Monday, October 8, 2018

The Simple Teaching Movement

Back in January, I wrote a post titled "The Last Post" where I shared with you that I no longer got any joy from maintaining Eat.Write.Teach. and it was time for me to move in a different direction. Since writing that post in January, my life has changed in several big ways, all for good. I would like to share one of those changes with you, for those of you who might still pop by from time to time, or those of you who stumble across this space for the first time.

My second son was born in April. With the timing and circumstances of his birth, it made the most sense for me to end my school year in April and allow my maternity leave to just run over into the summer. There was a problem with this plan, though. Before I knew I was pregnant, my school theatre program (of which I was in charge) had committed to producing Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music in May, the first big musical our theatre program had done in eight years. The birth of my son coincided with those final weeks of preparation. I spent the second and third trimester of my pregnancy frantically trying to pull together this musical with assistance from the choral director and a whole lot of help from the students I was supposed to be leading. Running myself ragged during this time led to some health concerns, but I didn't let that stop me from going and going. That show needed me, those kids needed me, my school needed me, my health be damned. By the time my son was born, I was completely exhausted, but I was also relieved. Now I could go on maternity leave. I could recover and I could get to know this new little person and I could work on those early motherhood skills (it had been three years since I'd had a newborn in my home).

Those are all of the things I should have done.

I should have never went back in that school building.

I should have taken care of my healing body.

I should have spent lots of time with my tiny newborn.

I should have put my needs and my family's needs first.

Instead, one week after my C-section, I found myself standing on the stage of the high school auditeria, answering questions and putting out fires. My mother had to drive me there because I wasn't even released to drive yet. I was still taking strong pain medication. My tiny newborn was strapped to me in a Moby wrap. My baby and I worked our way through early breastfeeding in the back corner of a darkened auditeria. I spent the time I should have been sleeping scrambling to make this musical happen. I continued to put myself and my family on the back burner. I'm quite lucky that I did not have any major health setbacks during this time.

You know what they say: hindsight is 20/20. In retrospect, this is the most ludicrous thing I have ever done. Why did I do it?

I did it because I had no concept of work-life balance.

I did it because I felt immense pressure from outsides sources to make that musical happen.

I did it because I felt some extreme teacher guilt.

I did it because I felt like there were forty or fifty kids who were counting on me.

I did it because my name was attached to that play, to the program, to that school, and I didn't want to make a bad name for myself or that school or those kids.

I did it because my teaching life had spiraled wildly out of control.

Something had to change.

As all of this chaos came to an end and I was able to finally start my maternity leave, an opportunity presented itself in the form of an open English teacher position at a very unique, highly innovative middle school in a different district. If I got this teaching position, I felt that it would have a huge positive impact on my teaching life and on my personal life. I loved the idea of going to a school where I would be challenged to grow as an educator and to bring my own personal brand to my classroom. The idea of switching from teaching high school to middle school was intriguing to say the least. Perhaps the biggest hurdle - but also one of its selling points - was the location. It was thirty miles away, in a different county. While this meant I would have a much longer commute - I lived only fifteen minutes away from my former school - it also meant that I would be forced to practice a work-life balance. It wouldn't be so easy to pop in on the weekends, to stay very late or arrive very early. I would have to manage my time well, and I would have to simplify my teaching life so that my time at work was purposeful and productive. I would not be able to waste any amount of time. I would have a forty minute commute each morning to mentally prepare myself for my teaching day, and I would have a forty minute commute home each afternoon to work through my day and leave it behind so I could be fully present for my boys and my husband when I got home. I knew this change would present its own unique challenges, but we grow from challenge. It was time for me to grow in a different direction. I applied, I interviewed, and I was offered the job on the spot.

I should be clear about something. I truly thought that I would be at my former school until I was ready to retire. I wasn't unhappy until I saw that my life as both a teacher and as a person could be so much better. I had to take a risk and hope it would pay off.

We are now a quarter of the way through the 2018-2019 school year, and I can say confidently that I made the right move. I have no regrets at all, but I've had to learn the fine art of simplifying to make this work.

