Back to School in a Pandemic

Right now the country and states are telling schools to open their doors. The economy is hurting, parents need their kids in school, and kids need to be in school... believe me, I get it. At the same time you are seeing teachers begging to be heard. We are pleading for people to ask our PROFESSIONAL opinion, listen and then act accordingly. Unfortunately, across the country that is not happening. The people making the decisions have not walked in our shoes as classroom teachers. They do not understand the minute by minute concerns we have about reopening schools, so here... let me explain. 

7:00- Kids start waiting at bus stops. The groups grow. There will be little to no adult supervision as they wait and I can only assume little to no social distancing. Which, what’s the point, they are about to get on a completely FULL bus. Will there be more busses? Will it be in the budget to add more drivers or stagger the pick up times? Will we still be sitting 2-3 students per seat and packing the busses full?

7:20- The busses (yes, more than one bus. So let's just go ahead and picture 100+ students at this time) have unloaded and the doors are opened to the school. Will we be creating lines outside so the students don't congregate? Who will be there to monitor this? Will teachers and staff need to be there before the 7:20 start time to monitor busses unloading?

7:20-7:40- Students wait in the gym before heading to class. Our gym is filled with hundreds of students sitting in tight lines. They are allowed to turn and socialize with their friends. Will this be allowed? Will they have to come straight in, spread out and sit alone? Will they head straight to their classrooms? Again, this would be teachers coming in earlier. 

If students aren’t in the gym they go to the cafeteria to eat breakfast. Our breakfast line usually serves a few hundred kids every morning. At least 6 kids sit on each bench of the cafeteria tables. By 7:40 the tables and benches are full. Will students be eating breakfast in the cafeteria? Will they take their breakfast to class to eat separate from their peers? 

(Its not even 8:00 and we have already spent 40 minutes trying to figure out how to spread kids out. This isn't looking promising...) 

7:40- The bell rings and ALL students head to class. The halls are full. It’s hard to pass through. Clumps of students stand at their lockers unloading their things. Staggering times will help fix this, but that will significantly cut back on learning time. How long will it take to get 800 kids to class when we stagger times? 

7:50- Class starts. Class sizes are between 22-28 students. The class is not physically big enough to socially distance children 6 feet or honestly even 3 feet apart at best. Once everyone is spread out and seated learning can begin. What does learning look like? Do students come the the carpet to listen to a story? But with desks separated there is no carpet. There is no close story time, everyone head back to your desk. The teacher begins reading the story, but with a mask... so forget about facial expression and stopping during the read aloud for a turn and talk is no longer realistic. Now how do we keep these kids engaged? Direct instruction from the front of the room can be a lot to sit through for a kid. Many teachers use chants, cheers, songs, and call & responses in their daily instruction. All of this requires students to project their voice, which makes spreading the virus more likely. Will this have to stop? 

The story is over and it's time to move on to stations. But wait, can kids work in partners? Can they work in small groups? Can they play a game together? Can they share the items in a station bin? Are they allowed to move around the room and sit in different spots? If not, that means more time, alone in their desk. During this time I would pull a small group, usually around 6 students to my table. It is intimate and close. Will this be allowed? 

9:00- On to specials. For specials all 100 students in the grade level walk down the hall together. We have to, of course, pass the grade level leaving specials so make that 200 bodies in the narrow school hallway. Some head to music. Will they be allowed to sing? Will instruments be allowed this year? Some head to PE to run, sweat and breath heavily. Will they be sharing balls and supplies this year? Some head to art. How is an art teacher supposed to supply 800 students with their own crayons, paint, scissors... you name it. And again, this means your child will be sitting in a room that ALL 800 kids come in contact with. So do specials teachers come to the classroom? Okay okay, so no specials. Kids, stay in your desks a little bit longer. 

10:00- Time for a class bathroom break. Walking 22 kids down the hall socially distanced means you will literally take up the entire hall. The state has recommended hallways be converted to one way hallways, but our school isn’t a circle. Do we need to go outside and walk around the building to make it to the bathroom? When we get there we will be using a restroom that was cleaned the day before. Hopefully there will be more cleaning, but we need more custodial staff members. Is that in the budget? Where is the money for that? And FOR THE LOVE there better be soap and paper towels in the bathroom. In the past, this hasn’t always been a given. 
Due to the size of my school (over 800 students) it was very difficult to find a time to take a class restroom break alone. So usually there would be at least 2 classes in the hall at this time. 46 people, standing, not social distanced in the hall. 

