Friday, July 28, 2017

Changing Grades and Changing Plans

The teaching field has a way of lulling you into a comfort zone and then suddenly and without warning, turning it upside down. Things can become so unpredictable at a moment's notice. I experienced this myself a few years back, and I thought I'd share my story and offer some tips for making it through unexpected changes in jobs, grade levels, or any huge change you might come across in your teaching career.


If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know I started my career as a kindergarten teacher. I wasn't thinking about teaching kinder in the least while I was applying for jobs. In my mind, I was going to teach 2nd grade - after all, my mom had been teaching 2nd for over 30 years and loved every second of it - so why shouldn't I do the same? So, I started applying for jobs in different districts here in Arizona, confident that I would get a call for an interview at any moment. I went to job fairs. I dropped resumes off at school offices. I continued to apply for even more districts. Yet no one called. Not. One. Principal. Back in 2008, there wasn't the teacher shortage that there is now. Jobs were a lot tougher to come by. But surely someone needed an upbeat, excited new teacher who would give their all for their students....right?

Wrong.

My phone stayed silent nearly the entire summer. I started to get anxious and worried that I wasn't going to find a job. My friends and family kept encouraging me, and I kept trying to apply, and even e-mail principals to let them know I was interested in a job opening. Still nothing.

Finally, in mid July, which is fairly late to still have a job opening only a few weeks from school starting, I heard from a principal who wanted to interview me. I was so excited! I couldn't believe it! And it was even in a district I wanted to be in. I went to the interview and was full of nervous excitement until that principal told me what job she wanted me to interview for: a 3rd/4th grade ELL combo class. My heart sank, even though I kept a smile on my face. That wasn't the job that I was hoping for. In fact, it sounded terrifying as a brand new teacher to be faced with teaching students in not one, but two different grades all at the same time. Not only that, but I would be on a team of one, going solo. Not exactly the ideal situation to be faced with as a newbie teacher. But I kept on through the interview, answering questions as best I could and trying to be optimistic about the opportunity. I left the interview feeling disappointed and unsure of the direction I wanted to head. That night I went home, talked through it with those closest to me to get their opinions, and most importantly, I prayed that God would guide me to the decision that He wanted me to make for my life.

After deliberating, praying, and talking with family about my decision, I knew what I wanted to do. And the answer might surprise you. So when that principal called me to offer me the job....

I said no.

No?!

That's right, no. Even though it was close to the beginning of the school year and I hadn't received even one other phone call for any sort of interview, I said no. It didn't feel right. I didn't feel that God was leading me to take that job. And I had to be okay with my decision. Even though I desperately needed a job, I didn't want to get myself stuck in a difficult position where I'd be miserable and unhappy all year.

To some people, I'm sure that's hard to understand. And it may even seem ungrateful, or picky to some. Some people even told me that I should have been happy to take any job that came about. But everyone's life circumstances are different. I just did not feel like that was the right job placement for me at the time. And by the time the school year began... I was still jobless.

So, I went to Plan B - substitute teaching. No, it wasn't ideal, and no, it wasn't what I had envisioned for myself coming out of college. But here I was. I applied in the district where I student taught and started picking up sub jobs where I could. It seemed like the only jobs available were half day jobs at first, until I subbed for a teacher at the school where I did my student teaching. This ended up being a great opportunity for me. Not only was it amazing to see all my former "coworkers" (I say that loosely, since all I had done was student teaching!), but an opportunity came about for me to be a long-term sub for a teacher at the school who was soon to be going on maternity leave. Not only did this give me a steady job for a few months, but it was also at the school that I loved. It ended up being a great way to have my own classroom, but with the support of having the first few weeks' plans already made up for me. And the amazing part was, I already knew most of these kids - it was a 3rd grade class - because they had been in my student teaching class the previous year in 2nd grade. So, if I didn't have a classroom to call my own that first year, this was the next best thing. I continued substitute teaching in various ways while also working a second job to supplement my income.

