Friday, July 21, 2017

Clean (?) Desks...

One of the great things about fifth graders is they speak their minds.

More than once last year, I got called out for having a clean desk.  When my desk was clean, they knew one of the following things would be happening soon:

1) I would be out and they'd have a guest teacher.

2) I was going to be observed by my administration.

3) We'd have visitors from another school.

If one of those things was happening, my desk was spotless.

Any other day, it was a different story.
I don't start out with the intention of a cluttered desk.  But as the day progresses, students place extra copies of papers there, notes are turned in, and by the time I notice, it's covered in papers.  

I don't spend my time with my students cleaning or tidying.  I spend my time being in the moment, immersed in their learning opportunities.  I won't apologize for that.  

I try to tidy it before/after school, but I have an open door policy and usually some other teacher is in my room venting/problem solving/chatting.  Again, I won't apologize for being there for others.  In the scope of my responsibilities as a teacher, having a spotless desk is quite low on my to do list, ranking right above filing student nurse pass slips in alphabetical order.

Growing up, I had a desk in my room.  I had grand ideas of how it would be decorated and that I'd sit there, every night, doing my homework.  

That's not what happened.  It became a dumping ground for things and I'd do my work in a chair, in bed, or laying on the floor. 

That's simply not the case. I'm not a desk person. That didn't change when I became a teacher.

Don't get me wrong, I love the look of this:

Or this:

But that's not my reality.

I will sit at my desk to input grades...and that's about it.

I don't sit there to take attendance. I don't sit there and teach from my seat. I don't even sit there and grade.  Instead, my desk is a catch-all spot for paperwork and holds up my computer.  If I had the option to get rid of it, I would, but that's not in the cards...yet.

So instead of snapping at my students over their mess, I provide opportunities to clean and practice organization.  Being tidy and organized is not something that comes naturally to everyone, so why would I expect it naturally from all of my students?

It's one of my goals to be more organized this year.  I think a change in grade levels will mean people won't just bring me  papers in the middle of the day.  I'm hopeful that less copies (28 of everything instead of 40) will also make a difference. I'm hopeful that more notebooks will mean less copies of papers.

Stay tuned for how operation #cleandesk will unfold!


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Cabinets, again

Three years ago, we started to remodel our master bathroom.  We ripped out the medicine cabinets and started the process of putting in built ins.  But due to a series of unfortunate events (and life getting in the way), our bathrooms have been sitting like this for a while:

My inspiration (from Pinterest):

Our first contractor was taking months to get back to us after coming to take measurements, so we had to let him go.  I've never fired someone, so that was a difficult experience.

We met with a second contractor (who happens to be a dad at my school) and he built our cabinets.  He has a handyman company and is a carpenter for the Venetian, so he's legit.  He also lives really close to us and was extremely flexible with our schedule.

Basically he built two boxes that will fit into the wall and drilled holes for adjustable shelves.

Each cabinet will have 2 shelves.

They sat in the garage as I dealt with end of the year chaos:

But finally it was time to paint.  I borrowed one of the hubby's work shirts, found gloves and a mask, then got to work.

Since the wood was brand new, I didn't have to de-gloss or sand it.  I got to jump right to step 2, which is painting.

Unpainted wood and after one coat:

One of the blessings of living in the desert is that paint dries incredibly fast.  Instead of waiting for two hours between coats, the real wait time between coats is about twenty minutes.

The cabinets get two coats of paint, which ends up looking more purple than I'd like.  Luckily that's where the stain comes in.

After eight hours of dry time, I put on the stain.  This is perhaps the easiest part.  Using a sponge brush, I slap on black paint.  Before it dries, I use a cloth to wipe it off in long, vertical strokes.  Some black color is left behind and the result is a sea-washed, quasi-rustic look.

The final touch is putting on the clear sealant coat.  Using a dry brush, I coat all sides with the sealant.  I used a sponge brush to soak up excess white bubbles.

The cabinets then stayed in the guest bedroom until our contractor came back to install them:

I had some issues with the inside edges (they are darker than the rest) but I think it'll be okay once they're in the wall.