Now let’s talk pull out and push in services. My kids get served by speech, ESL, special ed, dyslexia, the counselor and so many other specialized services. Will they be going from room to room? Will the special ed teacher have to go into every classroom and expose themselves to 800 people every day? How will this look? 

12:00 hits- Time for recess! Again, all of the grade level heads to the playground. Can they run and play? Can they play with kids outside of their class? During this time teachers are responsible for monitoring students safety, helping to solve disagreements, and now also restrict students to specific areas of the playground? So maybe they go to recess with a mask. In Texas. With temperatures of over 90 degrees.
Okay okay, so no outdoor recess. Indoor recess. But don’t share toys, and don’t share games. 

After recess we head to lunch. But we can’t go to the lunchroom because there are too many students. So back to your desk kids. No, you can’t sit next to your friend. I’m so so sorry... I really am. 

Guess what happens after lunch. More teaching. But again, pretty much everything we have learned about the best practices of education is no longer realistic. So it means more “sit and get” instruction. More of the teacher at the front of the room talking. Probably more paper and worksheets since we can’t move around the room. I could maybe use some hands on manipulatives but I would need enough for everyone to have their own... no sharing. Again, is this in the budget? I usually switch classes in the middle of the day, but will kids be able to move from room to room? No, it's probably best for the students to only go into their one classroom instead of sharing germs in two. So the teachers will switch rooms! That just means I have to have everything I need to teach for the day on a rolling cart and be able to take it with me from class to class. It's cool... I'm totally not the hoarding teacher type who uses a million things in a lesson... nope, totally NOTTTTT me

Finally the 3:00 bell rings. 7 hours of your kids pretty much sitting in a desk all day. Remember when we said we wanted kids to get back to school? We wanted them to socialize and get back in their much needed routines. Is this what you expected? 

And now we dismiss, to more crowded hallways, crowded busses, crowded pick up lanes outside. Once all 800 kids are safely gone, teachers head back inside to clean the classrooms. I’m sure everything has to be disinfected. Are we being supplied with this? In the past we have added hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes to the school supply list, but it barely makes it to the Fall. Cleaning off every surface of everything that is touched or shared has to happen. But how? Who will be doing this? **note to self, don’t bring anything in the classroom that can’t be easily wiped down. 

On top of all of that, teachers remember to: fill in the gaps, hit all of the standards, track your students progress, differentiate, modify instruction, fill out paperwork to make sure no one falls through the cracks, grade and send home papers, integrate technology **but not too much technology, take attendance on time, get all of your PD hours, make learning fun, check to make sure students are being taken care of at home, decide which kids need food sent home, watch to make sure they are coming to school in clean clothes, make time for social and emotional teaching, solve disagreements, teach kids how to talk to each other, make time to adapt curriculum that we aren’t provided with, make sure you are diversifying your teaching because the curriculum you are given sure won’t do that, create a warm and welcoming environment for your students to come to school in, shield all of your worries and concerns because no matter how stressed I am they are the priority, love on these kids... and keep everyone safe. 

I write this novel to give you a little insight on what some teachers are thinking right now. This doesn’t even dig into the concerns about what happens when a parent sends their child to school sick, because it will happen. What to do when a teacher becomes sick, because it will happen. What to do when there aren’t substitutes, because it will happen. Have you asked yourself why teachers are worrying? Why there is so much concern? This is why! There are so many questions, so few answers, and yet we are being told to move forward, adjust, and make it happen. Teachers are rarely “set up for success” in this job. But yet we always put our head down, get to work, and get the job done because if you don’t... kids lose. We are screaming and pleading right now to not push for schools to fully re-open because KIDS WILL LOSE! Let me make this clear- WE WANT TO BE BACK IN OUR CLASSROOMS! But we want to do it safely. We want to have a solid plan. We want our questions and concerns to have answers before we walk into those classrooms.

And I'm sure there may already be answers to some of those questions. I'm hopeful that more answers are on the way. I can even admit that some of my worries are most likely irrational. I pray that one day I will look back on this post and think about how it all turned out justttttttt fine. I am not here to point fingers. I know hard decisions are being made and there is no great solution. But for one second can you step into our shoes and validate how overwhelming this all is? Can you see how frustrating it is to be an educator being told what you WILL do by someone who has never worked a day in your profession, and has zero answers or recommendations for the questions listed above? It's belittling to the nth degree.

