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Quick tips for the end of the year

Oh, I remember how I knew nothing about ending the school year. At the end of my first year, I thought I just pulled the door behind me and I would return the next school year to start off on day 1. Ha Ha Ha Ha! Nope, it doesn't work that way!

Let me explain with a few mistakes that I made.

1. Never leave all of your small stuff out. I left all of my knick-knacks and school supplies out on my shelves and in my organizers I had arranged to make my classroom super functioning! When I returned at the end of the summer, I realized that the custodians had moved EVERYTHING out into the halls to wax the floors. Well, the summer school students had taken full advantage of my supplies. I guess it's good they were well used!

2. Pack up your desk. I know this sounds silly, but clean out your desk and put everything away in a box. I didn't do this my first year, and when the custodians moved my desk out into the hallway to wax my floors, they turned it on the side. It dumped out all of my little containers and paperclips jammed into the drawer slides! It took me forever to clean it out and put everything back into its place.

3. Mark your items. One thing you will find is that most teachers are scavengers. It's almost funny that when someone retires or is let go, their "stuff" (Desks, chairs, podiums, shelves, cabinets, etc.) becomes free for all. It is attacked on closing day like a yard sale at first opening. Now, if your materials happen to be in the hall for cleaning, other teachers may assume it is for the taking, as well. Be careful with this. It is even more awkward to do a walk-thru in the next school year to see your globe rotating on another teacher's desk. Hmmmm...

4. Clean out. I thought it was smart to keep everything from year to year, but now I know better. Clean out and make room. This is true of markers (they dry out), student work samples (pull the best of the best and clean out the rest), and even resource materials. One thing to consider in our technology age - if it can be done digitally, why take up space. Now, I fight this one some, because I still think it is important for students to have things to touch and manipulate to learn. Still, clean and toss what you do not need so it is easier on you to unpack and organize at the beginning of the next year.

5. Update. You want your students to learn, and many of them learn by looking. Update the things in your classroom that decorate your walls or ceilings. Take down the old and bring in new, or use student work to suggest what your new students will be able to do in the coming year.

6. Plan to be back. I never pack things up to the point that I will not be able to access them over the summer. I am a teacher all year, and I get some of my best planning and development done in the summer months (after vacation, of course!). Keep things where you will be able to get to them for that moment of inspiration!

Now, I know that these things may seem simplistic to the seasoned teachers, but I know that I learn something new every year when it comes to packing down for the summer!

LAST TIP: Write yourself a note on the board. (You may also need to write your custodians a note to not erase it!) Remind yourself what you learned in this year that you never want to forget. List the things you want to change. Write yourself the encouragement that you may need to hear as you take on your new darlings in the fall. And finally, write down a new goal for yourself. In the end, it is what we reach for that keeps us moving forward!

Happy end of the school year to all!

It's Personal

My Masters program included my student teaching, and we would end each instructional day with a co-hort meeting to debrief and diffuse. I often remember my professor telling us to not take it personally after we shared our moments of frustration and the things students told us about our teaching abilities (usually during our instruction!). While I loved my co-hort professor, I now believe she was 100% WRONG! 

We should take it personally!
As each school year winds to a close, our students are more comfortable saying things that we should and NEED to hear. They tell us the good things we have done and the areas in which we need to improve. They tell us, simply, what they liked about us, and what they didn't.

Take it personally!

But why wait until the end of the school year to hear this vital feedback?  Honest feedback is one of the greatest tools for learning.  We should be asking the right questions to get the right answers every unit (if not every day!).

Take it personally!

It can be a simple unit assessment addition.  My student surveys can help.  First evaluate students and request feedback at the end of each unit with a student study survey.  Teach students early on that feedback is good and it helps them grow! 

Teach them to take it personally!

My end of the year survey is a two-part survey where they answer questions about their own setbacks and successes, and they have the opportunity to honestly tell me what they think. I also include a writing assignment where they are to write themselves, discussing where they will go from here and questioning themselves on what they will need (to do) to get there. But, the parts I focus on the most are the ones that tell me what I did wrong... and what I did right!

I take it personally!