I've started a new chapter in my teaching career, and I'm learning new things along the way. So, as I did in 2012, I'm starting a blog about this journey. I'm not staying at Eat.Write.Teach. because it is part of the overly complicated teaching life I was leading Before. I need a new space for After, a new space for my simplified teaching life. My new space, The Simple Teaching Movement, will be going live soon. My goal with this new space is to reflect along my journey and share the tips I discover and (completely free) resources I create in my endeavor to simplify my life as an educator.

We have the power to turn around our teaching lives and to create a meaningful educational experience while also living a life of intention. Will you join the Movement with me?

As soon as the new site is live, I will post the link here.

Happy(er) Teaching!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Last Post

2012 was a tough year. While so much of my life was going right (happily married, had a roof over my head and a great teaching job after the travesty that was my first year of teaching), there was a lot going on that was out of my control (financial instability, cancer diagnoses in my family, not moving forward fast enough for my liking). As a creative outlet I desperately needed, I started the blog that is now Eat.Write.Teach. Originally it was meant to be more of a hobbyist blog, hence the blog’s title. I wrote about food I liked, my writing aspirations, and one of my greatest passions, teaching. The early teaching posts got the most attention by far. My first education-related post - “Back to School for the High School Teacher Part 1: The Sanity Saver” - currently has 141,228 views and is the second most popular post I’ve ever written. That may not sound like a lot of views, but when it started gaining rapid popularity, it was an incredible feeling. I felt like, somewhere in the chaos of 2012, I had found something to anchor me. There were other teachers out there who liked what I had to say, who were inspired by my ideas, and who appreciated my words and efforts, even though I had only completed two years of teaching by that point. I started gearing the majority of my blog posts towards the field of education. I wrote a few opinion pieces, but the majority of my posts - the ones that seemed to be thriving in the online world - were my posts about my experiences. It was so nice having this community of readers and supporters who totally understood my failures and doubts and who equally celebrated my successes and breakthroughs.

At some point, the blog began to evolve. It became less about this supportive community and sharing my teaching life and started sliding into something that felt like an additional obligation in my life, just one more thing to keep me busy. This transformation happened to coincide with the birth of my first son. My free organization printables had become so popular that I started a Teachers Pay Teachers store, and then I started getting massive amounts of emails to wade through every day, ranging from requests to write posts for my blog to business partnership proposals to complaints about how regularly I posted content (infrequently and sporadically as always, but who cares, right? It was my blog! Well, I thought it was my blog).

I’m sure I’ve shared this elsewhere on this blog, but a guest speaker when I was in college gave me what is probably the best piece of career advice I’ve ever received. She said the year a teacher wasn’t excited to buy a new outfit for the first day of school was the year they should consider changing careers.

I have always been an advocate for loving what you do. I think that there’s no other reason to teach besides the fact that you love it! And teaching is something I still love and still enjoy.

But I’m no longer excited about blogging or maintaining Eat.Write.Teach. And that means it is time to say goodbye to this place that has meant so much to me for the last five and a half years.

I am so grateful for all of the positive experiences that have come from Eat.Write.Teach. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to teachers all over the country. I’ve coached a lot of young teachers through their classroom struggles via email. I’ve had teachers in my hometown and teachers in Australia let me know that they are using the materials I’ve created, and that those materials are incredibly helpful to them. Those are the kinds of things that I will always remember and be grateful for.

As far as a timeline, here’s what you can expect:

  • From January 28 to January 31, I will have my final Teachers Pay Teachers sale. All products will be 20% off.
  • The Eat.Write.Teach. Teachers Pay Teachers store will close on January 31, 2018.
  • The Eat.Write.Teach. Facebook page, Pinterest account, and all other associated social media will disappear in February.
  • The blog will remain live until my domain subscription expires in July. After that, the blog will relocated to my old blogspot domain name, and will eventually be deleted. All of the freebie materials will be available for download until this transition in July.

What will I do once this blog ends? I’m going to back to my roots. I want to have time for my hobbies, like eating and cooking great food and writing young adult fiction. I’m going to spend less of my summer working since I won’t be blogging, and more of my summer will be spent with my sons (son #2 will be here in April). I’m going to keep on teaching and loving every minute, but I will be doing my reflections on a more persona level, and hopefully I’ll be able to continue helping other teachers.

I want to thank everyone who has supported this endeavor of mine for the last five years. I appreciate all of the love. You’re wonderful people.