I laid everything out in the bathroom (and of course had furry investigators): 

The process:

The final look:

(They do perfectly match the cabinets below the sink, despite the lighting in the picture.)

Naturally, I put my own touches on my side right away:

I originally bought the ceramic cactus for my classroom, but it fits perfectly there! I've been eyeing it for over a month and it's really hard to say no to whimsical knickknacks that are under $5.   Darn it TJ Maxx!

Up next?

We're going to replace the carpet in the bathroom (yes, bathroom) with some white and gray tile and re-carpet the master summer.  I'd also like to frame the mirror with the same molding he did on the cabinets and replace the lighting over the sink. Perhaps that's a winter break project? 

Next up?  I should probably discuss with the husband first...

One project at a time!

Monday, July 17, 2017


Last week I had a lovely lunch date with a friend from work.  She taught second grade last year (long term sub) and will hopefully fill our third grade vacancy this year.  She's going to be finishing up her degree and student teaching and be fully licensed for next school year.  If the stars all align, I'll be her supervising teacher and she'll be two classrooms away.  She's quite the lovely person, open to learning, and actively seeks out ways to improve.  She's also fully aware of this blog post.

She said something that rubbed me the wrong way (and has been rattling around in my head for a few days).  She was hesitant to talk about things she wanted to work on for next year, as if it was a weakness to want to improve.  As her potential supervising teacher (for student teaching), we've got to have honest conversations about growth.

I quickly jumped in and told her that it's awesome to have a list of things she wanted to improve on.  I shared the gist of my {goals} for next year.  Once I shared that I've got plenty I want to improve upon, she seemed much calmer and more open about her perceived weaknesses.

First off, they aren't weaknesses.  They are targeted areas of growth.  Self awareness is the first crucial step.  There's nothing wrong with saying you want to improve as a teacher.  We applaud when athletes improve their records from previous years, so why is teaching different?

Granted, sometimes the professional developments (PD) we receive aren't the greatest, especially when they are mandated and generic.  But that's not the only option for PD.  Creating a PLN (professional learning network) and sharing ideas (virtually or in person) is a great way to continue to grow as an educator.  Reading books, watching webinars, and talking with others are all stellar options.

Second, one of the greatest (and worst) things about teaching is that there is always something new to learn.  There are always new strategies to try and ways to improve.  It's wonderful that she's open to this.  Everyone should be.

Third, there's only one true weakness in teaching: arrogance.  To assume that one's teaching is perfect in every aspect is the height of hubris.  Classroom management, behavioral conflicts, these can all be fixed with mentoring and ongoing conversations.  But the arrogant mindset and refusal to be open to others?  There's no outside forces that are capable of fixing that mindset.

I've been there and it's not pretty.  It was my third and fourth years teaching.  I'd finished my Master's degree.  I worked with some veteran teachers who were on their way out to retirement, so their work ethic and quality of teaching wasn't quite where it needed to be.  I was still very much in the Teach for America mindset where if a teacher isn't devoting every waking hour to the kids, they must not care.  This relentless, work-a-holic mindset isn't sustainable, isn't healthy, and isn't good for kids (or the teachers).  

I started attending professional development outside of my school and district and was quickly knocked off my high horse.   For this, I am eternally appreciative because my stay in arrogant teacher land was a short staycation, not a long term residency.

While I may have been the best in my grade level, there was plenty more to learn.   Quickly humbled, I made it a point to seek out opportunities for improvement...and I haven't stopped.

I've attended some awesome professional developments. I've led some sessions at school and district levels.  I've read some great books and am fortunate enough to be at a school that encourages professional growth.  But I'm no where near being done learning.

I have teacher friends at my school, within my district, and outside of CCSD that I can turn to for advice and lesson ideas.  I have a close knit group where I can openly admit when a lesson fails and complain about all the ways it didn't live up to my expectations.  After my allotted venting time is over, we turn to problem solving and how to improve it for next time.  It's all part of the learning process.  My students experience it often and as a teacher, I'm also a life long learner.