The school year ended and I'd been applying for jobs all over again, but with a new excitement. Now I had something to put on my resume. I'd actually been teaching in a classroom. Surely this would give me an edge over other brand new teachers... right?

Wrong. Again.

All throughout the spring and summer, once again, I did not receive a single call for an interview. I began to wonder what was wrong with me. Sometimes doubts even creeped in that maybe, just maybe, I wasn't supposed to be a teacher after all, even though I'd dreamed about it since I was a kid making up class lists and seating charts with my Barbies and dolls. May passed. June passed. July was flying by. I felt hopeless and sad. When people asked me if I'd found a job yet, and I had to tell them no, I felt them silently thinking, "You could have had that other job a year ago." I already knew, I'd think back to them, because I already was doubting my decision myself.

At the end of July in 2009, I was just about to resign myself to applying for substitute teaching positions once again when I received a phone call. FROM A PRINCIPAL! A principal who wanted to interview me for a kindergarten position. Well now, as I said before, I never really thought about teaching kindergarten, but who was I to say no at this point? I certainly wasn't opposed to it. So, we set up the appointment and I hung up the phone feeling excited and hopeful. The day came, and I left a whole hour early, and printed out the directions on Google Maps (no smartphone or GPS at that time... haha!). And... the directions led me to THE WRONG SCHOOL. You see, it was a fairly newly developed neighborhood and not all of the directions had been updated. And I was late to my interview.

Do you know what a terrible feeling that is? To finally get an interview, leave way ahead of time, and not be able to find the school? Who on earth would hire anyone that was late to their interview? But what could I do? I called the office, let them know I was lost, and then finally made it there. I met with only the principal, no other teachers, and I thought it went well, but wasn't feeling so sure because of my lateness. The whole weekend passed and I didn't receive any phone calls. I thought that was it. I remember it was a Sunday afternoon that I was at a friends' house for a barbecue, and I got the call from the principal - I had gotten the job! I was beyond excited, but also so nervous and stressed because the first day of school was literally one week away, which meant that I had to spend the entire week before school started attending new teacher orientation meetings and new staff meetings in the morning and set up my classroom as fast as I could during nights. Meet the teacher night was only 4 days after I got hired, so mere minutes before parents and students were due to arrive, I was shoving things into cabinets and hiding boxes in my office. 

Needless to say, saying "no" to that 3rd/4th grade combo class was the best decision I ever made, because that kindergarten job ended up being my dream job. I had the best teammates ever - they taught me so much about what it meant to be a good teacher and they even made their own amazing resources - which inspired me to further do what I do today. We were a well-oiled machine and always had fun every day we came to work. It's hard to find a team that has that magic together. You can have a solid team, even a good team, but I was lucky enough to have the magical unicorn team teaching a grade that I ended up absolutely loving. If I had settled for that first opportunity that I knew wasn't right for me, I would have never experienced that. So, sometimes it's okay to say "no".

Things were great. I loved my school, loved my students, loved my team, loved my coworkers. 6 years passed by and I figured I would be at this school forever.

Wrong again.

I don't know what it's like where you live, but in the state of Arizona, we often have school district overrides that the public votes on in order to continue a property tax that provides funding to our school districts. This provides for low class sizes, full-day kindergarten, teaching jobs, classroom resources such as aides and support staff, etc. Every time one of these is up for a vote, it's a scary time, because we know if it doesn't pass, people are going to lose their jobs. My first year teaching, this override was up for a vote, and it didn't pass, and because I was the low man on the totem pole, I received a Reduction in Force (RIF) slip. However, for whatever reason, that spring, it was able to be put up for a revote, and it passed, so I ended up keeping my job. This year, 6 years later, I was worried about it not passing, I stood on street corners with signs encouraging others to vote "yes", and I attended meetings for support groups, but I wasn't worried about my job. After all, I'd been at my school for 6 years and was on the leadership team, and was more of a veteran on my team. Surely I wasn't the low man on the totem pole anymore, right?

