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Building a Teacher Wardrobe

August 5, 2017

If you are starting your student teaching experience or starting your first teaching job you may be thinking about what you will wear to work every day. In my experience I have found that elementary schools can be quite casual…so no need to buy a suit! But sadly my college uniform of leggings and sorority t shirts wasn’t going to cut it anymore. When building up my teacher wardrobe I wanted to purchase a variety of easy to wear pieces that didn’t break the budget. But I still wanted to make sure that I looked young and fun!

As a teacher I knew that I would be on my feet, sitting on the ground, and that my clothes would need to be somewhat modest. Therefore most of my work wardrobe consists of bright colored pants, lightweight layers, and fun dresses.

Pants

When shopping for dress pants I found that they were either super expensive or made me look super old. My favorite pants are from Old Navy and Loft. Both stores offer amazing discounts and coupons and come in a variety of bright colors and patterns. When starting off I reccomend buying a few pairs of black pants, another neutral like navy or grey, and to mix it up with a bright color or pattern…they look great with neutral tops.

Tops

I don’t know if it is just me but my classroom was constantly changing temperature. Some days it was super warm, somedays it was super cold! I coped by making sure that I wore layers on most days. I don’t love blouses because I find them hard to move around in so I would typically wear tshirts or sweaters and dress them up with a statement necklace, colorful scarf or add a pop of color with a puffy vest.

Dresses

In the cold Michigan winter dresses with leggings were my saving grace! Not only are dresses comfortable, getting to wear leggings made me feel like I was lounging around but I still looked professional. The key to wearing dresses at school is making sure they are long enough when you bend down to work with students. I would always make sure to ask a trusted friend if it was “kid appropriate” before wearing a dress to school. My go to rule is at the knee or barely above to make sure that you aren’t showing off anything you don’t want to.


Still not sure what to wear? Here are a few of my favorite looks to wear in the classroom.

 

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!
New Teacher

First Year Reflections

June 13, 2017

As I finish my first year of teaching I can not believe how much I have learned and how much I changed throughout the last nine months. When I started my job I felt anxious, excited, and proud to have gotten a job right out of college. I was teaching in a public school district and at my ideal grade level and my classroom environment came together quickly. My room was never Pinterest-worthy, my lessons weren’t always the cutest, and my behavior management was not always on-point. But, I did learn more about myself and teaching in this first year than I learned in all of my college career!

As I wrap up my first year of teaching I am filled with different emotions. At the end of the school year, I will be leaving my current district and moving to another that is very different from where I spent my first year. I am also changing grade levels from third grade all the way down to kindergarten! Even though my second year of teaching will be WAY different from my first, I am excited to take some of the things I learned this year and apply them in my new school. Here are some of the things I took away from my first year of teaching….


Set Clear Expectations

My first few weeks of school were a mess looking back! I hadn’t decided what kind of teacher I wanted to be yet and my behavior management suffered. I had a class set of rules but I was inconsistent with how I enforced them. Some days I was the nice fun teacher while other days I had to get strict because the kids were driving me crazy!

Looking back I wish I would have started off the year more strict. I wish I would have been clear in my expectations and not let up until the kids knew exactly what to do.

Planning

In the beginning of the year, I was glued to my lesson plan book. I was fortunate to have an administrator that didn’t collect lesson plans but I always had my daily plans set to the minute. I would have a perfect idea of what I wanted to do that day but I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing the next week. My goal for next year is to start planning for the “big picture” so I can end the year feeling like I met every goal I wanted to meet.

Asking for Help

In the beginning of the year, I was afraid to ask others for help or for advice. I didn’t want my peers to think I was unqualified and I didn’t want to be a burden to them either. As the year went on I learned that it is more than okay to ask for help…it is encouraged! Relying on my peers helped me become a better teacher and I found I was even able to help them too. By collaborating with the staff members I was able to become a more confident and experienced teacher. 

Classroom Management Featured New Teacher

Behavior Management Boosters

May 19, 2017

As the weather gets warmer and the sun begins to shine the only thing on my students’ mind is summer vacation. Except the only problem is… summer vacation is still weeks away! Summer has been on my students’ mind since the first day of March and behavior management hasn’t been as easy as it once was back in the fall. While I still rely on my old tricks, I have added a few new fun things to keep my kids motivated to make good choices every day.

Score Board 

In my past posts, I shared how I use Whole Brain Teaching in my classroom (check out the post here) and one of the easiest behavior management techniques in the book “Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids” is called the Scoreboard. The Scoreboard is SO simple and effective. Each day I draw a T-Chart on my white board, one side is the happy side the other is the sad side. The goal is to end the day with more happy points than sad points…that’s it!

