Monday, March 18, 2019

Positive Training

I have been struggling for some time with my fourth-period class in particular. Their behavior is usually awful, they're chatty, and they don't seem to care one iota about consequences. Lately, it seems like every time I turn my back to advance the PowerPoint slide or grab the worksheets or whatever, at least half the class starts to chat.

So last Tuesday, instead of doing the regular "if I write your name down that's a warning and if you get a check that's a consequence" I decided to reward the good kids. At the start of the period, I wrote everyone's name on the board. Throughout the period, I drew blue lines through the names of students who talked or were a distraction. I told them this was a consequence-free period and I wanted to see who all had been good at the end of the period.

They were still chatty and some were still obnoxiously talking but the class was better. At the end of the period, I handed out donuts to those who had not had their name marked out and we went on with our lives.

On Wednesday, the same thing. Names on the board, blue marker in hand. They didn't know if I had brought anything or not so even more were quiet on Wednesday. I had only to pick up the blue marker for them to shush.

I decided to take it a step further and create a whole new behavioral system. Basically reinventing kindergarten, I purchased clothespins over the weekend and wrote a student's name on each one. Today, before school, I clipped each period's clothespins to a strip of bulletin board border and hung them on the board. 

If your clothespin is still on the "track" at the end of the period, you get entered into the drawing for a reward on Friday. So if your clothespin stays on the track all five days, you will be entered five times. And, I told them, you never know when I might just bring candy one random day and everyone who is still on the track gets candy at the end of the period.

Will it work? Who knows. I'm doing it mainly for 4th period as they are the worst group but I am hopeful that it will be effective for the other classes as well. At the very least, it's something new to give a try.

Have you used any different behavioral systems in your classroom that have really worked? If so, I'd love to hear about them! Sound off in the comments!

For now, that's a wrap!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Did You Know You Were a Ringmaster?

So you're a teacher, right? (Hopefully you are, if you're reading this blog). When you went into teaching, did you know that you'd be required to wear many hats and juggle many things? Or did you, as most of us do, think that your job was to get up in front of the students and teach your content, maybe throw a band-aid on a skinned knee every now and then, and give out some hugs? 

I'm sure you know better now.

If you're a good teacher, then you probably wear many hats at school. You may teach seventh grade ELA but you may also advise the yearbook. Perhaps you're also the go-to person when there is a teacher out with no sub and the rosters need to be split. Or maybe you're the one they come to when there's no one to sell tickets at a baseball game and they know you'll do it because you can't say no (I don't speak from experience, of course). Physically, teachers are jugglers of all sorts of things. It's important to make sure that you aren't juggling more than you can handle. I've said it here before and I'll say it here again - you don't have to say 'yes' to everything. You're going to probably wear more than one hat but you don't need to be that guy who has a hundred hats. 
Trust me. I used to be that guy over there on the right who tried to teach, be team leader, help when there was no sub, and advise both yearbook AND Beta Club. I found myself stretched too far and had to give something up. Even just giving up the yearbook made my life so much more balanced and I could focus on doing a few things well rather than a lot of things badly. Think about it!

Because, as teachers, we are also not only juggling physical things like teaching and clubs and selling tickets. We are also called upon to be therapists and shoulders to cry on. We may be the only kind voice heard by a student that day. Our classroom may be the only spot they feel safe enough to share their troubles. It is our job to always be there for the students even if we aren't sure we can be.

Teaching isn't a one-ring circus. It's not even a three-ring circus. It's an entire carnival where you're rushing from one booth to another sometimes, desperately trying to cover all your bases and be in multiple places at once. It's a commitment. That's why teachers are basically superheroes.

Friday, February 22, 2019

For the Love of a Book, Week 15

The only problem with these "For the Love of a Book" weekly posts is that I tend to re-read books I like and so I am having trouble coming up with books that I haven't done yet! Solution? Read new books! I am going to have to get on that...

For this week, I am going to show how a book can come to life! This whole week has been dedicated to blog posts about the Beta Convention and today is no different. One of the competitions we look forward to the most is Living Literature, where students recreate a scene from a book. Last year, we did The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and so we decided to step it up a notch this year.

Our students chose to do the final battle scene from Fablehaven because it is cool, the book is awesome, and there are a lot of characters in the scene. In hindsight, we probably shot a little too high because it is definitely hard to recreate an octobear and a toadlike creature but our kids had fun and hopefully were inspired to read the book.

Fablehaven has been a focus of this blog before and you know it's one of my favorite series so you know how excited I was to bring it to life. Our kids enjoyed choosing their costumes on Amazon and practicing their poses. For your enjoyment this week, I am going to let you enjoy some pictures of our wonderful kids and their scene!

