Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Paper, Paper, Everywhere!

My biggest struggle in my job at the moment is organization.  I am currently working in a position that deals with excessive amounts of paperwork.  I am a special education teacher so I constantly have a flow of reports and IEPs that I am writing or referencing, I also have to keep work samples for my students so that I can provide evidence of their growth, and I reference it when I’m writing their progress reports at the end of each term.  Also, since I work in inclusion, I have homework assignments, tests and quizzes, and other papers for each of their classes that I use for different reasons. 

Keeping all of this neat and straight is where I struggle.  Each year I try different approaches.  I’ve used binders, magazine holders, folders, letter trays, and this year I seem to be using a mix of all four.  Yet, I feel like I am always swimming in a mess of papers.  I feel like somewhere out there, there is a solution to my messy paper problem and I just need to find it. 

Another part of the problem is that I am in an office and not a classroom.  The classroom teachers have cabinets galore, and a separate table for their computer and I have very minimal furniture.  I have one desk, a bookshelf, and a filing cabinet.  So I have limited surfaces to put organization tools on.  Right now my computer takes up most of my desk, and the top of my small, two-shelf bookshelf is where I keep my papers that I need handy and don’t want put away in my bookshelf.

I am always in the market for more organizational tools.  Let me know in the comments how you do things!  I would love for some fresh ideas!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

This week we are beginning our district’s annual high-stakes testing.  Our students have to take two days of each; ELA, Math, and Science.  It is spread out to three weeks, two days per week, and it’s going to be a long few weeks!

How do you prepare your students for high-stakes testing.? My students are in middle school, so this is their sixth year doing testing like this.  They seem to go on autopilot, they just want to get through the test and on to whatever is happening later in the day.

With math we work really hard to cover the whole year’s worth of curriculum before the beginning of May when they take the test because we have no idea what topics will be on the test this year and which won’t.  We want to at least expose the students to everything to make them more prepared for the test. 

For ELA, I do a lot of modeling.  I go on the state's website and I look for the releases of the previous years' testing.  With the students we work together to use all of our strategies to go through the test, preceding questions, underlining evidence, crossing out answers that we can eliminate.  And I just hope that when seated in the class while taking the real test, they remember some of this stuff and use it on the test.

Monday, March 27, 2017

I have been away from computers recently so I haven't been writing.  I have been suffering from 4 weeks of cluster migraines and screen time seems to be one of my triggers.

I wanted to talk about time management.  Right now, I feel like I'm so overwhelmed.  As a teacher, I'm contractually required to work a 35-40 hour week depending on meetings and other obligations.  This is average for full time jobs across all professions.  But, as a teacher I also have to spend time outside of school correcting, planning, cutting, pasting, laminating, decorating my bulletin boards, analyzing data, and writing reports.  As a special education teacher I also have a boatload of paperwork on top of all that.  This definitely takes up most of my week.  But, as a single, new teacher I also have to do other small jobs to try and supplement my income so that I can live a decent life.  Where do you find the time!?

I find that I need to stay very organized so that I don't miss a deadline.  I love love love my Erin Condren planner (no this is not sponsored or a plug, it's just the truth)  I use the less common, horizontal theme.  It gives me room to keep track of meetings, appointments, tutoring, and my personal life, while still having room for my to do list, goals, and workouts.  I also use different colored pens and Flair felt tips to organize my calendar by categories, work is one color, second job stuff is another, personal is pink! and then doctors appointments are their own color.

I try to do most of my TpT work on the weekends, while during the week I focus on completing coursework so that I can earn more graduate credits and move up the teacher pay scale.

I am the type of person who needs to stay hyper vigilant or I will forget everything, lose everything, and miss deadlines.  I am a big fan of calendars and to do lists.

Please, please, please share any organization tips that you have.  I am constantly looking for new ways to keep my life running.

Monday, February 27, 2017

This week I want to go back to my previous post about middle school bulletin boards.  My current bulletin board this year relates to the district’s encouragement of growth mindset.  Growth-mindset is believing that you can do better, having faith in yourself that you are able to overcome your mistakes to do well and that their intelligence can be developed.  With the special education population that I work with, I feel that growth mindset is the key to success.  Many students who have a disability, by the time they reach 14, have decided that they just can’t “do school”.  That no matter what they do, they are never going to be successful.  Keeping these students positive and optimistic can be a big challenge. 

