Organization For New Teachers

Organization For New Teachers

Welcome to Week 3 of the Summer Workshop for New Teachers! This week we are talking about organization for new teachers – it is a necessary topic for all teachers! This could be the never-ending blog post if I tried to share all the organization resources, hacks, and teacher tips ever. 

Instead, I’ll go over the basics here and then continually update my Facebook and Instagram stories with new ideas and best practices.

So, what makes organization so important that I feel confident in saying this is a topic that applies to all teachers?  An organized classroom accomplishes several purposes:

  • Less distraction for your time and attention
  • Maintain a clearer focus on priorities
  • More time to teach (and for yourself!)
  • More control over your environment
  • Less stress!

It’s important to start by breaking organization into smaller categories. 

For instance, there is what I call “big picture” organization and “detail” organization.  Some examples of “big picture” organization are curriculum maps, school wide plans like MTSS, or learning systems like Google Classroom; whereas “detail” organization is how you are going to sort and contain guided reading materials or math manipulatives, individual lesson plans or a classroom reward system.

Workflow

One of the “big picture” ideas I like to advise people to think of first is their workflow. You would never come in and just wing it every day—you have lesson plans written, materials prepped, resources ready, etc.  Beyond that, though, is workflow. 

Workflow is knowing what tasks are best done when. 

For example, in my case, I usually had about an hour each day before school. I knew in that time I wanted to check email, have all my materials laid out for the day and confer with any other people (parent volunteers, student teachers, etc.) that might be working with me in the classroom that day. 

After school, I often chatted with colleagues, but was fortunate that most of the time they came to me.  During this time, I could pick up materials and put them back where they belonged, set up the schedule for the next day and clean up if needed, all while still having that important social interaction with friends.  

Since I preferred not to take work home, I stayed one night a week later than normal to copy and prep materials so that my plan time was truly used to plan or for just taking a break if I needed one—we’ve all been there, right?   

This is what worked for me in the stage of life I was in and schedule I had.  Your workflow will likely be different, and that is ok—the importance is in having one, not that it is identical to mine or anyone else’s. 

As a new teacher, this may take some time to figure out.  I would caution you, though, that just because you are new teacher, that doesn’t mean that you should be the first car in and the last car out of the parking lot every day.

Yes, you may put in more late nights or early mornings than some colleagues for awhile, but you don’t have to work all the time. We’ll talk more about that in future blog posts.

Basic Organization Tips for New Teachers

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, if I shared every hack there ever was when it comes to organization, we would be here forever! But I do want to share a few important general tips for you.

The first one is what Rachelle Smith from What The Teacher Wants calls the ABC’s of organization. Assess, bundle, and containerize. You first have to assess your classroom space and materials. Then try to bundle like items together, and then decide how you will contain them.  This is a very individual process, but I will definitely share some ideas of things that have worked for myself or other teachers on my social media.

However, organization is very personal – some people prefer to have paper copies of things while others have everything organized digitally.  Whether you prefer paper or digital, there will always be some volume of paper to contend with, so you have to decide whether you want binders or file folders or bins for the paper. 

As you can see, if we went into all of that, this would be an extremely long post! Experiment with different options and see what feels right to you.

I would also recommend having one place to jot notes of things that come up throughout the school day.  Did you know that it has been reported that the average teacher makes 1,500 educational decisions in a day? (see my Facebook Page for the research).

That is four decisions per minute assuming a six-hour instructional day, so it doesn’t even account for time outside of that window. This makes teachers quite possibly the most decision-heavy profession of all. With all of those decisions to make, it is no wonder we get to the end of the day and forget to call Johnny’s mother like we said we would or that we need a class set of copies for the next day’s math lesson. 

This is why I recommend having one place in your room close to where you spend the most time to jot down reminders as they come to you.  This could be a section of your white board, an app on your phone or computer, or a master list. 

This week’s freebie is a master list based on workflow—a place to jot your reminders in the time frame you need to do them in. You can make multiple copies or a more eco-friendly version would be to size it to fit an 8 x 10 or 5 x 7 frame and use a dry erase marker. 