Wrong. (Are you sensing a theme?)

The override didn't pass. The people of my city had voted it down. We were crushed. And no one was more shocked than me when I received a RIF notice. For reasons I won't get into, the way they decided who got to keep their jobs hurt kindergarten teachers the most, and the biggest percentage of people who lost their jobs were kinder teachers. So, all of a sudden, I was a part of that, even though others who were first year teachers in different grades got to keep their jobs. I never, ever want anyone to lose a job that way, but that didn't quite sit right with me.

Needless to say, I was totally devastated. I loved my school and didn't want to leave my team, or my former students, who are ALWAYS my students for the rest of their lives once they walk through my classroom door. The thought of not seeing them anymore in the halls crushed me. I cried a lot of tears that month.

All of a sudden, I was having to apply for teaching jobs again. By the way, do you know how hard it is to apply for jobs when you hadn't gone to college in ages and had to track down all of those transcripts?! Ha! 

This time, I had a lot of interest from principals wanting to hire me. I was grateful for that. In the span of a week, I ended up having 3 interviews. I was nervous and excited, but also confident. The first couple of interviews didn't feel quite right. There wasn't anything overtly wrong with them, but I just didn't get that feeling that they were the places I was supposed to be. And if there's one piece of advice I have to anyone who is going through a similar situation, it's go with your gut. Don't ignore how you feel! My third and final interview was amazing. I felt so excited about what was going on at that school, and I left the interview feeling so excited about the possibility of working there. And after 4 long days of waiting... I got the job! I was completely over the moon about it and felt like it was the exact school I was supposed to be at. And that's the school I have been working at for 3 years now, I'm happy to say.

However, things STILL didn't end up working out as planned - and as I'd learned throughout my short career, do they ever?! I was hired to teach kindergarten, but then they didn't end up having enough students to warrant a third classroom, so they cut my job and I was moved to first grade in the middle of the summer. Thankfully, I was able to stay at my school and not get surplussed to a different one. I taught first grade for a year, and then the same thing happened - we didn't have enough students for 3 classes, so I moved grades again - this time to 2nd grade! 

I have to say, teaching a new grade level is not easy. When I taught kindergarten for as long as I did, I knew it like the back of my hand. I was becoming an expert in that field; and I knew what those kids needed best to succeed. I thought I had myself all figured out, and I was going to stay in kindergarten forever! But, needless to say, God had other plans. I've now taught 2 different grade levels in 2 years, and each time I felt like a first year teacher all over again. It's tough. And this year, I'm moving again! Only two second grade classes were needed, so it's back to first grade I go for this upcoming school year. Maybe someday I'll be able to stay in the same grade for more than 1 year :) - but for now, it's all part of the adventure, and I try to embrace whatever challenge comes towards me, because no matter what grade I teach, it's all about the kids; and it's been kind of fun teaching new material.

If you are still with me and reading the longest blog post on earth, I thank you! Hopefully you can relate to my story in some way and know that you are not alone. If you're experiencing unexpected change in your school or job, here are some tips to help you make it through:


Even though losing my job at my first school was one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. I love where I am now and the school I am at allows me to bring out my creativity in the classroom. And even though it's been an adventurous two years moving around to different grades, I'm grateful for it. I feel like I'm a better teacher having had these experiences in different grades. I love teaching kindergarten, and I still feel like that is where my heart is, but teaching first and second grade is also a blast in their own different ways as well. And if there's one thing I've learned as I'm going into my 9th year of teaching - expect the unexpected, but embrace it when it comes.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Make a Geoboard! {Guest Post from Education.com}


When it comes to learning, sometimes it's the simplest things that can be the most effective. You and your child can make your very own geoboard with a few simple supplies from your local hardware store. This is a fun and inexpensive project and it's a great way for your child to build basic geometry skills, like shape recognition and pattern and angle familiarity. Plus it's loads of fun!

