Sunday, January 15, 2017

Classroom Operations Manual and an UPDATED Absent Binder

Last October, at the height of DEVOLSON craziness, I noticed an ongoing organization problem in my classroom that I deemed “The Ungodly Stack of Miscellaneous Paper Piling Up on My Printer and I Don’t Know What the Fuck To Do With It” (hereinafter referred to as The Stack). These were all the papers that didn’t have another home somewhere else in my room because I only had to keep them for a short time, things like overdue library book lists, lists of team members for one-day activities or group projects, late work that never made it into a homework drawer, makeup quizzes and tests, department of education memos worth keeping (they are few in number, but they add to The Stack nonetheless), individual notes for specific students,… you get the idea.

In addition to The Stack, I had another problem – my Absent Binder hasn’t been doing its job this year. That is partially because I neglected it, but mostly because it had somehow run out its course of usefulness this year. This year is really the first time that I have had more than one or two students that are absent for significant amounts of time – and by significant, I mean 10+ days. I probably have eight or more kids that are just never at school. Some have serious health problems, others are having problems at home, and others still have been spending stints at the alternative school, which is not on our campus. The Absent Binder, in its original form, is not designed to keep track of massive amounts of paper for weeks at a time. It’s really just designed for the occasional absence.

The Stack + chronically absent students = a very frazzled Mrs. Richardson.

This gif pretty much explains it, but random paper in place of the equally annoying random Tupperware containers. Also, might I add that there are far too many lids in this gif for it to be a representation of real life? I can never find the lids!

So, after gorging myself on Christmas festivities, I went back into my classroom a few days before our return date on January 3rd and I vanquished both The Stack and the piles of absent work. 

Here’s what I did.

Here is my classroom operations manual. It is bright pink and sits in the very front of the classroom at all times. (I say this like I've had it forever when I've only had it for two weeks. Bear with me.) It is essentially the how-to guide for running my classroom. It includes syllabi, classroom procedures, and rosters, while also housing the majority of the stuff from The Stack.

When you first open it, you will see that there's important stuff in the front pocket, like seating charts and items that need returned to students ASAP. On the right is a page protector with the "Here's What We Did Today" paper. After my first period of each of my three preps, I jot down on this page what we did that day.

Here's what a completed page looks like. This page then goes in my updated Absent Binder (more on that in a bit).

The binder is divided up into four sections - one for each of my preps, and then the substitute teacher section. Each of the course sections includes my syllabus and a paper layout of my white boards (discussed in this post). I keep the board layout in a page protector as well so I can write on it with dry erase markers. Saving paper. Look at me go.

After that, we have each class period. On the right is a page I designed that has my numbered roster and three different spaces for keeping track of various notes. I keep this in a page protector as well so I can write notes and then erase. This has been SO useful already! On the left is where I'm keeping things like group assignments, notes to students, library overdues... basically 95% of the crap that was in The Stack. Now it's there when I need it, and I can toss it when I'm done with it.

Just to show you what I mean about taking notes using a dry erase marker.

In the back of the binder are my substitute teacher plans. I used to keep a separate folder for this, but that's honestly just one more thing to keep track of. If I'm going to have one binder that is the operator's manual for the classroom, I may as well keep my substitute teacher stuff in there too. This section starts off with the standard letter I write to my subs (not pictured), and then it's followed by another set of rosters and the emergency sub plans. I try to make sure I always leave thorough plans for my subs, but sometimes you get a sudden raging case of the pukes at 3 a.m. and you can't pull together a decent sub plan in time. That's where an emergency all-purpose plan like this comes in handy.

So, that's the Classroom Operations Binder.

Now a look at my Absent Binder.

Not sure what an Absent Binder is? Check out this post for the original plan.
As stated above, I have had a ridiculous amount of absent work to juggle this year. It's been far worse than ever before. There are so many great ideas on Pinterest for keeping track of this work. An idea I see quite often is the crate with hanging files. Each file is given a number (1-31 for each day of the month) and the material goes in there. So that was the inspiration for my binder update.

Each page protector is numbered (1-31). I put the "Here's What We Did Today" paper in the front of the page protector, and in behind that I put the absent students' handouts with their names on them. This keeps each day's work neat and orderly, but the binder is still portable so a student can take the binder to their desk to copy down what they've missed each day.