As teachers, we can be flexible. We want to help. We want to be a part of creating solutions, not just pointing out problems. We want to get back to school and to get back to teaching. We want parents to get back to work and the economy to get back to normal. We also want to be heard and respected. We want our feelings to feel valued. So if you’re curious what the teacher you love is thinking, the one who you thanked for loving on your baby so very well every day for the 8 hours they were away from you is thinking... there you go. 
There are our worries, anxieties, stresses and concerns thrown out for you on a silver platter. 
Now, will you help us do something about it?

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Room Transformations 101

Ohhhh room transformations. You either love them or you hate them... or you're like me and you hate that you love them! Over the last few years I have done my fair share of room transformations. It's taken hours upon hours, blood, sweat, and tears but they are some of my favorite days of my career. With all of that time invested I have learned a few tricks on how to save your sanity and make your room transformations pop!

A few disclaimers before we get started:
1. I LOVE decorating and I LOVE crafting. Because of this room transformations fit right into my wheelhouse. I was hooked after my first one and it quickly became my hobby. With that being said, not everyone is like me... and that is OKAY! I do it because I enjoy it. It makes me happy while I sit at home and craft and it makes me happy while I am in my classroom teaching. If this is not you, feel free to stop, turn around, and leave this blog post. You do NOT have to do a room transformation to be engaging or an effective teacher. Let me say that again in case you missed it... YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO A ROOM TRANSFORMATION TO BE ENGAGING OR AN EFFECTIVE TEACHER! If at any point it is stealing your joy... STOP!

2. I am not married and I don't have kids. While I am not going to play into the lie that not having those two things means this is "easy" for me or that I just have all of this "extra" time to kill, I will say that I do not know what it is like to come home to a family that depends on me. I will say that I do find myself with more "me-time" than some others may. Am I going to apologize for that? NOPE! Do I still have to prioritize my time to make room transformations work? You bet! Is it still a lot of work? For sure! Do I think I would still be doing it if I did have a husband and kids? I hope so! Would it look different? I'm almost certain of it! Regardless of what your circumstances are, prioritizing your time is necessary when you are trying to create an experience. Decide how much time you are going to need to make your vision happen and how much time you are willing to give. Maybe this means your planning starts months in advance. Maybe this means you work for 20 minutes each night as you watch TV. That's all up to you! All I can share are my experiences and how I make it work for me. Where there is a will... there is a way!

3. I work on a budget. We do get a small budget from our school and PTA to use on materials for our classroom. Sometimes this money goes to paper and ink, others it goes towards a big item for a room transformation. When I use this money on room transformation materials I do try to find things that I will use for years to come, and things that can be used for multiple transformations. One year I invested in black out curtains to cover my windows and another year I stocked up on black lights. Wait.... did you hear that..... TWO different years! I know it may seem like people throw up room transformations left and right, but for me it has been years of collecting. Every year I add something new or bring in a new theme. This slow and steady build has helped save the bank as well because outside of that small budget from our school it's all on me!

So now to answer some questions!

Q: Where do you get the ideas?
A: Honestly, kids birthday parties! My favorite place to go stroll is party city. Now I don't buy all of my decor there (I rarely buy any of it there) but I love to walk around and browse different birthday party themes. Birthday parties are honestly the OG transformation, without the education. Party stores literally build their business around knowing what kids like and are into, so it is a great place to start. Other things I love are movies, books, or TV shows. These are all great starting points for a room transformation that will blow your kids away. Once I have a theme picked out I usually hit up pinterest. While party city has all the pre-made goodness, pinterest makes my DIY heart flutter. Throw your theme into the search bar and search kids rooms, birthday parties, or decor with that theme. While I'm searching on pinterest I usually look for a couple of key points: 1. How am I going to decorate my large back wall to make it scream the theme? 2. How can I transform their desks for an overall experience? 3. Are there any fun touches I am seeing that can be tied in with content or a hands on activity?