Our fairies had to work hard on their "warrior" faces. You'll see an eclectic mix of Amazon costumes, hand-made costumes, and thrown-together costumes. They had a lot of fun and it was great! Here you see a few of our warrior fairies, our scabby beast, and our minotaur.

We had to improvise our minotaur's weapon after I accidentally purchased a real battle axe on Amazon. Seriously, a replica should not have such sharp edges! Luckily, Mrs. Zander had a battle hammer from a cosplay and we made it work! He also had fake hooves. We were nothing if not thorough.

Our Octobear was perhaps our hardest costume. We got the head and the gloves off Amazon and his mom hot glued some pool noodles (painted brown) to his shirt to create his tentacles. Seriously, we should have gotten extra points for that!

Our "scabby beast" looked kind of like a bleeding Einstein but who cares? He looked epic! He clearly isn't thrilled about all the fake blood (and wasn't looking forward to the taking it off process) but he was a trooper!

The costume that got the most attention was our "toadlike creature." This student bought a green unitard, cut tennis balls in half, spray painted them green, and glued them to his suit like warts. Then he put fabric glue on top of them to make them look like they were oozing. So his mask was a different still looked awesome!

It was super hard to get a picture of them all in the same frame but this was their scene! The warrior fairies fought the demonic forces as Kendra and her fairy escort watched from a window (DIYed by me, thank you very much). The kids had a blast and their scene was so lifelike. Some of the schools had their students just sitting - it's much harder to freeze in a battle pose! Even though we didn't place, we still had a blast (and were robbed. Not that I'm bitter or anything but...).

We had a blast and so did the kids bringing Fablehaven to life! Next year, though, I think we won't shoot quite as high...and I'm kind of feeling Harry Potter!

What do you think? Any suggestions for what we can do differently next year? What are some books you think would make great scenes for Living Literature? I'd love to hear from you! Sound off in the comments.

For now...that's a wrap!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Planning for a Beta Field Trip!

So you're the sponsor of the Beta Club at your school, are you? That's awesome! You're thinking of going to the Beta Convention next year? Equally awesome! I encourage you to get your ducks in a row now, because you don't want to be scrambling last minute. Trust me on that.

Planning a field trip can be hard but if you start early and plan well, it will be a breeze. We just got back in January from our Beta Club field trip and, let me tell you, I took lots of notes on what to do differently next year. 2020 will be my third year going on this field trip and I am quickly becoming a semi-mostly there-pro at it. This blog post is going to outline five tips for planning your trip, tips both specific to Beta and tips that are general field trip tips. Hopefully, you'll find these helpful if you're planning your State Convention trip and even if you aren't! Let's go!

1. Figure out how you're going to get to the Convention. Probably the easiest and most hassle-free way is to go with a tour company. If you're in South Carolina, I recommend Blue Ridge Tours. They are amazing. Super friendly and helpful - even with the millions of questions that I asked. Since we weren't taking many students to the convention, we partnered with another school. I don't recommend doing that unless you know the teacher at the other school or are really willing and able to compromise. It was tough for us because the other school's teachers didn't require the same strict rules as we did and it became a bit of a hassle. But it's an option if you don't have enough students to fill an entire charter bus. Last year, we just took an activity bus and our attendance clerk drove. That was fun but it put a lot more strain on me to do all the planning as far as food stops, hotel, etc. With Blue Ridge Tours, they did all of that and I didn't have to do anything except monitor the students. Worth it!

2. Have a payment plan for the students and stick with it. This was perhaps one of my biggest shortcomings in planning this trip and something I am definitely going to improve upon next year. I made the mistake of not making the deposit non-refundable and, consequently, had to refund two students who decided not to go. I suggest making the deposit non-refundable. I also advise having a set schedule of when money is due (i.e. $50 each month) and stick with it. Be on top of the payments and payment due dates and let parents know when money is not turned in. I did do better on this this year but I had a lot of parents I was contacting at the end, begging for their money. I advise sending something home after each payment deadline, outlining how much money is left to be paid, and send something home also if the payment is not made on time. My other piece of advice in regards to payments is to set a date at which point no money will be refunded and the student will still be expected to pay the trip in full. You could do two dates on this. If you are going through a travel company and there is a certain point that you have to pay the invoice, set a final date before that where no money will be refunded but parents will not be expected to pay an outstanding balance if the student can no longer go since you can probably make adjustments to the number of students going before paying the final invoice. If you've already paid the travel company and a student can no longer go, make it clear that the entire payment is still due. Sorry, kid! Having a detailed and clear-cut payment plan will make your life easier and cut out most issues.