Happy Teaching!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Classroom Tour 2017

It's that time again! I'd like to share a look into my classroom in the hopes that it might inspire. We've already been in school two weeks, so the room isn't as pristine as it was the first day of school. I guess you get to see my classroom as the mostly-functional space it is meant to be.

Want to see how my classroom has evolved over the years? You can check out my previous classroom tours by clicking the links below.

I thought I'd start by standing on a desk and giving you a look at the room from up high. Notice that my desks are definitely not as tidy as I would like, but that's okay. My largest class has 32 students in it, so that's how many desks I have squeezed into this space. I kept the same set up as last year, but instead of having 3 rows, each with 4 sections of 2, 3, 3, and 2, I now have 3 rows with 3 sections of 3, 4, and 3 (with 2 desks in the back on their own). I like this desk arrangement because it is easy to move between rows, all students can see the board, and I can stand behind them and see all of their Chromebook screens.

Starting over by the classroom door, I have my standing desk (which I love, but it's a total mess right now). Above the standing desk is a new set of mini-posters I created on how to do a Google search. In includes some of the information I learned during my Google training this summer.

Now, over by my door...

There are my ugly rules and consequences posters that will eventually get a face life. :)

I revamped my information bulletin board this year to give it a cleaner look. I also did the FOCUS thing with my clock that I saw in about five different Pins. I love it, even if the clock is a little bit big for the font. I added QR codes for my classroom website and Google Classroom this year, in addition to the QR codes for the Yellow Sheet and the Request to Retest form. I have a tardy clipboard and a sign-out clipboard on there too, along with school policies and audition sign-ups for my theatre kids.

Aren't these beautiful?? AHH I love them so much! These are Stacey Lloyd posters, purchased during the annual Teachers Pay Teachers Back-to-School sale. I printed them and laminated them before putting them on the wall. The white circles are Wallpops. I am thrilled with how this wall turned out, and it is already becoming a handy reference area.

Moving down the wall...

I added another area of organization for my classroom. This is my student supplies center. I made a paper bulletin board, which features the syllabus and pacing guide for each of my three preps, and I hung a desk calendar on the wall to note special events. My Absent Binder and student supplies caddies sit on top of the shelves. I moved my homework turn-in spot and handouts drawers to this same area, and then each of those little bins are used to hold students' Smash Books (a first for me this year).

Next to that is a cell phone charging station, inspired by The Teal Paperclip. My students love having a designated location to charge their phones, and I love that their phones are over here and out of sight instead of burning a hole in their pockets!

I added a paper book shelf for book recommendations, also inspired by The Teal Paperclip. I have an envelope of book spines, so after students read a book they would recommend, they can decorate a spine with the title and author's name and add it to our bookshelf.

My desk area is a disaster and basically the same as always, so moving on from that...

I added these two organizers - the drawers system and the file boxes - last year and they are still awesome! They are housed in one of my cabinets. (Those cute little days of the week labels are a freebie that you can get by clicking the Free Stuff tab at the top of the page!)

These are the storage ottomans I raved about in this post. They are so functional! They hold so much stuff and provide extra seating. Love them!

Moving along to the wall across from my info board/literary posters/supplies center...

Those critical thinking posters are more Stacey Lloyd products. They really added a lot of flair to my room this year, and they are so useful! Fashionable and functional are big wins in this classroom.

And the front of the room...

Check out those prints above my white board! Aren't they absolutely lovely?

Those beauties came from Elegance and Enchantment.* Michelle designs these beautiful inspirational prints that you can download. I browsed through her Enchanting Mondays Library (she has a selection dedicated to the classroom) and I selected nine prints for my classroom (at least to start with). Eight of them are above my boards, right in student view, with my favorite one being above my light switch in my classroom. I love that when you download her prints, the download includes files of varying print sizes, and she offers advice for the best printing. These prints are an awesome way to add a touch of design to a classroom, and I loved the messages I selected. I can also definitely see myself finding other designs, printing them, and hanging them in my home or giving them as gifts.

Michelle has set up a custom coupon code for Eat.Write.Teach. readers that will work through the end of the year and takes 10% off any level of membership! Just click here and use the code EATWRITE10.

*Please note that I am an affiliate of Elegance and Enchantment, which means that I'll receive a commission if you click the above links and subscribe.

