Friday Five: Teacher Self-Care

Friday Five: Teacher Self-Care


Leave School

This is the first step I ever took in teacher self-care. I was drowning as a teacher. I felt like nothing was working in my classroom and that I wasn’t good enough. I started staying really late at school and going in on the weekends and I was always at school! Always! This might be you as well. A good starting point for self-care is to leave school. Leave. Pick a time and don’t stay a minute later. Don’t go to school on Saturday and Sunday. Leave. 


Take School Email Off Of Your Phone

The next step I took was removing my school email from my phone. At the time I lived with another teacher and we both took this step together. Too often we found ourselves in the middle of The Bachelor when we would get the email ping and get catapulted back into teacher life. Once we took our emails off of our phones we were able to enjoy our trash tv without worrying about school stuff. There is no need for you to be on your work email 24/7. It isn’t good for you. Take it off your phone so it isn’t always looming overhead. 


Set Business Hours

This ties into the two above. Business people have business hours. My friends who work in non-teaching jobs have set hours when they work and respond to work emails. They set these hours and they stick to them. Teachers could learn a thing or two about it. Currently my business hours at 7:45-4:45. I check my email starting at 7:45 am and the last time I check my email is immediately after getting home from school. I check it one final time to ensure I didn’t miss any end of the day emails that could be important. After that check, I am done. I am no longer Ms. Natasha I am just Natasha. I also have no business hours on the weekend. I have taken my weekends back for myself. Parents, other teachers, and my administrators have respected these hours and they understand. I haven’t had any problems with them at all. Set yourself some business hours. Maybe set longer hours now and slowly ease yourself out of them. It will be a great change for you. 


Get A Hobby

Last year I literally did a Google search for hobbies! I am not kidding a friend and I searched and we each made a list of hobbies we would like to try out. Then we had brunch and discussed our lists and set goals for ourselves. I now do yoga every other day and I blog more. Find a hobby that you love. Try out a new hobby. Developing interests outside of school makes you a more well-balanced but also more interesting individual. 


Find What WOrks For You

I discovered so many different things that I love through exploring different self-care options last year. I do face masks all the time. I go for walks outside and explore the city I live in. At least once a month I try to have brunch with my friends. I say yes to more opportunities. I journal. I found out I do not have a love for baking and cooking. I learned so much about myself when I took the time to develop myself as a person, not just work work work as a teacher. Take some time and figure out what works for you. 

First of all, I am nosey but second of all, I think we can learn from each other. So take a quick minute and let me know what self-care you like to do and how you build a balanced life outside of school. Together we can learn more! 

Teacher Talk: School Tools TV

Teacher Talk: School Tools TV

Life Without A Guidance Counselor

A few years ago I was teaching and there was no guidance counselor… well there was but she had many many other duties at my school and guidance, it just didn’t happen. I was used to weekly classes taught by the guidance counselor where my students learned about how to get along, how to deal with problems, how to stay healthy, how to study, and so much more. To say I was dying without a guidance counselor would be an understatement. I knew that I had to reach my students with these topics but I just wasn’t trained and didn’t have the language and knowledge to do so. My talks were falling flat and I didn’t know how to become a more effective makeshift guidance counselor. Then I remembered a resource another teacher shared with me the year before- School Tools TV. This is in no way a sponsored post. I just love School Tools TV and wanted to share it will all of my lovely followers. 

Ok, So What is It?

School Tools TV is a website run by a man, who I swear is a genius, named Rusty. I believe Rusty is a former guidance counselor and is our virtual guidance counselor. He has a subscription website with quick little videos teaching social-emotional skills. He is the virtual guidance counselor we all need. Rusty is a real cool guy and the kids buy into him right away. He connects with them and speaks their language. Rusty has become another member of our classroom.  

There are three levels of subscription. My school pays for level 1 for me- it costs $75 per teacher and it wasn’t that hard of a sell to my administrator. I did work at a school where everyone used it and it was pretty cool. With my level 1 subscription, I get access to daily videos. These videos are so cool! Since using Rusty’s videos I’ve seen a decrease in conflict in the classroom and an increase in effective communication skills. Since I currently teach grade 1 I watch the K-2 videos but I started out watching the 3- 7 videos and they are just as great. 

How it Works in My Classroom

I decided to incorporate Rusty’s videos into my morning meeting. We start with a greeting, then we watch Rusty and for share, we discuss the prompt that Rusty has given us. Then we complete a class challenge and that’s our morning meeting! 

Here’s how one of his videos goes! It only lasts about a minute but that minute is one of the most valuable ones of my day! 