What You Need:
  • Pegboard, 12" x 12"
  • Nuts and Bolts, sized to the pegboard
  • Rubber bands, multi-colored
  • Small container with lid

What You Do:
  1. Help your child push the bolts through the holes in the pegboard, securing them on the back with the nuts. The front of the geoboard is the side with the protruding bolt ends. Each hole should have a bolt in place.
  2. Your geoboard is ready!
  3. Place all the rubber bands in the small container with lid.
  4. Encourage your child to use the rubber bands to create shapes, designs and patterns by stretching the rubber bands around the bolts. She can also overlap the bands to create a variety of complex designs.
  5. When finished, have your child take all the rubber bands off of the geoboard and place them back in the container for later.

Find more great geometry resources over at Education.com!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Fun with See and Build: Homophones!

So, I'm teaching second grade this year, and with that comes teaching many concepts either that, I've never taught before, or if I have, it's on a much deeper level. One week, upon looking at my curriculum framework, I saw that one week my students' spelling words were to be homophones. The tricky part about that is that my students were going to have to understand the word in the correct context of a sentence to know which word they were supposed to spell. This is easier said than done! So throughout the week, I knew I had to come up with multiple ways to practice homophone spellings and meanings in ways that would be meaningful to my students.

They love anything hands on - and since they were going to be spelling words for the week, I wanted to incorporate some sort of word building activity. I was having trouble finding too many resources to fit that skill, so I came up with my own!

I wanted to create an activity where my students had to do their own thinking, was hands-on, and also easily assessable so that I could tell who was still having trouble identifying and spelling the correct homophones.

I came up with an activity called See and Build: Homophones. I created a PDF with pictures of common homophone pairs. Then, I projected one slide on the smartboard.



The students had their own letters - enough for each word they'd be building - that they cut out and built on their own to attempt to spell the correct homophone.



My favorite thing about this activity is that it includes self-checking slides for students to check and fix their work! After students have a chance to build and spell the word, simply click to the next slide on the screen and the correct word will pop up! My students literally cheered as loud as they could if they spelled the word correctly. They loved it!


We kept going through 8 pairs of homophones and my students were totally engaged!




You can grab See and Build: Homophones by clicking on the picture below!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Using Elf on the Shelf in the Classroom

For the past five years or so, I've brought the Elf on the Shelf into my classroom each December. My students absolutely love it each year and it brings a little holiday magic into our room! They love looking for the elf each morning and it's a great behavior incentive as well. They never want the elf to  see them doing anything "naughty"! But here's the thing - it may seem like a big chore to implement a few elf activities into your day, but it doesn't have to be anything time consuming for you unless you choose to do it that way!

On the first day the elf arrives at our classroom, I usually wrap the box up and cover it with super gaudy, sparkly bows and ribbons. I then put it somewhere in the classroom and don't say anything about it until someone notices! I then, of course, act completely surprised that there is even a gift in our classroom.



We open it, the students are excited (understatement of the year), and then we read the book. After reading, we brainstorm potential names for our elf and vote on them to choose.



The winner last year was Snowflake! Every year, my students end up picking a different name. Sometimes the name doesn't even have anything to do with Christmas or winter, as evidenced by the list pictured above.

I don't usually do anything too huge in regards to the elf. I move him every day so the kids can find him.

   

He can also be a little bit mischievous... going on joyrides while we're not at school!


And sometimes he brings us special treats... like candy canes!


Then we have a mini-candy cane day! We observe them and describe them using our 5 senses and create a web of all the adjectives we came up with.


Using an elf in the classroom is also a great opportunity for students to write in a variety of ways. My students always love to write their own notes and letters to our elf telling him their Christmas lists, how much they love him, and any other little sweet things they want to "tell" him.


