The Challenge of Making Your Not-so-Favorites Your Favorites

20130401-170518.jpgThere are 30 some odd kids in your class as a teacher. It is so easy to gravitate and focus on the needs of your favorites. They are as such because they fit in to your paradigm. Disclaimer: No teacher should have “favorites” but I am using the term to simply make a point we always need to keep an open mind to all our students. For the purposes of this article, by “favorite” I simply mean ones that are easier to understand and reach. That is m goal with every student. Thank you for understanding my disclaimer. Favorites are natural to your style of teaching and personality. You “get” them and so they often are easier to reach and teach. These are not the students that challenge you to be great. I challenge you to pay more attention to the difficult ones, those who are more difficult to understand. When you reach them, it’s a huge win for you and they.

We shun things we aren’t familiar with. A kid may seem annoying on purpose when her/him is only operating under their home paradigm. Not only can you offer them academic help but they can teach you more about how students perceive and survive in the world. Ring any bells? Please comment.

It is one of my top values for my blog here to host comments. I promise to give you my posts until my dying day but I covet YOUR comments more. Teachers, parents, administrators, edubloggers, and anyone interested. PLEASE leave me a comment. I promise to reply.

Classroom Expectations – Take Your Time, do it Right

Most teachers I talk to agree the beginning of the year is the time to establish authority, rules, and expectations. What they don’t all agree on is how to do it.

Classroom management and expectations are a teacher’s best friend or worst enemy.  It depends on how well a teacher conveys them to the kids. Research I’ve read shows that the beginning of the year is the best time to declare your classroom rules and expectations.  If you fail to get the point across at that time, you have exponentially less control in the classroom until year’s end. You might say it is the most crucial learning objective you’ll have.  Most teachers I talk to agree the beginning of the year is the time to establish authority, rules, and expectations.  What they don’t all agree on however is how to do it.

I knew one teacher who believed in passing out a handout with the rules and not going over them.  I knew another who would would take the entire first week of the school year modeling, explaining, and getting the kids to act out every scenario imaginable.  He actually used puppets and the kids would “ad-lib” scenarios with him such as: “Hey, imagine the puppet is a kid outside and he says: ‘Your momma is ugly.'” The kids would horse around and make the puppets fight.  Then, that teacher would take the teaching opportunity to talk about how silly it is to fight over words. What he’s really doing is setting the stage for child discipline. I feel the second teacher had a much better approach. Believe it or not, puppets are excellent classroom management tools.

I don’t focus solely on behavior management the whole first week, but I use most of it to set the curriculum aside and teach rules and expectations.  I had kids the first week holding up crossed fingers and I had no idea why.  I found out their teacher last year used that as a signal to go to the restroom.  This is an example of why teachers should take time establishing new “grooves” of activity in the classroom.  There is something called the “affective filter” that hinders kids from feeling comfortable learning and taking risks in the classroom.  When the rules are unclear, an anxiety permeates the room.  This anxiety can keep kids from learning to their potential and cause all sorts of mayhem.

I don’t recommend an entire week of nothing but rules and expectations but I think at least half a week with time for followup is a must. You can look into the classroom management books on this one.

Last week I noticed on Thursday that my kids were still not quite sure how I check for understanding.  My method is different from many teachers as you may know if you’ve read my pieces on that.  To summarize it, I say the question, wait, and then call on a random non-volunteer.  This breaks with the traditional method of checking for understanding by forward questioning. I decided I would review and practice it until the kids were “awake” and answering when their number was called.  They eventually did get it and we are ready to start the year strong. When things like this work, I share them here as teacher tips.

Have you thought about your style of class management? Is there a way you could convey it more clearly at the beginning of the year?

Financial Aid Options for Teachers

Paying for schooling can be hard for aspiring teachers and teachers who are trying to continue their education. However, there are many different forms of aid available to help cover education costs. Here are some of the most commonly used financial aid options for teachers.

Student Loans

There are two fundamental types of student loans: those sponsored by the federal government and loans taken out through a private lending institution. There is a third alternative, peer-to-peer lending, which is becoming more popular each year. Before you decide on the type of loan that will work best for you it’s essential that you research the benefits and potential downside of each.

Federal Government Loans

Student loans taken out through the U.S. government are called Stafford loans or Perkins loans. The money comes directly from the United States Department of Education. If you qualify for a government loan, the money will come to you through a participating school. However, you must meet certain criteria before you’re considered eligible for a federal loan. The first thing that you need to do to qualify is to be enrolled in an accredited college or university. You can also qualify by enrolling in a trade, career, or technical school. As a general rule, Stafford loans don’t have to be paid back until after you graduate from college. However, if you leave school without earning a degree, it’s possibly that you could be required to start paying the loan back immediately. You will have to fill out an FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and go through a review process before being accepted. Another federal loan program, the Perkins loan program, is need-based, and carries a fixed 5% interest rate throughout the length of the loan term, which normally runs for 10 years.