“Hi and welcome back little diamonds!” Oh yeah… he calls the K-2 kids little diamonds and I just find it so adorable. My kids identify as diamonds. This year they declared that they are not little, just diamonds. Last year one of my students shaved a diamond into his hair for Rusty. I mean that is how much the kids love him!

After greeting the little diamonds he gives a shout out to one of his classes. My classes have died when we’ve gotten a shout out. Once they tried to get me to email it to all teachers so everyone would know. One year I had to play it during an assembly so the whole elementary could know about Rusty and our shout out. 

After the shout out Rusty shares the feeling word of the week. We made the feeling word part of our calendar and it is listed there along with a picture of the feeling. This has not only helped kids identify their feelings but it helped them as readers identifying character feelings.

Then Rusty gets down to business teaching a new skill. He might teach about not giving up when you’re frustrated, or why we walk in the halls at school, or how to notice when a friend is feeling sad. Then he gives a small piece of advice that kids can try out that day and he asks a question to push their thinking further. 

His videos then end with a poem. A poem that is the first poem we glue into our poetry notebooks and one that my diamonds recite with him each and every morning. 

After the poem, the question pops up on the screen and we move into a circle to share. Sometimes we make a quick anchor chart to remind us of Rusty’s words. Sometimes we set up a little challenge for ourselves based on what was said. We might even try to do something new depending on the topic of the video.  

Try it Out

If you want to try it out or you want more information head on over to School Tools TV to learn more. There is a set of free videos if you want to try it out before diving it. I also just saw that there is a free 30-day trial. 

I know that you’ll enjoy your subscription as much as I have! 

…but are they engaged? Using An Engagement Survey

…but are they engaged? Using An Engagement Survey

Student Engagement is Essential

Student engagement is key to learning. I know that if my readers aren’t engaged in the work of readers they aren’t going to grow. The same goes for my writers, scientists, mathematicians… if they aren’t engaged they’re not going to grow. Student engagement can be difficult to study. Every once in a while I complete an engagement survey with my students. To complete this survey I usually just use a blank piece of paper sitting next to me but I have attached a freebie engagement survey sheet at the end of this post. 

Completing an Engagement Survey

Shown above is an example of an engagement survey. I keep mine simple. After all of my students have found spots to work I jot down their names along the left-hand side. I generally jot them down in the order they are sitting in. That makes it easy to do a quick sweep and record the information. Then I glance up about every 3-5 minutes and jot down what students are doing. This one I have detailed jots of what each child was doing. Sometimes I just use an x to mark off-task or a green crayon to mark on task. I switch it up depending on what I am looking for. In the made-up example above I was looking for engagement in the writing process. That’s why it is more detailed. During this time I’m not walking around and watching over all of my students I am carrying on business as usual. As I confer or lead small groups I look up and around and jot down what everyone is doing. Usually, I have a code for working with the teacher and take note of that too. 

Analyzing the Data & Determining Next Steps

Now that you have all the data you have to analyze it. Right now I want my first graders to sketch before they write. It is how they plan their stories. I can note right away that 9 students (half of this class) didn’t start with sketching. Four of them started with writing. I might want to pull a small group and remind them why sketching and making a plan is so important for authors. 

The last time I checked in on them all students were actively engaged in writing. Perhaps I notice that it takes some students 10 minutes before they engage in the work for the day. Maybe I am not setting them up for success at the end of my mini-lessons. Maybe I need to hold those students back at the carpet and send them off with a more concrete plan than the other students. 

Sharing the Data

I explain very clearly to my students that I don’t take secret notes on them. If I complete an engagement survey with them I always offer to share the results with those who are curious. Sometimes I choose to share with everyone. Usually, everyone is quite curious to see. The next day I might hold mini-conferences with each student to discuss their data together and work together to create a more successfully engaged class. 

Try It Out

Click here to download your own FREEBIE! 

This will help you complete your own engagement survey in your classroom. Pick a subject, maybe one where student engagement is lacking. You might notice something you hadn’t noticed before.

Let me know how it goes!

Deciding to Teach Abroad: Should I Go For It?

Deciding to Teach Abroad: Should I Go For It?

In yesterday’s Friday Five I explained how I knew I wanted to teach internationally. I had the itch to travel, to get out of my comfort zone and see the world. I wanted something new. Maybe you’re considering teaching internationally as well. I sat down to write a quick post about what it is like to live and teach in a different country and I accidentally created a whole blog series… I guess it happens! 

This will be the first of many posts explaining the process and a bit more about teaching internationally. I can only speak from personal experience and the experiences others have shared with me. If you have any additional information or ideas to share, please do so in the comments below. I am by no means an expert but I do know a thing or two. 

