Thursday, August 16, 2012

Open House

Open House was last night, and, y'all, it was a zoo!

The schedule had students and parents in the auditorium at 5:30, and then turned loose (literally) at 6pm to pick up schedules, join PTO, purchase lockers and yearbooks and t-shirts, find their classes, and meet their teachers. No student or parent was supposed to be in the halls before 6pm, and the whole shebang was supposed to be over by 7.

Oh my gosh, y'all.

I had my first kid at 5:15.

There was a wild stampede from 6 to 7:30. 

I didn't say goodbye to my last students and their parents until 8:20.

It was insane.

I think I may still be recovering.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Classroom Tour (The Before Pictures)

I finally got into my new classroom today!

This is only my second teaching assignment, so I do not have a lot of experience with different administrators and their quirks.  At my old school, we were free to come up at any point during the summer to work in our classrooms. My new principal sent out a "Welcome (Back)!" letter requesting that we stay away from school until this week. Students return August 20th, and the first day for non-new teachers is August 13th, so this seems kind of late to me.

New Teacher Orientation starts tomorrow, so this will be the only time I'll have in my room until the weekend. Luckily, any teacher who wants an exterior key can have one. (Another difference from my old school. I wound up with an exterior key because I snagged it from a coach who resigned.)

Here's a quick tour of my classroom as it was when I first got in this morning. Excuse the junky cell phone pics. You may see better ones eventually!

view from doorway, straight to the back of my room

view from doorway to opposite corner

view from doorway to corner w/ closet
I haven't decided yet which wall will be the "front" of my classroom. I am leaning towards the wall between the closet and the corner opposite the classroom door. This is where my projector screen is located, so it's a logical choice, but I do kind of wish I had a bulletin board on that wall! (The only BB I have is the one near the phone.)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Classroom Expectations

This summer, I took a six-week course on classroom management in hopes of getting some fresh ideas to use in the fall. I think classroom management is something we can all improve on, and I was looking forward to learning some new strategies, but I wound up being a little disappointed in the class. It wasn't as helpful as I had hoped, but it did prompt me to do some major reflection on my classroom rules and expectations.
As you may remember, this will be my third year of teaching. I started my reflections by looking back on the set of rules and expectations I used in previous years.

First Year

In the weeks before starting my first year, I drank the Harry Wong koolaid. After reading The First Days of School, I became convinced that I needed only the three expectations (that were supposed to be) common to all classrooms at my school:
  1. Be respectful.
  2. Be responsible.
  3. Be resourceful. 
I found out on the first day of school that even though we were all technically supposed to use these expectations, no one had ever explicitly taught our students what they meant. In fact, though they were printed in six-inch letters on a banner hanging in the hall, no one ever discussed the expectations with the students. You can probably imagine how my first day of classes went. As it turned out, my kids needed clear rules that left no room for discussion. Although I did eventually rewrite and reteach the rules, I let the chaos reign for far too long. I really struggled that year, and so did my students.

Second Year

I knew right off the bat that I would need rules that were specific and clear. The rules I finally decided on were:
  1. Review the student handbook and know that all school rules apply in this classroom.
  2. Bring all materials to class.
  3. Be in your seat and ready to work when the tardy bell rings.
  4. Raise your hand and request permission before speaking or leaving your seat. 
  5. Show respect to everyone in the class. 

This Year

I'm still working on my rules for this year. I've been toying with the idea of having four or five major rules, and discussing with my classes all of the things that fall under these main categories. In my classroom, I would post the major rules and list specific actions beneath them (a la Sarah). Here's how that would look in my classroom:

I am thinking that this may be a little too much information for the ninth graders I will teach this year though this list would have been perfect for my 7th and 8th graders last year. I'm still tweaking these for sure.

Show kindness and respect to everyone. 

  • Help and encourage your classmates. 
  • Use only appropriate language.
  • Give the speaker your undivided attention.
  • Leave he classroom and your desk area better than you found it.

Be prepared to work hard, then do it. 

  • Use your time wisely.
  • Stay organized and on task.
  • Participate and ask questions.
  • Complete and submit all assignments on time.
  • Keep working until you have been dismissed (by the teacher, not the bell).

Do not do anything to keep the teacher from teaching or the students from learning.

  • Follow all directions the first time they are given.
  • Avoid unnecessary distractions. 
  • Raise you hand and request permission before speaking or leaving your seat.

Be ready to work as soon as you enter the classroom.

