Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Ups and Downs of Teaching

     Wow, did I really finish three weeks of school already? Time just seems to fly by! I can't believe we have been in school three weeks. I felt like we have not learned much except for the procedures and math (they just had their first test). Today, I'm going to share some of the ups and downs and teaching. We all know they exist, but sometimes I feel like other teachers who blog never have bad days because their blog is always to upbeat, so today I want to share about some of the hard parts of teaching.

     Some days I love teaching, but to be honest some days I don't even want to go to school. Yesterday was one of those days. I woke up feeling sick with a runny nose and sore throat from my students. Side Note: As a class, we've already gone through five Kleenex boxes, and we don't have many! Granted, we've had five bloody noses, a few students abusing the use of Kleenexes (using them to wipe off sweat), and students who don't know how to fully use a Kleenex, but still, that's a lot of Kleenexes (and I live in warm place). Anyways, I started thinking about some of my fifth graders and different things that they have done that have been disrespectful, and it just really got me down. I have lots of patience for misbehavior for younger children, but not much for upper elementary. Why? I understand many times that younger kids don't understand some things or forget more easily, but in my mind, this should not be as big as a problem in upper elementary. The problems that begin happening in upper elementary are because students are purposely disrespectful and disobedient, and I don't have any tolerance for that. It annoyed me as a child, and it annoys me now. For example, during the first week, one student wore a hat to school just to see if I would notice and what I would do. This past week, I saw one student throwing her graded work away before bringing it home. I told her that was not allowed, and she lied saying that she had already showed her parents. I had just graded it that morning! The next day, I found her work torn up and buried in our recycling bin as I was cleaning it out. These little acts of rebellion really bug me.

     I went to school anyways, had a great prayer time with another teacher about my class, put on my happy face, and forgot about my feelings before school as soon as the students arrived. Some days are just like. Once I start teaching, I'm fine and content, bouncing from one activity to the next. This week, I'm going to work on seeking out ways to engage and excite my learners. They are rarely excited for learning, except when they are doing projects, which they make very long and time consuming. Last year I was able to make my first grade class excited about learning much more than I have been able to do with my older kids this year. I need to figure out what they like soon so that we will all be much happier with learning and teaching. Some days can be like pulling teeth (we have actually already had two lost teeth during class) to get enthusiasm in my classroom.

     Last night was Meet the Teacher Night! I was excited and nervous to meet some of my parents. Since some only speak Spanish, I had the school secretary who is also a parent in my class translate. I explained that we are two grades but one class, how our day runs, our rules, their expected responsibilities, homework, and our classroom economy. Maybe I shouldn't have ended with our classroom economy, because a few parents had some very deep concern about why I make students pay to go to the bathroom or rent their desks. One set of parents were arguing about it in Spanish for a while. It really made me feel bad because I was doing what was best for our class in my opinion, and no students seemed to be having a problem with my policies in class. They knew why we had them, when they can go to the bathroom, and what I expect of them. In the end, these parents came up to argue their point afterward saying that their student had a urinary tract infection from not going to the bathroom during class and was starting girl issues, so I did understand their point and explained how I just needed to know about special circumstances. I'm willing to accommodate if I know it's an issue. I honestly don't believe her infection was my fault as they can go to the bathroom four times during the day for free with no more than two hours in between, and she's never asked me to use the bathroom during class. Afterward, I had about 6 other pairs of parents come up and say that they love my economy system, what I'm doing with the class, and that I shouldn't listen to just those one parents. That was very encouraging. In the end, I felt encouraged to continue my economy system, paying for bathroom, desks, chairs, and all, and will ask that student to use the bathroom every break we have this coming week so that I know she is using the bathroom every time she can.

     Teaching is hard work. Planning, grading, and being emotionally prepared for the day takes so much time outside of school. Some days I just want to curl up and stay in bed, but I know I have the responsibility to the students to continue helping them learn. When I'm at school and see my students starting to arrive for the day, I know that we are going to make it through the day and have some fun with it too. I can't wait for next week, but first I need to think about some better ways to engage my learners.