* * *

I hope you've found this post useful! How do you manage the mountains of paperwork that come along with this job? Are there any of these pages you guys would be interested in having? Leave a comment below or on the Facebook page

Happy 2nd Semester!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Classroom Tour 2016

My room tour this year is coming a little later than planned. We've been back in the classroom for four weeks now, and I have yet to hit my stride. That's okay... you guys get to see what my classroom looks like after four weeks of wear and tear. This is the real Eat.Write.Teach. classroom. ;)

If you would like to see my classroom setup from years past, you can find those here!

Here's the view from the door.

If you've been following the blog for a while, you know that I love to switch around my desk arrangement and that I almost always go back to the face-off desks (seen in the 2015 tour). But as I mentioned in this post, I'm basically throwing all caution into the wind and trying new stuff this year. So we'll see how this seating arrangement goes. Four weeks in and I'm liking it so far! (Oh, and see my tape lines on the floor? A colleague of mine came into my room and I suffered quite a bit of good-natured abuse over my tape lines. Seriously, though, I love them!)

You'll notice in the third picture that I did not create a giant whiteboard calendar this year. When I still had the March calendar up at the end of the school year last year, I decided it had maybe outgrown its usefulness. We'll see... I might miss having it.

Here's the view of the area by the door. My information board is pretty much the same except...

I added these this year. Right now this isn't working out so well because we've been having some problems with our Wi-Fi at school. Once the Wi-Fi is up and running, I'm hopeful that we'll be able to use these.

Since I changed up my classroom rules and consequences this year, I made a new poster and hung it up beside the door. I do not love it. I'll probably try to print a nicer version at some point, but it does the job for now.

Moving on to the back of the room...

I did the magnetic bulletin board thing to my filing cabinets like I attempted a couple of years ago and it looks SO MUCH better than it did then! Black wrapping paper and lime green duct tape did the job nicely. I didn't get a close up of it, but you can see it in the first few pictures.

There are my homework drawers, which are one of the few things that have remained consistent for the past few years. (Note that when my classroom is in use, sometimes random theatre costumes show up, as in the above photo.)

The Yellow Sheet still has a home on top of this filing cabinet too.

Here's a view of my classroom from the back of the room.

Here's my super messy space.

I added a little paper organization to my life this year. I put drawer stacks in one of the cabinets in the back of my classroom to house many of my commonly used or collected papers.

The green papers that you see on the shelf are the letters home to parents that are part of my consequences this year. They just require the student's name, the date, and a check mark by the infraction.

The magazine file system is an idea I saw on Pinterest and I haven't been able to find it again or else I would give credit to the teacher and the classroom. I make my copies for the week ahead and put them in the holders. This has truly been a game changer for me where classroom organization and paper management are concerned.

I keep a second set of my own desk supplies in the front of my classroom, so I'm not constantly needing to run to my desk in the back of the room. You can see Edgar guarding my stuff. You can also see my classroom library here, which is slowly but surely growing.

I taped up my white boards this year in the hopes of keeping my board information better organized.

The left side of the board has a place for announcements and the date. My two primary preps (Honors English 9 and General English 10) have spaces designated for the day's skill, the week plan, and an agenda or notes.

The right side of the board includes space for my Theatre Arts/Advanced Theatre agenda, Remind text codes, and a QR Code for the classroom website.

This is what the board looks like on a daily basis.

Sometimes my students are allowed to use their cell phones and other devices in class for things like research, listening to music, or reading. I got pretty tired of constantly fielding questions of the "can we have our cell phones out?" variety. I made these tags this year that hang on my board. They are also posted on my daily slide on the Smart Board. A red day means cell phones must be silent and put away. A yellow day (like above) means that students will be allowed to use the device at some point in class, so it should be facedown on the desktop for now. A green day means that students have already received instructions about use of the device and they have free use of the device (unless, of course, it becomes a problem). This has cut back on the questions considerably and I haven't had to take a phone yet this year.

So that's my classroom this year! It's not the prettiest room on the internet, but it is highly functional.

Feel free to post links to your classroom tours in the comments section!

Happy Teaching!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Teach365: A Guest Post

We've all heard the question at some point. "What do teachers do with all that free time?" If you are not a teacher or are not close to a teacher, it may very well seem that we teachers have a lot of free time on our hands. I especially love the misconception that we are paid for all that time off. *sigh*

I am a teacher 365 days a year. I truly believe that teaching is a calling, which differs from many other professions because it is ingrained on your soul. Teaching is part of my identity, so of course I am a teacher all the time. And that includes summer break, winter break, spring break, snow days, and all the rest of that "free time." I'm sure my husband can vouch for me on this. I am constantly thinking about my school, my students, my curriculum, and what I can do to improve myself. I teach 365.