Just enter your information below to get that freebie ⬇️⬇️

Hopefully, this post will help you get one step closer to being the most organized teacher you can be! Happy teaching!

Classroom Theme – How To Choose

Classroom Theme – How To Choose

Choosing a classroom theme is one of the most important early decisions a teacher will make.  Classroom themes vary widely from simple decoration to themes that become incorporated into every aspect of the classroom.  Every teacher is different, and that is okay!

A classroom theme during COVID-19

At the time of publication of this post, most of the world is grappling with Covid-19.

This pandemic is leaving most teachers uncertain as to whether or not they will be teaching in a classroom or remotely this coming school year.  However, just because learning may happen online this school year, doesn’t mean that a theme isn’t necessary.

In this blog post, I am going to give reasons why you should choose a theme no matter how instruction is delivered as well as tips on choosing and implementing your theme.

Personality Shines

The best reason to choose a theme is to show off your personality! Whether you’re an avid beach lover, wannabe astronaut, or committed sustainability advocate, (or any of hundreds of other options) choosing a theme that matches your hobbies, interests or passions is a great way to incorporate those ideas into your classroom and help your students, parents, colleagues, and administrators get to know you.

Bringing it All Together

It can also give your classroom and the materials you use a cohesive look and feel.  As I mentioned before, themes can be as elaborate or simple as you choose to make them.  They can simply be a decoration for your classroom, or your can carry it throughout multiple areas.

Incorporating a classroom theme in multiple areas shows creativity and effort.  This could, in turn, possibly translate into positive remarks in your evaluation, depending on what framework your district uses.

If you are uncertain of what classroom theme you want to go with, social media can be very helpful.  Instagram and Pinterest are wonderful places to start looking for ideas.

Some great accounts to follow are:

There are many, many more that I could list, but this is a great starting point for you! Also, be sure to grab our freebie checklist for things to consider when choosing a theme.

Classroom Theme Chosen – now what?

After you have chosen a theme, start brainstorming ways to incorporate the theme and how you will do so. The most obvious way that you can incorporate the theme is in your classroom decoration.  This can vary from just a simple color scheme to coordinated everything—labels, nametags, signs, posters, etc.

Only you can decide how much is enough for you.

Also, be sure to set a budget.

Starting from scratch as a new teacher or completely overhauling existing themes can be very costly.  Start small and add on a little at a time.  Ask friends and family members for donations, or just tell them what your theme is and they may offer items for you.

One of my former themes was rainforest.  It tied to our broad concept of making a difference (a broad concept is often seen in inquiry classrooms to provide cohesion to curriculum) so it was very interwoven into everything we did.

I began to be known as the “rainforest lady” and, in fact, when my principal’s sister went to Costa Rica on vacation, she brought back items for my classroom and we hadn’t even officially met—she just knew about it from conversations with her family!

I also had a jungle animal theme for a few years well after that, and when a new teacher in my building chose the same theme, I gave her items I had purchased but never used because I was transitioning to a new theme that same year.

Just a final word of caution—while collecting items and having continuity of a theme can be great, be mindful that it doesn’t become cluttered or a distraction.

Virtual Classroom Themes

Themes aren’t just for physical spaces—they can definitely be incorporated into virtual learning as well.

If you have a dedicated area of your home that you are doing video conferencing with students, you could bring some of your theme into that area.

If you are using software like Zoom, you could choose a background that compliments your theme.  (Creative Teaching Press offers free virtual backgrounds to match many of their popular themes.)

If you use breakout groups, you could name the groups according to your theme.  You could create or use digital stickers or postcards with your theme. If you use Google Slides to organize or present instruction, you could incorporate your theme in those.

The same could be said for any print materials, newsletters or other items you send home in hard copy format.  The possibilities are truly endless!

No matter what you choose for a theme or how much you incorporate it in your classroom, this shouldn’t be a stressful process.  Don’t worry about having everything perfect, especially if this is your first year teaching. Just take your time and do what feels natural to you.

You will likely keep the same theme for awhile (it is costly, time consuming and stressful to try to completely revamp your entire theme each year!) so be sure it is something that fits you and make it your own! I’d love to know what classroom themes you have chosen!