Making A Choice

Deciding to teach abroad is not one that should be made on a whim. When I decided to move abroad I knew several things going into it. I talked to the people I love deeply and considered their opinions. I spoke to those I knew who taught internationally and gathered their experience. I made a lot of pro/con lists and I considered a lot of options. Hopefully this post can help you reflect on your decision to move into the world of international teaching. 

Disclaimer: I am going to talk about international teaching not teaching English in a foreign country. I am a certified elementary (actually grades 1-8) teacher. I have a degree in education and hold teaching certification. I do not have my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. I teach all of the core subjects and my school operates similarly to schools in the US. There are many schools internationally where you do not need to hold an education license or degree. There are many schools where you can teach English to children. I won’t be talking about those schools. I have never worked at one. Just wanted to give a heads up before we got into it. 

Don't Go!

Let’s talk about all the reasons you shouldn’t go. It is essential to be extremely honest with yourself during the consideration process. If you aren’t you could end up in a world of hurt with no close family and friends around you to help you out. I don’t want any of these things to sound harsh but I do want to be honest about teaching and living abroad. 

You are running from something.

This is perhaps overall general life advice but you cannot run from yourself. You cannot run from your experiences. You cannot run from your problems. You cannot run from your past. You cannot. Moving to a new country doesn’t automatically mean that you’re a new person. Your life doesn’t become suddenly new. It is the same you, the same past, the same problems in a new country. The teachers I have met who moved to run from something are still running. Their experiences abroad have been difficult. They have had big breakdowns with none of the people who know and love them around. Be careful if you want to move abroad to get away from something. 

You are running to something. 

This one might sound strange but I have met so many young teachers who moved internationally to find the partner of their dreams. Perhaps moving for love could be a factor but it shouldn’t be the only factor. Also, dating a new country probably won’t go the same way as dating in your home country. Different cultures have different unwritten rules and expectations for dating. In Poland guys never speak to you at bars. They will not approach you. This can be alarming for some people who moved here to find the partner of their dreams. I’ve talked to a lot of teachers and a lot of young women especially list this as a top reason for moving internationally. Do you date a lot in your home country? Do you put yourself out there? How do you handle rejection and dating in your home country? I wouldn’t say this should be a very high priority on your list. Of course, date while teaching internationally but don’t go international just to date. Ya, feel me?

You’re not independent and don’t like to be alone. 

Let’s be real. There is a lot of alone time when you teach internationally. You have to be independent and able to stand on your own two feet. You have to be able to land in a new country and set up a life for yourself all by yourself. Despite having friends you sort of are all alone. Can you problem solve all by yourself? Are you ok being alone? I don’t necessarily mean lonely but alone. I think those are two different things. 

You have never spent a holiday away from your family or you have never lived far from home. 

Ok, hear me out on this one. Holidays are a big deal for many many people. Traditions live around holidays. Ask yourself if you will be ok not being home for Thanksgiving. What about Christmas? Can you handle your birthday all on your own? Is it ok if you can’t make a family member’s funeral? Wedding? It stinks missing out on lots of family time. But I knew I could handle it. I already skipped Thanksgivings and Easters. I already celebrated my birthday far away from home and I survived. Some people need to be close to family. A very good friend of mine in college explained that some people had wings but she had roots. Having roots isn’t a bad thing. But are you going to be really upset Facetiming your family on Thanksgiving? They’re all together hanging out. Eating pumpkin pie and watching parades. You’re alone and can’t even make your own pumpkin pie because you can’t find the ingredients. Is that ok to you? I do still celebrate Thanksgiving with a lot of fellow American teachers but I’ll be honest, it is not the same as hanging out at home. Not at all. Can you build new traditions around the holidays and be ok with leaving old traditions behind?

You are in a serious relationship and your partner isn’t joining you. 

I don’t mean that you’re married and your partner is coming with you. I mean that you have a partner that you’re leaving behind and going to try to make it work long distance. How strong are your feelings for this person? Is it hard to go a few days without seeing them? Can your relationship handle this? Do you trust them? This might sound silly but consider your relationship with your pets too. I left behind a family dog whom I love with all of my heart but who is also 15 years old. I can’t tell you how hard I cried hugging him goodbye at Christmas knowing that he might not be around the next time I return to the US. Can the relationships you’re leaving behind handle the distance?

You just suffered some sort of trauma in your life. 