  • Bring required materials to class daily.
  • Turn in your homework as soon as you enter the classroom. 
  • Sharpen pencils before class.
  • Be in your assigned seat when the tardy bell rings. 
  • Begin the bellringer ASAP.

Follow all school rules.

  • Keep personal electronic devices turned off and out of sight. 
  • Do not eat or drink in the classroom. 
  • Be sure that your clothing meets dress code standards at all times. 

EDIT: I just read Daniel's post on teaching students norms and rules, and I think I may incorporate some of his ideas this year. I especially like the way he teaches norms.

Friday, July 27, 2012

My "Teacher Style"

One of the great things about being a teacher is that it's easy to justify back-to-school shopping. Kate from To the Square Inch is hosting a blog carnival (linky party) to showcase teacher style, and I've decided to participate!

Like most teachers, I am on a budget, and in years past, I've relied heavily on Old Navy to meet my back-to-school needs. However, I haven't been very happy with their quality lately, and since one of my summer goals was to pare down my closet, I really need quality pieces that are going to last through more than just one school year.

I'm a tall girl (5'11 barefoot) and not as thin as I used to be, and it has become increasingly difficult for me to find clothes that are cute, comfortable, and classic (I do NOT want any burnout tops in my closet!). Sometime in June, I was turned on to Lands' End by plus-size blogger Brittany Gibbons. Lands' End is great because they carry pretty much every size range (petite, regular, tall, plus, petite plus) and they're good about listing the lengths of dresses and shirts, so it's easy to tell if something is going to be long enough. Because of LE gives such detailed info on their website, I was able to confidently order a whole slew of sleeveless dresses to get me through the summer. I have literally been living in these since they arrived, and I plan to continue into the school year. I'll probably top these with cardigans, but sleeveless tops and dresses are usually fine for work in Alabama since temperatures will likely be in the 80s right on into November.

I bought this sleeveless linen shirt dress in "meadow mist" (pictured). I've been wearing it with wedges this summer, but I'll switch to flats for work. I haven't taught in heels since I interned.

I own this cotton modal fit and flare dress in taupe ("mushroom"), regent (pictured), navy, and red ("wild cherry"). It is hands down THE most comfortable dress ever, and the fabric is a really nice weight.
I have this sleeveless poplin dress in "wild cherry" (shown). It also comes in white and china blue. I love that it is fully-lined, and I'm tempted to order it in one of the lighter colors. I'm afraid I would look like an old-school nurse in the white!
I bought a couple of tanks to pair with cardigans for days when I want to wear pants.

I also got this wrap sweater for when it starts to cool off (December). It reminds me of a ballerina sweater I had in high school, and it's so soft and cozy that I'm thinking of ordering another in camel. Can you tell that when I find something I really like I tend to buy it in every color?

I also purchased these supima cotton cardigans in navy and palm, and I'm in love! They are a great weight--not to heavy for summer, but not so thin that they'll come apart. I have plans to order a few more of these in some neutral colors as funding allows, but I think I may order the "Autumn Sunset Heather" over the weekend. Every Auburn girl needs a burnt orange cardigan!

Here are a few others that are on my radar. Lands' End is great about offering major sales pretty regularly, so I'll be keeping an eye on these.


For footwear, I'm a fan of simple sandals and cute flats. I own several pairs similar to the ones below.


What's in your wardrobe for the new school year? Do you do some major back-to-school shopping or buy individual pieces throughout the year? Link up with Kate to show us your teacher style!
* * *
Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post in any way.  No retailer, manufacturer, or company mentioned here even knows who I am. If I sound like I'm on their sales force, it's because I've been really pleased with their product!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

How I Got Here: Part III

I always love to hear how fellow teachers got their jobs. It's helpful to those looking for teaching positions, but I still think it's interesting to the rest of us, too. At my former school, I found that the interview process I experienced was completely different from even my coworkers' experiences. In light of that, and in hopes of helping future educators with the interview process, I've decided to share the tale of how I got here. (Note: This is Part III of a multi-part series. Read Part I and Part II.)

When we left off, I had just finished my interview with The Worst School Ever, and as Hubs drove us back to the lake where we were spending the week, I called my mom. As I was describing the urban area we were traveling through (and in which the school was located), she cut me off mid-sentence and said, " Look, I get that these kinds of places probably need good teachers worse than any other schools do, but based on what you've just told me, I'm prepared to pay you not to work there."

Luckily, it didn't come to that.