Throughout the day I award happy points and sad points depending on what I see. Are students talking out of turn? They earn a sad point! Are students following directions the first time asked? They earn a positive Point! The trick is to keep the score close to keep them on edge 🙂 In addition to tallying points, I always have a small incentive on the line like extra recces or Go-Noodle time. This small reward doesn’t take a lot of time or money, but is an extra way to reward good behavior.

VIP Bucket

All over Instagram I saw teachers using a “VIP Table” to award students for good behavior and thought this would be perfect for my classroom….if only I had the space. While I don’t have room to create a separate VIP table I was able to modify the idea to fit the needs of my classroom. Instead of a VIP table I filled a shower caddy with Mr. Sketch markers, stickers, mechanical pencils, and all of those extra Target Dollar Spot erasers we all hoard.

The VIP bin is awarded to a student each afternoon and is taken to the student’s desk to be used the next day. Instead of choosing a student at the end of the day, I draw a student’s name and it is a secret that is revealed at dismissal. If the student made good choices, they earn the VIP award, but f they don’t I do not reveal the name and their name is put back in the drawing. My student’s love to guess who is going to be VIP and the privilege of using my fancy supplies is enough to keep even my toughest kids motivated to stay on track.

What are some ways that you boost your behavior management system at the end of the year?

Classroom Community Featured New Teacher

Creating a Culture of Kindness in the Classroom

May 7, 2017

As a first year teacher, I was blown away by how much time I needed to dedicate to teaching social skills in the classroom. For (most) adults the concepts of kindness, fairness, and respect are no brainers. But, as I spent more and more time with my students I began to realize that these habits do not always come naturally kids.

I was nervous to dive into the world of teaching social skills in the classroom because I was worried about what I would put on a lesson plan, but after a few months I decided to put my worries aside and made a change. Sure, social skill concepts don’t show up on standardized tests but in order to make my classroom a positive and inclusive place, some explicit social skill instruction was necessary! With the help of my school social worker, I developed some short lesson plans and classroom routines to creature a culture of kindness in my third-grade classroom.

To fit in my new lessons, I used my morning meeting time and reading block to help my students form connections with each other and read books that show characters dealing with common elementary school issues. Here are a few of my favorite activities that I did with my students this year. I did these with third graders, but they could easily be adapted for any elementary age classroom!

Making Connections

To help my students make connections with their classmates I challenged my students to find something in common with someone they don’t talk to on a daily basis. This activity was simple but very meaningful because my students realized that they have a lot more in common with their classmates than they thought they did. Many new friendships formed as a result of taking the time to form connections with classmates.
Juice Box Bully- To help teach my students about bullying I read aloud the book “The Juice Box Bully” by Bob Sornson. This book does an excellent job of showing children how to stand up to bullies. At the end of the book, there is a promise that students can follow to prevent bullying. After reading the story my students asked if they could take the pledge (all on their own!) and we copied the pledge and the students signed their name to hold them accountable for their actions.

Shout Out Wall

As a class, my students brainstormed positive behaviors that you can display in the classroom. They came up with words like respectful, hardworking, and kind. I displayed these words on a blank wall in the classroom. Throughout the day my students write “shout outs” to students who are displaying one of these positive behaviors. At the end of the school day, I read the shout outs to the class and the kids get to keep their note. This has become their favorite part of the school day and they BEG me to read shout outs at the end of the day. I have learned that my kids like being recognized by me for good behavior but they LOVE being recognized by their classmates even more.

Students write “Shout Outs” on sticky notes to recognize their classmates for showing positive behaviors.

Assessments and Data New Teacher

Standardized Testing Survival Guide

April 24, 2017

Spring time means longer days, outdoor recess, and the dreaded standardized testing season. I am sure I am not alone in saying that standardized tests are far from loved. The teachers are stressed and the students are worn out; however, I have gathered some tips and tricks to help make testing a little bit more enjoyable for everyone.

My third graders just finished their NWEA-MAP assessments. This type of test required my kiddos to be on the computer for four sessions that each lasted about two hours (yikes!!!). Even though I was dreading losing the valuable instruction time, these tips and tricks helped the kids see the value in the tests and to give it their all.


Goal Setting

 For the NWEA-MAP test the students have very clear growth goals they need to achieve. Instead of having my kiddos take the test without a plan I made sure they understood the goal they needed to achieve. I was worried they wouldn’t be able to understand the numbers but by putting them into kid friendly examples, I helped them go into the test with a positive mindset.

Making growth in four different subject areas (math, reading, language, and science) can be overwhelming! To help make goal setting manageable I asked the students to pick one subject they wanted to focus on. After picking a subject we brainstormed things they could do to help them reach their goal.

Celebrating Success

To help motivate my students to do their best, I rewarded them in many different ways. Here are just a few of the things I did to celebrate their success.