In an endeavor to clarify these fallacies, I have invited a few fellow education bloggers to write guest posts, sharing what they do - even in all that down time we have - to Teach365. Today's post comes from Sarah at Kovescence of the Mind.

Show Sarah some love and visit her blog and Teachers Pay Teachers store for more great tips and tricks!

Happy Reading!

My husband, a chef, walked into the kitchen at work- a local college- and stepped into a conversation among his coworkers about teachers.  The others were commenting on how overpaid teachers are for the few hours they work a day; 8-3: what kind of work day is that?  He waited to see what would happen, but when the conversation continued down that path, he stepped in.  “My wife is a teacher, and I can tell you that she works more hours than we do.”  Silence fell upon the kitchen.  Not only were they slightly embarrassed for the conversation they were having in front of a teacher’s spouse, but they were shocked.  My wonderful husband went on to fill his coworkers in on all the work I do outside of the school day.
During Winter and Spring Break

Professional Reading

I am an English teacher, so it is no surprise that I adore books.  I often feel guilty reading books for pleasure during the school year (something I need to work on), so I devour them during breaks.  It is not unusual for me to go through an entire series during winter and spring break.  However, I do make it a goal to read one professional book during each of those breaks.  I find that it helps me reignite my fire while recharging my batteries.  Some of my favorite include Teach Smarter, not Harder and The Together Teacher.  

However, my professional reading also takes the form of reading and organizing all the saved digital articles and blog posts that I keep during the school year.  When I am scrolling through Facebook and find posts that I want to read, I save them for later.  During my breaks, I go back, read them, and organize them (usually on my Pinterest Boards).  While this may not seem like a huge deal, it is how I stay current on education trends and pendulum swings and how I find new activities and resources for my classroom.


I make every attempt to avoid assigning work to my students during vacations nor do I want lingering papers and projects waiting for our return after a week or two off.  My students need a brain break, so I give them one.  This means that tests, papers, and projects are due before break, which results in me having stacks to grade during vacations.  Now, grading falls right behind staff meetings and office paperwork on my list of things I don’t love about my job, but I will grade over break because I believe it is what is best for my students.

Those research papers can take some time to grade, so I have to set a schedule for grading.  I either plan an hour or two a day over the break to work on grading, or I drive to school for a full day; it depends on upon what my family’s schedule looks like for vacation.  I purposefully plan my grading time, so the rest of vacation can be spent relaxing, enjoying family, or doing what I want.


Planning takes many forms over breaks:
*Discovering new ideas online
*Revising unit plans for the rest of the semester
*Writing daily lesson plans

It is necessary for me to have at least two weeks worth of lesson plans done when vacation is over.  If I don’t do this work while on vacation, I am scrambling the first days back, and my students are missing out on learning opportunities.  Plus, coming back from a holiday can be hard on the body and mind, so any prep that I can do to make the transition easier for myself is worth the time.
During the Summer

Professional Learning

Each summer I work to hone my craft.  I do this not only for my students but myself as I have goals and dreams that I am working towards.   I use books, Facebook groups like the one I run for journalism teachers, free online courses, and conferences/trainings.  

Right now I am reading Unshakable and participating in the Facebook Book Study.  I just finished a free online course in blogging, which I intend to use with my senior portfolios in the fall.  I have also attended an online training on the new grade book in Power School.  I have several more trainings planned for the month of August.

Summer School

I have taught summer school every summer except one since I started at my current school in 2009.  I spend two weeks with the struggling students of our school getting them caught up on learning and credits.  

I spend five hours a day for eight days in June teaching four classes in one room to students who couldn’t pass them the first time around.  This is a thankless job, but it is incredibly rewarding to have students walk out of my summer school classroom back on track to graduate.

Technology Support

I run our district’s student information system, Power School.  That means that I spend time in the summer setting up the most important technology application in our district for the next year.  This includes schedules for four buildings, inputting the calendar, and backing up data from the previous year.  I put in enough hours one summer to take a week off during the school year for a family emergency.  

I also am currently working on my Google Trainer Certification and on building a new school website from scratch on Google Sites.  
Check out my post on Using Summer Productively to see how I balance my summer fun and work to be accomplished

Next year we are moving towards a balanced calendar, so who knows what the days, weeks, and months of the year will hold for me.

