Write Real Wednesday

I don’t know yet if this will become a regular fixture on the blog, but I have something that I want to get off my chest so today has officially been dubbed “Write Real Wednesday”.

Because of the nature of my work (teaching), I don’t often express my opinions on the internet, and if I do, it’s always in a carefully guarded fashion. I suspect that this phenomenon extends past the teaching profession into many other positions, but the fact that anything seen as questionable ethically or morally (as seen by my superiors, not necessarily by the mainstream) can cause me to lose my job or my license makes me tread cautiously. This can be as simple as speaking out against major issues in education or showing activism as a nontenured teacher, and this is why I have always been a member of the union (although I don’t agree with the actions of the NEA at times). It’s also why I’ve contemplated writing an anonymous blog on many occasions, not to write specifics about my school or position, but to write about issues and release some creative energy without fear of vindication.

A friend posted an article about tenured faculty discouraging people from going to graduate school and a discussion ensued about paying to go to grad school and other issues, which leads me to my issue – graduate school for teachers. I’ve been in graduate school twice now for teaching, and despite all the “research”, I can tell you that it’s generally not worth it.

My state, like almost every other state, requires a master’s degree within so many years of teaching experience in order to renew a teaching license. It also offers no financial incentive to do so, and requires you to (mostly) attend schools within the state with sub-par programs just to funnel tons of money back into the state. Now, I’m not debating that high-quality programs don’t help make people better teachers; it’s just thatin the real-world (to borrow a horrendously-overused education cliché) most of these programs are crap.

I had the extreme fortune of an excellent undergraduate preparation in education so naturally, I have high standards. If anything, I wasn’t prepared for the low standards of administrators, parents, and students upon exiting the Bubble, but otherwise I felt completely prepared to tackle anything thrown my way including a complex understanding of how education theorists actually impacted classroom life.

Graduate school was decidedly different, however.

My first experience was at the local state university. I began taking graduate classes immediately to satisfy my licensing requirement and to avoid repayment on my undergraduate loans. At the time, there wasn’t a boom of online classes within the state so I was stuck with one option. I literally learned NOTHING from any of my education classes — everything was a repeat of undergraduate curriculum. One shining point, though, was the ability to take a few graduate French classes (that counted for nothing in regards to the degree) thanks to an amazing French professor friend of mine, which helped make up for the year when my last two classes weren’t offered for two semesters and I had to fill time, and did enhance my content knowledge and reading abilities in French. Forty-two credit hours cost me over $30,000 and a bunch of time that I can never get back. Did I mention that my before tax $2000 pay raise won’t even cover the principle amount of my loans unless I go into 20 year extended repayment? It was literally an expensive piece of paper that won’t provide a return for at least two decades – not a smart investment.

My second experience isn’t quite as bad, but it’s more a matter of politics that make it so discouraging. Because I’m adding on an additional area of certification, the state is requiring me to take a whole other graduate degree. Why is this a big deal? Because it’s a Master of Arts in Teaching, or the graduate teaching degree for people who don’t have any education training or experience. Yes, despite having TWO degrees in education, I am retaking all of my education classes just to teach elementary school when I should just take methods classes and complete a practicum. I chose to go to a different university, one that is within the state but offers the program online (and, surprisingly, does online classes fairly well) so my price tag is lower – around $15,000 for thirty-nine credit hours – and I will get another before tax $2000 raise, which I can actually pay off in 10 years time. But I’m wasting a huge amount of time with this program because I’ve already proved – TWICE – that I know this stuff. Heck, I got a 196 out of 200 possible points on my theory exam during undergrad and yet I have to jump through this hoop just to have very little enhancement to my knowledge and teaching skills.

Why do we insist on forcing our teachers to carry the burden of these debts when they do little-to-no good for the teachers and even less for the students? Why do we push them through programs that don’t even follow the best practice principles they tout and instead offer busywork and other crap? In fact, I would argue that these degrees actually hurt students because they take valuable prep and grading time away from teachers, forcing them to choose between completing meaningless grad school homework or preparing an awesome inquiry-based lesson. And really, when you are paying so much, which one are you going to choose? Better mentoring of beginning teachers for the first few years would be a much better use of time. Until they choose to fix the entire education system, especially graduate education for teachers, these degrees are little more than a guaranteed budget-padder in the form of exorbitant tuition and shiny “gold star” from NCLB for the states that takes away from the potential student gains we could see.