TEACH, a Federal Program

TEACH (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education) is aimed at those who would like to teach at a public or private school for low-income families. It is a grant program designed to help defray the cost of receiving your teaching degree. To qualify, you must be willing to teach four full academic years out of the next eight at a school that encourages enrollment by low-income family members. This money is in the form of a grant, so it won’t have to be paid back unless you don’t meet their criteria. If you back out of the agreement, that money will become an unsubsidized student loan and the funds will need to be paid back, with interest. Part of the criteria for TEACH is that you must be willing to instruct low-income children in high demand subjects such as mathematics, foreign languages, reading, science, and special education. To be considered eligible for a TEACH Grant, you have to fill out the FAFSA. However, there is no need to prove that you have a financial need in order to be eligible.

Private Loans

A private loan is the type of loan you would get from a private financial institution, such as a bank or credit union. Money from a private loan need not be designated specifically for your college education, it is merely money loaned to you with the expectation that it will be repaid, with interest, at agreed upon terms. While the terms of a federal loan are pretty standard, the terms of a loan through a private lender can vary quite a bit. A private loan is almost always determined based upon your credit rating. If you have a good credit score, your interest rates can be fairly low. If you don’t have good credit, your rates could be very high–you may even be asked to provide a cosigner. The terms for a private student loan are left entirely up to the financial institution you’re dealing with–you either take it or leave it.

Peer-to-Peer Lending

Peer-to-peer lending is fast becoming a popular method of securing a student loan. Essentially it is a financial agreement between two parties–a financial lending institution is not normally involved–whereby one person borrows money from another. Once the terms are agreed to, the borrower is expected to repay the loan within a predetermined time frame–with interest. A peer-to-peer loan is a formal agreement, usually requiring the borrower to sign a contract laying out the terms of repayment. Most people that take out a peer-to-peer loan instead of borrowing from a bank or the government have a poor credit rating or low grades that aren’t high enough to qualify for a government loan.

Guest post from Karen Schweitzer. Karen writes about online schools for BestOnlineColleges.com.

Inspiration for New Teachers: The Tortoise, the Hare, and Personal Bests

On your teaching journey, don’t compare yourself with others. Just do your best and you will find much success.

This post is dedicated to the new teaching degree students who are feeling the sting of our times in education. Don’t give up! Teachers, especially new ones, are under a lot of pressure sometimes to create the best walls, the best lesson plans, and the best APPEARANCE to the teaching “pack” around them. I remember when I was starting out back in the late nineties when I sometimes felt like all the veterans around me were like the “hare” and I felt like the slow moving tortoise. You know it’s an old fable but it stands up true today in our fast paced teaching career more than ever.  If you do the right things, consistently, and keep at it, you will finish the race strong. Those doing the work for education degrees shall have their “day in the sun.” Best of all, you will make a difference in the lives of children.

It seems sometimes that the fast running hares of the world are enjoying their developed speed all around us, but you can’t let that sway you from the road in front of you, however small. They were once like you and if you keep your resolve, you will be successful as they are at teaching. You may even be better at it. Like my high school track coach Mr. White used to say: “Don’t worry about Jamie Oman, you run your own race Riley and get a personal best!” Jamie Oman was a CIF champion runner, I was simply a point man for the team. Every time I “took a man” I felt pride and I carry that with me today.

Times are tough now in education. Stay strong, we need the best teachers to stay in the profession while thousands are quitting. On your teaching journey, don’t compare yourself with others. Just do your best, stay focused on your own teacher evaluations and you will find much success.

Backward Map Review – A Great Way to do Test Prep

If you want your kids to feel comfortable with all the material, you need to get them familiar with it now. Using the past test to go over and review with the kids is like gold.

With about 20 days left to the California Standards Test (CST), it is challenging how to spend your teaching tie. Of course, the free mind of a teacher can analyze similar tests and divine what to reteach. This is only a little useful. The best way to do test prep is to analyze the data of your assessments and then “backward map” reteaching the questions that 50% or less missed. This is when an item analysis report comes in handy.

I have my data and it’s magneted up on my white board. Every day for the past week and now into the next days before the standards test I have been teaching test prep and reteaching the concepts where it appears only less than 50% understood. When direct lessons are happening it feels like the best way to teach. Of course you can’s always teach this way. You need to apply yourself to solid, direct instruction and doing backward mapping will help your teaching be more relevant and of more value on the CST. If you want your kids to feel comfortable with all the material, you need to get them familiar with it now. Using the past test to go over and review with the kids is like gold. (It works!)

