5 Reminders for a Better Teaching Year

16543582619_9514979bea_kSharing positives pays great dividends

I think time has shown me that I get tired of doing this each day in my class. At the same time there is an effect of family and brotherly sisterly feelings when I do it long term. This is something to start and not stop doing in 2015-2016.

Morning Routines

Going into the year, morning routines need to be established and followed. This is definitely part of classroom behavior.

Model the correct behavior

I think it’s really important to not escalate kids’ anger. Challenging a student is not a productive strategy. When they have done something wrong, simply remind them of the rule and if they show anger, remind them you are on their side and you will revisit it. Sometimes modeling the right behavior is best. Give them an activity safe to do while they calm down. Later on, in private clarify how they made a wrong choice and discuss better ways of handling it.

Bell to Bell teaching and working

My teaching contract says 9-3:30p To avoid being ridiculed or otherwise criticized by admin or rude and nosy colleagues, the most important part of 2015-2016 is not so much the goals but planning them within the contractual boundaries. These oddball people who are always complaining about the hours and hours they put in off contract time may gain the admin favor but they do not have a sustainable model and are likely to be way more stressed on the inside. I feel the same way about those who spend thousands on their class every year. That’s just unwise, uncalled for, and borderline neurotic. Be great when the contract allots you to do it. The other time is yours.

Do Not Let Supervisors or Colleagues Sap Your Energy or Vision … I Repeat:

Students can make it tough to be a teacher. They can also make it totally worthwhile. Colleagues are the same way. In my experience however, many cannot be trusted. Do not … I repeat DO NOT ever allow colleagues to sap your energy or vision. Make sure your focus is never on them. Your class, your kids is the range or vision you must stick to. Do not deviate into paying attention to colleagues or bosses or you’ll be doomed in this line of work. Your classroom and your students, away from the hue and cry of colleagues and admin, are your only chance to real success as a teacher.

Teachers, Testing, and the Coveted Pat on the Back

There are times as a teacher when you get no glory and seek no recognition. In fact, if you are doing it right, these are really the majority of your time. In theory, if you “keep your head down” and teach the objectives as you have mapped them, you shouldn’t need to get any pats on the back, or “second wind” along the way. It should just work and the kids should get high scores at assessment time. That should be the reward.


It is one of the most exciting things in the world to get your students’ scores back and see they did well. At the same time, it can really be a bummer when they don’t perform as well. For me, the challenge when they don’t perform is to just keep my head down, in other words: “teach without recognition.” Only I as a teacher can know where my kids are and what I need to “backward map” and/or reteach. This is a photo of me with then California State Secretary of Schools Jack O’Connell and San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, Herb Fisher. They were there to watch a few teachers at my school do an EDI lesson. That was the year we became a Distinguished school, only partly because of test scores. This was one of the biggest “pats on the back” I’ve received in my career. I did a lesson on cause and effect, 4th grade.

Teaching has a lot of small “instant gratification” moments where you can assess kids right there in the lesson and see if they “get it.” I have kids write on white boards and hold them up for me. At that point I can see the percentage of mastery.
There is no better feeling in those informal assessments than telling the class they have “100% mastery.” They clap and say “yesssss.” It’s really a great part of the job.

Harder moments are after your kids score low and you don’t have a chance to assess again. In the past I have made the error of reviewing quickly and reassessing hoping for high results. The hard truth is that in those times, you must spend a length of time keeping your head down teaching without recognition. All the while you should hold on to the hope that your quiet labors will pay off in your students’ public scores. As you proctor those tests you have a lot of stress about getting everything done the way the state wants it. You can’t talk about the test content with anyone and you especially can’t give any instruction while in motion. As I enter my 18th year of public school teaching, I can tell you the system is imperfect. When testing works, it is the most amazing high five. When it doesn’t you just have to grin and bear it. The key is to keep trying year after year whether you teach or develop these tests.

My opinion is that the primary motivation should always be to foster lifelong learners who develop rewarding lives as adults. The test is just the test. Lest we forget that …

Don’t get weary though while teaching without recognition. Doing the right thing consistently always pays off in the long run and you will get that coveted pat on the back..