Leave a comment below or tag me on social media (@yourteachingmentor) in your classroom theme posts.  Happy teaching!

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Stop Living In the “What If’”

Stop Living In the “What If’”

Last Saturday was graduation day at the university I teach at. It looked different, because the world is different.

No crowds of students in caps and gowns, no families vying for parking and cursing the early start, no diplomas – or in our case, “Welcome to the Alumni Association” papers (grades aren’t official until after the ceremony, so diplomas are mailed.)

However, there were still faculty members in regalia reading names of students and celebrating their achievements, it was just over zoom instead of in person.

Many classrooms are winding down much the same way – end of school celebrations have become virtual and the countdown is on. There is so much uncertainty about the fall.

Government officials are saying that it is unlikely that the level of testing needed, or a vaccine, will be available by the time school starts in the fall. It’s leaving teachers in limbo wondering how to prepare for back to school.

All the “What Ifs”

Like many people, I have felt anxious about what to do about preparing for the 2020-2021 school year.

  • Will we go back to campus or will we teach online again?
  • If we go back, what changes will need to take place in our spaces?
  • In our routines?
  • Will it only be half of the class at a time?
  • Will it be shorter days?
  • Will face masks be required?

So many “what if’s!!”

Adapting

It was leaving my head spinning and feeling helpless to be able to share advice and recommendations. I was upset and confused but then all of a sudden it dawned on me; I had a week – one week! – when all of this hit to figure out how to take my course from face to face to online.

I had been a participant in plenty of zoom meetings, but never led one. I had zero experience with distance learning and the next assignment on our syllabus was a community observation where the students go out and observe literacy in a community setting outside of school – how in the world were they going to complete that when stay at home orders were in place?

I had more questions than answers, but like usual, all my teacher friends rallied together.

All of a sudden there were dozens of zoom trainings, ideas for instruction, and for the elementary classes, tons and tons of free online resources. Huge companies like Zoom, Google and Epic! made their formerly paid resources free to help with the transition. So, I figured it all out, as did every teacher I know, and actually finished the semester on a positive note making learning meaningful and developing our relationships further. All in one week. In a global pandemic.

Let that sink in for a minute – I completely changed gears and restructured my entire course in one week – just like every elementary teacher I have met. When you think about it, it is pretty darn amazing how quickly we all figured out our new reality.

Less worry…

So, like a light bulb going off over my head, it occurred to me that it was silly to worry about how to plan for next year for two reasons.

Some things won’t change

I realized some things won’t change – the format of delivery maybe; but how I connect with my students, formulate best practices, and what beliefs I hold—no.

Who I am and what I believe about good teaching doesn’t change no matter what platform or proximity I have. To paraphrase Brendon Burchard, I am still going to build on my beliefs in the summer and launch my classroom in the fall, whether that is remotely or in person.

PIVOT!

And two, if it just so happens that I plan for one thing and actually get another, well then I will just channel my inner Ross from Friends and PIVOT! I’ve done it once in an extremely short time, so I know I can do it again if I have to. I cannot let the “what if’s” win!

Moving Forward

To that end, I have designed a summer workshop series to help prepare for back to school, whether it is year one or thirty-one for you!

As always, there will be some topics that are particularly relevant to those new graduates I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post –

  • tips for interviewing (whether it be in person or online),
  • what to prioritize,
  • how to connect with new colleagues,
  • and developing relationships with students.

I am also planning a book study – I’ll be polling the members of my Facebook group (Happy Classroom Collective) about which book will serve their needs best. There will be freebies here on the blog too to go along with many topics.

I know many of you are wrapping up your school year and everyone needs a break, so we won’t start until June 1. Check back here or on the Facebook page for updates.

In the meantime, what topic do you for sure need me to cover? Let me know in the comments or on FB… And happy teaching!

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Side Hustle for Teachers

Side Hustle for Teachers

Many teachers, for various reasons, end up with a “side hustle,” or second job. I have had one for pretty much my entire teaching career. For me, the main reason has always been financial, whether it was when I was single and just starting out or even now when I am married and near the top of the pay scale for my district.