Have a wonderful school year!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

5 Classroom Non-Essentials That I Can't Live Without

Back in July of 2013, I wrote a blog post called Classroom Must-Haves for the First-Year Teacher. It has been one of my most popular posts to date. As I've been preparing my classroom this week for the 2017-2018 school year, I've noticed that the things I suggested as must-haves back then are still must-haves now (though I would probably add the Classroom Operations Binder as a must-have now). I've also realized that there are a few splurge items that are by no means essentials... but I don't think I could live without them now! So if you're at the point in your career where you are ready to splurge a little on some non-essential-but-hella-useful items, allow me to suggest five.

Quick note: I'm not being paid by any of these companies to say any of these nice things. I just like these products.

1. Flair Pens
My social media scouting has led me to believe that I am not the only educator taking part in an ardent love affair with Paper Mate Flair Pens. They don't smear, they don't bleed (unless your paper quality is poor), the felt tip doesn't become misshapen with use, they offer vivid pops of color, and they last forever! What is not to love?*

*As a lover of all things Sharpie, author John Green would beg to differ. But what does he know anyway? (Besides everything.)

2. Scotch Laminator
I bought one of these last year and I don't know how I lived without one! There's a fairly strict and unspoken no-one-touches-the-laminator-besides-the-librarian rule in my building, so I just never laminated anything. Now that I have the Scotch Laminator, I laminate ALL THE THINGS. Don't worry, you'll see when I post my 2017-2018 Classroom Tour. Everything is super shiny and safely sealed in plastic!


3. Storage Ottomans
I bought one of these collapsible storage ottomans last year and got a ton of use out of it. So, naturally, I bought two more this year. They are currently all pushed together to create a bench. They are deep, so they can store tons of supplies, and they are sturdy so they can serve as alternative seating. Love them!


4. Document Camera
I was fortunate enough to have a Point 2 View IPEVO document camera donated to my classroom a few years ago. At only $69, it is an inexpensive option with high utility. I love that I can detach the camera from the stand and move it around. The quality isn't as crisp as I would like for it to be (in fact, I am hoping to upgrade this year), but it serves its purpose. I use my document camera multiple times a week.


5. Teacher's Pet Board Eraser
I received one of these from the folks at Teacher's Pet to try out and, I gotta say, I'm in love with this thing. Have you ever noticed how the typical eraser wipes up the ink and you get little bits and pieces of ink dust or residue or whatever that rains down on your chalk tray or on the floor or your khaki pants if you are quite vigorous with the erasing? This big old cutie is made of microfiber, so it grabs the ink residue and holds onto it. The best part is you can throw it in your washing machine! As a teacher, I like worthy investments that will save me money in the long run. No more broken Styrofoam erasers or ink sprinkles everywhere!


The cool people at Teacher's Pet were kind enough to give me four extra Teacher's Pets to give away to four lucky readers! Enter to win below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What are your non-essentials that you love love love?

School starts next week for me! Wish me luck!

P.S. - 2017-2018 Classroom Tour coming soon!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Seven Tips for Building Strong Relationships with High School Students

Dr. Rita Pierson is one of my personal teacher heroes. In her May 2013 TED Talk, Dr. Pierson asserted that “every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists they become the best they can possibly be.” Her talk was one that gifted me with a worldview shift. I spent my college years in my education classes learning how to be the authority figure that students needed and, in some ways, I think I forgot one of the more important parts of the job: being a good person in the lives of my students. Dr. Pierson’s talk reminded me that we must foster relationships with our students; this is the key to getting kids to work for you and to work for themselves. I have since focused just as much energy on cultivating positive relationships with my students as I have on my lesson plans. Building a classroom community and one-on-one relationships with students is an art; it takes time, effort, and thoughtfulness to craft a rock-solid foundation on which to build the rest of your classroom dynamic. In my experience, though, laying the groundwork made of trust, honesty, and enjoyment in each other’s company will radically change the work that happens both in and out of the classroom.
Here are seven essential tips I have discovered for building strong classroom relationships with your secondary students.