Until then, you get a virtual pat on the back right here from me (via these guys)!


A Teaching Career in This Economy- Does it Still Make Sense?

This article I wrote was first published as A Teaching Career: Safe in this Economy? on Blogcritics. It has been updated and republished here to reflect current trends in education.

Picking the right major is crucial for young people in college. Should it be teaching anymore?

With economic woes at the forefront, young people choosing a career have their work cut out for them. A job like teaching, which once seemed to this Gen-Xer to be a solid choice, is now in question because of budget cuts. Not only could it prove difficult to keep a teaching job in the future, but even more likely, the pay could deteriorate below survival amounts. How can a government pay its teachers when it can’t even keep its books straight? The upside of this may be that only those who love teaching and feel “called” to it will apply. That, of course, would benefit the students of America. One sign that teachers are in her high demand is the number of teaching jobs in Florida. Whatever the hue and cry sounds like, we always need good teachers.

Though people sometimes pontificate doom and gloom, maybe they are wrong. Maybe teachers will retain the relatively decent position they have now on the food chain. Maybe a teaching certificate will earn a medium income with the security of a contract year after difficult year. While some of my friends after high school sought business degrees and big salaries, I chose to follow teacher certification programs. I have seen some of my friends crash and burn in their quest for the almighty dollar, and I have seen others flourish beyond what I ever believed possible. As for me, I am happy I went to teacher college, but some months are harder than others at just making ends meet.

Like most of you, I’ve been very concerned about the bailout crisis in American politics. I know we have a deficit in the trillions, and now Bush and others say we must write a $700 billion check from the future to the failed banks. Scary. I can’t help but wonder what will happen to teaching as a career. Our salaries come out of that empty pot from which they are pulling the $700 billion. But isn’t teaching a need of society? Won’t our government make sure that the children have the teachers they need and that the teachers are taken care of? One would hope. A teaching career is not as secure as it once was, but don’t give up if you enjoy teaching kids.

Education is as fundamental to a society as is water. I hope that as we travel into the future the government never loses sight of that. To all the potential teachers out there weighing their options, I implore you to search your heart as to what you want to study. If teaching is your choice, I don’t think you will have to worry about money as much as you would in some other careers. But that really shouldn’t matter. I know some teachers doing it “for the money,” and frankly, they are unhappy. They should look for alternatives to teaching. Education degrees cost just as much in some cases as business degrees. I don’t think any amount of money or economic stability could ever be enough when you are in the wrong occupation. Along the same lines, if you follow your passion in any career, I have confidence your working life will weather the economic storms.

We can’t control the government. We can only control our day-to-day choices. I have a feeling based on Arne Duncan and even Obama’s public words about frustration with teaching that ours will be a hot topic in culture for ten to twenty years. That is when we just need to focus on what we do and do it the best we can. We need to look at our human product (students) for our motivation and not politicians or a paycheck. If that sounds doable to you, go for teaching as a college path! Welcome aboard.

Great Minds Don’t Think Alike (Book Reviews)

This fantastic new book provides the insight to differentiate instruction effectively. The best theorists are covered by Diane Payne and Sondra VanSant in this must have book for teachers. As some have said, it is also a must have for anyone working with children for long periods of time. Knowing the learning style of a child will aid you immensely in their education. I am happy to recommend it to my readers.

Besides amazing points being made right and left and a systematic way to make lesson plans, this book includes a CD-Rom rich with materials to assist in psychological learning assessments. The meaning of the title is obvious but what lies inside is not. Teachers of this new millennium will benefit from this book. It enables identification of individual learning styles. I have already used it in my lesson planning. It helps me be more effective because my lessons are not “universal” or “catch-all” with regard to the classroom. As students needs become greater in our schools and teacher expectancies become more rigorous, we must consider the individual. We must make plans that consider an array of learning styles as much as possible. This book is great for reference on a teacher’s desk or to go through in detail at home searching for solutions in the arena of your classroom.


appleWhen you have gone through all the steps of EDI you arrive at closure.  But wouldn’t you know it? There is still another step after closure but it doesn’t involve the teacher.  It’s called Independent practice.  This is where you release the kids independently to do a test or a worksheet.  They show they learned the concept through that assessment piece.