Paying the bills…

When I was single, I was the so-called “breadwinner” and it was strictly my income that was paying the bills. Now that I have a family, there is more income, but definitely more expenses also! Who else out there feels like they might be paying the orthodontist’s kids tuition with their kids’ crooked teeth? Plus, all of my three children are involved in extracurricular activities and not a one of them is free!

Hobbies and Interests

Money isn’t the only reason people look for a second job—some do it as a hobby that generates income or as an opportunity to meet new people and perhaps help others. Others want to build their savings, add a cushion for the summer months if they don’t get paid or pay off debt. For still others, they see it as a chance to sharpen their skills in a different environment. Some people are thinking of making a career change, or want to explore other interests, but want to just go “part-time” at first.

How can you make some extra income?

So, if you fall into one of those categories, there are three main ways you can make extra income while still keeping your teaching job:
1) Traditional part-time jobs like working in a retail store
2) Direct Sales or Network Marketing
3) Web-based opportunities

1. Traditional part-time jobs

Traditional part-time jobs are great for those that want to get out and meet new people. Often, stores hire extra help for certain busy times of the year (such as Christmas), so it is a great option if you only want to work for a short while; for example, to get some extra cash for a trip or to pay off a bill. Another benefit is that you often get a discount at that store–but be careful with that! Sometimes, that “discount” can cost you more in the long run if you are buying lots of items you may or may not need—not that I would know anything about that! ?

2. Direct Sales

The second option is direct sales, and the good news is that there is one for just about every area of interest now, whether it be clothing, crafting, essential oils, health and fitness, makeup – you name it! I have been involved with three different direct sales companies over the years. All were excellent and very reputable companies, and, in fact, I am still a presenter for Younique now. For me, it is about earning the products for free or at a discount.

I am trying to build my business a little more, because starting next year, I will have tuition payments to make myself, and want to use the income from that to offset that cost. Others, however, go all in, and are able to retire from teaching to work from home full time. Not everyone is a big fan of network marketing though, so it can be tough to get through to some who have a negative connotation for what it is you do. The upside is that you can set your own hours and decide how much or how little you want to work towards earning.

3. Web-based side jobs

Finally, many teachers are moving toward web-based side jobs more than ever before. Websites like Teachers Pay Teachers and Etsy allow you to market your creations to their audience for a fee. But that is far from the only way to make money online. You can teach a course, either through a platform like Udemy or Skillshare, or one you design yourself from scratch (just a heads up—that is something I have in the works for this summer myself so stay tuned here for updates and information!)

Another option is doing online surveys or test scoring. You could do online tutoring or ESL teaching. Some people are able to make a profit from their blog. If you are looking for something outside of education, you could be a virtual assistant (VA) or a freelancer designing blogs or logos for instance. The possibilities really are endless!

Potential Drawbacks

Obviously, there are many good reasons to get a side hustle as a teacher, but we have to look at the drawbacks as well. Will the additional income be worth the time away from your family? What about implications to health and fitness? There are still only 24 hours in a day, and if you are working most of them, what healthy habits are you sacrificing? Eating well? Exercise? Sleep? The tradeoff may not be worth the toll on your health. And finally, could your second job get in the way of your job performance as a teacher? If you are still relying on that as your main source of income, you don’t want to take the chance of jeopardizing that position.

Ultimately, the choice is up to you. Hopefully, I have presented some information here to help you make an informed decision whichever way you choose!

Do you have a side hustle?

Shout it out in the comments below!

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6 Best Productivity Tips For Teachers

6 Best Productivity Tips For Teachers

When it comes to productivity, I was not always the greatest at managing my time well. I’d often find myself at school at 6:30 PM and feel like I had nothing to show for the three hours that had passed since school was over.  I knew I need to make a change, so I sought out blog articles and turned to Pinterest to help me.  Here are the things that worked best for me, and hopefully, they will help you too!!!

Whenever you are trying to develop a system for more productivity, I think the best thing to do is start with what I call a “Big Picture Breakdown.”

