Friday Five: Back to School Things You Really Don’t Need

Friday Five: Back to School Things You Really Don’t Need

This summer I’ve been on my teacher Instagram and I found myself starting to feel not cool as a teacher. I saw teachers going to Target and buying out the dollar spot. I saw teachers buying so much stuff for their classroom on Amazon Prime Day. I saw teachers literally spending the entire month of July in their classroom getting it really cute. I was one jealous teacher. Then I started to think about my classroom and my teaching philosophy. I am very minimalist in my classroom. I don’t like too many trinkets type things to clutter up the space. I like to use cool and calming colors as research suggests this is best for children. I like my kids to decorate the space with my through our shared writing so I don’t like an overly decorated room. I also live in Poland so many of these shopping endeavors are simply not available to me. I know that I am a good teacher and I don’t need a bunch of stuff to make me a better teacher. Would it be nice to have twinkle lights in the classroom? Yes. Can I have twinkle lights in the classroom? No. I need to keep doing me. 

If you’re a new teacher or even a returning teacher, please listen up! You need to do what feels right for you in your classroom. You also need to spend responsibly. I always ask the school to purchase the materials I need for teaching. They almost always pull through. Make sure that you’re taking advantage of the resources available to you before you are going broke from spending your own money. It isn’t worth it. 

Here is a list of five things that I do not need or back to school. 

One

New Coordinating Storage Bins

I saw so many teachers buying new bins for their classrooms. I don’t need new bins. Well…. actually I do, but the school is going to buy them for me. I will get what I get and I will use them to the fullest of their potential. I don’t need to go out and have color coordinating everything. The broken bins are being replaced and I can live with that. Of course I would love it if all of my bins matched and all of the bins I had were the right size for what I need but that isn’t going to happen and that is ok. 

Don’t buy things that the school will buy for you.

Two

Teacher T-Shirts

There are so many adorable t-shirts for teachers with so many adorable sayings. I want them so badly. I have been eyeing one up that says, “Ok students now let’s get information” for over two years. The thing is, we’re not allowed to wear t-shirts at my school. It’s too casual. We do have casual Fridays where we can wear jeans but t-shirts are a no. This past year I wore a NASA t-shirt I got at H&M because my kids were obsessed with NASA. The kids loved it but all day I was waiting to be called out on it. Not worth it. Maybe someday but not today. 

Think about your school when purchasing things. Are these sorts of things ok at your school?

Three

New Books

As an international teacher, I won’t be staying at one school forever. I know that some teachers do but I wanted to teach internationally to explore the world and learn a lot about many other cultures. I don’t want to stay put. In my two years here I’ve already purchased too many books to take with me to my new destination… wherever that may be. I can’t buy any more books. None. 

Talk to your school librarian about getting some new titles you saw over the summer. That way you can use them in your classroom but so many more people can take advantage of the great books you’ve discovered.

FOur

Things to Make my Classroom Homier

I had the coziest classroom ever when I taught in the States. I had so many lamps and comfortable seats. It felt like a home. Now my classroom feels like a classroom. I don’t have any lamps, although I do have excellent natural lighting. I don’t have any cozy things that I have purchased myself. It’s ok for a classroom to be like a classroom. Even if everyone else’s classroom is like a home. 

Don’t spend excessive amounts of money buying cute and comfortable furniture and other things.

Five

Makerspace/ STEAM Materials

I see so many teachers doing such cool stuff in makerspaces and with STEAM in the classroom. I will also be incorporating these ideas into my classroom more in the fall but I will be using supplies that the school already owns or supplies that I ordered last spring. We don’t need all the newest and greatest things for good teaching. Is it nice? Yes. Is it necessary? No.

Have you talked yourself out of purchasing anything this summer? Have you purchased something that everyone else bought only to discover that you don’t need it or use it?  Let me know in the comments section below! 

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Happy Birthday, Sto Lat, Joyeux Anniversaire- Culturally Inclusive Birthday Celebrations

Happy Birthday, Sto Lat, Joyeux Anniversaire- Culturally Inclusive Birthday Celebrations

Birthdays are so special for kids. Teaching at an international school means that within your classroom there are many different cultures. Don’t think that there aren’t many cultures in your school though! That means there are countless birthday songs and traditions to learn about. One way we work to make birthdays extra special is to sing in as many languages as possible. Kids aren’t put on the spot if they don’t wish to sing in their native language but the opportunity is offered to all kids. This is very important when building a safe space. Students should never be singled out or forced to explain their culture and they should never be asked to speak on behalf of an entire culture.

