Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Dear First Year Me

As I prepare to welcome my very first student teacher into my classroom, I am reflecting on my experience thus far as a teacher.  What I wouldn't give to have advice from the future.  Who's with me?  If you're a new teacher or getting ready to start your career, please know you're not alone in what you might be feeling and/or thinking.  We've all been there.  Here are the letters I would write to myself each year after graduation:

Dear 2011 Christina,

I know you're excited and anxious to begin your teaching career.  This is all you've ever wanted since you were a little girl.  You've just finished your student teaching and you think you're ready for what's to come.  I'm here to say there is NOTHING that can prepare you for this job.  Not a thing.  Not even this letter.  Grab a glass of wine.  Who am I kidding?  Grab a bottle.  You're going to need it.


Dear 2012 Christina,

You've survived your first year out of college.  How was that?  Being an adult is hard.  I know this job at the pre-school wasn't the gig you were hoping for.  Heck, it was the exact opposite of what you had dreamed of.  No teacher wants to work in a building where you aren't allowed to use your creativity and bring in new ideas.  Cookie-cutter projects are for the birds.  Don't give up.  Don't lose hope.  Better things are coming.


Dear 2013 Christina,

Ok, so you didn't get a full-time job.  I know it wasn't ideal.  Let's look at the positives.  You spent half of the year as a regular substitute in one building.  A nice building at that!  You made some wonderful friends.  You gained the trust of some great teachers.  It was pretty awesome getting hired for the second semester.  I know you appreciate the time and words of wisdom from the reading specialist there, but you don't even know how lucky you are yet to have had this experience with her. She will actually be the best reading specialist you will work with (as far as I know) and you'll realize just how much she taught you when you get your first real job.  I know you're frustrated that you didn't get the job you were offered.  Things in our school division really suck right now.  People are being sent back into the classroom and you're just out of luck here.  I want you to know that even though this sucks you WILL really appreciate this time.


Dear 2014 Christina,

What a year!  You started off as a long-term substitute with a great class, supportive administration, and helpful grade level.  Really.  It doesn't get much better than that.  Your wonderful principal helped you get a full-time job for the rest of the year.  God bless that man!  You think he's great now, but just wait.  He'll continue to be so important to you and your career.

You survived your first teaching job in Kindergarten.  I know this isn't where you're meant to be, but you did it.  It was a HELLUVA experience.  You found some sweet friends, but you didn't have much support.  Ok. You didn't have any support at all.  Your class was awful and I know you don't want to ever teach again.  [Yes, reader.  It was THAT bad.]  No decent administrator would ever put a first year teacher in the situation you were put in.  Your T.A. was your saving grace and you know you'll never be able to thank her enough for not quitting on you.  You arrived before school started and stayed WELL beyond your contractual time.  I know you're exhausted from leaving school at 9:00 with the janitors.  Showing up at 8:00 the next morning never got easier.  Once again, PLEASE know that it WILL get better.


Dear 2015 Christina,

Let's reflect.  Last year you survived (barely) your first year teaching.  After never wanting to teach again, you landed a job teaching 2nd grade in a MUCH better place.  That amazing principal you worked for last year helped you find a job... again.  I told you he'd be important later, but he's not done yet.  :)

You were blessed with kind administrators, a sweet class, and an AMAZING team.  The people you met here were amazing.  That's why leaving involuntarily is so heart-breaking.  I know you feel like you can't find a home.  I know you want SO BADLY to just get settled.  I know you feel like you just can't win.  Ugh.  Even from the future this is so sad to write because I remember how awful this time was.  You know you deserve to find your happy place and you're not ready to start over.  This is different from last year.  Last year you were beyond ready to find a new home.  It hurts even more knowing how much your sweet friends here want you to stay.  Would it make you feel better to know you don't lose touch with these amazing people?

You're getting ready to start teaching 3rd grade in a new school.  Moving grade levels again sucks, but it will be okay.  You really need to thank that sweet principal you worked for in 2014 because he has now helped you get 3 new teaching jobs.  He's a saint.


Fast forward to now, November 2016.

Since 2011 I have worked in 6 different schools, 1 private and 5 public.  I have taught Kindergarten, second, and third grades.  I have worked for 12 different administrators.  I have been dismissed, overlooked, and under appreciated.  I wasn't given a chance when that's all I needed to get started.  The Lord put some amazing people in my path that helped me along the way and I couldn't be more grateful.

Being a new teacher is hard.  Everyone knows this.  All you need is some guidance and experience, but some administrators aren't even willing to give you that.  I get it now.  It's hard to trust a new teacher when you're stressed about state testing scores and other ridiculous expectations today's education system has.  Don't lose your hope.  You WILL find a job.  It may not be perfect.  Heck, it may be absolutely dreadful.  If you're meant to teach, you will and you'll find happiness.  Don't count on perfection.

Reflecting on my first few years after college makes me feel so thankful for the journey.  It was not easy at all.  In fact, there were a lot of days that I just cried my eyes out and asked why I couldn't be given a chance.  However, I've been teaching for four years now in my division and I'm already receiving a student teacher.  I feel incredibly honored to be trusted with a future teacher and hope she learns something from me to help her feel ready to take on this crazy job.