By this, I mean for you to think of the period you are trying to plan for—it could be a school year, a month, a week or a day. Whatever it is, think of all the tasks you want to accomplish during this period, and do a “Brain Dump,” as my friend Tiffany aka Coach Glitter calls it. What you will do is set a timer, and just write.  Get all your ideas down and don’t worry about censoring yourself, putting them in order, etc. JUST WRITE! Chances are the list will be overwhelming, and that is ok.  Tell yourself you are probably not going to get to all of these things, but the list is there so you can make your best plan to accomplish as much as possible.

From that list, look for things that you can batch.

For example, if I have both copying and laminating items on my list, I would batch those two together because the copier and laminator are side by side in our teacher workroom, so it makes sense to do those things together.  Some other things I like to batch are:

  1. Lesson Prep
    I am one of those people that writes out my lesson plans for the entire upcoming week on Friday. If I over plan, which commonly happens, it is ok because I can just move the items to the following week or save them for emergency sub plans (more on that later.) Some people like to plan day by day, and for more novice teachers, that may be a better idea until you feel more comfortable with pacing and knowing your students’ needs. Whatever works for you is what is best—there is no hard and fast rule for any of this.
  2. Emails/phone calls
    I try to set aside time each day after school to go through emails or Class Dojo messages and make parent or other phone calls. It is a good idea to make this policy known to your parents at the very beginning of the year, so that they will understand that you won’t typically be responding to them during the day.  Therefore, if they have an urgent message, they would need to use another avenue for that (i.e. call the office, etc.)
  3. I was definitely one to batch cleanup.
    This certainly will not work for everyone.  I can think of several colleagues right away that would cringe just to read this, but for me, it worked.  One set period to tidy everything up at once just fit better with my personality, but again, you have to do what works for you!!!

Determine your best time to work and hold it sacred.

Everyone has their “Golden Hour” for productivity.  Some teachers prefer to get to school at 6-7 AM (we had an 8:30 start time), and work before most other teachers are there.  Others would roll in right on time but stay until dark.  Others work contract hours only but did several hours of work at home. For me, I did a little before and a little after.  This was mostly due to necessity, but I made it work for me.  My daughter’s drop-off time for her school was an hour earlier than mine.  This gave me several quiet minutes at school at the start of the day, and let me tell you, I was NOT above closing my door and working with the lights off to avoid interruption.  During this time, I made sure everything was ready and organized for the day, and if there was extra time, I would peek at email, but I often didn’t have time for much then, so it was primarily dealt with after school.

After school, I often had friends drop by to chat and it was just fine with me.  I could socialize and still put materials away, papers in mailboxes and any leftover cleanup tasks.  Then I would work on switching everything for the next day—schedule, paperwork, etc.  Finally, with the time I had left I would work on email, then any copies/laminating/other prep needed.  I rarely took things home to work on once I was married and definitely not after Ellie came along.  I wanted school time to be focused on school things, but home time to be family time. That is not to say I didn’t ever bring anything home, but it was often things that could be done without distraction, like laminating to cut while helping Ellie with homework, or easy papers to check that could be done quickly while she was doing something else.  There were many times I never touched my school bag once I crossed the threshold to my house, and that was fine too.  I always looked at whatever I got done at home as a bonus.

Set a routine and use a checklist.

Once you have determined a best practice for something, make a checklist or template and use it to help speed up a process.  For example, I have been blessed to have many wonderful volunteers in my classroom.  I had one parent that loved to work on displays and was very artistic.  I could tell her the basics of what I wanted, and she would create something beyond my wildest dreams—it really was a beautiful thing! ?

However, I had another parent that preferred to make copies and prep materials.  I made a template on the computer that I filled out and left with everything she needed the day before she came.  I had other volunteers from a program through the university that came to help tutor students who needed help in language arts or math.  I designated a red bin for language arts and a blue one for math.  I made a template for each area and had a folder for each tutor.  I put the directions in their folder and then placed that folder and any materials they needed in the correct bin. This way, they could come in and get started right away without having to ask me what needed to be done.  I downloaded a lesson plan template on my computer and used the same one every week to fill in my lesson plans electronically.  I only printed them out if I felt I needed them. I also had a template for sub plans.