We always start with English because it is the primary language we use in the classroom. Next, we always sing in Polish because we live in Poland. Last year my class sang every time in English, Polish, French, German, Spanish, Korean, Ukranian, Russian, Flemish, and Mandarin. Every single birthday! It means that you spend a lot of time singing but the kids don’t mind it at all. In fact, it just makes birthdays even more special! This year my class is much smaller but still with a lot of cultural diversity. Now we sing in English, Polish and Hungarian each birthday.

Recently, something exciting happened. We have a student in our class who spoke no English at the start of the school year. Throughout the year this student has gotten better and better at English. This student was sitting on our assistant’s lap (more about that issue here). When I asked if anyone else wanted to sing he rose his hand. I was so excited and so surprised to hear that he wanted to volunteer. He sang in his native language for the first time! My kids were silent and were grinning ear to ear. When he finished they all started clapping and cheering! There were also a lot of thumbs up! It was such a magical moment in our classroom for him, the other kids and for the teachers.

This is just a small but important way to be culturally inclusive within your class.

What do you do to include cultural traditions in your classroom? I would love to hear from you! 

Teacher to Teacher: Be a Fountain, Not a Drain

Teacher to Teacher: Be a Fountain, Not a Drain


I’ve spent the last few weeks reflecting on what makes a good teammate. Am I a good teammate? What am I doing well? What could I do better?  While doing this self-reflection, that I believe all educators should do, I came across a quote that really resonated with me.

Be a fountain, not a drain.

Immediately I began to think back, was I a fountain or a drain? I went to my teacher BFF and asked. We both agreed that for the most part, we are fountains; yet, sometimes we end up being drains. It is important to know that we are all both. Sometimes you are the fountain and sometimes you are the drain. What I think is even more important is being aware of the circumstances that make you the fountain and the drain and actively work to become more of a fountain.

What makes someone a fountain or a drain? This concept isn’t new to education. A few school years ago everyone was reading the article about finding your teacher marigolds (click here). This is no different. In my reflecting, I realized that certain circumstances lead me to be a fountain and certain ones lead me to be a drain. Now that I am aware of these it will be easier to choose to be a fountain and not a drain.

Fountains

Fountains spew off positivity, happiness, and good vibes into the air surrounding them. We all like to be around fountains. We like it because they make us feel good about ourselves. They reassure us when we aren’t quite sure what to do next. We can ask them for advice. We trust them. When a fountain is near life seems sunny side up. I always find myself more optimistic about my circumstances and more confident in my teaching abilities.

I am a fountain when…

  • I take care of myself as a person. This means that I am getting enough sleep at night, I am drinking water throughout the day, I pack myself a lunch, I do yoga, I practice meditation… the list goes on. When I am taking care of myself, I am a better teacher. I have the ability to be more positive and I have the energy to keep up with the kids. Too often I think teachers put their own self behind their class. I believe teachers must put themselves first in order to stay fountains.
  • I am prepared. Of course, I am a fountain when I have my lessons planned out, my copies are made ahead of time and I am not rushing around to get everything done. Days, when I have my stuff together, are good days. What does this mean for me? It means that I make sure I have everything ready to go at the end of the school day. I also am aware of what days I don’t have time to prepare (Wednesday) and I plan ahead.
  • When I smile and try to spread happiness to others that I encounter in my day. I mean, really? Each day we have the power to choose how the day will go. When I intentionally try to put more positive energy into the world than negative energy life feels better. I know there are moments when we all vent to someone. The thing is, do you really need to vent to someone or are you just being a drain on them? Vent less and practice gratitude more.

Drains

Drains literally suck the life out of you. Just as we all know fountains, we all know drains. Drains are the reasons many teachers avoid the teacher’s lounge. The teacher’s lounge can sometimes be the biggest drain in a school. One teacher heads in with a negative attitude ready to complain about something. When that drain starts to complain many more jump in and it becomes a sewer. I’ve been in some wonderful fountain like teacher’s lounges but most have been drains.

Earlier this year I found myself whining to my assistant teacher. She said, “Stop. With this kind of perspective, everything is going to seem like the worst thing ever. We can always find reasons to complain but if things are going well, there is no reason to look for complaints.” This is true. When things are going well, there is no reason to look for things that could go wrong. That is causing trouble.