     In Social Studies, I am starting with a unit on the world, reading maps, and wanted to go back to the 1400s since we are doing world history from 1500 to 1800. I quickly realized my students didn't even know the continents, so we are spending time learning about them. I found my students love projects, so I think 14 students splits perfectly to have partners do a project on one of the seven continents. Before I finish, I'll show you some pictures from last week, when we put together world map puzzles (because what would a blog post be without pictures?).


     Well, that's all for today. Have a great weekend, and happy teaching! I will try to post more soon because I have so much to share.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Name Plates/Tags

     Before school started this year, I was trying to decide what to do for name tags on the students' desks. I don't like them being taped on unless they contain tools like the alphabet and a number line. I also only had access to premade ones that were very childish for fourth and fifth grade. Another thought was that I don't like my sloppy handwriting and didn't want to look at it all year. Finally, I decided it would be easiest to type them, back them, and laminate them. I still wanted them to be colorful though. Then it occurred to me: that would be a perfect first day activity!
     In the end, I printed off the students' names and put a rounded box around them. I made sure to print two for every student in case they messed up on their first, which ended up being a good idea. I then cut them apart and set them on students' desks to find. During the first day, I gave them time to decorate them. The rules were they couldn't color inside of the box and couldn't use crayons (I didn't want any problems with laminating). I also set out fun scissors that they could use to trim the sides. The students also chose which color they wanted it backed on during this time. This project ended up being a great assessment for attention span, care, how hard they work, and artistic ability. After school, I cut the construction paper and laminated the name tags on top of the construction paper. I also put magnets on them to stick them to the desks. I love how they turned out! The students love them too and were proud to show them to people who came into our room. They can't wait to take them home at the end of the year.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

First Week of School

     I survived my first week of teaching, and we didn't burn the school down yet. My class tried though. Yesterday, one student randomly threw his water bottle in the air, which hit a light. The light then started smoking, sparking, and became a very small fire before dying out. I quickly got the kids out of the classroom and found help, and it was fixed in no time after spending one of our 20 minute Daily 5 stations outside.

     It is certainly different starting some procedures with fourth and fifth grade then with first grade last year. My students quickly picked up on read to self and read to someone, so today we moved on to a new station. This year, my plan is to do stations similar to Daily 5 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday we don't have enough time so we will do other things like literature circles. Last year, starting Daily 5 with first graders took them weeks to be ready for three stations, but my students already (for the most part) have the stamina built and were ready to do three stations all of next week.

     We are also doing stations for math, since it will be easier for me to meet with my math classes in small groups. This week they learned the At You Seat/Carpet station, which will be a Daily Math review sheet. I'm sure that I'll talk more about my math stations in the future. I am really liking what I have decided to do, but might change a few things around from my original plan to make keep my low fourth graders with me twice, since they will need more than fifteen minutes to understand a new concept.

     Well, now that I've talked about academics that were on my mind, let's go back to the first day with pictures! The picture above is my classroom ready for students. I still didn't have things like bag hooks and our schedule hung on the wall (I finally had that done yesterday). Other things like my computer weren't ready either, but we did fine without it. There was a message on the board, telling them what to do, and a blank nametag on their desk. In the morning, the students came in with their parents and most of their supplies. Some of my students had been hanging around school the week before since their parents worked at the school, so I put them to work. One helped me by making signs for where all of the different school supplies should go. Our spots quickly filled up and overflowed with supplies! Once we sent the parents to their meeting, the students and I dealt with the rest of the supplies that they will keep in their desk after giving me a few more things.

     In the morning, I had a circle time, where each child said one thing about his/herself and his/her name. We talked about the beginning of the year and what some of my expectations were. We also had an elementary school meeting, where we talked about school rules. Between this meeting, morning recess, and lunch/recess, most of the day seemed to fly by, except that I never had time to myself since everyone was on duty for everything.