Check out how I Teach 365 during the school year on my blog.

Sarah is a high school English, social studies, and psychology teacher in Michigan. She blogs at

Monday, August 1, 2016

First Day of School Stations Activity

Since my theme for the upcoming school year appears to be "Throw All Caution Into the Wind and Do Things Totally Differently Than Usual and Just Hope for the Best" I thought I may as well start the year off right by completely changing up my first day of school routine.

Three years ago on the blog, readers shared some of their favorite first day of school tricks, activities, and pieces of advice. There are so many great things that you can do on the first day, but one thing seems to be perfectly clear: the first day will set the tone for your entire year. What message do you want to send your students about what your classroom will be like?

I have been very dissatisfied with my first day of school routine the last year or so. My style has evolved so much, and my first day must reflect that! It makes no sense at all for students to come in and sit quietly and work on a silent activity when that is rarely how my classroom actually operates. Nowadays we get up and move. We interact in small groups. We do a mixture of group and solo activities. We write, we draw, we make lists and anchor charts. We dig deep. Shouldn't that be apparent on the first day of school?

So this year I am doing stations on the first day of school. I started doing some stations activities during the second semester of last year, and they were a huge hit with my students! Since then, I've been reading posts from Real Learning in Room 213 and she has some great advice on making stations (and movement!) work in a secondary classroom. I feel that stations best reflect the kind of classroom environment I want and expect. I think it will also be a great way to start establishing procedures on Day 1.

I developed five stations and the materials to go along with them.

  1. Syllabus Scavenger Hunt - I did this several years ago and gave it up. I've brought it back with some pizazz. This is a team activity. The students at this station will work together to complete the syllabus scavenger hunt as quickly and accurately as possible. The winning team from each class period will receive some kind of a prize.
  2. Read Dating - since I am hopeful that I will be able to do my new literature circles unit this year, I want to give my students the opportunity to speed date and rank each of the nine novels. I will book talk each one later, but for now they will get about thirty seconds or so with each book and will get to rank their interest in it on a scale of 1 to 10.
  3. My Life as A... - this is a student interest inventory, with a twist. It's divided into four sections: My Life as a Student, My Life as a Reader, My Life as a Writer, and My Life as a Speaker. It's also not your typical q/a. Some questions require them to draw, some require them to evaluate themselves.
  4. Which One? - my objective with this station is for students to start practicing the art of kind and inquisitive conversation. The students at this station will answer the questions by talking amongst their team to determine "which one," like "which one has traveled furthest from home" and "which one is the tallest" and "which one has the coolest party trick."
  5. Book Exploration - this station is for students to pick up their textbooks (my Honors 9 kids have three textbooks, General 10 have two) and begin exploring them. There will be chart paper on the wall and they are to each write on a sticky note a topic they found in the book that interests them and a topic that they think they will struggle with.

I am really excited to see how this activity plays out this year! I'm feeling very optimistic.

If you are interested in trying out these First Day of School Stations this year, you can check them out here!

P.S. - in case you missed it, the site-wide Teachers Pay Teachers sale is going on RIGHT NOW. Get in there and score some deals!

Happy Back-to-School Shopping!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Teaching Individuality, Diversity, and Acceptance in a Hate-Filled World

Last summer, when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry anywhere in the United States, it stirred up heated conversation with the people in my life, as I'm sure it did to many. I found myself discussing the ruling at length with one lady, in particular. She is someone I greatly admire. She is an amazing mother to her children and has taken on the responsibility of being their primary educator in life - even more so than every other parent - by choosing to homeschool her children. She is intelligent, creative, and capable; she is one of those women who will be very successful in homeschooling. I truly respect her, because she is doing what she knows in her heart is right for her family.

It is also worth mentioning, I think, that her family is very religious and very conservative. She is someone who was quite upset by the Supreme Court's ruling. She is not a hateful person; she is a godly woman and she had trouble accepting this ruling because it goes against something she believes strongly. So when I mentioned that I was glad for the ruling because it would give me a cue for how to handle such topics in the classroom, she was appalled.

I'm paraphrasing here, but our conversation was something like this:

"What do you mean about handling those topics in the classroom? Those topics have no business in a classroom," she said.

"Well, those topics do come up quite frequently, as most any topic will in a public school classroom."

"That's why my children won't go to a public school. Teachers have no business forcing their beliefs on students. That's just wrong."