I took some time at the beginning of the year to type up dismissal lists, children who left the room for some type of intervention, a daily schedule, etc. and then put them all in a sub binder, so that all I had to do was fill in the lesson template, grab the materials, and put them all together.  I also had a green bin that I put worksheets we didn’t get to in (I told you we would come back to that!) and this was great for extra work in case the sub got through everything I had left with time remaining.  It rarely happened, but it was a comfort knowing he or she had plenty to do if need be.

This should probably be the very first one I listed!

Seriously, there is always far more to do than can ever be done as a teacher, and even more so if you try to do it all yourself.  Sure, there will be some things only you can do—lesson planning and report cards come to mind—but there is far more that you can let go of.  As I mentioned before, I always utilized volunteers when I could.  If you are fortunate enough to have a student teacher, they will have to have tasks delegated to them, and it is never too early to start.  And let’s not forget about the kids! Even in all my years in kindergarten, I always had plenty of jobs that kids could do, often after the first few weeks of school.  I never passed a paper out after September 1st! There is plenty more that kids can do, of course, depending on their age.  It helps them feel a greater part of the community and makes everyone accountable for the success in the classroom.

My final tip is to utilize technology.

I am a huge believer in cross-age partners (I promise there will be a blog post on that soon!) and I remember working on a project with our fifth-grade buddies and hearing a timer go off.  My colleague had programmed timers in her phone to correspond with when students had to leave to see an interventionist or take meds, etc.

I love Class Dojo because that one thing takes care of so many tasks.  My printed newsletter went from weekly to monthly after beginning to use that app.  All the things I would normally send home each week – behavior reports and reminders—could easily be handled through features on Class Dojo.  I am sure there are dozens more, since technology is evolving all the time, but those were definitely my two biggest go-tos. I’d love to hear how you use technology to help you be productive in the classroom—leave them in the comments below! We can all help each other!

Let me end with this disclaimerby no means was my classroom ever perfect, but these six tips kept me pretty well on track most days, and I would call that a win!

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An Introduction

An Introduction

Introducing Me…

So let’s start off with an introduction. My name is Michelle Martinez and I am married to the love of my life, a truly amazing and talented chef, Manny. We are a blended family of one daughter (mine) and two sons (his). Our kids are 13, 13, and 11 (almost 12). Having kids so close in age should be extra fun when we have 3 new drivers or 3 new college students all at the same time!! We adopted our gorgeous German Shepherd dog, Brinkley, one year ago to make our family complete.

Why Teaching?

I have been teaching for over 25 years. I graduated with my teaching degree in December 1991, subbed for a bit and then was called to interview for a position that had been created by some grant funding. I was hired to do Chapter 1 (now called Title) Math for 1st – 6th grades. Because it was a grant position, it was only for that semester, so after the school year wrapped up, I moved to a new city and worked in a preschool with 2-5 year olds.

Before going to my current school, I taught in the town just over from my hometown for six years (plus some subbing). I taught first, fifth and fourth grade during my tenure there. I decided to pursue my master’s degree in Reading and after graduating in May 2000, I made the move to my forever home of Bloomington, IL and Sheridan Elementary, where I currently teach. I call my classroom “My Happy Place.” I love that room so much for so many reasons, but classroom design and organization is one of my favorite topics, so look for plenty of posts on that! It is actually my seventh classroom in my school!

I taught third grade for five years (in 3 different classrooms), fourth grade for seven years (2 different classrooms) and kindergarten for the last six years (1 classroom—I think I see a pattern here…). During all that time, I have had the privilege of helping many new colleagues, student teachers, clinical students and volunteers to grow and learn about the teaching profession.

What are your greatest challenges?

I am so excited to be able to share more here on this blog. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what your greatest challenges are and what you would like to learn here.

That’s all for today…so happy to meet you and welcome to my little slice of the internet! My greatest wish is to be able to help you. I’ll be sharing my ideas for classroom management, curriculum, assessment, engagement, décor, and whatever else serves your needs. Don’t be shy! Introduce yourself and let me know what your greatest challenges are so that we can work through them together!

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