to-School mood. As soon as I see those pretty red apples, I feel like I’m a third grader at Meet the Teacher night all over again! Since I love them so much, I HAD to put together an “about me” craftivity to start off the school year!

What’s Included?

This craftivity comes with 5 apples per page and 2 baskets per page. All graphics are available in color if you want to use them as bulletin board decorations, or in black and white for students to color and write on!

My goal was to make this craftivity as easy to differentiate as possible. At the beginning of the school year, you don’t have a great idea of what levels you’re working with and picking out a difficult task can cause a student to quickly get discouraged. All apples come with handwriting lines for those who are able to write, blank spaces for pictures to be drawn, and empty apples with no topics at all. Print a stack of each for students to choose which level works best for them!

How Do I Use It?

One of my favorite ways to use this would be to have students start out each day the first week of school with an apple to color, cut and write/draw about themselves. Once the morning has settled in, these would be great topics to share with classmates at Morning Meeting and slowly allow students opportunities to open up to each other.

The best part about craftivities is that they quickly go from lesson/activity to bulletin board decoration! The cutest bulletin boards always get students to interact or showcase student work, so craftivities are perfect for this! Simply get the bulletin board set up before school starts and display the baskets and apples at the end of the week!

To check out this product in my TPT store, click the picture below! Happy Back-to-School, y’all!

Back to School Language Phonics Reading Writing

New School Year, New Standards

August 7, 2017

Tennessee Academic Standards

I know that Tenspire’s followers are from all over the globe, but I wanted to take the chance to highlight something awesome in the world of academics happening in our home state of Tennessee. We have new K-12 teaching standards in English Language Arts, y’all! We have new standards in mathematics, too, but you know I am your literacy gal so I am just going to stick to what I know best. Getting to this point of the adoption process was no easy task. We are proud of what our stakeholders have put into place for our students! Teachers, community members, leaders in education- everyone had a chance to chime in to help create what is uniquely Tennessee’s own set of standards. Our state is calling these changes revisions to the previously adopted standards. Therefore, there is no reason to worry that everything we liked about the old standards were thrown away. The revised ELA standards have some subtle but important aspects that I am excited to highlight with you now.

Vertical Progression

In viewing the layout of the revised standards, you will most likely first realize changes have been made. The standards pages list the cornerstone standard (formerly known as anchor standard) at the top of the page and show how that standard is achieved as it moves from the top tasks in 12th grade all the way down to the foundational skills in Kindergarten. This layout was intentional to help educators see exactly where their grade level standards fall in the big picture of preparing students. Additionally, this layout helps one see where students might have gaps in their learning from previous grade levels.

Embedded Language Skills

Integration is a common goal for many educators. Research tells us that students learn best in context, not in isolated pockets. It is too difficult to piece together the numerous components of literacy without the chance to apply what you are learning in a cohesive manner. It is also difficult to teach each aspect of the reading process without combining elements- there are simply not enough hours in a day! Do not have a meltdown when you cannot locate the language skills for grades K-5 because now you know that these standards are embedded in the foundational standards as they should be.

Greater Emphasis on Writing in Early Grades

Guess what? There is a greater importance placed on foundational writing skills in the early grades. This is a concept that we can all rejoice about since we know writing can be the glue that binds all those tricky early literacy skills together. The sooner we get our students writing, the better. Maybe we have all known this for some time now, but at least our standards now help support this wonderful revelation.

Besides the main categories mentioned above, there were some other changes, too. There is new nomenclature (a.k.a. coding- see the graphic below) and the reading standards have a side by side layout so one can compare the literary/informational text components easier. There is a great reference in the speaking and listening standards to other literacy standards to guide you in integrated instruction. A new appendix with supporting documents was a must. You simply have to check out the revised standards yourself to see all the nuanced but necessary changes in clarity and continuity that were made to your grade level’s standards. I hope you enjoy your new school year- here’s to the best class ever to go with the best teaching standards we have ever had in Tennessee!

P.S. Also check out this Chalkbeat article about the standards!