That same day, a Thursday, I received a call from the superintendent of a little city school system in a neighboring county. He didn't have a straight math opening, but they were looking for a grad coach to work with students having trouble passing the graduation exam. The teacher hired would be pulling mostly upperclassmen from electives during the school day and tutoring each student in one or more subject areas. The superintendent said that the previous grad coach was moving to an open position at the elementary school level and as soon as he knew he had the opening, he started looking at his notes from Education Interview Day in March and thought of me. Was I interested in interviewing?

Well, the superintendent didn't know it, but his system was one I had not planned to interview with at EID. The teacher who heads up the teacher mentoring program for the system was helping man the booth at EID, and when she saw the big "MATH" label on my nametag, she literally grabbed my arm and dragged me over. After a few minutes of talking with them, I was sold on the super-small, family atmosphere they described, and I signed up for a screening interview. After the 30 minute interview, I felt compelled to move them to the top of my list, and I had been checking the state website where teaching jobs are posted since March, hoping to see a posting for this system.

I quickly scheduled the interview and spent my weekend researching the grad exam and beefing up my portfolio.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Because You Have Googled Your Teacher (And So Have I)

As you may know, this blog began as a personal one and has only recently begun the transition to a public, teacher blog. In preparation for returning to school in the upcoming weeks, I have reverted all my past posts to drafts. Soon, I will begin re-publishing posts fit for little eyes. Subscribers, please bear with me as your reader picks up this "greatest hits" feed.


Friday, June 8, 2012

Summer PD: A Big Ol' Love Fest

I am one of the weird teachers who love professional development. Love it.

(If you are reading this, I suspect that you are one of those weird teachers, too.)

Even on my best teaching day, when I end the day feeling pumped about how my lessons went and I can see that my kids have had a breakthrough, when I'm sure I'm where I need to be and can't imagine myself doing anything else, even on days when I love, love, love teaching, I still love learning even more, so spending all day with people who know more than I do is my idea of a good time.

Here's a list of the PD I'm signed up for this summer.
  • Students in Poverty (regional workshop)
  • Using Web 2.0 Tools to Make Every Teen a 21st Century Reader (e-Learning course)
  • Classroom Management in the 21st Century (e-Learning course)
  • Special Students in Regular Classrooms: Technology, Teaching, and Universal Design (e-Learning course)
What are you learning this summer?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Classroom Decor Teaser

How I Got Here: Part II

I always love to hear how fellow teachers got their jobs. It's helpful to those looking for teaching positions, but I still think it's interesting to the rest of us, too. At my former school, I found that the interview process I experienced was completely different from even my coworkers' experiences. In light of that, and in hopes of helping future educators with the interview process, I've decided to share my experiences. (Note: This is Part II of a multi-part series. Read Part I of the series first.)

I went on two "real" interviews before being offered a full-time position. The first of those "real" interviews was with a school four hours away in an urban area I would not have normally chosen. When I applied for the position, I knew absolutely nothing about the school, the system, or its kids. I was also doped up on Lortabs, recovering from a nasty ear infection that had left me temporarily deaf in one ear. It was not the ideal interview situation to start out with, but as C and began to approach the area surrounding the school, I began counting the projects we passed, and then I began to notice that the only restaurants I saw were of the fast food variety and that none of them offered a "dining room" option. That's right, every single restaurant--including the national chains--had bars on the windows and required patrons to use a walk-up window.

Although seemingly impossible, it got worse when we arrived to find that ours was the only car in the lot. Hoping for the best, I approached the front of the school to find the door locked and chained shut. I did eventually find an open door and one other person who was also waiting to interview. At this point, I decided this was NOT the school for me, but I planned to go through with the interview out of politeness, and for practice, and because we'd driven four hours to get there. The principal did finally show up, fifteen minutes late, asked me four questions, and declared the interview complete. In all, I spent approximately sixteen minutes in his office, and for at least seven of those minutes, he was on the phone. He ended the interview by shaking my hand and saying, "Don't feel bad if you don't hear from us."

Lucky for me, my next interview was a much more positive experience.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How I Got Here: Part I

I always love to hear how fellow teachers got their jobs. It's helpful to those looking for teaching positions, but I still think it's interesting to the rest of us, too. At my former school, I found that the interview process I experienced was completely different from even my coworkers' experiences. In light of that, and in hopes of helping future educators with the interview process, I've decided to share my experiences. (Note: This is Part I of a multi-part series. Read Part II.) 

My husband and I are alumni of the university that makes our hometown a college town. I also hold a degree (my teaching degree) from its satellite campus.