The "professional" explanation for this is simple. I can apply their advice to my teaching and work toward making myself a better teacher with their words of inspiration. However, I find the "in your face" explanation much more relevant. I need to know if I have made a difference in their lives. I want to know if they have learned anything in my classes each unit and each year. And most importantly, while I am not concerned about their "liking" me, I do care whether or not I have earned their respect.

I take it very personally!

Happy Teaching!

Oh, the places they'll go...

I've taught grades 6-12, and it is the same for me each year about this time. For you new teachers, you may not "get it" yet, but I'm sure the experienced ones will be nodding their heads as they read.

I start the cleaning and organizing process as the school year winds to a close. I think about what I will need first next school year, what I can pass on to other teachers, and what I need to "find" over the summer break. And then it happens. I begin the "throw away" stage. I look at my materials and try to decide if it is out of date or simply no longer of use. Some things may be torn or aged, and just need to move on. Now, this is where things take a turn for me, because as I start throwing away "things," my mind wanders to the students that will also be leaving me. And yes, they are leaving ME! It is a personal thing. And I cry.

When you have your own children, you watch them grow and you do all you can to prepare them for their futures. You know, by the time they reach that high school graduation stage, that they will be okay. You also know you will still talk to them every day. It's a momma requirement! But your school kids (and yes, they are YOUR kids)... they go away. And many do not return, except on a trip back during Spring Break or on a trip in for copies of their transcripts. While it is a wonderfully happy occasion, you just know you will think about them and miss them. You will miss whatever contribution they made to your classroom climate. You will miss the stubbornness they taught you to understand. You will miss the smile or the nod that told you they "got it" when you taught that difficult lesson. And most importantly, you will miss them as a whole. Another group that is moving off into the next stage, where they will brighten someone else's world for a while.

Still, my protective nature makes me want to make one final attempt to take care of them: I want to write little notes to the ones they are going to, telling them how lucky they are to have the same opportunity I have had. Like those notes we attach to our kid's shirts in kindergarten, I want to label these "adults" as they move on, telling the rest of the world to love them just as much as I have.

And then I sit back, tears streaming down my face (you should see the sobbing mess at Graduation!), and think about the new ones that will come in next year. What will they be like? What will they bring to challenge me? And the big one: What will they teach ME?

My advice for teachers

After I survived my first few years of teaching, I started working with new teachers and student teachers to mentor them through their challenging adventure. At the end of each year, the newbies would tell me I should write it all down and share it with all new teachers around the world. One teacher (Leslie, you will remain anonymous!) asked me to, at least, write it all down for her. So I did! She got the first copy, a MS Word document, of my book, A Lesson Plan for Teachers, New and Old: A Guide for Student Teachers, New Teachers, and the Experienced Ones!

It has been a great success so far, and the feedback from teachers has been so wonderful. I hope it will continue to help new teachers (and the experienced ones) as they tackle each new school year with the same confidence and enthusiasm that I do!

My book is available for download at TeachersPayTeachers.com or at Lulu.com in print version.

My First Post

Starting my own blog is somewhat like stepping into my own classroom for the first time. I didn't know what to expect, and I had no idea where to start...

I remember that I planned and planned until I had enough lessons to last a lifetime (or the first week) - or so I thought! Despite my professor's warning to all of us recent graduates, "Always plan to go beyond the bell. You'd rather have too much than too little," I knew I had it all planned out perfectly for my 50 minute class. I was a "meant to be" teacher, wasn't I? So my well organized, thorough lesson plans (right down to the materials needed) were laid out on my desk that first day, and as the students entered, I met them with a smile and a boatload of confidence. That lasted, oh, 20 minutes. What I realized later, was that I talked far faster than normal when I am nervous. My planned 50 minute introduction and discussion of classroom expectations turned into a 20 minute recitation. Thank goodness for that good ole History Alive "Meet & Greet" activity from the back of the book. "Find someone who..."

I did survive those first days of teaching, and now I am considered a "Master" or "Highly Qualified" teacher, working with the newbies and trying to help them not make the same mistakes. In designing activities, I think about the new teachers and hope the activity will build their confidence as it helps them to teach a solid lesson to their students. I also try to create activities that will engage the students and help them to see that learning can be fun (and interesting, too!). In the end, I want everyone to love going to school like I do - the teachers and the students!