Q: How do you do it all on a budget?
A: DIY, DIY, DIY! Cardboard and cardstock are my best friend! When and where I can I make my decorations with cardboard. Almost my entire Toy Story transformation was made using cardboard boxes. When I can't DIY it I always hit up the Dollar Tree first. I have found so many amazing things there for room transformations. The key is to always keep an eye out. Way before I have a room transformation planned I will snag items that I know could fit. In the summer there is always fish netting. I stock up on that when it is out and cheap. That simple touch will be perfect for under the sea or a pirate transformation. It would also work great in a Jurassic Park or Halloween transformation! Before every transformation I usually do a sweep of amazon as well and fill my cart with a gazillion things (sorry mom... shout out to all the broke teachers still on there mom's amazon prime account!). Once I have that cart nice and full, I go and delete 90% of it. But really... I'm serious. Once you have everything where you can see it all at once think about what will give you the most bang for your buck. What can you use year after year? What makes you smile the most? Get THAT! And the rest, delete! So there is my secret to budgeting for one transformation, but I currently do 7 or 8 a year. How can I make that work on a budget you ask? I only PAY for one a year! Once you have the materials for a transformation make sure you save everything! Next year that transformation is done and paid for. Then you can budget for a new one. If each year, or each semester you budget for one transformation you will quickly have quite the line up! I also make a plan to have "mini transformations". This is where I might get a few things, but not go all out. The next year I can add to that mini transformation and make it the theme of my dreams!

I also always get asked how much I spend. Honestly, I don't know. I'm sure when I start a transformation out it usually lands in the $100-$200 range. They don't have to cost that much, but I tend to get carried away. Like everything, make it work for you! It can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be.

Q: When are where does the content come in?
A: Oh goodness, this one is tricky to answer because it is a little different each time. For the most part I have ideas of themes floating around in my head. Once school starts we sit down and look at our scope and sequence for the year and when we are teaching what. A few things I look for when adding in a transformation: 1. Is there any topic that we do for a really long time? I know the kids will get bored (and so will I) so this is the perfect opportunity to plan in a transformation. 2. Is there anywhere where we have little to no time to hit a topic? If I know I will be pressed for time to cover a skill I try to throw in a transformation. I know my kids will be 100% engaged, I will be the most energized and giving my best teaching, and they are sure to remember the whole experience. Those are 3 things I NEED if I know I am pressed for time. 3. Is there a topic that I am dreading teaching or just didn't go so well last year? This is another time that I will plan in a transformation. If I am struggling as a teacher I love to use a transformation as a way to guarantee that I spend extra time being thoughtful about what I am teaching. When I come up with lessons for my transformations they are almost always made 100% by me. I am meticulous as I make them to make sure they hit the standard and fit with the theme to creating a lasting impression on the kids. This is also a time that I push myself to make my most hands on lessons. This is always a game changer on those skills that both the students and I struggle with.

Once I know when and where I want a transformation I go about planning out my lessons the way I would normally. I think about what specific skills need to be hit that week and what exactly I want my kiddos doing each day. I will also look over lessons and activities that we have used in the past to make sure I know what is expected of my kiddos by the end. Once I have mapped out my plan for the week I make my activities like I normally would, but put a spin on them to match the theme! I usually find myself my most creative after I have done all the planning, pinteresting, and DIYing. For that reason I usually do content last, not because it is the least important (it's the most... duh!) but just because I know I will have my best ideas once I have let my creative juices get to work.

Q: How many do you do a year?
A: Like I said before, I am up to probably 7 or 8 however it didn't start that way! I started with 1 for the year and the next year it went to 2. Each year I added 1 or 2 more, until I had enough where I could create a rotation. Each year I pick different ones to do. Some are huge and take a lot of time. Some I can throw up during my planning period. Some are new and some are old. I try to space them out so I don't burn out, and mix up the new and old to give myself a break. Also, It's totally fine to plan one and then say NOPE, not gonna happen! Every year I have had high hopes for a transformation that just never made its debut. Listen to your body. If you are wearing down, don't do it. There will always be next year!

Q: How do you get the most bang for your buck when decorating?
A: My biggest tip- FOCUS ON ONE WALL! Too many times I see people putting decorations all over the room, and while that is great, it is also going to take you forever. In all of my transformations I focus on one wall. I make sure I go all out on whatever my kids will see right when they walk in the room. I want the first thing they see to make them say "Woah!". I literally put all of my eggs in the back wall basket. We need to remember kids have a wonderful imagination. They are able to transform themselves to another place. All they need is for me to jump start their imagination, and I do it with that one wall. I usually cover the entire wall with butcher paper. I have used tablecloths in the past but make sure you get thicker ones or they will become see through. I also bought fabric and made curtains to cover my entire wall. Once the wall is covered in a solid color I start layering all the fun details. When it comes to the details bigger is always better. Don't waste your money on a lot of little touches. Invest your time and money into something that will scream you theme and blow them away. Once I have my wall completed I usually add something to the ceiling like a banner that matches the theme or inflatables. The last, but not necessary item, is covering their desks. I cover the front of their desk with tablecloths. I only cover the front because, 1. It lasts longer (no pencil holes.. bless!) and 2. I don't have to buy as many tablecloths. Covering the desks really helps to mask all of the "school-ness" of the classroom.
***Helpful hint- when it comes to hanging things from the ceiling, binder clips work great for those of you with ceiling tiles.

