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!