I am a drain when…

  • I am exhausted and I haven’t been taking care of myself.
  • Other people unload all of their negative feelings on me.
  • I am stressed out and intentionally or not, spread my unhappiness to others by unloading.

How to Work With Drains

Unfortunately, as teachers, we can’t simply cast all of the drains away and not have to interact with them at all. That would be ideal but we’re living in the real world. This year especially I notice that most of the teachers around me are drains, not fountains. It happens sometimes. How do you remain a fountain when everyone around you is a drain?

  1. Don’t listen to negativity. Some of my favorite people in the world are those who begin to hear gossip and walk away. They don’t entertain the idea. They don’t participate in it. It is blatantly clear that they do not participate in such events. This year I have been doing this exact thing but perhaps in a less direct manner. I’ve been avoiding those who are just coming to talk to you about everything that is wrong. I also just have not been listening to people as they complain about things. Whether it means ignoring the person next to me at a meeting or getting up and walking away I am trying to tolerate less negativity in my life.
  2. Jot down the positives. I’ve started a new series on my blog entitled five joyful things. This series is celebrating the small and joyful moments that we find in our lives. Isn’t life so much better when you’re positive?
  3. Vent less. I know that we all like to vent and there are moments where getting it all out is extremely helpful. When we vent, how we vent and who we vent to are all very important. When you vent to other people you give them permission to do the same whether intentionally or not. This year I have been consciously trying to vent less. Guess what, when you vent less you are happier.
  4. Don’t let others negativity impact you. Maybe there is a teacher who never says hello back to you or smiles when you say hello in the hallway. Someone might be tearing you down as a teacher. A teacher might take small jabs at your teaching style and what you do. This is a far greater reflection of them as people than you as a teacher. Let that go! Don’t hold onto the mean things that other people say. Keep doing you and keep your head held high. People who feel the need to spread negativity around aren’t worth your time and energy.

The Worst Teacher I’ve Ever Had

The Worst Teacher I’ve Ever Had

There is something to be said about the best teacher you’ve ever had. These are the teachers that we sit around and reminisce about with friends. We talk about how they still influence us to this day. We also discuss how they made us feel and how much we enjoyed being in his or her class. But… I’m not here to talk about the best teacher I ever had. I am here to talk about the worst teacher I’ve ever had. I feel like we don’t talk about the bad ones enough and we can’t possibly learn the valuable lessons we need to learn from them. Today I logged back onto my teacher Twitter and was scrolling through my feed. I’m getting ready to gear up for back to school and, to quote High School Musical, am trying to “get my head in the game.” The scrolling was lovely until suddenly, the worst teacher I have ever had popped up in a tweet written by a highly respected teaching counsel! I was so angry. I started yelling about it to my shocked friend sitting next to me. What is she doing on Twitter? Why is she being retweeted by such a credible organization? What is she up to now? Horrible thoughts of Freshman English started flooding into my memory, and I couldn’t handle the rage I was feeling towards this woman. So, you are probably wondering, what made her so bad? What are the lessons I needed to learn from her?

Today I logged back onto my teacher Twitter and was scrolling through my feed. I’m getting ready to gear up for back to school and, to quote High School Musical, am trying to “get my head in the game.” The scrolling was lovely until suddenly, the worst teacher I have ever had popped up in a tweet written by a highly respected teaching counsel! I was so angry I started yelling about it to my shocked friend sitting next to me. What is she doing on Twitter? Why is she being retweeted by such a credible organization? What is she up to now? Horrible thoughts of Freshman English started flooding into my memory and I couldn’t handle the rage I was feeling towards this woman. So, you are probably wondering, what made her so bad? What are the lessons I needed to learn from her?

