Saturday, April 25, 2015

12 Things No One Told You About Parenthood - The Teacher's Edition

Liam - one week old

Liam - five months old
I have been a mother for five months now, and my life has changed in so many ways. I was warned about so many things, most of which have indeed happened. I never knew I could operate on so little sleep. I didn't shower regularly for a little while. I have been covered in baby bodily fluids at various times. Netflix streaming was a lifesaver. I stare into the contents of my son's diaper as intently as a mystic gazes into tea leaves. I never knew I could love someone I've known for such a short time the way I love my little boy.

I do wish someone had warned me about postpartum hair loss... I've been learning all about that one the hard way.

Anyway, as a perpetual researcher and experience-seeker, I think I was pretty well prepared for the complete disruption to my personal life that the arrival of my son brought... at least as prepared as one can be for something that is a complete game-changer.

What no one told me about parenthood, though, was how it would seriously affect me as a teacher. So, if there are any teachers out there who are expecting a new member of the family, I'd like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the things I have learned as a first time mom/teacher.

You will have to work really hard at making yourself look presentable for work until you get back into the swing of things. I had an emergency c-section that was followed six weeks later by gallbladder removal surgery. I lived in pajama pants and tank tops for two months. My boobs were frequently hanging out in those early days, and my little guy was a happy spitter so I perpetually smelled like baby vomit. The idea of looking professional upon returning to work was daunting to say the least. It took a long time to get back into the habit of wearing grown up clothes and brushing my hair.

You will need double the time to get out the door that you used to need. I’m very fortunate in that my sister comes to my house in the mornings and stays with my son all day. I’m spoiled, actually. But even though I don’t have to get Liam ready for the day and take him somewhere, it still takes double the time to get out the door. Feeding the baby, changing him in the morning, getting all of my pump parts together, making sure bottles are ready for the day, wiping the spit up off of my outfit… these things take time.

When you return from leave you basically have to start at square one. I was vaguely prepared for this. For my own comfort, I decided to ease back into the classroom routine and basically treated the first few days like they were the first few days of school all over again. I didn't realize my students would need this as much as I did. Even though I feel like my maternity leave sub and I were in sync in a lot of ways and she was totally awesome with the kids, it was very unsettling for my students to switch teachers in November and switch back at the end of January. It took a little while to reestablish some of the classroom basics.

Your students will become very attached to your little one. I think this is especially true if you already have a really good relationship with your students, although there were students I had not seen for a couple of years who were suddenly stopping by to see pictures of my offspring. I don’t usually volunteer updates on my son because I’ve always tried to avoid oversharing and I know some kids just don’t really care, but so many students ask about him on a regular basis. Any time my son experiences some kind of an achievement (He slept five consecutive hours! He farted like a trucker! He held his bottle by himself! He crapped out of his diaper and up his back!), there are students who take personal pride in this.

You will be asked regularly about your little one and you’ll run out of responses. Guys, I am SO BAD at small talk. Seriously, it is painfully difficult. I love it so much when my coworkers ask how Liam is doing, but I know I say the exact. same. thing. every time. Typical conversation goes like this:
     Sweet/considerate/polite coworker: “Hey! How’s the baby?”
     Me: (inwardly groans like Tina Belcher) “He’s gooooood. Ummm… yeah. He’s good. He’s… umm… growing.”
     Coworker: “Oh yes, they grow so fast.”
     Me: “Yeah…” *shuffles feet… backs slowly away*
     End conversation.
I need to work on my baby small talk. I’m really bad at this.

If you thought you didn't have “down time” at work before… well, you ain't seen nothing yet. This is ESPECIALLY true (from my limited experience anyway) if you are a breastfeeding mother. Pumping has become my own little Hell. The first week back the struggle was real, kids. Pumping was an uncomfortable experience and I was so stressed out by it that I wasn't really able to express a lot of milk. Then, when the milk would finally start to flow, I had to concentrate on thinking about the baby or the milk would stop. I’d eke out a meager few ounces and then I’d have to pack everything up before the bell. This has gotten much better, and I’m even able to multitask a little bit now (as in I can eat a snack because ain’t nobody got time to eat lunch and I can maybe answer a few emails) but any time I was ever in my classroom without students is now dedicated to pumping as much milk as possible to feed the ravenous beast that is my five month old. Admittedly, every day goes really, really fast now, but that’s because I’m constantly running. It’s exhausting.