Here is the current bulletin board I have displayed in my room.  Unfortunately because I have a small office, this is the only bulletin board that I have so I can only show one thing at a time.

I chose this growth mindset bulletin board for my classroom because I think that these negative thoughts are ones my students have all the time and I want them to be able to think differently and not give up on themselves.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

To rush, or not to rush; that is the question.

One of the decisions I struggle with the most is whether to focus on understanding or getting through the curriculum.  This is a struggle I have especially with math.  I work with students who often require extra practice and more taught lessons to understand something, but when you slow down to be able to do this you are risking running out of time to finish the whole curriculum by the end of the year.

Last year I taught a sub-separate math class that had less than 10 students.  It started as a way that I could really dig deep and spend the time teaching them in ways that they would really understand.  But, as the year progressed I realized that we were about a month behind their general education peers.  At this point I had to weigh the pros and cons of both sides of this.  Going slow and at the speed of the students will send them on to ninth grade with a toolbox of things that they may remember how to do and will result in them having a stronger background knowledge.  But, if I do not cover all of the eighth grade curriculum these students will be seeing things in ninth grade that their teachers are going to expect them to know.

The other factor that goes into this is that MCAS is in April so in theory we should have taught the entire eighth grade curriculum by the end of April in order for them to be successful on this test.

Last year I did not pick either side but instead fell somewhere in the middle.  I introduced them to everything that the eighth grade curriculum covered but focused only on the basics so that we could spend a little more time on each topic.

How do you handle this problem?  Let me know in the comments.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Middle School Bulletin Boards

So as I've said before, I teach middle school inclusion.  I have my own classroom but in that room I work with students on all subject areas.  This caused me to have a hard time selecting bulletin boards for my classroom.  I also have a small office with only one bulletin board.  I didn't want to focus on any one subject so I searched and searched and searched for things that would be appropriate for me.

After a few weeks of browsing the internet, I decided I wanted to go for motivating, or kindness bulletin boards; things that would make my students want to work harder or want to be better people.

This first one is my favorite, I kept this up for two years before I finally decided it was time to move on.  I really worry about my middle schoolers and all the bullying that goes on on social media where parents and teachers often can't see it.  I remember being in middle school and it was hard enough going through that with AIM.  Now they have so many avenues to express themselves but also to hurt others.  I hopes that my students took the time to read this any maybe think about the message there.

I also have a big open back wall that I wanted to decorate.  This was another bulletin board that I was really in love with.  

If you have any great middle school bulletin boards, please share!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

They may be down, but they're not out.

For my first blog post I want to talk about motivating students.  Currently, I am a middle school inclusion special education teacher.  I co-teach two math classes, and two ELA classes everyday, I also teach a pull-out reading class and I push in to other classes when I have open slots in my schedule.  The real challenge that I find working with the population that I do is the fact that they know that they struggle more than everyone else, and they've had to work twice as hard for 8 years of their schooling.  By the time these students get to me, they have worked so hard for so long and many of them are still having a hard time.  Some students rise to the occasion and work their tails off for whatever benefit they may find and some find it easier to skate through middle school doing the bare minimum just to get to the next grade.

I have found the best thing that you can do to a child is help them find a win, and then make a big deal about it.  I cheer them on like the loudest, wackiest cheerleader that I can be and then hope that my excitement is infectious.  Today a student was called on unexpectedly by the general education teacher and after he shared is answer he followed with, "but I think I'm wrong"... but he wasn't!  It was one of the harder concepts that we cover this year and he had the right answer!  I was so excited for him and I made sure he knew it, and you know what... it made him happy too.  And after that he raised his hand to voluntarily answer a few problems which is something he hasn't done all year.

Now not every situation is as easy as that.  Also that one moment of triumph is not going to take a student who is constantly disappointed in themselves and rebuild their confidence, but I've found if you can string together some wins fairly close together and let the student know how awesome that they're doing; that it can lead to a boost in confidence, even if it only lasts a few weeks.

I wanted to share with you a file that I use to give my student notes of praise.