 

 

 

Back to School Homeschool Motherhood

Mapping Out Your Homeschool Year

August 3, 2017

Planning Your Year

Planning an entire year might seem completely overwhelming, especially if this is your first time. But let me tell you, the time you take to map out your school year is well worth the investment! Without a doubt, plans will change, things will take much longer (or shorter) than expected, but if you have this general curriculum map in place, you’ll have an idea of where you’re going and about the pace you need to go to get there.

Pacing

When I taught in the classroom, we often referred to this as our pacing guide. Being a runner, this resonated with me. For example, if I’m running a half marathon (13.1 miles) and I want to get in under the 2-hour mark I know I have to keep a pace of about a 9-minute mile with a little wiggle room. Some miles might be faster, others will be slower, but I know about the pace I need to go to meet my goal. The same is true for your curriculum mapping. If you know you have X amount of lessons to cover and 180 or so days in which to do it, you’ll want to know about the pace you need to go.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m NOT about “just getting through the curriculum.” Part of the beauty of homeschooling is being able to adjust to your student’s needs, interests, and learning style. However, I also know I’m responsible for equipping my kiddos (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and academically) for when they transition to public school. And so part of that requires I move at a pace that does prepare them academically.

Okay, let’s dig in! If you don’t have one yet, grab a planner to jot all this information down (I suggest in pencil)!

So, let’s start with the simplest part. Begin by establishing your starting and ending dates. Now as I shared in a previous post, we always “start” our school year a little early – getting our feet wet with some of the curriculum in the summer. But we still establish a date when we’re going to start that full day schedule. Once you have those, block off holidays and any other days that you know you will not be conducting school. At this point, make sure that you have – at a minimum – the number of days required by your state.

Now, you’ve got your big picture outline, and it’s time to start actually adding the meat of your planning.

I suggest starting with your mathematics curriculum. I suggest starting with math because it tends to be laid out in lessons that will consecutively build on each other and it’s a subject you’ll likely be doing every day. Start by evaluating how many lessons are in your curriculum – be sure to count any review and testing days as lessons as well. Then, divide the number of lessons by the number of weeks in your calendar, and you’ll have a general idea of the number of lessons you want to cover each week. Using the planner, pencil in when you’re going to do each lesson. This is where you want to start paying attention to dates and day. If you know you’re heading into a break, you aren’t going to want to start a brand new unit right before. Also be sure to plan review days. Not only is it important for kids to review the material they are learning, but it gives you the freedom to spend two days on a lesson that your students find more challenging.

I suggest moving on to language arts next. I advise you to do these two subjects first – simply because they are two of your core subjects that you’ll be doing every day, and if you can get these two subjects planned, the rest will be a piece of cake.

You’ll take a similar approach in planning your language arts curriculum as you did with the math. However, many language arts curriculum are planned out in weeks or units as opposed to numbered lessons that you often find in math. But you’ll basically start the same way. Evaluate the number of weeks or units that are in your curriculum. Look at the number of days you have in your calendar and divide to see approximately how much you need to cover each week.

Remember, you’re getting a big picture idea with this planning. You don’t need to go into great detail with every single component of the curriculum. So don’t stress about that! You’re just trying to get an idea of the pace, and when you get closer to the actual teaching, you’ll be able to spend more time preparing for all of the components of the lessons.

Once you have your language arts and math planned out, it will be time to tackle the other subjects. What else do you want to include in your teaching? How often do you plan to teach those subjects? You’ll likely include history and science. But do you want to include art? Bible? Music? Foreign language? This will depend partly on the age of your student, as much more is required for older students.  

One thing I DO NOT recommend is trying to hit every subject every day – especially if you have young ones. Not only will your kids burn out – but you will too!

So, maybe you plan to do history on Monday and Wednesday and focus on science Tuesday and Thursday. You can leave Friday open for other specialized activities or just for review. Or may you choose to really focus on a history unit for a couple of weeks and then dig into a science unit for a few. The choice is really up to you.

The big idea with this planning is to assess where you want to be at the end of the year and then to map out a general plan and pace. This has made such a difference in my planning – and I sincerely hope it helps you as well!