Q: How long does it take you to set up?
A: I'm probably the wrong person to ask this- because I am anything but efficient. You see, I work with my best friends... so go ahead and add about 3 hours on to any project. #allthedistractions But honestly, it takes us hours. Im not going to lie... it's not quick when it comes to hanging it up. Here are some tips though: 1. Bring help! A second set of hands will cut your time in half. (and if you're like me the second set of hands will keep you on task as well) 2. Get good on a ladder! I am constantly up and down the ladder when I am doing a room transformation. Buy a ladder and keep it handy, then find a friend who isn't afraid of heights. 3. Keep hooks or binder clips on your ceiling. Find the places where you are always hanging things and keep your hooks or binder clips there. Then all you have to do is hang the decoration instead of finding a location. 4. Prep as much as you can at home. When the school day is over and you start to get going, make sure everything is prepped and ready. At 3:00 your only job should be to hang and set out. Get that crafting done on the couch girl!

Q: When do you start planning your transformations?
A: Again, there is no perfect answer for this. Each one has been so different. Some ideas I have thought on and planned out for months. We knew we wanted to do Monsters Inc. in the summer and planned all the way up to September. Others, like basketball, I literally threw together in a week because I knew my kids would love it. Once you try your first one you can get a better idea of how long you need to make your ideas become a reality.

Q: How do you store it all?
A: Umm..... find any little nook and cranny I can and shove it in there! But really... I have a system, but I also do this. Maximize any storage space you have. I have one closet at school that I have fill to the top with supplies. I keep my small supplies in plastic shoe boxes. Each shoe box is a different theme. I keep tablecloths in scrapbook paper bins labeled by color. Hats, baskets, bins and accessories are all stacked like the leaning tower on top of a shelf. I have an empty locker filled with costumes and content. My stage is filled with games and blacklights. And then whatever doesn't fit at school comes home with me to be nicely tucked away in my garage. There is no secret or perfect plan. I just hide it anywhere and everywhere I can.

(see y'all, aint nothin' fancy!) 

And here are a few snaps of my favorite transformations.
Click on any of the pictures to see the content I used with the lesson. 

For this Toy Story transformation almost everything was made out of cardboard boxes or poster board. The monkeys were cut from poster board, the rocket was a large cardboard box. The giant crayons were even DIYed by Amy Lemons by using pool noodles and a party hat. 

Monsters Inc. took some time but ended up being very inexpensive. The doors were purchased from a salvage resale store. I paid under $2 per door and then just painted them up. The scream cans were all made using poster board or pringles cans. The door banner is made out of cardstock and the monsters inc hats were plastic yellow party hats that I painted blue. 

Basketball- so stinking simple yall! My basketball hoops are made out of trash cans and laundry baskets from dollar tree. The backboard is poster board that is attached with a binder clip. Other than that its orange butcher paper, black and white tablecloths and some tape on the floor to make a court.  

Stock up after every holiday- you will thank me later! This was all clearance Halloween decor that I used to make a spooky blacklight transformation. It was Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween so I used cardstock to turn the ghosts into Mickey ghosts.  

This pizza theme was so much fun (and made me so hungry). Check out pool floats at the end of summer! I was able to grab these pizza ones on sale! All the table decor was purchased at Dollar Tree and the pizza boxes were donated by a local pizza restaurant. 

Candy land was just so sweet! I decided to go for an overall candy theme instead of really sticking to the game. All the giant candy boxes are cardboard boxes and I printed off candy labels. The hanging candy pieces are paper fans covered in plastic wrap. The gum drop banner is cardstock and the wall was covered in rainbow tablecloths! 