One of my favorite writing activities to do with my students is a persuasive writing project. Students write a letter to their elf to try and convince him to tell Santa why they've been good this year. 


The stuff they come up with is always so funny! They come up with reasons you wouldn't even think of as to how they've been nice all year. If your students need help coming up with ideas, you can create a group thinking map together to brainstorm ways they've been kind to others, followed directions, or worked hard all year.


After they write their letter, they create a craftivity of our elf and pair it next to the letter. They always turn out absolutely adorable.


You can find the elf in the classroom persuasive writing activity by clicking on the picture below! It has differentiated writing paper options for you to choose from to best fit your students' needs.


Once Christmas break begins, our elf returns back to the North Pole. Sometimes I like to get a gift from the "elf" for the kids to find when we return back to school in January. In years past, I've gotten supplies for our kitchen/home living center, a holiday book, or a stuffed animal like the Grinch. The kids are always sad to see our elf go, but finding a special gift from him is a great way for them to say goodbye. Having an elf in the classroom can be such a special, magical experience for your students!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Veterans Day Activities

November has arrived... and I think we all can agree that this is the first official start of the holiday season! From now until December, teachers everywhere will be attempting to fit holiday themes into their teaching including Thanksgiving, Winter, and holidays around the world... and it's tough to fit it all in! However, I will be kicking off the month of November by teaching about a holiday that is often overlooked amidst all the hubbub of the last two months of the year: Veterans Day!

I usually don't have more than a day or two to devote to teaching my students about Veterans Day, so in the past, I've tried to find quick, low-prep activities that are still engaging for my students to learn about this important day.

The easiest place to start is by finding some great books that tell the history of Veterans Day in kid-friendly language. Here are some fantastic books to start your collection:


My two favorites pictured above are H is for Honor and the Rookie Read About Holidays: Veterans Day

Videos are also a great way to get students interested in new topics. I found this great little video on Youtube that tells about Veterans Day in a way that young students will understand. I'll definitely be showing this one to my first graders this year!

 
I also love implementing fun little songs and creating movements to go along with them. My students love them and end up singing them all day long! I sang this adorable song last year, courtesy of this freebie from First Grade Wow! I wanted my students to have access to a version that they would be able to use and read themselves, so I added a little Melonheadz clipart and turned it into a poster that the kids could refer to. Love it! 
 

After researching facts about Veterans Day together, we usually do a fun little activity together. I used this coloring sheet with my kindergarten kiddos last year and had a sentence for them to trace and tell about the meaning of the holiday.
 

We also made a Veterans Day hat with three badges on it to tell about the importance of the day.



You can download the hat for FREE by clicking on the picture below!

 photo veterans day link pic_zpsn3hcfdoa.png

Monday, October 3, 2016

Compare and Contrast with The Three Little Pigs!

I'm in the midst of teaching a big fairy tales/folk tales/fables unit at the moment and it's been one of my favorite units to teach so far! There are so many fun, classic, high-interest stories that kids love to read. Before we began reading any fairy tales, we created this schema chart together of all the things we thought we could find in a fairy tale. Their ideas were actually pretty dead-on!



One of our big standards to teach during this unit is comparing/contrasting similar stories. There are so many great versions of the classic fairy tales to choose from! One of my favorite fairy tales to use for comparing and contrasting is The Three Little Pigs.

For this unit, I read three different versions of The Three Little Pigs and my students compared and contrasted each one by analyzing story elements such as characters, setting, and plot.

We learned that in fairy tales, things usually happen in "threes", and of course the 3 Little Pigs is no different! I had the idea for my students to create Compare/Contrast Story Houses to create one big book. I absolutely love how they turned out and my kids had a blast creating them!

First, I created a little graphic organizer and my students filled one out for each story.



My students loved the fact that I included a "villain" square on our graphic organizer since there was a different villain in each version we read! We glued the graphic organizer to a piece of construction paper to create the first book page, then flipped it over and added the front cover to the opposite side.