This isn’t Under the Tuscan Sun. You aren’t going to hit a rough patch in your life, move abroad, buy a tuscan villa and fall in love with life. That is Hollywood and we live in the real world. Your life isn’t Eat, Pray, Love. Wandering around the world after enduring a trauma is very traumatic. Going back to the alone piece, you won’t have your support system with you. The people who listen and dry your tears won’t be in your timezone. You also won’t have the supports of the doctor’s and therapists you’re familiar with. The people I’ve seen struggle the most teaching internationally are the people who have suffered a trauma and moved abroad to teach. 

You have no savings. 

It is expensive to move especially if your school reimburses you for all your moving expenses in the first paycheck… or if they don’t reimburse you at all. Even though you can end up saving a lot of money while teaching internationally, the start up costs can be a lot. When I first moved to Poland there were a lot of start-up costs. I was reimbursed for some of them but I did have to put a lot of money into my move. Think: plane tickets, extra luggage, shipping, first month’s rent and security deposit, trips to IKEA, new phone plans, dinner with new friends, etc. The list could really go on and on. Moving is expensive and moving internationally can be even more expensive. Make plans so you don’t end up in a tough situation. 

You are set in your ways and perhaps close-minded. 

Living internationally is going to shake up your life. Like your whole life. It is going to shake you to your core. This sounds super dramatic and I don’t mean for it to be but… The majority of your beliefs are going to be tested. Can you handle trying to look at things through a new perspective? What happens when your core beliefs are challenged? How do you handle people doing things differently than you’re used to? I once witnessed a serious breakdown because someone felt the McDonald’s cheeseburger in Poland had pepper. I’m not kidding. If you value your McDonald’s a certain way… rethink things. In all seriousness, you need to be able to handle being the outsider and having people not understand your values in the least. 

You don’t want to start over.

Sometimes I just crave my classroom with all of my things that I have in storage in the US. Starting over is hard. I worked long and hard and spent so much money to build up an amazing collection of books. Now I have none of them… although, I have spent a ridiculous money on books since I’ve been in Poland. Starting over is hard and it isn’t for everyone. 

Yes! Go!

Now let’s talk about why you should go. Deciding to go was one of the most exciting decisions I’ve made. If these sound like you then start applying! 

You’re open to new possibilities.

Teaching internationally totally opens up your world. I have learned so much about myself as a teacher and I have learned so much about education since teaching internationally. Not only have I learned so much about myself as I teacher I have learned so much about myself as a person. I have tried things I never thought I would try. I have made the most amazing friends with people I might not have been friends with in the US. I am open to any experience that comes my way and that is a very important attitude to have. If you’re open to new possibilities and looking at things from a new perspective then international teaching is for you.   

You want to travel.

I really love traveling. I would actually love to be a travel blogger but… I don’t want to put in any of the work to actually do that. Flights in Europe are so cheap. I have been to so many different countries since moving here. I took a weekend trip to London once. When in your life do you ever just fly to London for the weekend just because? I went to see Beyoncé in Germany. I’ve been to Venice and visited friends in Spain. My passport has gotten a workout and I have seen so much. I still have so much to see. If you like to travel international teaching will open up that possibility for you. 

You want to learn and grow as a person.

I am all about personal development. You think I like growing and learning as a teacher? I LOVE growing and learning as a human? I seriously love it! I have learned so much about myself. I know who I am and I know what I stand for more than before. When you’re put in different situations than the ones you’ve always been in you learn a lot about yourself and you grow a lot.

You can handle being on your own.

I’ve always been the kind of person who is ok to to march to the beat of their own drum. I moved far away from home my first year after college. I learned a lot through that experience but I really learned how to stand on my own two feet. Being able to stand on your own is important. I have great friends here who are really like a second family but at the end of the day I am on my own. I like it and I sort of thrive when thrown out into the world all by myself. 

You can handle being away from friends, family, and pets.

I’ve missed out on friend’s weddings. I have missed out on the birth of my friend’s children. My dog might not be alive when I come home. That one hurts… a lot. But I knew going into this and I am ok with missing out on some stuff. Moving abroad has made my friendships at home grow stronger. I did lose a lot of friends when we just didn’t put in the time. The friends I have stayed in contact with will be my friends for life.  

You’re open to learning (and maybe failing at learning) a new language.

I attempted to learn Polish. I tried so hard and I also failed so hard. I know the basics and I can get by in a shop but I can’t have a full on conversation. Language is a struggle that some people can’t handle. In Poland most people know English and it isn’t too hard to figure things out while shopping or out in the world. Learning a new language isn’t easy but I think it is so so important to familiarize yourself with the language and the culture of your new country. I’ve learned so much about Poland, Polish and Polish culture.

Your family supports the idea.