     Later on the first day, I had students write classroom rules. I told them to come up with any rules that would help us work as a class. They did a great job and came up with seventeen. I then told them that seventeen was too many, and I would narrow it down to three big ones. We now have: 1. Follow directions the first time. 2. Do your best work. 3. Respect yourself and others. On the second day, we found how each of their seventeen rules fit into these three big rules. I also sent a sheet home about the rules to the parents for them to sign and send back.

     Another thing we did was write things we wanted to learn on the board. Why it looks like a graphic organizer, I'm not sure. The students are apparently well trained in using those because when I circled our heading, that it what they did. I have one boy who loves technology and making videos, so I will certainly incorporate a project sometime where he could make a video since that will engage him. We had a lot of science questions, so I'm excited to hopefully look at those.

     Well, this is probably a long enough post. I love my new students. We still have lots of behaviors to work on, but I can already tell they will be a great class. This week was fun, but very hard. Here in Venezuela, even walking home from school is difficult and makes me want to collapse as soon as I get home since I live up a huge hill. Actually, I walk uphill both ways to school, sometimes in the rain. I am so glad it's the weekend, and I can breathe. Maybe I will actually be able to plan for all of next week or make some longer-term plans. Hopefully, I will be able to at least.

     One of my students brought me a flower and a lovely note on Monday, which warmed my heart and kept me going all week, even when things were tough. I hope all of you are having a great week, and I can't wait to share more. I'm excited to have upcoming posts about our nametags (which I love!), math stations, economy system, and more. Have a great week!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Multiplication Games

     During the first few weeks of school this fall August/September (I no longer live in a place with seasons; my students don't even believe that they exist), I want my students to work on reviewing their multiplication facts since this is an integral part to forth and fifth grade math. I'll have to see where they are at, but I'm hoping to use a variety of games and methods to review multiplication. Here are some of my ideas (mostly borrowed from other places and linked to the actual information):

War - Use Uno Cards to play war where they have to multiply for the answer to win

Matching Game

Hidden Picture (Find the Wrong Equations) (Courtesy of Pinterest Pin)

Using Legos in Socks to Write Multiplication Equations

Ping Pong Multiplication Game

Multiply Four Ways Worksheets

Musical Chairs

Spiral Multiplication Game

Multiplication Board Game

Multiplication Bingo

Fact Ball (I really like this one!)

Color By Multiplication Sheets

     I also really need to have math centers (also called stations) since I am covering two grade levels and a variety of current levels. Here are some ideas I found from others who are doing math centers/stations:

BEAM Math Centers
MATH Stations
Guided Math in a Multi-age Classroom
Math Centers Linky Party

Do you do centers with your class?
How do you review multiplication? I'd love more ideas.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Student Teaching Suggestions

     Since it's the beginning of the school year and I finished student teaching last fall, I thought I would share some student teaching suggestions/advice for both the student teacher and mentor teacher. Some of this, I have seen similar things elsewhere, but I thought I'd throw in my thoughts based on my experience.