Freebie: Class Pet Printables Kit!

UPDATE: I had taken this off TPT and my Google Drive because the download statistics were so low, but I’ve gotten a lot of requests recently, so here’s a FREE TPT listing!

Looking around at resources for having a class “pet” of the stuffed variety, I realized that there weren’t many things available. Thankfully, I’ve been introduced more thoroughly to strategies from my amazing cooperating teacher, but I wanted to use some printables to make my life a little easier and require less policing on my part of a journal. Filling the void, I made these awesome printables that are free for you to download! Click on the LINK ABOVE to get a zip folder containing both Word and PDF documents (yes, I’m giving you editable documents!) of this awesome kit. Enjoy!


Classroom Management Cheat Sheet

As a new teacher, classroom management was always the hardest thing for me. Switching to elementary school, I find that classroom management is actually easier but there are so many little tricks that sometimes it’s hard to remember them all! That’s why, in preparation for next year, I created this awesome Classroom Management Cheat Sheet. Click on the image to download a PDF file. Sorry that some of the titles are weird – I’m going to do a fairy tale theme in my classroom 🙂

Organizing Your Classroom Library (& More!)

These quick tips are not mine, but the amazing handiwork of my current cooperating teacher (who doesn’t have a blog). I never thought as an experienced teacher that some of the most valuable classroom management tools I’d pick up in my second “student teaching” experience  would be organization-related. I’m usually the person that people ask for organization tips, haha. But, Jessica has such amazing ideas that are so simple, I had to share them.

First up are the genius classroom library printable labels. Jessica uses labels for a variety of purposes in the classroom and keeps lots of them handy at all times. She even prints a sheet full with each kid’s name at the beginning of the year so as they get things such as folders, workbooks, class visitors, etc. she can just pull out a label with the kid’s name pre-printed and ready to go. I’ve also used labels myself in her classroom for having groups ready to go for a lesson. Just hand out the labels and the kids sort themselves!

These labels are awesome, and I had to create my own. I use these Avery 5160 labels from Sam’s because they are cheap and don’t have all that extra label stuff around the outsides of the labels (and you get 100 sheets so they’ll last forever!).

We have two sets – AR and Non-AR. This allows us (and by us, I mean she does this and I’m totally copying it for my own classroom) to organize books by levels easily in separate baskets and keep things running efficiently. It means that the students, who actively know their reading levels, even as they change throughout the year, can pick books that are appropriate and a bit of a stretch without being too easy or way out of their league.

Isn’t this just so smart? To make things even more amazing, Jessica’s added a “librarian” job to her classroom, where each student has a page in a notebook so that they can check books in and out with the librarian during silent reading time each day. This not only helps keep track of where the books are, but also becomes a powerful tool for parent conferences or even RtI. As a teacher, you can look at exactly the books a student is checking out, how often, what levels, and what their comprehension testing results are. Can you say ahhhhhmaaazzzzzzinggggggggg?

Next up on the I-can’t-believe-I’m-so-lucky-to-have-Jessica-as-a-mentor list is a method of organizing your kids. Yes, it’s by number and yes, there are some who believe that assigning students a number can be detrimental to the students. I assure you — I’ve seen it in action, and when it’s done correctly, it really helps in the classroom. For example, line leaders and door holders and just rotated by numbers instead of choosing different students each week. Students are always in numerical order starting with that week’s number, which means there is no fighting (EVER – I’ve been with the same class for four months, so I can say this for sure) about who is going to be line leader or who gets to stand by who in line. Talk about eliminating a huge problem from classroom management!

The other benefit is arranging everything – coat hangers, mailboxes, textbooks – by number. If students have missing work, just write the numbers up instead of names (saves time and protects anonymity when others are in the room). If there is an emergency or even just a fire drill, students can line up in number order and be easily detected if missing. To take this a step further, keeping your classroom binder in number order really helps. Jessica keeps a copy of important documents, parent contact logs, and anything else in this binder (assessment and RtI information are kept in a separate binder). She even keeps pocket tabs for those odds and ends that can’t be hole punched and added normally. Being able to grab all of this important information, organized easily, at a moment’s notice could be extremely important in the case of, oh, say, a tornado? (Yes, that actually happened earlier this year.) It’s so simple but seriously one of the best organizational tools I’ve seen in action.

What kind of awesome tips do you have for the classroom? I’m sure I’ll think of more as I get back into the classroom, but if you have ideas or want to do a guest post, please share!