You will rock the baby… even when he isn't there. I stand in front of my students and I rock the baby who isn't there. You would think I've got a baby in my arms swaddled in an invisibility cloak by the way I sway back and forth all day long. I never did this before my child entered the world. If I start feeling particularly anxious while at work (for any and all non-baby-related reasons) I start bouncing on the balls of my feet, because Liam finds bouncing to be very soothing when he’s upset. The kids have gotten used to it… mostly.

Congratulations! Your memory is now shit. Maybe it's sleep deprivation. Maybe it's hormones. Maybe it's new parent trauma. Whatever the case, you will not be able to remember shit. Ever. You'll have to look back at your lesson plans to remember what you did just yesterday.

MRW a student asks what we did in class yesterday.

You’ll revisit your lesson plans to cut some of the fluff in the hopes that will allow you a little more time with your little one at home. If you've read some of my previous posts, you know that I’m all about quality of assignments over quantity. I've never really been the nightly homework type. But that doesn't mean I haven’t been scouring my lesson plans, trying to figure out ways to trim a little fluff here and there to ensure just a little more quality time at home with my baby.

Your love for your students will change in a drastic way. Maybe this is due to my hormones still trying to level out, but my heart aches extra nowadays for my students who are hurting. I always felt sorry for kids who had it tough at home before, but now it’s just outright painful to hear their stories. I gave a student half of my lunch yesterday after she confided in me she hadn't eaten in three days because her mom had been wasted or asleep for the last several days and hadn't bothered to give the school lunch money. Normally, I’d be all, “Damn, that really sucks. Sorry kid. Have a granola bar.” This incident made me ugly cry on my way home from work and when I rocked my baby to sleep, I kept telling him over and over again that I would never ever ever do that to him. Before, my students were my crazy teenage students. Now I see them as someone’s kid.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, your tolerance for stupid will plummet. Again, maybe it's because I'm sleep deprived. Or maybe because I'm constantly starving from trying to feed myself and the life-sucker that is my sweet little boy. Whatever the reason, my tolerance for bullshit has dropped considerably. Some days I have to work really hard to keep my filter in check.

Your personal life will collide with your work life. I've always worked hard at keeping my personal life and my work life kind of separate. I always had this “leave your personal life baggage at the door” type of philosophy about going to work. Prior to Liam, I would go to work, switch into “Mrs. Richardson” mode, and I was in that mode until I got in my vehicle (at whatever ungodly hour that was) to go home. Now, I never fully switch out of “Liam’s Mommy” mode. I text my sister throughout the day for updates, look at his pictures, and call home before starting drama practice. I've also had to cancel a practice or two because my little guy was having a really rough day at home. “Liam’s Mommy” mode appears to be very permanent.

Hopefully this has provided you with a little insight if you're a first-time parent/teacher, or maybe it's been a bit of a throwback for you veterans. By the way, veteran parent/teachers... I salute you. I worship you. I admire you so very much. You are walking, talking proof that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it isn't a train.

You're also proof my hair will probably grow back.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Smash Books

This year one of my biggest changes will be the implementation of interactive student notebooks. For those of you unfamiliar with this, the ISN is a classroom tool that is used for recording classroom notes, but it is also used to help students process new information. The idea is that it encourages students to be creative, independent thinkers while they practice new class skills.

My ultimate goal for our interactive notebooks is that the students will see them as a valuable reference guide and a tool they can use to be successful in English class.