I'm (hopefully) out of the elitist mindset.  I am fully aware that as a teacher, I have areas of improvement.  So, I do something about it.  

I schedule observations and actively seek out feedback.  I look for opportunities to expand my learning (and bonus if it's paid!).  As a mentor, I have an open door policy.  If a mentee or peer is willing to have me observe in his/her classroom, I should be willing to reciprocate.  As a mentor, I am peer mentored.  I talk about my lesson ideas, lesson successes/failures, and ways to improve with other teachers, our strategist, and my administration.  It's sometimes a scary and honest conversation about what's not going well.  There needs to be a great deal of trust between all involved parties.  

Through trial and error, I've found a few peers who I could have honest conversations with about classroom instruction.  The point was not to gossip or belittle my instruction, but rather to find solutions to the problems I was facing.  

Sometimes, this honesty has failed miserably.  I've been blindly assigned to watch other colleagues and had them tell me "I hear you really stink at ____, __(name of previous administrator)__ told me so. I'm happy to have you watch me so you can fix __(my perceived area of weakness)__."  

That colleague was not in my trusted circle and presented herself as the savior to all my problems.  I have trouble respecting this person's work ethic as it is.  I was hurt by the betrayal of confidentiality from my supervisor.  Had it been presented as a choice of teachers for me to observe, it would have been another story.  But the administrator took our private conversation where I was seeking out feedback (from the administrator) and essentially outsourced feedback without my consent.  The other colleague took joy at knowing my weakness and chose to exploit it by sharing my situation, loudly, in the teachers' lounge.

That's not how we help each other out.  That's not teamwork.  That's not appropriate.

It took a while for me to be open to feedback from others after that incident.

One of the hardest part about working with other teachers is running into arrogant, inflexible teachers, like the one mentioned above.  They've been teaching for X many years and know everything.  They don't want to work with others, they don't want to be observed, and don't welcome constructive conversations.  There are a lot of reasons behind this mindset, but the biggest is fear.  Fear of being wrong. Fear of trying new things. Fear of failure.

Instead of being frustrated with these teachers, taking their comments personally, or worse, continually butting heads with them, I do my very best to keep my professional distance.  

I am not a perfect teacher.  I have things I want to work on.  I have skills I want to improve. I've had lessons fail miserably...and that's okay.  Because these things are not my weakness.  They are areas of growth.

Being resistant to change, having an arrogant mindset, and refusing to receive feedback are weaknesses.  

Sunday, July 16, 2017

I'm a sucker for sales...

I didn't plan on having such good luck at Joann's, but I'm a sucker for sales:

Both for 70% off (plus 25% off my whole purchase and 10% rebate from Ibotta).  

The pillow will be another addition to my classroom library.  It also goes really well with the other pillows:

I'm going to have a lot of pillows in my classroom.  Some can be used as floor pillows for flexible seating, but for the most part, they'll just be used during reading time.

The basket was an unexpected find near pillows.  I want to make this frame and selfie props for my classroom:

I also want a place to store props (for when they graduate, make growth, etc).  This bucket will be designated for that purpose.

My students love selfies and silly pictures of themselves, so why not bring that into the classroom as a reward?

Friday, July 14, 2017


My oh my, the side hustle game is strong this month!

I'm finally done with the Hidden Oracle and Dark Prophecy work!

Snag the novel guide for The Dark Prophecy {here}

Snag the chronological order comprehension sort for The Dark Prophecy {here}

Snag the student question guide for The Dark Prophecy {here}

Snag the bundle for The Dark Prophecy {here}

Snag the mega bundle (The Hidden Oracle and The Dark Prophecy) {here}

Snag the student questions for The Hidden Oracle {here}

Snag the updated bundle for The Hidden Oracle {here}

Now...I wait for what's next.

I swear this is like Harry Potter all over again.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Back to School Schedule

I know I'm ending my summer early.  I've explained my reasons {here} and it's a personal choice I'm making to alleviate some of my anxiety.

I'm fortunate enough to have the flexibility to go in early. I don't have to worry about child care costs and live ten minutes from school, so it's not a big time commitment to run over and work for a few hours.