3. My next suggestion is to do fundraising. I know fundraising involves a whole lot more stress on your part but it really is super helpful to the students. My school does it so that profit for students is directly tied to how much they sell or participate so that is an added benefit for students who need more help to get out there and sell. There are many different types of fundraisers you can do. I recommend highly Maredy Fundraising because they are super easy to work with and their products are super great. We did the lollipop fundraiser twice and the kids raised so much money we are planning to do it again before the end of the year to bankroll some money for next year. There are lots of great fundraising options out there, just make sure yours doesn't conflict with something another group at your school is doing. You don't want to step on any toes!

4. This is a tip for the Beta Convention specifically. Plan ahead! Start in the spring thinking about what events you want to do and start getting your kids involved and invested. Especially with competitions like Book Battle (which involve reading a ton of books), Living Literature (requiring you to build a scene, props, and costumes), Robotics (you'll have to build a robot), and even Engineering (having to build a tower), it'll help to start prepping early. If you start early on the more involved competitions, you'll have time to help your kids plan ahead for even the more simple competitions like Poetry and Creative Writing. Plus, the more you hype up the competitions, the more likely you are to get kids involved. And stressing at the last minute is not something good!

5. My last tip is one that saved my sanity in planning this trip. No lie. Have chaperones whom you know you can count on. One of our subs who went as a chaperone (and had gone last year) was essential - she built the set for our Living Literature, sold lollipops, and was my sounding board. Two of our other chaperones had gone last year and were familiar with the ropes as well. It was so incredibly relieving to have them along because they knew what they were doing and they were as strict with the kids as I was. I don't know what I'll do next year when their kids have gone on to the high school! But the thing that saved me most was having a teacher friend along on the trip. I got lucky this time in that one of our 7th grade Science teachers, a new Beta sponsor, wanted to go on the trip. She took over the planning for the Engineering competition and helped with logistics as well as makeup and preparation for Living Literature. Having her help as a fellow teacher was invaluable. Having her there as a friend (and rooming with her) was fantastic. And now she's taking the lead planning our trip to Nationals (see Monday's post) this summer.

So those are my field trip (specifically Beta Club) tips! I hope they were helpful. I know I've learned a lot this year that I am going to adjust and change for next year. Planning a field trip is a lot of work but it's rewarding! Do you have any tips that you'd like to share? Were my tips helpful? Please sound off in the comments!

For now...that's a wrap!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Make Sure It's Worth It...

Okay, first off - sorry for the long hiatus. I've been super busy with school and family and friends and have let my blog fall off the wagon. My apologies. To the one person who reads my blog, thank you for doing so. :) You'll be glad I'm back. I'm making a commitment today to blog three times a week. I'm also committing to eating healthy and being active so...yeah. We'll see how those commitments go.

In the time since I have blogged, I have taken my Beta students to their state convention and that is what this blog post is about. On Wednesday, I am doing a blog post specifically designed to provide instruction on planning your Beta Convention trip (for any Beta sponsors out there who are already thinking about their next year's convention and need some tips or advice on how to keep your sanity). This post is more about what happened to us at our Beta Convention and how success is achievable! Therefore, it's more entertainment than education. Enjoy!

We took sixteen students to the Beta Club Convention. This was my second year going to the convention so I knew a little more of what to expect. We were entering a few more of the competitions and were hoping to get a few more awards but the competition at this Convention is stiff! Since we were taking a smaller group of students, we partnered with another school to take a charter bus and go with a tour company. That was a bad idea in and of itself but that's another story for another blog.

Our trip started out with Wonder Works at Myrtle Beach, which was a blast, and then we headed to the convention for our first competition, Living Literature. Living Literature is one of our favorite competitions because the students have to perform a scene from a book - but it's like a wax model scene so they don't act anything out, they just pose in place. Our students chose Fablehaven - with a little help from me - and so our scene included warrior fairies, a minotaur, a scabby beast, and more. Their costumes were awesome and the science teacher, Mrs. Zander, even did makeup on them. They looked awesome.

Thursday at the convention was a whirlwind of competitions and a first for Greer Middle - our Quiz Bowl team placed second in the written exam that morning. Our team consisted of four boys, three of whom had been on the team last year. The fourth, a seventh grader, had replaced an eighth grader last minute when he hadn't been able to go on the trip. They were so excited when they found out they'd made it to the oral rounds and I was too. Since they hadn't made it last year, they had no idea what to expect but they were ready. Adults were allowed into the room to watch so two chaperones, Zander, and I crowded into the room to watch. The boys rocked it out in their first round and made it to the semi-finals. They crushed the other team in the semi-finals (sorry, girls) and got to the finals, where they were beaten by a team from Prince of Peace Catholic School, which was the team who had finished first in the written exam that morning. Kind of fitting. First and second in the morning, first and second in the afternoon.