I think calling them "interactive student notebooks" is a bit cumbersome, and I kind of thought that "ISN" was just another acronym to deal with (and God knows we don't have enough of those in education), so I've nicknamed our notebooks "Smash Books" named for these books used for storing mementos and ideas. I want my students' Smash Books to be both extremely useful and personalized.

I want to clarify that very few (if any) of these ideas are new or my own. I've done a LOT of research this summer and I've found loads of amazing resources online. Pinterest is amazing. One of my greatest resources was Sarah over at Everybody is a Genius so a lot of the ideas I'm implementing (and quite a bit of the wording!) are from her site.

What materials are we using for our Smash Books?
Each student is being asked to supply a composition book. I like these instead of spiral bound notebooks because I think they'll last a lot longer. They're hardier. There is a bit of a drawback in using the comp book because they are smaller than standard paper, so I'm having to learn some tricks to resize printables that I want in the Smash Book. More on that later.

To encourage the creativity of the Smash Book, I've brought some class supplies to the table. Remember these cute little bins I talked about briefly in yesterday's post?

Each pod's supplies bin is geared specifically towards maintaining the Smash Book. Each bin contains:

  • scissors (hopefully I'll obtain enough for each person at a pod eventually)
  • glue sticks
  • tape (which we'll probably use more than the glue)
  • a mini-stapler with extra staples
  • a couple of regular pencils
  • highlighters in multiple colors
  • colored pencils
  • fine-tipped markers
  • a ruler
  • a calculator (crazy how often we need these in English class)
  • hand sanitizer because germs
Each pod also has a larger empty bin under the desks for collecting scrap paper for recycling.

How are we using our Smash Books?
The Smash Book will be used for recording our regular classroom notes, but it will also be used to practice skills and work with new information.

For example, one of my early lessons is about how to annotate text while reading. The students will be putting a foldable on the left side that is a chart of annotation symbols, so that is new information. Then they will get a print-out of my Writer's Workshop guidelines to stick on the right side and they will annotate that text while reading it to practice the skill. Left side = reference. Right side = practice. I have a larger version of the above picture hanging in a prominent place in my classroom so the kids can reference back to it early on while we're still getting used to these notebooks.

How do we set up our Smash Books?
During the first full week of school (which I am totally calling "Boot Camp," a term I brazenly stole from Sarah at Kovescence of the Mind) we will be dedicating some time to getting to know our Smash Books. The basic set-up is pretty much identical to what Sarah from Everybody is a Genius does.

  • First page = title page with the student's name, my name beneath that, followed by the class, the period, and the date we began the book (08/11 this year). (Bonus: this is the heading for all of the papers they turn in for my class because it's MLA so they will even be able to use the title page as a reference.)
  • The next four pages = the table of contents. Students will keep track of the topics and the page #. Again, it's supposed to be a reference item!
  • The next six pages = Words Worth Knowning. These are new words we learn that we will actually use throughout the entire school year. (Not to be confused with vocab terms that we learn long enough to pass a test and then blow off... gah...)
  • Inside of the back cover = another reference place. The students will glue in their Depth of Knowledge word chart and their writing rubric.
  • Last two pages = grade record sheets. With my new grading system, I want students to keep track of how they are doing on each skill they learn. They will record those there.
After the Words Worth Knowing section is when the actual page numbers and content begin.

So, that's pretty much where I'm at with our Smash Books right now. I'm really excited to give these a try!

What's your note-keeping method in class?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Classroom Tour 2014 and Changes in A104

If you've been around this blog for a while or if you've checked out my 2013 and 2012 Classroom Tours, you may notice an immediate difference in my room.

I've always been a "desks in rows" kind of teacher and now... well, definitely not rows! I've been calling them pods. There are currently four pods of six students and two pods of five students, though rumor has it my largest class (34!) is continuing to grow (!!) and I'm going to have to try to stuff at least one more desk in here (!!!) if not more!!!! (I hope the grave misuse of exclamation points accurately conveys my freaking-outness over these class sizes.)