Phew! Are you tired of room transformations yet? Honestly peeps, if you take just one thing away from this I hope it's to make it work for you! I do what works for me, you can do the same. Don't be afraid to try something new, but make sure you are having fun while you are doing it! 

Have any more questions about room transformations? Reach out and I'd be happy to answer. Happy planning everyone! 

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Top 10 for new teachers

Sitting here on the verge of my 4th year of teaching I realized I might have juuuuust enough wisdom to pass off a little advice. I am by no means a seasoned veteran. I by no means know what I'm doing. I by no means have all my s... my ducks in a row. However, that terrifying first year was just recent enough that I remember all of the feels. Looking back on it there are a few things I wish I would have known, and a few things I would pat myself on the back for. So here are 10 things I want to tell any first year teacher (and maybe remind myself too):

1. Ignorance is bliss. Embrace it. 

Guess what?? You aren't going to know everything. Stinking EMBRACE it. Looking back on my first year I honestly don't know what those kids learned (hopefully they learned something). I taught from behind my cart a lot of the day. My reading stations were a hot mess. Writing- I literally had NO CLUE how to teach that. There were multiple phonics patterns that I taught wrong and had to then go re-teach. But you know what- I had no clue. I had no clue how badly I was doing. I had no clue of the balls I was dropping. I had no clue of all the areas I needed to improve on. It was amazing. I came in every day and did my best and took whatever was thrown at me. Can I also just say it is amazing to have NO idea what is coming up. Not knowing that I was about to teach the most difficult unit of the year- bliss! Not knowing how stressful the kids bombing middle of year testing would be- bliss! Not knowing all the hours that would be put into random things- bliss. Just embrace not knowing. The more you know the more stressful EVERYTHING gets, and sometimes I wish I could go back to the bliss of taking everything day by day.

2. Get to know your parents

Above all else- know the kid's parents. As a first year teacher, or teacher in your 20's, parents can be intimidating. Building a relationship will be your saving grace. I did this really well with about half of my class my first year, but looking back I wish I would have made more of an effort to get to know all of the parents. I wish I would have called the ones who didn't show up for conferences. I wish I would have personally invited them to open house. I wish I would have gone to their homes and brought dinner. Show them you care, and chances are they will show you they care too. I have learned so many parents don't see education as something they can or should be a part of. Voicing concerns seems strange and coming to meetings is uncomfortable. At first glance you might think they don't care however, I am begging you to look a little deeper. Get to know them, and you just might see that they care, but they don't know how to help or where their place is. Break down that wall and I promise you will gain their trust. Once you have the parent's trust it is amazing to watch the changes that will happen with that child- both academically and behaviorally.
(Also, it never hurts to have a parent on your side. Just sayin...)

3. You have a degree darn it! Fake it till you make it. 

This is kind of a combination of #1 and #2. You don't know it all- that's okay! FAKE IT! Fake it to the kids. Fake it to the parents. Fake it in meetings. Be confident. Smile. Go with your gut. Fake it.
I had no idea what I was doing with behavior kids my first year (and side note- I have my masters in Behavior Analysis and I was STILL scrambling). Every behavior was brand spanking new. You can read text books and write reports all day but when a desk goes flying in your room you will have NO CLUE how to handle it. But here, let me tell you: 1. Stay calm 2. Go with your gut 3. Stick with it 4. Be confident. If you skip just one of those the kids will sniff you out. They will know you are scared to death and they will take over. They will win. DON'T LET THE LITTLE PEOPLE WIN! I feel like so much of my success with behavior my first year was sticking with my gut. I acted like I knew what I was doing. I didn't know, but the kids believed it and my coworkers believed it. Stick with your gut. Same goes for parents. They may have years on you, but you know what they don't have? A little piece of paper saying that you know what the heck you are doing in education! Be confident!
P.S. If your gut is wrong, still stick with it until the little people are gone, go ask for advice, and then stick with their gut. 
P.S.S. If a parent does have that little piece of paper saying they also know what the heck they are doing in education, still be confident. Ask for advice from your administration... a lot, but still be confident. 

4. Memorize your students middle names.

Ohhhhh the power in being able to yell at a kid from across the room using their FULL name. Their eyes will get big. You will see their pupils from a mile away. They will freeze and slllllllowly turn their head. That's right you heard me! It's the very best.
But in all seriousness, memorize their middle names. It also shows that you are invested. You know them and care about them. You took the time to learn something that they haven't told you. For an added bonus, it is really easy to come up with nicknames when you know their middle names. Nicknames are also great for student relationships. It is something that is just between you and them.