Closure is simply checking for understanding (cfu) one last time.  Throughout the lesson you should be using cfu to make sure the kids are there with you.  As a teacher, you adjust your pace to reflect their needs.  CFU is crucial the the dynamite lesson plan.  CFU takes effort. It is something every teacher should use and use often. You simply go through the standard and ask questions to check they know it.  If they don’t? RETEACH.  If they do, go to independent practice. Here are some sample lessons.

Unions – Can’t Live Without Them

16414431556_9695483388_zI am involved in my teachers union and I have to say it is a challenging endeavor sometimes. You are sending out the message that your troubles are the fault of the district. As someone who is always trying to not blame, and failing most the time, I sometimes struggle with this. Unions, like any political organization, can fall into the trap of dehumanizing the district employees. In my district, we have over 300 teachers and about 6 district employees making decisions that affect parents, students, and yes, teachers. My goal in my union is not to attach people but rather show the value of a union. Parents in my district value teachers, they show that by their numbers when they come to our meetings and get involved in organizing with us. I want to be a force that helps their families and specifically their children. Name calling and blaming will only get people riled up for a moment. To gain real buy in from parents, we need to show them what’s in it for them. Continue reading Unions – Can’t Live Without Them

Never Mind the Trivialities, Just Reward!

Sometimes I get caught up in the minutae of how I am going to roll out a new classroom student recognition idea. There’s a great program out called Class Dojo and it works really well if you have a plan and you’ve practiced a lot with it. Otherwise, it’s sort of like heading out on vacation in a Ford up on blocks … you don’t go anywhere. How do you get that experience to make it work? I say, jump in and try it. Kids thrive on recognition. For lack of a better analogy, it’s like a pat on the head for them. If you wait until your system is perfect and you’ve spent $1,000’s of dollars on prizes at Oriental Trading Company, you’re going to miss countless opportunities to validate the kids through rewards.

Continue reading Never Mind the Trivialities, Just Reward!

Tips for Staying Awake During Long Hauls

There are many trucking companies hiring good, safe drivers — so make sure you know how to stay safe while driving on the road. Some experienced truckers are keen to share their tips for traveling those thousands of miles.

Cat-nap before getting on the road. A short 30-minute nap right before heading out can do wonders for your energy level.

Eat a healthy meal. Many truckers go with quick and easy food but these meals often lead to energy buzzes that result in energy crashes, which you don’t want. Try to eat healthy while on the road.

Take your vitamins. They will not only help you have more energy; they will also keep you healthy.

Move when you get tired. Take a five-minute stop and stretch your legs, do five to 10 minutes of cardio, and get some fresh air.

Crank up the volume. Turn on the radio and sing your lungs out. The loud music and singing will keep you engaged.  Don’t worry, no one else will be able to hear you!

Keep yourself hydrated and avoid caffeine. Dehydration will lead to exhaustion as your body wants to shut down and conserve energy. Caffeine will only provide a temporary boost. Stick to water and juices.

These are just a few simple ways truckers have found to help them stay safe.

What You Should do in the Morning

imageEvery class is different in the morning, even when the daily schedule is the same. While teachers and classes may vary, the needs of schoolchildren are the same. Over time I have found that in the morning you should:

Take attendance. If you don’t the secretary gets annoyed. Plus, it’s how we get paid.

Greet as many kids as you can with a kind smile that says, “I’m glad you are here and that I have a chance to be your teacher. If you miss a few kids, make sure they at least hear you greet a student. This lowers their affective filter and tells them you’re not in a bad mood.

Preview the day. Most teachers do this on the board but I’ve found a pep talk about the day gets the kids more dialed in. Continue reading What You Should do in the Morning