Show interest in their lives outside of the classroom.
From day one in the classroom, I start looking for hints into students’ interests outside of my English classroom: a football jersey on Friday nights, a gamer’s guide stacked in among the spiral bound notebooks, family photos slid into the front covers of binders, the music that blasts out of their ear buds. I take note of these little things, and I wait for the opportunity to engage students in a conversation. I wish them luck at the game that night, or I might mention that if they like playing Fallout 4 then I’ve got some book suggestions for them, or I might play a certain genre of music in class that day to start a conversation. Students are perceptive, despite the fact we often wonder if they are aware of anything going on around them. If you show interest in who they are, they will often respond by showing interest in who you are. This unlocks the chance to share your enthusiasm for your subject and to hopefully hook them.

Stay relevant.
I’m not recommending that you start flipping bottles, playing with fidget spinners, or using teenager lingo. I do suggest that you read the books they are reading, try to see the movies they are watching, listen to the songs they recommend, and check out the Netflix shows they are talking about. It is a lot easier to make a connection with someone if you have common ground, so put in effort at maintaining those commonalities.


Be yourself.
During my first year teaching, I adopted this “ultimate teacher” persona, a weird mix of my favorite teachers from high school. The problem with picking and choosing personality quirks from various others was that I became strangely inconsistent in my classroom management techniques and I was often questioning myself, wondering what those other teachers would have done. By the end of the school day, I was exhausted trying to be all of these other really amazing teachers, so my after-school drama club kids just got… me. Just myself. That was the first group of students with whom I developed a real connection. By the time I started my second year teaching, I decided to just accept myself and to own my teaching identity. Pretending to be something you’re not is exhausting. Embrace your own flavor of teaching, and don’t be afraid to reveal your quirks to your students. Authenticity breeds connection.


Be vulnerable.
We ask our students – our angsty, self-conscious, uncomfortably awkward teenage students – to be vulnerable all the time. Try solving this problem on the board while everyone watches for you to make a mistake. Read this passage from the book aloud while your peers silently judge your pronunciation and pace. Swap essays with your elbow partner and let them criticize your work. We often forget, I think, how utterly terrifying it can be to be vulnerable like that, because we spend so much of our classroom time building up our walls and pedestals. I encourage you, teachers, to be vulnerable too. Let students read your writing. Be sincere about your feelings while still maintaining professionalism. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and acknowledge those mistakes. Vulnerability allows you to experience true connection, and students will be more likely to open up to you in return.


Be honest.
Vulnerability and honesty go hand in hand because they require one another. In Rita Pierson’s TED Talk, she told a story about having to apologize to her class for teaching an entire lesson wrong. I have apologized to my students for lessons that failed, grading errors I’ve made, or plans that have fallen through. I am also completely honest about my lack of knowledge. I do not claim to know it all, and my students know that. They are comfortable asking me questions because they know that if I don’t have the answer, I will work with them to find the answer. They can trust me because they know I will be honest with them.


Enjoy your time together.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from a classroom teacher turned teacher advocate who said, “The year you aren’t excited to buy a new outfit for the first day of school is the year you should consider changing your career.” The thought of being in your classroom and working with your students should be an exciting one! Think about how much time you spend with those students. If you’re anything like me, you probably spend more time with your students every day than you do your own families. Shouldn’t that time together be enjoyable? Do things together that bring you all joy! Find the fun in your lessons, allow laughter and conversation to have its time and place in your classroom, and take a moment to just enjoy being with these crazy young people.


Treat your students like family.
I spent roughly 1170 hours with students in my English classroom last school year. That number does not take into account my after-school responsibilities, nor does it account for time spent during lunch, prep periods, before school, or after school tutoring students or talking them through life’s problems. These students become my second family, so I treat them like they are my family. My advisory class celebrates birthdays with donuts or cupcakes. My theatre students share meals together before shows and during long practices. We celebrate successes, victories, and good news. We lament bad days and raw deals and life’s ugly moments. We laugh, we complain, we cry, we vent, we lift each other up. It is so worth the time and the emotional toll it takes to invest love in your students. Linda Cliatt-Wayman, another education hero of mine, said, “If someone asks me my real secret, it’s that I love my students, and I believe in their possibilities unconditionally. I see only what they can become.”
We are charged with the lives of kids. Our work is important, and our impact is powerful. It can be life-changing. Building strong, positive relationships with our students affects their success both in and out of the classroom. Make the most of your classroom experience by opening up the heart that brought you to this worthy line of work.

What do you do in your own classroom to foster positive classroom relationships?

Happy Planning!