And that's when I got a little steamed, to be honest.

To me, we teach a lot more than science and math and grammar in the classroom. Most of us try very hard to teach empathy, broadened horizons, courtesy, tolerance, and compassion. We teach students to celebrate differences, not to belittle them. Character education is not "forcing my beliefs on students," because that would be wrong. You don't have to be religious to teach morals, to teach right from wrong.

And it is wrong to hate.

It is wrong to bully.

It is wrong to terrorize.

It is wrong to victimize.

She agreed with me that those things were wrong. But...

"Teachers should just let parents do the parenting."

Not all kids are blessed to have amazing, involved parents. If their parents won't teach them right from wrong, who will? I try to celebrate all walks of life in my classroom because, frankly, I might be the only Jesus someone sees all day (as Elizabeth from Teaching Sam and Scout so eloquently put it once... that phrase has stuck with me in a profound way). I refuse to be part of the problem by saying, "Not my kid. Not my problem."

* * *

So why am I bringing this up a year later?

Because, teachers and parents, it is time for us to up our game.

So many atrocious acts motivated by pure hatred have happened in the world this summer. France is a nation under attack as innocent people are being slaughtered in public venues. Bombings in Baghdad and Istanbul have created an enraged and frightened populace. And then there's the United States, where hatred has taken the form of gay night club shootings, racism manifesting among some of the people we should be able to trust with our lives, and the favor being returned in malicious acts of violence against innocent men who just so happen to wear the same uniform as their bigoted colleagues.

If we, the teachers and the parents of young and impressionable minds, choose to say, "Not my problem," then when and where will the hatred ever end?

Okay, so Daenerys isn't exactly the poster child for kindness to all people, what with setting her enemies on fire and such, but the quote is solid.

According to this article from Simply Psychology, there are four main explanations for prejudice and discrimination: authoritarian personality, realistic conflict theory, stereotyping, and social identity theory, with conformity being a possible fifth explanation. And according to this article from American Psychological Association, "racism in all its horrific forms is transmitted across generations and is manifested in individual behaviors, institutional norms and practices, and cultural values and patterns." It would appear according to these articles that prejudice, discrimination, and racism can, to a great extent, be extinguished in a community, but this takes a great deal of time and effort. Parents and teachers are the people who have the greatest influence in a child's life. It is our responsibility to change the world for the better, and we can do that through our children and our students.

Teachers, we must teach our students to be good. We must teach them to be kind. We must teach them that a person is a person, no matter how small. We must teach them to appreciate their own individuality, to be fascinated by diversity, and to cultivate a heart full of acceptance.

If you're on board with me, you may be wondering how. How do we do this big, giant thing? We teach it the same way we teach most things - we question, we analyze, we model, we think critically, we discuss. We powerfully enforce kindness by creating a classroom environment called Love One Another or I Will Destroy You and insisting that "everyone... has value and beauty and a story that would make you cry if you knew it." (Teach is so much more eloquent than I will ever be.) We teach books with diverse characters, and we study the ugly sides of history and wonder what went wrong and why people hated other people the way they did. We look at 2016: The Summer of Hate with our students and we question it and we discuss it and we create solutions that we can start enacting in our own classrooms. Teachers, we have the power to make a difference in the lives of our students and in our communities.


* * *

I am upping my game this year, and I need help doing it. I have developed a literature circles unit called "Stepping Into Someone Else's Shoes: A Diversity Study via Literature." I need help making this happen for my students. I have created a DonorsChoose project to get the novels I need for this unit of study. If you have in some way been helped by the free materials or the posts here at Eat.Write.Teach., I would be eternally grateful if you would contribute a teensy weensy donation to my cause (seriously, any little bit helps) or if you would just share my project with folks you think could help me out.

If my project becomes a reality and we are able to do the literature circles unit, I will share the entire unit (adaptable for use with any books about individuality, diversity, and acceptance) and all materials that go along with it COMPLETELY FREE both here and on my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Click here to help my classroom!

Guys, I have a heart for this. I am truly passionate about this topic. As the mother of a little boy who is part of this big world too, I believe in this. As the friend and bridesmaid of a dear friend of mine who was able to marry her girlfriend and love of her life last December, I believe in this. As the teacher of 170 students in a rural little community who needs a bigger window into the world, I believe in this. As the director of forty drama club kids who don't fit in anywhere else and who have been victimized time and again because of ignorance, I believe in this.

I hope you believe in this too.

With love,