5. Don't let the good kids slide into bad behavior

Back to behavior- for this one I want to pat myself on the back. We will all have "that" kid this year. The tough kid that takes up all of your time, breaks every rule, and leaves you wondering if you will show up again tomorrow to take your pathetic excuse for a paycheck. Don't let "that" kid take over the class. It will take some time for you and "that" kid to get on the same page. You are going to have to try a lot of different strategies with "that" kid. "That" kid WILL push you. While they are pushing you 21 other sets of eyes are watching. Watching and waiting to see if they can do it too. DON'T LET THEM. It is going to feel backwards to punish sweet little Haley who never acts up because she copied Nathen who is always acting a fool, but Haley needs to learn that lesson. Don't let Haley off easy. If you do, Haley will do it, then Lucas, then Brooke, then Peyton (please tell me some One Tree Hill fans out there are seeing what I'm doing...) and pretty soon you will have a class of 22 "that" kids. Don't let the good kids slide. Keep them in line and over time you will figure out "that" kid.
P.S. When you figure him out you will love him. Love him big time and love him hard. He will leave a mark on your heart that you never thought possible. Don't give up on him. He needs you. 

6. Make friends

#happyhour. Say yes. Ask when. Ask where. Go with whoever. You are crazy enough to do this job- and it just so happens there are people all around you who understand that crazy. Get to know them. Love on them and laugh with them. They will keep you sane. Put yourself out there are make friends. I cannot begin to tell you how important #6 is. It will save you.

7. Love on the para-professionals

The principal may be the head of the school, but I can promise you the paraprofessionals are the neck... and the legs.... and the arms.... and the heart. Y'all, they need some love. Treat them like the amazing PROFESSIONALS that they are.
Custodians: Introduce your class to them. Call them by name. Teach your kids that they are not their maids.
Cafeteria workers: Make your kids look them in the eyes and say thank you. Tell them to pick up their trash and leave their area better than they found it.
Teacher Aids: Treat them as the teachers they are, not your assistant.
Office Staff: Bring them treats. Tell them you appreciate what they do. Tell them you see how hard they work.
Chances are they take home an even more pathetic excuse of paycheck than you do, so at least give them some love.
P.S. Really, the office staff is the neck of the school. You DON'T want to be on their bad side. Just trust me. Love your office staff and you will reap the rewards later. 

8. Take pictures

I didn't do this nearly enough my first year. Take pictures of anything and everything. Save them and print them off in a book. You will cherish it forever because that first class is one you will never forget.
P.S. One day you will look back on those pictures and say "I had no idea what I was doing, but ahhhhh ignorance was bliss."

9. Don't over prep 

Just don't. You think you are saving yourself time but you aren't. You wont use half of it. Step away from Pinterest. Newsflash: In teaching it really isn't a free for all of crafts and cute ideas. There are standards and usually an actual curriculum. I know shocking- they didn't really explain that very well in college ( I alone there?). Stop prepping and rely on  your teammates as the year goes by.

10. Me time

I feel like a fraud giving you this advice, so really I am giving it to myself because I know it is what I need to hear. Leave time for you. Set a time and GO HOME. It will all be there tomorrow. I promise. The world will not end if you don't label that bin or grade that paper. You need rest and relaxation. You need a life. If you don't leave time for you this job will take over and boyyyyy is it ugly when it does. Let me save you the panic attacks and just say go home. Teaching is one of the top 10 careers with high rates of depression. Eeek, scary right? You aren't superwoman (Kori Markussen- thats right, I am talking to you). You will hit a brick wall if you push yourself too hard. It will hurt.
You can't do it all. That is okay. What you have done is enough, because you are doing it with your heart.

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Let me start by saying I am passionate about my job. I love my students with my whole heart and come to work every day hoping to prepare them for their futures. This does not just mean academics to me. Quite honestly- academics come second in my book (shh... that’s between us). My goal is to help create well rounded children whose hearts and minds are prepared to learn. I believe strongly that this must happen before actual learning can occur. 

So now that you know I am a teacher who works tirelessly, who loves her job, and who comes eager to greet 22 smiling faces each morning, I bet I know what you are expecting. You're expecting to read a blog covered in primary colors, Pinterest perfect lessons and daily gushes over those sweet 22 faces that sit perfectly in their desk, completely engaged in every lesson or activity I give. ERRRRRRR- wrong. THAT IS NOT MY REALITY! 