Do you have other tips? How is your planning going? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a note in the comments below!

Back to School Math

Back to School Math!

August 1, 2017

It’s hard to believe we will all be back in our classrooms soon, with a fresh group of students ready to soak up all the knowledge a new school year has to offer! I’m not quite ready to give up my summer yet, but I am starting to think of ways I can better my teaching this year. There are so many fun ways to incorporate math into your beginning of the school year routines!

Name Tag Numbers

This activity will be fun for students as they get to know each other and practice number sense. All you need is a stack of name tags! Take a number and write it a different way on a few name tags. For example:

  • 651
  • six hundred fifty-one
  • 600+50+1
  • use a photo/drawing of place value blocks to represent the number

Do this with 4-5 numbers and give each student a name tag, then have them find the other students in the class who have name tags that represent the same number. You can make this a great ice-breaker by having the students complete a task together once they find their group.

I Have, Who Has

This game is perfect for any grade level! You can easily find a set of cards on TPT or at most education stores. My place value set is a favorite in 3rd grade! I love this game because it forces students to practice listening skills and interpret the information on their card.

If you’ve never seen this game, here’s how it works: each student gets a card with a picture or phrase on it. The first card might say “I have 63. Who has 7 tens and 8 ones?” The player with 78 reads their card, which says “I have 78. Who has 2 hundreds, 4 tens, and 2 ones?”…so on and so forth. I love to have my students playing this game from the beginning because it is perfect to use as a warm-up game for so many lessons throughout the year! You can have them start with review skills from the previous year.

Me By the Numbers

This one is perfect for your first hallway or classroom work display! Modeling is essential for this, especially with the younger grades. Have students create their own chart giving information about themselves using numbers. Some ideas include their age, number of pets, number of siblings, birthday, favorite number, house number, number of soccer games they won/books they read over the summer… really anything with numbers will work! Let them be creative! Here is a sample chart I found, but you could easily create one that fits your needs!

There are so many great ways to use math during those get-to-know-you first days! Wishing all of you a wonderful start to the school year!

Back to School New Teacher

School Supply Shopping List

July 9, 2017

The time is here! All of the Target, Walmart, and grocery store ads are beginning to feature Crayola crayons and composition notebooks on the cover. As a kid this was by far my favorite time of the year! I couldn’t wait to take my supply list to Target and pick out my fresh new supplies for the upcoming school year. I think that excitement is part of the reason I became a teacher because I still feel just as giddy when I see the first back to school ads appear on T.V. now as I did when I was a kid. 

But as exciting as they may be it is very easy to go overboard buying supplies for your new classroom. As a first year teacher, I learned a lot about what to buy during those crazy sales and what’s okay to pass on.

Last year, I decided to allow my students to have their own supply boxes, and I provided some communal supplies for my students to share. I ended up strongly disliking this method by the end of the year! The students had very little respect for the communal supplies and we ran out of many things by December. This year I plan to only have community supplies and be very clear about my expectations with my students and how to treat our tools with respect.

I am excited to start my “back-to-school” shopping this year with a better idea of what I need and what I can pass on. 


Must Have

  • Folders– I wanted my students to have color coded folders for all of their subjects so this was a “must have” for me. I found that many stores would offer them as low as 15 cents!
  • Composition Notebooks– By purchasing composition books I was able to add tabs and create covers for my students’ interactive notebooks so they were ready to be used on the first day of school.
  • Erasers– You can never have enough erasers in the classroom…especially come May when none of the pencils have any left! I also find that these rarely go on sale any other time of the year.
  • Scissors– Many of my students did not bring scissors to school even though they were on the supply list. If you are starting your first classroom I would recommend having some to spare since scissors are one of the hardest supplies to share.

Pass for Now

  • Pencils– This might sound crazy but I found that pencils are the one supply that most of my students brought to school. I decided this year I am not going to buy as many as I did in the past and rely on my parents to help me.
  • Crayons– Last year I purchased a full class set, but if you are planning to do community supplies you probably do not need as many as you think. When I taught third-grade, I finished the year with 15 full boxes!