Ah, yes, change is in the air in Room A104. It may be because my personality profile (according to the work of Jung and Briggs Meyers) identifies me as an INFJ so I feel a constant need to reflect and perfect. It may also be a little bit of nesting instinct thanks to being 25 weeks pregnant. Either way, I've gone hog-wild and decided to make several changes to my room, my curriculum, my class organization, and my grading policies.

Today is just a room tour (with a few sneak peeks at some of my changes I'm making) but I hope to elaborate on some of these changes over the next week or so before I return to school.

So, here are a few more full-room views, from my classroom door.

Here's a closer look at my bulletin board by the door.

1. Consequences List - I keep a list posted of the positive and negative consequences that follow choices made in my classroom. After a conversation with a student at the end of last school year, I realized that I do a really good job following through with the negative consequences and a LOUSY job with the positive ones (a.k.a. "rewards") and that made me fell like a total asshat, so that lead to one of my changes I'm making this year.

2. Classroom Procedures - I keep my classroom procedures posted all year too. A few people have asked about those, so I posted my own classroom procedures and consequences for your viewing pleasure.

3. Lanyard with Rosters - I found this idea somewhere over the summer and for the life of me I can't recall where, but it's a damn good idea. I printed off my class rosters, clipped them to the lanyard, and hung it up by my classroom door. Now, in the event of a fire drill, I can just grab the lanyard on the way out the door instead of hunting for my seating charts.

4. Class Rewards Card Poster - my solution to the positive consequences issue. Students will be issued rewards cards (just like you get at mall stores and gas stations). 10 punches = 1 filled card = incentives. Punches will not necessarily be easy to earn, though. I don't want them working only for incentives. I want the incentives to be a bonus. More details at a later date.

5. Skills Grading Rubric - part of my new grading plan that I was mulling over in this post. I took the idea and most of the wording from here at the Everybody Is a Genius blog. That chick is awesome and has inspired me greatly this summer. Check her out and give her some internet love!

Here are some more pictures of the same old thing, just updated labels. (My old ones were looking a little rough around the edges.)

My board calendar I love so well! I had to ditch the ribbon because it didn't stick well and it goes really fugly as the year went ont.

Homework grid

Homework trays, absent binder, book suggestions binder, paper storage...
Oh, see those pencil pouches in front of the absent binder? I finally put together some storage for the mini-whiteboard fake-whiteboards-that-are-actually-white-cardstock-sheets-stuck-in-a-paper-condom supplies.

Some new bins for handouts, right by the door.

New this year. This wall is doing double-duty as an early finishers wall and a supporting assignments wall.

This is the bin of supplies at each pod. The supplies bins (and the pod seating) found their way into my classroom with the decision to try doing interactive notebooks this year (which I am fondly referring to as Smash Books).

So, that's my room this year! Lots of changes. Are you making any changes to your room this year? Tell us about it in the comments below. I love hearing other teachers' ideas!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The 2014-2015 Calendar Pack is Here!

I've completed the FREE 2014-2015 calendar pack for your Sanity Saver (or however you choose to use it)!

This time around, I have both a PDF file and a Word document available in my account.

  • Easy to use! Just download and print!
  • No need to download any fonts.
  • Cannot be edited.
  • Created in Microsoft Word 2013, so it may look funky (or not show up at all) in other versions of Microsoft Word.
  • You will need to download the free font Rolina for it to look right (available here)
  • You can edit this version. (NOTE: please do not remove my copyright notice from the footer.)
As always, all of my free templates are available to you! Just click the tab at the top of the website that says FREE TEMPLATES FOR YOU to access them.

Happy Planning!

My Grading Philosophy and Trying Something Different

If there is one area of my teaching procedures that has been most contested (by parents), it is definitely my grading philosophy, particularly my use of weighted grades vs. total points grading. (That links to a really excellent article on the topic.)

During my first year of teaching I taught at a school where each department was meant to follow the same grading policy (a good idea, I think), so we managed this by using a weighted system. I no longer remember the percentages, but basically in all of our general English classes, you could count on tests being worth X% of your grade, homework worth Y%, and so on. It didn't matter if you gave a five-point test or a fifty-point test; as long as it was still categorized as a "test" in your grade book, it tied into the X%.