To complete the first page, we added a roof by cutting a piece of 4.5x6" construction paper into a triangle shape and gluing it to the top of the page. This is where we wrote the title and author for each story we read!


We repeated the same process for each book we read and matched the book page colors to each "pig house" from the original story: yellow for straw, brown for sticks, and red for bricks! Each time we finished a new story page, I attached it to their book.


By the time we were done, we had 3 pages to complete our compare and contrast story house! I stapled the rest together to create an accordion book.


Creating the story house book was such a great, creative way to compare and contrast the different stories. My students absolutely loved making them as well! They really added so many details to their illustrations and were able to practice writing story summaries in the plot section.

There are many different versions of The Three Little Pigs to choose from, but here are the versions we read to create our compare/contrast story houses: The Three Little Pigs by James Marshall, The Three Little Javelinas by Susan Lowell and Jim Harris, and The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas.

To end our unit, we read one of my all-time favorite versions: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka. It's the story of The 3 Little Pigs from the Wolf's point of view!

The most unique version we read was The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. The houses and settings were completely different from the original, and it had a happy ending too! Because the settings were so unique (and there were 4 of them!) I had my students split themselves up into groups of 4 and use giant whiteboards to create four window notes. Each student was responsible for drawing a picture of the four different houses the wolves built in the story. Then they took turns retelling the story to their fellow group members. Such an easy and engaging activity!

If you're interested in using the Three Little Pigs Compare/Contrast Story House with your fairy tale and folktale unit, you can grab it here in my TPT store by clicking the picture below! Differentiated graphic organizers, the cover page, and directions for making the book are all included in the pack. The great news is, you can create it using as many or as few versions of The Three Little Pigs as you want! It's such a versatile activity. Click below to check it out!

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Quick Update: Blends!

When students are beginning to grow their reading skills past simple CVC words, blends are one of the next basic phonics patterns to introduce to young readers. They begin to blend the letter sounds together and combine them with short vowels to read more complex words.  Since you say both sounds in blend patterns, they are very easy for students to pick up and master. When you're introducing a new blend pattern, it's important for students to work with the words in a variety of ways - and you don't just have to use worksheets to accomplish that!

When introducing a blend pattern, I always started off by creating an anchor chart for each one. I drew bubble letters and wrote words that began with the blend inside of them. Then I hang them up around the room for students to refer to throughout the year.


This allows students to brainstorm words that begin with each blend to help them become more familiar with the pattern. I drew my own pictures to go with each word, but you could even have students take more ownership of the anchor charts by drawing the pictures themselves!

When introducing different blend patterns, it's always fun to come up with related art projects or crafts for students to create to practice writing and spelling their words with blends. For the FL- blend family, I gave my students a piece of construction paper and they created their own FLags and wrote their blend pattern words onto the flag. So simple and the kids loved it!


If there's one thing students love to do, it is getting to write on the big teacher whiteboard or smartboard! Don't ask me why... I think it's because they love pretending that they are the teacher for a small moment in time! There are so many patterns for S-Blends that I like to introduce lots of word sorts for students to become more familiar with the patterns. I drew a chart on the board and had students brainstorm a word that fit with each blend pattern. Then they wrote their word on the board in the section with the correct pattern!



Of course, there are always times when using a worksheet really helps students identify phonics patterns, spelling words, letter formation, and sentence structure. When introducing a new blend pattern I like to have my students begin by using an activity sheet from my No-Prep Phonics Word Work Pack. With these, students read, write, and highlight the words as well as read sentences to practice fluency and create their own sentences using words from the blend pattern they are practicing.

This video shows a sample from my diphthongs pack, but I use the same format for every pack.

video

For blends, I currently have packs created for S-Blends and Triple Consonant Blends, which can be found in my SUPER-discounted Word Work Bundle (over 60% off!). Just click on the picture below to find out more!