Student Teacher
  • Don't be afraid to try new things. It was when I worked hard to do something new rather than following the curriculum like all the other teachers were doing that I really had fun and loved teaching and the kids had fun too! Be creative!
  • Send home a letter to the parents during your first week. One of my teachers asked me to, and the other didn't. I wish that I had done this at both placements so that I could have learned more about parent interaction. As a young new teacher, transitioning to being a person with authority as the teacher needs to happen, even with the parents.
  • Talk with your mentor teacher bluntly. Do you wish you could teach more or a little less? Are you struggling with trying to reach all of the students? Don't be afraid to ask for help and share frustrations. They might be the person filling out references in the end, and in my opinion, I'd rather them say that I strived for improvement rather than was mediocre teacher. This was something that I didn't do enough. I mainly listened to what they told me rather than asking for things. At my first placement, I really wish that I could have taught more!
  • Be involved at the school. Is there a club you can help with? Are you doing crossing guard duty on some days? I went to a roller skating party at one of my schools, and it was so much fun! I learned about the students outside of school, met some parents, and gained respect from some students. 
  • Come early, and stay late. When I was the one teaching, I was at school before my mentor teacher and stayed later than her. Both of them had children, otherwise they would have stuck around, but it didn't matter to me if they were there or not. Either way, I was committed to doing a great job. I met other teachers after school and had an amazing opportunity to share stories, get advice, and ask questions that I wouldn't have had if I had only worked at my house.
  • Make sure you let yourself rest enough. Being a teacher is hard work, and it makes you tired. You will get sick more quickly if you don't rest. For the first two weeks of school, my whole house (including one teacher who had taught for 7 years) took naps after school. We also continually had an earlier bedtime of 10pm since we had to be up so early. I understand it's college and most people stay up late, but trust me, your body will thank you if you give it enough rest.
  • Be excited! You get to be a teacher! It's a wonderful job, and you are so lucky to make it this far. What ruins it is when we get a bad attitude. Attitudes are contagious. When you are excited about something, the students (and mentor teacher) will be too. I saw this most clearly when I taught writing. On one of the first days of school, my teacher asked who like writing. Not a single first grader raised their hand. A week or so later, I started Writer's Workshop with excitement and the goal for the first week to get them excited about writing. It worked! Writing became one of their favorite subjects by the end of my time there, because I was excited about it. Here's more on the story of what I did that first week. Library Mouse is a great start for any grade.
  • Find a time every day to meet with your mentor teacher without any kids in the room.
  • Get to know the principal and other teachers in the school. This includes their first and last name since you call colleagues by first name when there aren't kids but by last name in front of students. Call the principal and others in authority by their last name until they say otherwise.
  • Dress modestly and to impress. There was a jean day every Friday, and I never dressed down. That made an impression on my teacher, and she even commented well on it in my evaluation.
  • Remember that student teaching can be like a semester long interview. Show improvement, a desire to learn, and professionalism.
  • Learn and use your teacher voice. This was the thing most commented on when my college supervisor came. She was always looking for a better teacher voice.
  • Contact your teacher before the first day of school.
Mentor Teachers
  • Ask your student teachers what you can do to help them do their best.
  • Encourage them to branch out from how you normally teach it.
  • Schedule time every day to meet with your student teacher to talk, share, and listen when there aren't kids in the room.
  • If your student teacher does something wrong, use it as a teaching moment and remind them that everyone makes mistakes. Share some mistakes that you made your first few years.
  • Let your student teacher know what books or things would be helpful to them before they step foot in your classroom. I really wish that I knew my school would use Daily 5 because I would have read the book over the summer to understand it better.
  • Model how you teach routines and procedures or at least talk about it if you don't have them at the beginning of the school year. This is an important thing for student teachers to learn. I'm very glad that I saw my teacher set up routines and procedures. Otherwise, I would have no idea where to begin this year.
  • If you think they are lacking in an area, talk with them before you put it on their final evaluation. My school had us do a midpoint evaluation, and it really opened my eyes to what my mentor teachers thought of how I was doing. I wish that I had more feedback at the beginning.
  • Just like a student, student teachers need a lot of praise when they are doing a wonderful job. Even something as simple as them dressing appropriately, using a good voice, being involved at school. Let them know that you appreciate it.

I could go on and on, but I think this is long enough. If you have any questions or want to hear more about my experience, you can email me at You can also read my blogs about student teaching hereSparkles, Smiles, and Successful Students did a whole series this summer on student teaching suggestions that may also be helpful if you are looking for advice. She student taught last year like I did. Happy student or mentor teaching!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Third Culture Kids

     A few weeks ago, I attended a two week pre-field orientation for my job teaching in Venezuela. There were teachers going all around the world! At this orientation we learned about the stages of transition, how to handle conflict, how culture and values are different and important to recognize, and what third culture kids are. I thought I'd share a little about what I learned about third culture kids (TCKs) and cross-culture kids. We also read Third Culture Kids by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken, which was an excellent resource on this topic. It was geared towards parents, but there was a lot of things teachers can learn from it.