6 Reasons Why

  1. She wasn’t approachable. She was hands down one of the scariest teachers I have ever had. She was unpredictable and unapproachable. When you walked into her class, you didn’t know what was going to come at you, and it was scary. Once I asked for permission to attend a field trip for another class, and she almost didn’t allow me to go! I had to take a quiz early and then, while I was taking the quiz, she stood over my shoulder telling me I should have studied more. She made me feel dumb, worthless, and insecure. I will never forget these horrible feelings, and this is why I had such a strong reaction to seeing her today.
  2. She played favorites. Right away, there were kids that she clicked with and kids she didn’t. She made it known that she liked these students better, and she treated them differently than the rest of us. All of the kids in her class were not on an even playing field. She made sure people knew that. She required one student in period 1 to bring her McDonald’s breakfast every once in a while. On her birthday, which I think was quite early in the school year, she requested Diet Coke. I can’t even tell you the mountain of Diet Coke in the middle of her classroom at the end of the day. If there were camera phones back then, I would have a ridiculous photo to show you. I forgot my Diet Coke at home that day and freaked out all day long because, of course, I had English 7th period. When I entered, and she saw I didn’t have what she requested she made a mean joke and sent me to get her Diet Coke from the vending machine with my own money. Luckily, I had money to buy the Diet Coke, or I would have had a mental breakdown.
  3. She made me feel stupid. Freshman English wasn’t the easiest of classes for me. I went from 8th grade English; reading books, filling out worksheets, having pointless literature circle discussions to Freshman English; analyzing literature. I didn’t have the skills and strategies I needed to do the work. She didn’t help me to develop these skills, and instead just made me feel stupid for not understanding what to do. To this day, I hate Romeo and Juliet and had horrible Freshman English memories come flooding back to me on a recent trip to Verona, Italy. At one point, we were divided up into groups to find literature terms. We were each given a scene of the play. My group had a lot of other homework that night, and we decided to each take chunks of the scene and then shared the terms. When this teacher found out, she intentionally called on students who didn’t do that section to make us feel bad. And then screamed, “It shouldn’t be that hard! Come on!”, while we frantically tried to find the literature terms. Do you know that your brain actually shuts down when you’re afraid? Even working your hardest, you can’t think. This was something that repeatedly happened to me in Freshman English.
  4. She didn’t give second chances. When I had to turn in my first official essay, I made a stupid, simple mistake. Somehow, I stapled the pages in the wrong order and didn’t catch it before I turned it in. When I was in period 3 Spanish someone who had just come from English told me that my name was on the chalkboard. All day I was freaking out and trying to figure out why. I struggled all day, do I go in and ask her about it or do I wait? Will she be mad that I already found out before class? What is going to happen? Is she going to address it in front of the whole class? I decided to wait and stressed out all day long. She pointed out that my name was on the board to the entire class and then told me we would talk about it afterward. When I found out it was because my essay got stapled in the wrong order, I was so relieved. When I found out she couldn’t read it due to this mistake, and I was going to get a zero, I was devastated.
  5. She played games. Back to Romeo and Juliet– a truly traumatic play for me. In Act III, our homework was to find all of the literature terms in the act. (Do you notice a theme?) I went home, and I found all of the ones I could, I Googled it, and wrote down all of the ones I found online and was still nervous that I didn’t get all of them. I had English last period, and all-day no one was saying what happened, but everyone seemed really upset. I walked in, and we were told to stand next to our desks and get out our literature terms.

    I got mine out and waited, terrified about the game we were about to play. I didn’t know what was coming, but I was shaking. It turns out, she was going to call on each girl in the class (I went to an all-girls high school) and each girl was going to say three literature terms that she found in the scene. She would call on each girl in random order. She started by calling on the smartest girls in the class; I knew they were the brightest because she repeatedly told us. They had it easy. I followed along in my book, marking off the ones that were said. Quickly, I realized that I was going to be one of the last students called on. I started to panic and felt like crying. I waited and waited, and the number of literature terms left in Act III was growing smaller and smaller. When I got called on, I only had two literature terms left – unacceptable. I said the two that weren’t stated yet, feeling very poorly for the other girl who was left standing. Then, I told one that was mentioned, hoping that she wouldn’t remember. She remembered. I stood up and turned the pages of my book frantically with her yelling at me again. I couldn’t find a new one. She told me I was worthless, and I should sit down. I sat down, so ashamed of this failure, humiliated in front of my friends, and I felt their pitied looks in my direction. The girl after me didn’t have any left. She allowed one of the smart girls to stand up and help her out.

  6. Her grading was harsh and unreasonable. You already know that she couldn’t give me a grade on a paper because it was stapled in the wrong order. She also failed most every student, except those favorite few, and when we failed, we failed hard. I frequently would receive 30% on essays I had worked so hard on. At one point in the year, she decided to “be kind” (her words, not mine) and give all students a 50% for at least trying. That means that I was guaranteed an F. And that means that I got a 50% on every essay I turned in. At the end of a quarter, we would sit down and negotiate our grade. One by one, we would go up and have conversations about the letter we deserved on our report cards and the letter we earned in class. I had always earned an F, and I said I deserved a D. One time she said maybe I could have earned a C, but she felt like a D was better. So, I got straight Ds in Freshman English and was shocked when I went into Sophomore English and got much better grades.