If we're being totally honest, it will be about three hours of work per day followed by a nap.  

I tend to put on music (or a few movies) and work until it's done.  I'm hoping the pod is relatively empty so I can be productive (and not distract myself with chitchat). 

I did sneak in yesterday during Open Library and set up my tables.  I also noticed I had two extra tables, but we figured out who needed them and the custodians said they'd take care of it.

Here's a rough outline of what I hope to expect during setting up my classroom:

Day 1 (Tuesday, August 1st...theoretically)
1. Hang my bulletin board fabric and spray with wrinkle release if necessary.  I tend to staple the top and let the wrinkles fall out overnight.

I have two classroom bulletin boards and one in the pod.  I'm reusing fabric from last year.  Some of my fabric is an old bed sheet from Goodwill (twin works great), some is fabric from Joann's, and I'm pretty sure some is an old table cloth.  Fabric gets washed over the summer and reused each year if possible.  Unlike paper, fabric doesn't fade over the course of the school year, which is another teacher win.
 2. Move furniture (if possible).  Some of my bookcases will cover the bottom part of bulletin boards, so I can't move everything.

3. Set up my teacher desk.

Day 2
1. Finish hanging bulletin boards by stapling the rest of the fabric up.

2. Hang bulletin board borders.  I'm using mesh this year on two of them.  I'm hoping it goes much better than the time I used burlap:

It was beautiful, but it took hours.  HOURS.  Never again.

3. Finish moving furniture. 

4. Hang the net.  Yes, fishing net.  It goes with part of my aquatic theme.

5. Start to organize my library.  When I moved classrooms, I tried to separate books and send the fifth grade books home to live in the garage.  I didn't get to all of the books and just gave up at the end.  I'm sure I'll have some books to weed out that aren't appropriate for third graders.  

I'll also be reorganizing my classroom library.  I probably won't have entire buckets devoted to Number the Stars or The Giver.  Sure, I'll keep a few of each in my library for my higher readers, but the rest will be stored at home in the garage.  Instead, those buckets will house Babysitter's Club books (because I keep finding them for super cheap at Goodwill).  My library needs to match my students' levels.  

I will also use this time to look for any damaged books or ones that need stickers (to match the bins and help the kids know where to return books). 

Day 3

1. Sit on the floor and continue to make piles of books.  
2. Begin to put books in buckets.  Put buckets of books on the book shelves.  Repeat.
3. Make a list of sticker labels to print.

Day 4

1. Hang up bulletin board decor.  Print the lettering for the banner (and stuff into my purse to deal with at home, where there is wine to drink while I cut out letters.)
2. Copy cacti for students to color for our pod bulletin board. 

3. Attempt to find the box that says beginning of the year papers. 
4. Finish classroom library.
5. Unpack my snacks (top desk drawer of my teacher desk is devoted to snacks).

Day 5

1. Copies (before everyone returns)
2. Empty remaining boxes. 
3. Finish setting up technology. 
4. Revise and print new business cards/magnets

We have to return on Wednesday, August 9th.  The kiddos show up on Monday, August 14th. I'd love to be totally done in my classroom before the 9th.  Thanks to our union, we have the 10th to work in our classrooms without meetings.  I'd like to use that time to work on lesson plans and copies. 

In the mean time, I'm working on a bulletin board banner and giant mermaid tale from home.  Home is where the wine is!

Rules, Rules, Rules

Teacher confession here:  I hate going over all the rules the first day.  The kids tend to be experiencing a Taylor Swift-range of emotions and are quite frankly overwhelmed.  Simply sitting and receiving information isn't the best plan.

Instead, I switch it up with a few hands on activities.

The Scavenger Hunt

Instead of pointing out everything in the classroom,  I have students find a partner, grab a clipboard, and go on a scavenger hunt.  I stand back and let them find things around the classroom.  

Granted, I don't have the scavenger hunt made yet. I've got to set up my classroom first...but I've got last year's to revise.