     First of all, what is a third culture kid? TCKs are typically children living outside of their passport country. They are exposed to many different cultures. The three cultures that are considered are: (note there may be more than one culture under each of the three)
     1. Their passport culture or parents' cultures
     2. The host culture of any country or region they have lived in
     3. The culture of being an expat (TCKs can relate to each other, even if they don't have the same passport or host country culture)

     Now, you might be saying, what does this have to do with me? I teach in the same town that I grew up in and most of my students have spent their whole life here too. Well, this book also discusses how cross-culture kids and others have a lot of similarities. Do you have students that are constantly moving, leaving the school and maybe even coming back later in the year? I know I did last year. What about students that are biracial? Ones with parents who leave for periods of time? Kids who switch houses between divorced parents and the parents aren't on the same page? Students that speak a different language or have a different culture at home (I'm thinking of some Amish students I had)? Students that were adopted? Well, all of these children live in a little bit different culture, and it does affect them!

Some things that might affect them:
1. High mobility - Constantly going through transition is hard and makes children begin to do things differently down to the way they make friends. They might try to dive very quickly into a friendship because they'll leave soon or withdraw from making friends.
2. Confused which culture they are in - How should they act at school? This is why it is so important to teach these behaviors, especially to new students in the middle of the year. They need to know what's expected so that they can feel comfortable. Don't shame them until you have taught them what is expected.
3. Unresolved grief - This is a big one that can affect all students. Did they have time to grieve things? Whether it's moving, the death of a pet, the loss of their favorite stuffed animal, or even the loss of being the only child when a new sibling comes, children need time to grieve and to know that it's acceptable. Sometimes, they might not feel that they can because they have to be excited for something new, but they need to. Otherwise, it all begins to build up within them.

     Well, I barely skimmed the top of a wave on this ocean of a topic, but I hope it made you think a little bit. What cultures are your students experiencing? How does high mobility, confusion of culture (and rules), and unresolved grief affect their lives? I highly recommend reading more into this subject, whether it be this book or another one.

Friday, August 2, 2013


     I linked up with Oh' Boy 4th Grade's August Currently. If you are visiting my blog from there, welcome! I am a first year teacher and have a combined class with forth and fifth graders at an international school in Venezuela. School starts in one week, and I have been busily preparing for it. 
      My currently definitely reflects that I'm a first year teacher in a new country. Things have been going better than I expected. My classroom does have a lot of resources compared to what I thought. Now, I just need a place to put everything. I have a filing cabinet for some of my stuff, but it smells terrible, so I need to figure out if I can get it to be better. My biggest problem in I don't have containers like I would in the states to put things in. Hopefully, I can get it mostly organized for the beginning of the school year. It might not be pretty at the start, but maybe I can still get it to feel homey.
     For the back to school must haves, I stuck with some basic ones since I've never started a school year before as a teacher (except student teaching). New pencils, pens, and other things are critical for me. I want my students to feel like the classroom is new, fresh, clean, and exciting. This might be a challenge in my classroom here. As I sorted through it yesterday, I found layers of dust, broken bits of materials, and a classroom library full of many great but old and smelly books. Second, I must have a plan for how I will run my classroom. This is what I am busily trying to work on. I know generally some procedures and routines, but still need my schedule to finalize some thoughts. I'm also having to rework some as my original plan just doesn't work. For example, my classroom only has a door to the outside, so for my students to use the restroom, I have to unlock our door and then unlock the door to the rest of the school. Then, I would need to unlock it to let the students back in. What a pain! I can tell you that I am going to have a very strict policy about when they can use the restroom because it will waste so much on task time. My third back to school must have was books. Books were the one of the few teaching supplies I found room for. I love using books in all subjects, and they will be essential for my ELLs.
     Here are some pictures of my classroom in progress! My board was hung yesterday, and I moved the desks into groups. Some students may look far away, but they will actually be able to see around the pole and will mainly be at their desks when they work independently or in small groups anyways.
     In the back right of this picture, you can see my trapezoid table that I will use for small groups. I kept it near the board and books so those are easily accessible. I plan to teach most of reading and math in small groups, so having that as the focus should work for me. There will also be a carpet on the floor where the green chairs are that I will use for whole group.
     That's all I have today! Let me know what you think about my classroom and if you have any suggestions that would be helpful, I would love to hear them!