Twice a year, every year, our alma mater hosts an Education Interview Day where 300+ education majors from both campuses have a chance to interview with schools from the surrounding areas. I attended two EIDs, one during the semester I graduated (the fall of 2009) and one the following spring. I did maybe seven total interviews on those days, all of which were what I consider "screening interviews," a chance for superintendents, principals, or their representatives to get a look at the the students preparing to enter the teaching profession and a chance for those students to become more than a faceless resume in a stack of faceless resumes.

I was asked to complete several substitute applications at EID, and I was offered a long term sub position (which I accepted) as a result of one of the Spring interviews, but most systems treated EID as Step 1 of a screen process, and many of us were called back for additional interviews.

Read Part II
Read Part III

Friday, May 25, 2012

The BIG News I Promised

Today was the last day of my first teaching job.

For the past two years, I have lived and breathed junior high math. As my school's only math teacher, I've been the department newbie, the department veteran, and the department chair all at once. If something great was happening in a math classroom, it was my classroom. And if our math scores weren't up to par, I shouldered the responsibility. Being the entire math department was exhilarating and stressful and challenging and exhausting and fun. Leaving my post has not been an easy decision, and saying goodbye to the friends I have made and the students who made me a teacher has been bittersweet.

I am not leaving the teaching field, but I am leaving my current system and the junior high setting altogether. I've accepted a job in a new school in the county where we live. In my new position, I will be one of four ninth grade math teachers, and I will be teaching Algebra I, our standard ninth grade math.

This will not be a completely new beginning for me since I had the chance to teach Algebra I on the block schedule during my internship three years ago. The internship lasted fifteen weeks and the course lasted eighteen weeks, so I was able to teach nearly all of it (excluding welcome week and exam review). I actually worked for this system as a long term sub after my December graduation. The geometry teacher I subbed for actually taught in the very same building I'll be teaching in now,  and in fact, my new room is right across the hall.

The symmetry of winding up (for now anyway) in the place where I started is not lost on this math teacher.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


I have big news that I am dying to share, but it will have to wait until all of the involved parties have been brought into the loop. It's scary and exciting, but I don't want to be a tease, so I'm going to move on to something I realized about five minutes ago.

When I first learned to multiply binomials in eighth grade, my Algebra teacher introduced the FOIL method as this mystical set of steps you have to follow in order to simplify an expression when the plain ol' distributive property won't do it. I am a type A personality all the way, so having a set procedure appealed to me immediately, but I'm a little embarrassed to say that the whys didn't matter much to me. I distinctly remember many of my classmates leaving class with a dazed, terrified look on their face and hearing that two of them planned to convince their parents to request placement in standard math (Pre-Algebra).

In high school, our physics teacher reviewed the FOIL method, encouraging us to draw lines between the terms as we multiplied and calling the resulting diagram the "Happy Tomato." He actually told a story about the tomato, which I thought was crazy, but I dutifully drew the lines each time I multiplied binomials. I did notice that my peers who were foiled by FOIL were happy to use the Happy Tomato. (See what I did there?)

I think this was the first time that I actually realized how important it is to offer students alternative ways of doing things. Both teachers taught (reviewed) the same skill and even the same method, but they used completely different explanations, and it made a difference for their students.

A few minutes ago, I saw a product of two binomials in a Google ad (spend much time searching for math activities, and you, too, can have algebra ads framing your windows), and it hit me that multiplying binomials is EXACTLY like multiplying two digit numbers. If a student can multiply two-digit numbers, and they can find the product of a variable and a number and the product of two variables, then multiplying binomials is a no-brainer. FOIL just allows us to multiply with our terms written horizontally.

FOIL just gives us options, so why is it not presented that way? If I were teaching students to multiply binomials, I would start by asking them to multiply two two-digit numbers (written vertically). Then, I would stack the binomials, and show students that the same method is used to multiply binomials. Then, I would write the binomials horizontally and ask students how they would proceed. I suspect they would just rewrite the problem vertically, and here is where I would introduce FOIL to eliminate that step. Instead of rewriting the problem, just "FOIL it out." Everyone loves a shortcut!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What to Teach When You've Taught It All

Since our high-stakes testing was completed, I am having the hardest time convincing our students that we are, in fact, still in school. It's been much warmer in the past few weeks, which has contributed to our kids' idea that "school's out for summer." Several of the other teachers are still trying to get their curriculum covered before the end of the year, but for the first time, I was able to teach eveything I am required to teach before we began testing. After giving some thought to what I should teach them now that I've taught it all, I decided to let my students guide me towards one of two options: (1) go back and practice learned skills that are part of our course of study or (2) move on to concepts not on our course of study.