This is really important. If you go abroad and your family doesn’t support the idea you are going to feel conflicted. It can be hard to make life choices that aren’t supported by your family. You are going to need your family support while living abroad. I constantly lean on my sister for support and advice, similar to how I did at home but in a different sense. If your family supports your choice, go! 

Deciding to go is no easy task. Once I knew that I was going to go I decided to keep that choice to myself. I didn’t want to hear other people’s opinions on it. I only told select people in my life about where I was applying and what my plans were. Once I knew I was going to go I didn’t want to be talked out of it by anyone. That worked for me but I know people who tell everyone. Deciding to go is a really exciting time.

Please share your thoughts, ideas and questions in the comments below. 

Next we’ll start talking about applying and interviewing. 

Friday Five: March Challenge

Friday Five: March Challenge


Welcome March

Let’s be real. I need a little kick in the pants when it comes to my blogging game. I have so many great ideas to share. I have so much training and experience to draw on. I do so much research that I think other teachers could benefit from but I just never take the time to put these big dreams in my head into action. That is about to change. You might notice that I had limited blog posts in February (and January but the idea didn’t happen until February) because I decided to spend February planning for March. Hello! Look at this gal figuring out how to plan! This means that there will be a new blog post coming your way almost daily. I say almost daily because I wanted this to be sustainable. Now while you’re reading throughout March I’m planning for April. Is this how legit bloggers do it? I would like to think so. 

If you want to be alerted of all the amazing content coming your way please make sure you subscribe to the blog… I’m not really one to beg for subscribers and there certainly aren’t a million popups encouraging you to do so but… maybe you don’t want to miss any amazing thoughts coming out of my head! 


So.. this week’s Friday Five is all about getting to know me! 


I Teach in Poland but I'm From Wisconsin

So many people ask, “why did you want to teach internationally?” and let me tell you, it is a hilarious tale. 

21 year old Natasha was student teaching in Green Bay, WI. My cooperating teacher graduated from the same college I had (in De Pere) and she was telling me that she student taught abroad in St. Lucia. I had studied abroad in Valencia, Spain. My friends were heading back in a few weeks for spring break. I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford to go back for spring break and my spring break no longer aligned with theirs because I was student teaching. So I was pretty bummed. I explained how bummed I was to my cooperating teacher and she said, “yeah. I always planned to go back but I haven’t made it yet.” 21-year-old Natasha panicked. My first thought… and this is now hilarious to write at an almost 30-year-old… was, “oh my gosh! What if I turn 30 and I still haven’t traveled back to Spain?!” The horror of it all. To be old and untraveled. I just laughed so hard I cried writing that sentence. BUT in my mind right then and there I decided that I would teach 5 years in Wisconsin and then I would move internationally. That’s exactly what I did. 

I taught three years in a small town in northwestern Wisconsin and then moved to Madison where I taught (in a suburb near Madison) for two years and then I moved to Poland. I’ve now been in Poland for three years and I have to say I really love it.


I love bold lipstick

Ok. I am a sucker for any and all things hot pink. A hot pink lip is no exception. I love a bold lip and I wear lipstick to school every day. Though I don’t always wear bold lipstick at school. I just love, love, love it! This year I didn’t wear lipstick one day and the next day one of my students said, “Woof! Lipstick again!” and breathed a sigh of relief… the kid really did say woof and sigh. I cannot sometimes! I cannot!


I Love to Travel

Well, one great thing about living in Poland is traveling throughout Europe is very accessible and not too expensive. I’ve traveled a lot in my three years here and I look forward to lots of traveling in my future. Traveling gives me life. I actually have another blog (that is updated maybe once a month… maybe) with my travel adventures.


I've Had Extensive Training in Math and Literacy

Now… I am not an expert in all things (please see image above! lol!) but I have been extremely lucky throughout my teaching career to receive excellent professional development. At my first school I was trained in Literacy Collaborate, a balanced literacy framework. We were originally affiliated with Ohio State and later switched to Lesley University. While there I also was trained in Math Recovery. These two trainings provided such a strong foundation to build upon as a teacher. The next school I worked at was a lab site for Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. I got to work with amazing staff developers to further my professional growth. I also served as a Math Curriculum Leader during my time there and I am currently our Elementary Curriculum Team Leader. I’ve been trained in UbD by Jay McTighe and I am leading our elementary staff to rewrite our science curriculum. I trained our whole staff on Fountas and Pinnell’s Benchmark Assessment System this year and we’re working to use data to inform our instruction. 

I have a lot of experience and knowledge and I want to share my expertise with more than just my colleagues. That’s why you’ll see me blog, almost daily, all month long!