  • In each test area I gave a prize to the student with the highest score and to the student who made the most growth. This was a great motivator for all of my students.
  • For each test I promised a treat if 80% of the class met their goal. This was hard to reach but the kids pushed each other because the promise of donuts was way too good to pass up.
  • With this particular test you get the scores immediately. As the children finished their tests I sat down with them and discussed their score and helped them determine if they met their goal. This immediate response helped the students stay accountable because they wanted to make me proud.

The day of the test

 Before each test I made sure my students’ brains and bodies were ready to attack the test! We would do a Go Noodle video to get our bodies moving, I shared a healthy snack with my students, and I made sure each child was prepared with a pencil and blank sheet of paper to show their work and track their answers.


As a first year teacher, testing was stressful, but going into testing season prepared and with a positive attitude helped my students rock their tests! Even though we don’t all take the same tests or do testing the way I hope that these ideas help you go into your next standardized test with a sunny outlook.

Language New Teacher Phonics Reading Writing

Who Me? Yes, You!

April 18, 2017

Time To Start Planning

Spring is officially in the air, and teachers, it is time to start planning. Time to start planning for your summer PD. You didn’t think I was going to say it is time to start planning for your summer break, did you? All of us at Tenspire know teachers don’t really get a break. Sure we rest up, clean out, and gather new tools for the new school year, but we don’t exactly get all that time away from thinking about school. We do, however, get some nice options for attending professional development that we may be personally interested in outside of what our own school districts offer. I encourage you to step out and explore what the teaching world outside your own classroom walls has to offer!

Attending Your First Literacy Conference

If you have ever wanted to attend an international educator’s conference, I recommend you start with ILA’s annual conference in July. ILA stands for the International Literacy Association. Its name recently changed from IRA with the ‘R’ standing for reading. The association’s leaders thought that the word ‘literacy’ better embodied all that they covered in their research, presentations, and advocacy. This year the conference is in Orlando, FL. This is a perfect location for a teacher’s summer get away!

All About the International Literacy Association

Last year was my first time attending ILA’s conference. I went solo and had a blast! There is a “first-timers” meet-up so newbies can get all the good to know info about the conference. There is an app so you can schedule which sessions you want to attend. I was basically running for three days straight between sessions in order to get a glimpse at many popular authors and researchers: Hattie, Shannahan, Fisher and Frey, Rasinski, Caulkins, Fountas and Pinnell, Allington, Bear, Duke, Diller, Ganske, Harvey, Hiebert, Polacco, and Schickedanz (just to name a FEW of my personal favorites). I met new favorite authors and researchers, too. The conference is a wonderful place to network! The names on your textbooks are no longer just names. You can actually meet with and exchange contact info with your favorite “big” names in the field of literacy! Teacher nerd geeking out! You will, too!

One of the best features of the conference that I was not anticipating was the exhibit hall. SO. MANY. FREEBIES. So many. Yes, the teachers were going nuts! You know we all love us some freebies. All I can say is that I suggest bringing an extra bag or suitcase if you are going to take full advantage of the giveaways. Another bag would be needed if you wanted to make any purchases (Note: Bring P.O. if able!). Sometimes prices on materials are at a conference discount and no shipping costs, so, bring those extra bags, literacy ladies and gents!

I think you will find the costs of the conference very affordable as conferences go, and you may even be able to ask your principal or district to cover the costs of attending. Regardless of who is footing the bill for your learning adventure, be sure to get pre-approval for PD hours. In our district, we just fill out a form for our principal and district curriculum leader to sign. Make sure to print out a certificate listing the sessions you attended to officially count your PD hours earned and turn it in to your district following the conference. Remember, not all sessions offer in-service credit.

Big News: If you are a preservice educator, you can go to ILA for FREE. That’s right. No charge. Wow! I only wish I would have known this before I graduated with my teaching degree. If it’s free then I don’t think you really have any excuse NOT to attend! Tell all your preservice teacher friends and make a fun field trip out of it!

That’s about all I can tell you in regards to attending an international conference in a blog post. You will have to see it to believe it. I am presenting a poster session with a group this year, so I’ll see you there! ILA. July. Orlando. Be there and be sure to stop by and say hello!

Classroom Community New Teacher

Making Parent-Teacher Conferences Painless

April 4, 2017

As a first year teacher, I was terrified of a lot of things when I started my job. I was scared of random observations, overwhelmed by lesson planning, and stressed out by my students’ unique behaviors. I was most intimidated by the thought of holding parent teacher conferences! At my school, every parent is required to attend a 20 minute conference in November…YIKES! I was afraid I wouldn’t be prepared, that they would ask me a question I couldn’t answer, or that they wouldn’t take me seriously.

However, I managed to survive my first round of conferences with the help of my coworkers (and a lot of coffee). Their ideas for running each conference, preparing in general, and some scheduling tips saved my sanity that week.