As a math journal entry a couple of weeks ago, I had my students write about what math topics they would like to spend some time on. I got a few requests to go back and do some reteaching of topics my kids thought they needed more practice with (graphing for my eighth graders and proportions for my seventh graders). After revisiting those concepts, we moved on to what the majority of my students requested: "eight grade stuff" for my seventh graders and "money" for my eighth graders.

The seventh graders are tackling multi-step equations, which I could pretty much teach in my sleep at this point, but my eighth graders have started a unit on personal finance, a first for me.

Since I've never taught personal finance (and in fact, I'm still learning some things myself), I'm drawing heavily from what other teachers have done and using Money Math: Lessons For Life, a curriculum supplement developed by the Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and backed by the US Treasury. So far, the kids seem really interesting and are more motivated to learn than I've seen them in a while. I think it helps that personal finance somehow doesn't seem as "math-y" (their word) to them, and I feel good knowing that all of my kids can draw real-life benefits from these lessons (unlike, say,  the lessons on set notation).

Thus far, we've investigated the differences between simple and compound interest and the benefits of saving and investing. Next week, my students will complete a project that teaches them how to stay within budget constraints as they (pretend to) wallpaper my classroom. We'll finish up by creating a monthly budget and adjusting it to account for some real-life dilemmas (unexpected medical bills, broken-down cars, maybe even an unplanned pregnancy).

If things continue to go well, I'm planning to make Personal Finance my standard end-of-the-eight-grade-year unit. Even though some of my kids are a little young to fully grasp the importance of these skills, I have other students who will be turning seventeen over the summer and will likely not return to school next fall. As sad as that makes me, I want to send them off with some knowledge of the real world and having practiced skills they can use immediately.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Brainstorm: Intro to Equations/Properties of Equality

Goal: To help students understand the addition and subtraction* properties of equality.

Common Core Standard: 6.EE.4 - Identify when two expressions are equivalent (i.e., when the two expressions name the same number regardless of which value is substituted into them).

ACOS Standard: 7.6.B.3 (2003); 6.15 (2010)

Materials and Other Requirements: 1 deck of playing cards, 3-ring binder to serve as a partition, desk or table, two student volunteers

Time Requirement: 5-10 minutes

Procedure: Stand the 3-ring binder up on a table to serve as a partition. Position Student A and Student B on opposite sides of the partition. Give Student A a 3, a 5, and a 2 card. Give student B an 8 and a 2 card. Have them hold their cards so that the class can see them. Ask the class to state the sum of the cards Student A holds and then the sum of the cards Student B holds (10). Ask the class if the students are holding the same cards (NO). Ask the class if the (values of the cards on the) two sides (of the partition) are equal (YES). Tell students that for the remainder of the activity, the partition will stand in for an equal sign. Be sure that students recognize that the whole set-up (Student A, Student B, and the partition) is really an equation. Narrate as you hand Student A a 7 card. Ask the class if the two sides are equal now (NO). Have the class explain why/how they know this (Student A's hand now adds up to 17 while Student B's hand is still 10). Narrate as you hand Student B a 7 card. Ask if the two sides are equal now (YES). Ask students to explain WHY the two sides are now equal (They both add up to 17). If necessary, guide students towards the appropriate wording(If the sides start out equal, and we add the same number to both sides, the sides remain equal or similar). Repeat three or more times with different cards and different students.

Closure: Instruct the students to use inductive reasoning to write a rule about adding the same value to both sides of an equation. (If your students are not familiar with inductive reasoning, give a brief overview and then model using induction to write a rule.)

* Can easily be modified to show the subtraction property of equality, and with a little tweaking can be used to model the multiplication and division properties of equality.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

Spring Break

My husband had some minor surgery done on Wednesday, and since I am on Spring Break and he's off work while he's recuperating, we are having a long weekend at the lake (free for us thanks to his generous parents). He is doing lots of resting, and I am doing lots of cooking (I've made this, and this, and this, and a little of this).

It's been raining all day, and I've been cooking all day, and I admit, this is not how I really intended to spend my Spring Break. However, a rainy day at the lake beats a rainy day almost anywhere else, and I have thoroughly enjoyed not being Mrs. S for a few days.

I keep catching myself thinking that it is June and that I do not have to go back to work Monday. Our high-stakes testing is in two weeks, and my stress levels are super high. I guess denial is my coping mechanism, and doesn't that say it all?