Let’s dig deeper into this trauma with a story a few years out of high school. This teacher didn’t return when I was a junior. The rumors were that she was finally let go, while the smart kids said it was because she wanted to spend time with her children. In college, I heard that she was a special education teacher. Now, I know that she is currently an instructional coach. Anyways, a few years into college, I went to Starbucks with my sister. My sister stayed in the car while I ran in to grab the coffee. I was standing in line and looked up to see the back of a strangers head. I knew that I recognized the hair from somewhere, and while I was trying to figure out who it was. The person turned around, and it was none other than my Freshman English teacher. I literally fight-or-flighted it out of Starbucks. (Fight or flight is when your survival instincts kick in because you are in fear. The parts of your brain for rational thought and other things literally shuts down, and survival skills kick in. In a quick response, you either fight the danger or run from the threat.) I don’t remember leaving Starbucks. I do remember getting into the car and my sister asking why I didn’t have any coffee. As I explained that my Freshman English teacher was inside, my whole body was shaking, and my heart was racing. I couldn’t drive and had to let my sister drive us to the next Starbucks.

Today when I saw the tweet, a million emotions ran through me. I am now a 28-year-old teacher. This teacher humiliated me when I was 14. 14 years later, I still had an extreme emotional reaction. I broke down in tears several times while writing this. The lessons I learned from her about teaching are the silver lining in a very dark cloud. While I was so angered to hear that she is now teaching other teachers through an instructional coaching role, I hope she has changed. I read a few of her articles, and one was about the importance of apologizing to students. Hopefully, these are genuine articles, and she has grown as a teacher in the past 14 years.

6 Lessons Learned

  1. Being approachable to all students matters. That kind smile you use when you greet kids at the door or in the hallway matters. We can always choose kindness as teachers. Relationships matter. Having a positive attitude matters. Kids don’t learn from teachers they don’t like. Kids don’t learn from teachers they’re afraid of.
  2. Students in your class should be on an even playing field. There should be no favorites, and there should be no least favorites. I try hard within my classroom to make each student feel like the favorite student. Sometimes students just have a feeling that we don’t like them. When this happens, we need to reach out and solve it right away. All students should feel loved and cared for by their teacher.
  3. Students should feel smart. Growth mindset in classrooms matter! When students feel like they can, they can. Productive struggle needs to be honored and appreciated within the classroom. This is where relationships with students come in central again! When we build relationships, students feel ok to take risks, and when we take risks, we grow.
  4. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has those days! (Hannah Montana anyone?) When creating a growth mindset, errors need to be embraced and honored within the classroom. If the relationships between the students and teachers are there and the relationships peer to peer are in place, the classroom should feel like a safe place to take risks. Having a safe place to take risks is all students need to learn and grow.
  5. Games are fun, but, playing with students’ emotions and feelings is never acceptable. Sometimes I want to yell from the rooftops that teachers are role models within the classroom. Taking out emotions on students is never acceptable. Teachers need to create a consistent teacher life and live it out. I’m not saying teachers can’t have bad days or moments, but we need to own those. Ironically, my worst teacher ever has a whole article on her website about the importance of an apology. I wholeheartedly agree with her. When we mess up as teachers, owning our mistakes and apologizing is so essential.
  6. Grading should be something students understand and can grow from. I couldn’t improve when I was given a 50%, and sometimes she admittedly didn’t read my work because she “knew it was trash.” We must believe in every single student potential, and we must help them elevate their level of work to be the best they can be.

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. -Henry Adams

This is true whether the impact is positive or negative. I know that these memories will stay with me for a lifetime. I’m sure the negative experiences you’ve had as a student will remain with you, too. We have a responsibility to the students we teach. Our responsibility is to greet them every day with loving kindness. Our responsibility is to help them work their way through the mistakes they make, no matter how big or how small. Our responsibility is to help set them up for success in all areas of life. Our responsibility is to make them feel safe. Our responsibility is to teach every student, every day, not just some of them or some of the time. Teaching is a great responsibility, and it isn’t always easy. The kids we teach deserve the best teacher version of ourselves.

I’ve learned so many valuable lessons from this painful experience. What have you learned from the worst teacher you’ve ever had? How do these lessons stay with you in the classroom each and every day? I would love to hear from all of you!