Here are some of the best ideas I learned and applied during my first year.


Schedule – I was very fortunate that I had flexibility in planning my conference schedule. I allowed the parents to select two days and I assigned them an exact time to arrive. Giving the parents some say in their time slot helped with my attendance (95% of my parents showed up!) and this also allowed me to schedule my conferences strategically.

When placing parents into time slots I made sure to leave myself breaks. I planned to have a break at the halfway point to eat a snack and, let’s be real, use the bathroom! I also made sure to “sandwich” my tougher conferences between my easy ones.

Preparation – To prepare for each child’s conference I created a folder to showcase their important work, their test scores, and the child’s self-assessment. If you use portfolios in your classroom this is easy! I made sure to have important assessments, a writing sample, and the child’s reading score readily available for the conference. I also included a copy of their report card and their standardized test scores to review.

The best thing I included in the child’s folder was their self-evaluation. Before conferences, the children rated themselves in different academic and social areas. These scores showed the parents how their child viewed themselves and we were able to talk about what their child feels they need to work on.

The day of conferences – When a parent arrived I made sure to start with the same question each time…”Before we begin, do you have any questions for me?”. It may seem silly but by asking the parent first I was able to save myself a lot of time.  Without asking first, I could spend 20 minutes blabbing about their child’s test scores and the parent could care less because all they want to know is if their child is making friends. Starting with a question helped me focus the conference and left the parent feeling informed about the issues that concerned them.

The little details – The cute details weren’t necessary but helped make a good impression.

  • In the hallway, I set up “cute” lined paper and pens with a note to write their child a letter to put in their desk.
  • I put coloring books at a table for younger siblings that tagged along.
  • In the hallway, I set up a “donation tree”. The donation tree had die-cut apples with supplies we needed for our classroom. Conferences are a great time to stock up on kleenex and gluesticks!
  • At my conference table I had pens available, notes about upcoming events, and a box of tissues – luckily the box came home unopened. 🙂

Even though parent-teacher conferences are not exactly what I would consider a fun time, being prepared helped make the experience more enjoyable. My coworkers’ advice helped me feel confident enough to talk to my student’s parents and have productive and painless conferences. Even if you have been teaching for many years I hope that you can use some of these little tricks as spring conferences approach.

Featured Interview New Teacher

How I Landed My First Teaching Job: Interview Tips & Tricks

March 16, 2017

When I graduated from college in April 2016 I was terrified about getting a job. My home state, Michigan, is known for lacking in quality teaching jobs. With a degree in Elementary Education and an Early Childhood Education endorsement, I had a few options but the scary part was actually landing an interview!

It took a few months of silent waiting before I got the first phone call. But with patience, the interviews began to line up and all that was left to do was prepare. To get ready for my interviews I gathered my important paperwork, assembled a portfolio, and put together an outfit I would feel confident in. I don’t consider myself an expert on interviewing by any means, but of the four interviews I went on that summer, I was offered every job. So something I did must have worked!


Important papers

At every interview, I brought the following documents. I never actually needed to provide them on the spot, but I felt more confident having them in case I was asked for a copy.

  • Resume – at least 5 copies to distribute to the interview panel if asked
  • Teaching certificate
  • College transcript
  • Letters of recommendation – I have these stapled to my resume. My letters are from my college advisor, student teaching advisor, and my student teaching cooperating teacher

Personal Portfolio 

My teaching portfolio is a binder that contains lesson plans, awards, letters of recommendation, notes from students, and resume information. I keep all of these things organized in a simple three ring binder. In the interview, I referred to my binder to show examples of my lesson plans and to share my accomplishments outside of the classroom. From my experience, having a portfolio is not necessary but it makes me feel more comfortable when I am interviewing. It is also a conversation piece and a great way to highlight skills.

My Attire

In the classroom, I dress very casually! But regardless of how casual teaching jobs can be, I chose to dress to impress. I also was interviewing in the summer so weather played a factor in my outfit choices.

I have worn the following outfits (and wore them with confidence each time)!

  • Black shift dress and colorful blazer
  • Fit & flare dress with a colorful cardigan
  • Black dress pants and a green blouse

With each outfit I wore heels – I’m 5’3” and the heels give me confidence! I also wore a statement piece of jewelry and all of the women on my interview panels complimented me. The final touch to my outfit was a large structured purse to hold my portfolio and resumes. I also carried a water bottle, some back-up makeup, and a lint roller to freshen up before I headed into my interview location.


Although I can’t consider myself an interviewing expert, I think the key to success is being prepared and confident. By bringing the right things (e.g a lot of resume copies and a professional portfolio) I felt prepared to answer questions and talk myself up. Also, picking the right outfit gave me the confidence boost I needed to show off my best self.