But what did this mean in the big picture? It meant that this team of boys was eligible to go compete at Nationals Convention in June! Our other teams did well in their respective competitions but none of them made it in the top 5, except for one boy (also on the Quiz Bowl team) who placed 4th in the Science test competition.

Still riding a high from our Quiz Bowl team's victory, Zander and I began making plans for National Convention, which is in Oklahoma City. Not Georgia, which is where it was last year, or even Disney World, which is where it was two years ago. Nope, it has to be in OKC, which is a 16 hour drive from Greer. As I told the four kids and their parents, while I am extremely happy for them to have made it to Nationals (what an honor), I thought my hassle was over when I got them off the bus Friday evening. Not even close. Now Zander and I are off on an adventure to help these kids afford the $688 price tag on a 4-night trip to OKC. Luckily, they are all able to go and I am planning some fundraising to help offset the cost but that's expensive! And while OKC wasn't on my list of places to go this summer, a trip with four awesome kids and a teacher friend won't be so bad.

Takeaway from this trip - if you're going to volunteer with something outside of school contract hours (like a club or a sport), make sure it's something you will enjoy doing. A club can be a lot of extra work and a lot of stress. Planning for this Beta trip was not a walk in the park but, because I enjoy being with the kids, it was worth it. So my advice is to just make sure you are really invested in it because it's just grunt work if you aren't!

Our Beta Kids!  

Monday, September 24, 2018

Poker Face

Sorry that I've fallen off the wagon these past few weeks. The beginning of school has been rough and then we had a hurricane (well, not really) and it's just been crazy. Plus, we all know how I am with blogging...and making promises to 'do better' and still epically failing. This time, I'm just going to make a promise to try harder to do better. That's about all I can do right now.

Today, I want to talk to you about poker faces. And not the Lady GaGa song that's now stuck in my head (and the only part I know is the Poker Face part) but the fact that, as a teacher, you really need a good poker face. You can't let anything get to you or have any kind of inappropriate reaction to anything.

I have a horrible poker face. My emotions show on my face as soon as I think them. And the more dumb I think something is (like not being able to control yourself in a classroom), the more likely I am to laugh or grin. Now, I try really, really hard to keep a straight face when handing out consequences and I'm usually successful but there are those moments when I just can't help it. Like when a student had a literal meltdown in class because someone accidentally took the cup he was using in a simulation. Or when a student came out to me in tears because another student killed a cricket. In those situations, I was not very successful in hiding a grin. Because really...a cricket? A cup? Come on. Get a grip.

This is something that I am constantly working on. I know that I shouldn't let my emotions, especially when they don't fit the situation, show. As a new teacher, this should be something you focus on and always keep in mind. A straight face is a tool every teacher should have in their toolkit, whether it's perfect or not.

How's your poker face? Do you struggle with keeping a straight face, like I do? Or is your face basically a blank slab? I'd love to hear tips and ideas on how to perfect the poker face! Sound off in the comments. 

For now...that's a wrap! 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Oh, If Only I'd Known!! (Week 4)

It's time for Week 4 of my blog series, Oh, If Only I'd Known, which is geared towards first-year teachers. I'm going to try and keep it a little shorter this time around since Monday's blog post was so long! So let's go! 

This week, I am going to encourage you new teachers to step outside your comfort zone. Don't be afraid to try something new! That's this week's piece of advice. 

As a first year teacher, there may be days where you are struggling to keep your head above water and it's all you can do to use those lesson plans your mentor teacher gave you or the worksheets you found from the textbook. And that's okay. I'm not telling you to reinvent the wheel every single day. I'm just suggesting that you try something new at least once in the year! 

You may find that some veteran teachers will discourage you from thinking outside the box your first year. You may be advised to stick to the basics, focus on classroom management, and don't stir the waters. But there's no reason why you can't dare to be different your first year teacher. 

Perhaps you try something small. Rewrite some song lyrics to get your content across. Decorate your room a little differently. Utilize stations or some epic games of Kahoot! Maybe even dress up to teach a lesson! Just because you're a first-year teacher doesn't mean you can't also be a little creative. It's all about engaging your kids and having fun with them. The more you embrace your creative side and get outside that comfort zone, the more likely you will be to really enjoy your first year of teaching and really connect with your students. And, like I said, there's no need to make every single day a banner day. Just some! You can do it! 

If you have time before starting that first year (or even if you want some reading in your off time - I know, I know, what off time), here are some books I would encourage you to check out. I've linked the Amazon links to the titles. For more detailed reviews of the books, check out Monday's blog post. 

So there you have it! Some more advice for your first year of teaching. I'm sure that you're ready to get going - I'd love to hear from you so sound off in the comments! 

For now, that's a wrap!