Let me repeat: 
Not. My. Reality. 

Many days it feels like I am the ring leader of a 12 ringed circus. Crying, screaming, arguing, making deals, and moving clips. It all happens. Jackets lost, papers misplaced, unsharpened pencils, and lessons run long. It all happens. 

Many days, it is anything but pretty in room thirty-nine. But I am here to say that is OKAY! Many days I am on my knees praying that an administrator doesn't walk through my door to see the catastrophe that is my class. Many days I am amazed that a parent hasn't called to complain about the lack of graded papers being sent home (Where are those papers you may ask? They are sitting in the back of my car UNGRADED. The exact same place they have sat for the past 3 weeks). 

Right now, as August is approaching, I am pumped and ready to go. In between the occasional back to school nightmares, I fantasize about the amazing teacher I will be this year. Picture me standing in the front of the room, 20 pounds lighter (This is a fantasy remember), smiling as I kill an engaging hands on activity where all of the kids use their math manipulatives to actually do math- not to sword fight or build a tower. I fantasize about how organized I am going to be this year. How I will ALWAYS be prepared for my lessons and my behavior management is going to be on point. Ahhh, pre-August is just dreamy. Shockingly, it never lasts...

Now, in the January slump I have found myself longing to be an accountant. What I wouldn't give to sit at a desk silently and work. No pressure to be creative or put on a show. You won’t catch me dead saying that in July, but January-Ms. Markussen thinks that some days being an accountant sounds just peachy. When people hear teachers complain about teaching they always seem to go to the kids. "Oh kids these day! There is no parenting! They are wild and get away with so much more than I did when I was a kid..." 
While some of this may be true,  the reason I, and maybe some of y'all, struggle with this career is not the kids. 

It’s the extra- more importantly the extra I put upon myself that wears me down into the ground. In this new age of Instagram and blogging one can get lost in the never ending stream of amazing educators in the world. Every lesson is bright and cheery, filled with hands on games and activities. Of course these lessons come with pictures of students working perfectly by themselves. The blogger/teacher adds a nice little caption about how well everything went and blah… blah…. blah…
I know. I’m sounding pretty cynical right now. I go into reading blogs with all the right intentions. I want to be better. Push myself. Learn from my peers. The first few blogs I read I am pumped with adrenaline and ready to get going. Completely filled with admiration I keep reading. Then, the jealousy sets in. HOW IN THE WORLD IS THIS CLASSROOM LIFE POSSIBLE?! Jealousy quickly turns into a bit of anger which then ends with me picking them apart, in true teenage girl fashion. “Surely they don’t have a life or family”. Shoot, I don’t have a life or family. “Well surely they don’t have (insert sweet-little-nugget-child-who-is-turning-me-gray here) in their class. I bet they also don’t have (Insert sweet-little-nugget-child-who-is-oh-so-not-ready-for-grade-level here) in their class”. Yeah... my list goes on...

As a chronic overachiever when I see all of these amazing lessons and ideas I want to do them. Do them all, and do them perfectly. I want to juggle all 20 balls and make it look easy. I want to be the best part of every teacher I admire, and then push it a little further. Time and time again, I am shocked when all 20 of those balls come crashing down. And when they crash I am DONE. It's all or nothing. I want to be perfect, and if I can't be perfect and do it all like them, then I'm not going to do it at all. Why can't I live a life that looks like their highlight real? Well HELLO, it's not possible! It's not possible for me, and quite frankly its not possible for them. It is a highlight real. While I am sitting here chasing their highlight real, I am throwing away the talents and gifts that I have been given. What a shame. 

So here I am- writing this as the first step to stop my long string of bad habits. There is no point in comparing myself to everyone I admire. This isn't an all or nothing. I can come into this job that I love every day, give it my all, and still be human. I can be a great teacher and make a lot of mistakes. I can do a fantastic lesson without a beautiful staged picture opportunity. I can use and appreciate great ideas from fellow educators and make it work for me. I can be confident in my skills and still have a student that gives me a hard time. I am here to say that I love my job, I love my kids, I put everything into teaching, and probably spend way too many hours at work- however it is far from perfect. And that is okay. 

So welcome to my stories, my truth: the good the bad and everything in between. 

Side note: I apologize to all accountants. I am sure your job is also extremely difficult. 

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