This is a system I have always liked and I continued using it when I switched schools (where it is currently not mandated that our department members grade the same way), despite the fact that very few teachers in our building use a weighted grade system.

This was my breakdown for the 2013-2014 school year.
Tests - 50%
Writer's Workshop - 25%
Homework - 15%
Quizzes - 10%

Pros to this setup:
  • I'm a firm believer that the student's grade is supposed to reflect mastery of the content, and tests are meant to assess for mastery. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to me that a large portion (half, in this case) of the class grade be assessment-based.
  • The percentages reflect the effort on the part of the student. Tests require the most effort, so they carry the greatest weight. Writer's Workshop (including all essay drafts, research skills, etc.) requires lots of time, effort, and mastery of skills that are tricky to assess on a standard test, so it was worth the second largest chunk of points. Homework and quizzes require less effort on the part of the student and, to me, are meant to be formative assessments rather than summative, so I didn't want them to tank a student's grade, but I wanted them to pack enough punch that the students took them seriously.
  • Weighting is very flexible. I don't necessarily have to promise 500 test points a quarter (out of a potential 1000 points, so I still have my "weighting"), with each test being worth 100 points. If I need to throw in another summative assessment, I can. If the test should really only be worth 80 points, no big deal. They are all still worth 50% of the student's grade.
  • My grade book software does the math work for me, so I don't really have to think too much about how many points something is worth. (How to properly assign points is definitely a topic for another post... I'm pretty opinionated on that too!)
Cons to this setup:
  • Sometimes you have a quarter that is really heavy on one particular category and really light on another. For example, when my students do their research papers, they get tons of grades in the book categorized as Writer's Workshop grades (25%) but very few categorized as Homework (15%). So if I goof up and only give them one or two Homework assignments, and they goof up and do poorly on those one or two assignments, that has a 15% impact on their grade. This can be problematic.
  • Students (and often their parents) just. Don't. Get it. They often struggle with figuring out why that one zero in the grade book had such a nasty impact on their grade or why a twenty point test is more relevant than a twenty point homework assignment.
[Honestly, those are the only two (albeit major) cons that I've thus far found with this setup.]

As much as I really like how well weighted grades work for me, I recognize that they sometimes don't work for my students and their parents. I'm nothing if not open-minded [in my humble opinion of myself ;) ] so this year I'm willing to try something different. I'm toying with the idea of a total points/standards-based hybrid.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the idea, here's a great article on standards-based grading.

I like a lot of the ideas that go along with standards-based grading, but I'm not ready to go all in yet (and I'm quite certain my not-so-progressive corporation wouldn't be wild about it either). That's why I'm trying a hybrid this year to see how it goes. It's definitely a big experiment. I'm still in the process of designing this, so bear with me. These are some of my ideas.
  • Use a total points system. No weighted system. Help students to keep track of their points in class so it is very clear to them why they have the grade they have. Student data-tracking works great in parent-teacher conferences.
  • Use a list of quarterly standards to guide my teaching (as always). Break those standards into student-friendly objectives (as always).
  • Create formative assessments (homework assignments, exit slips, etc.) for each objective. Make each one of these work W points. (Like, 10 points, and use this 10-point scale to show mastery of the objective.)
  • Create formative assessments (quizzes) to assess groups of learned objectives. Make each one of these worth X points.
  • Create large summative assessments for each standard. Make each worth Y points.
  • Using the standards list, create a quarterly pre-test and post test that tests all standards. Make this worth Z points.
If I do this right, I should be able to come up with a total number of points available for each quarter and it should still technically be "weighted" without all the weird percentages. I feel like this system would also cut back on any kind of "trivial" grades and make the grade all about content mastery.

What do you guys think? Any tips to improve on this idea? Think it will crash and burn? What are your grading philosophies?