They'll talk about their answers as a table and then we go over the answers as a class. It's a perfect time to incorporate listening and speaking norms. I model standing up, facing the class, introducing myself, and speaking clearly so the class can hear.  From there, students will practice public speaking in a non-threatening environment.  Finding different things in the classroom (pencil sharpener, telephone, etc) is completely safe.  They are almost guaranteed to have the right answer and as a class, we can practice cheering and applauding one another.  At the end of the activity, not only do students feel more comfortable in the room because they know where things are, but empowered because they found them with a partner and were celebrated for their correct answers.

While yes, this takes more time in comparison to me standing in front of them pointing things out.

But here's all the things the lesson also teaches or incorporates:

1) Teamwork (they work with a partner)
2) Using materials appropriately (they'll use clip boards and practice putting them away appropriately)
3) Movement (I don't sit well and neither do they)
4) Sharing ideas
5) Celebrating others (class cheers)
6) Agreeing with others (hand signals)
7) Active listening
8) Shared sense of ownership over our classroom 

The Rules

While every teacher has basic rules in mind about the classroom, it's important that students feel that they help create the classroom   (and that includes the rules).

To do this, I set out large pieces of paper with the following questions:

1) What do I expect from my teacher this year?

2) What do I expect from my classmates?

3) What do I need to have a good school year?

4) What does it mean to be a good student?

5) What do I expect from myself this year?

6) How should I treat other people and materials in this classroom?

I lay the papers out around the room and introduce the concept of a gallery walk.  I split the class into smaller teams (not with their table teams) and give each group a pack of markers. Every student will have a different color (for accountability).  I go over answering the question (spelling doesn't count, which puts many at ease), talking at an appropriate volume, and that I'll be setting the timer (usually for 2 minutes).  

At the timer, I call for everyone's attention.  I go over capping the markers and looking for direction.  I go over the rotation pattern because the students will be rotating to each large piece of paper.  I have them silently practice rotating to their next piece of paper.

Before immediately writing down their own answers, I introduce my expectation that they'll read their classmates answers first.  If they agree, they just put a check mark.  If they want to add more, they can add bullet points underneath.  If a student's idea is not on the sheet, that's when he/she may add a new comment.  I have them review my expectations as a group.  I then give them 90 seconds at their second rotation.

At the timer, I go over the expectations for transitions again.  I repeat this after each rotation.  I have them repeat the expectations to one another.

After all the questions have been visited by all the groups, I bring the class to the carpet.  We look at each sheet together and discuss what stands out.  From there, we create the rules.  (Spoiler alert, I already know what the rules are. Most of the time they come up with exactly what I want them to do but if not, I gently guide them to what I want to emphasize.)

School Rules

School rules and expectations are a little different because they're set in place by administration. 

However, just because I can't change them doesn't mean we can't have fun going over them.  I split the class into eight teams (different pairings then their table teams so they can mingle with each other) and give them a sheet with true/false statements.  As a group, they go over the statements and mark their answer choices.

I then teach answering procedures using {the cups}.

I don't love when everyone shouts out answers.  By using color coded cups (from the Dollar Tree), all students get a chance to answer without speaking.  

It's another opportunity to incorporate classroom procedures, but with a clear purpose (answering the game questions).  They answer with green (true) or yellow (false) cups.

Recapping Everything

By Friday of the first week of the school year, we've pretty much covered all the classroom procedures, rules, and students know where things are.  To recap everything, I once again split the class into teams to teach kahoot. is free for educators (my favorite) and requires some prep work.  You create questions and put in answer choices, marking which is correct.

Students will use iPads (assuming they're ready for student use) to answer trivia questions on the web-based platform.  Each game has a specific code, teams can create their own names, and they get points for how quickly they answer the questions.

Kahoot is great for reviewing concepts before tests, but I want the first time we use it to be for fun.  While it's not tied directly to academics, knowing the classroom procedures and expectations will save loads of time as the year progresses.  I'd rather spend a good chunk of the first week(s) setting the foundations in place for the rest of the year. 

Yes, it's important to get into the academics and the whole learning thing. But it's also important to ensure that there is a classroom foundation where students know the expectations, feel safe, and are empowered to take risks.