Teacher Tips for Relieving Anxiety

Teachers sometimes experience high levels of stress. Of course, all professionals do to some degree. Usually it doesn’t last long but when it does, it should be addressed. It can be a small deal or something that prevents you from relaxing at work or at home. Everyone has some measure of anxiety. When you are anxious, it is difficult to relax and when you can’t relax it can produce ill side effects. Mental health treatment centers are best avoided since you have to be at work each morning teaching your students! I am a big proponent of “mental hygiene” to keep one mellow.  For me that includes a fairly regular habit of relaxation. I try to get in 10-20 minutes a day in addition to exercise. Here are some healthy tips my doctor gave me for coping with everyday anxiety. If you are not able to relax, talk to your doctor:

Control your worry. Make a time to worry each day for 30 minutes. Try not to dwell on what “might” happen but rather focus on what is happening. Then let go of the worry and go on with your day.

Learn ways to relax. These may include yoga or deep breathing.

Use muscle relaxation.

Exercise.

Get plenty of sleep.

Avoid alcohol and drug abuse.

Limit caffeine to 1-2 cups of coffee a day.

Steps to deep breathing: 1) Lie down on a flat surface. 2) Place one hand on your stomach, just above your navel. Place the other hand on your chest. 3) Breathe in slowly and try to make your stomach rise a little.

Meditation and relaxation has medical healing benefits just like exercise. These are some tips for coping with anxiety.

Seriously Considering Growing a Beard as Motivation for the Standards Test

20130316-124049.jpgCall me the David Blaine of education. I’m thinking of growing a beard to get my students excited about the Standards test. We are in the midst of pretty rigorous test prep and Perhaps my facial hair endurance test will get them on board.

In the past I have written a song as motivation, done a countdown every morning, and other things. I’m usually self conscious about beards and growing my male-pattern-baldness hair out. All the more reason for them to realize the importance of the test and of paying attention. What do think? Good motivator?

Parent Conferences Tip – Listen to Parents About Their Child

Here are a few ways to encourage parents to talk about their child. Once they start talking, be sure and take note and/or just listen.


Every year about Thanksgiving time, the parent conference occurs. I’ve been scheduling and hosting them for 14 years. These can be fluid and helpful to both parent and teacher but without this tip, they can be useless. You can offer positive parenting tips You may think you know the student very well because you have seen them every day in class since August.

Face the reality however that the parent knows them much better than you. In most cases, they were there with the child at birth. If you have kids of your own, you know the significance of the parent/child relationship. Even if you don’t have kids you can recall your relationship with your own parents. Should a teacher assume to know as much about one of their 25-35 students? I say no. It can be tempting to want to give educational tips for parents but remember a balance. Continue reading “Parent Conferences Tip – Listen to Parents About Their Child”

50 Days to the Test – and how to prepare

20130203-085422.jpgThe countdown to the California Standards Test sits at 50 teaching days. At this point, there are strategic things I do for test prep. The day remains mostly as it has been all year but focal points and activities turn to lowering the affective filter and familiarizing the kids with the test platform.

The focal point of my teaching at this point is based on data. I review their tests to see what standard they have done well on. Obviously I don’t focus on those standards as much at this point. I list the challenging standards and those become my focal points for teaching in this final stretch. It’s that “Aim at something and you might miss but …”

Another important part of this last section of the year is to do daily test prep and weekly testing that looks and tests like the standards test. I’ve shared here many times about the “briar patch” test philosophy. In the Southern fable, the fox escaped through the briar patch because he knew his way around in there. He was familiar with it from birth. In the same way I aim to lower stress and anxiety for my students but recurrent exposure to the testing “theater” or scenario.

I know those may sound like common solutions but I think they are fundamental.

Look at it Differently, or Where I Managed to Put the Bookshelf

I want to thank Elysabeth for her comment yesterday on my post Look at Things Differently where I described my vanilla dilemma of where to put my classroom bookshelf. I placed it too far into my math wall and so I was thinking all was lost. After I slept on it and drew a schematic I had an “aha.” I put it in the middle! (embarrassingly simple conclusion I admit). Below is a before and after. The point I was making was made, with a visual. Mind you, this was a very simple matter but it made my point in the post about all matters of classroom decor: look at it differently.

I published this “idiot’s” conclusion (the idiot being me) because I feel it makes my point solid: if you take the time to look at your predicament “differently” you are likely to find a solution that is simple, possible and often right under your nose.