"I love the person I've become, because I fought to become her." -Kaci Diane

Monday, July 25, 2016

Making a Meet the Teacher Movie

Blogging twice in one month?  I know.  It's shocking!  Summertime does wonders for me.

Social media is such a wonderful thing (when it's used properly).  I love connecting with teachers everywhere.  Sharing ideas and getting new ones for myself in an instant is amazing.  Yesterday I shared a picture on Instagram of my Meet the Teacher powerpoint that I turned into a movie so it could be set on replay since our school runs an informal Meet and Greet night. 
I had a few questions about how to make this or if I have a template in my TpT store.  No, I do not sell this template because the watercolor backgrounds are from Schoolgirl Style's Flamingo Watercolor collection.  However, I made a video to walk you through making one for yourself.  It's so easy!  I have a MacBook so I am using Keynote and iMovie.  The movie file was too large to include here so click the picture below to take you to the video on my Google Drive. :)
If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail (whalecometo2ndgrade@gmail.com) me or comment below. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Crate Seats

Hey y'all!

I posted this picture on Instagram and Facebook yesterday and had so much feedback and questions.
1. Where is the fabric from? 
2. How do you keep your crate seats clean? 
My kiddos always take really good care of these crate seats, but they do get a tad bit dusty and dirty throughout the year.  My solution?  RECOVER THEM EVERY YEAR! I like to see minor changes in my decor from year to year and this is a perfect way to do it. Small price to pay for a change that seems pretty big. I don't strip the old fabric off, I just add the new fabric on top.  This also adds extra padding every year. 
3. I'm making for the first time.  Do you have any suggestions?
Of course!  So the first year I made these I used thinner padding.  They weren't as comfortable as I would like, but my kids never complained.  This year I purchased 1" regular density foam (pictured below) from JoAnn's for $4.99 and added it on top of the old fabric.    
4. Why should I make crate seats?
Flexible seating + storage... BOOM! Need I say more?

I use a staple gun to attach the new fabric to the wood.  When I first started to make these 3 years ago I tried to use a regular crafting staple gun from Hobby Lobby.  This didn't cut it because the staples wouldn't go through the wood.  My husband got me this Arrow Fastener hand staple gun with heavy duty staples.  This works perfectly!  

Making these crate seats is SO EASY!  The nice men at Home Depot cut the wood at the size I needed for me since I don't have access to power tools. I even brought in a crate to show them and for us to test it out on.  Make sure to measure the inside of the crate where the wood will actually sit.   

How easy are these to put together once your wood is cut?  SO EASY!  I'm not making this up. I have posted a video below of me putting one together.  I tried to get a good video angle without the camera tipping over (ugh) and this is the best I could get so I apologize in advance. 

I hope this helps and answers some questions. Please contact me for any specific questions or further advice: whalecometo2ndgrade@gmail.com 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Does The Great Pencil Challenge Work?

If you follow me on Instagram you probably saw my post in December about how I'd be starting The Great Pencil Challenge with my class.

Every student was given a newly sharpened pencil with pink duct tape with their number written towards the top in Sharpie. That's how we can tell the pencil challenge pencils away from the regular "emergency" pencils. I always keep a small bucket of sharpened pencils handy in case their challenge pencil goes dull or the point breaks during the day because I don't ever run the pencil sharpener during the day. My sharpener is great but loud. It also becomes a distraction during the day that we don't need.

Once the pencil gets too small to sharpen I replace it with a new challenge pencil. As long as they don't lose the pencil, they remain in the challenge with a pink taped pencil.

So here's the question... DOES THE CHALLENGE WORK? YES! Friday was our 5th week of the challenge and 14/17 students still had their pencil! It's unreal, y'all. They're SO into it. I have one sweet thirdie who almost had a panic attack because he thought he lost his pencil. Bless his sweet heart.

Does anything happen to them if they lose their pencil? The sticky note with their name comes off the wall and they don't get a Pencil Challenge Dojo point (worth +2)... but that's it. No one is going to kill you if you don't have your pencil!

Why give The Great Pencil Challenge a try in your classroom? I was sick and tired of them leaving pencils on the floor and going through them like crazy! The only reason I have gone into my new pencil drawer since starting the challenge has been to get a new challenge pencil for a friend whose pencil has become too short to write with. I have saved SO MANY pencils already.

Still not convinced? This is a perfect opportunity to teach responsibility for items and see them take pride in something!

If all of this doesn't convince you to give it a try I don't know what will! How long will your kiddos last?

Make sure to follow me on Instagram to see how many survive week 6!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Year... Same Love of Organization

Happy New Year, y'all!  I can't believe it's 2016!  2015 was a pretty good year for me.
I spent my birthday with some amazing friends. 

In March, I got engaged.

In June my fiancĂ©, Anthony, and I went to Arkansas for his cousin's wedding.  He was reunited with his uncle who he hadn't seen in years.  Anthony's dad died in 2001 so seeing him with his uncle was so special.  

In July I said "YES" to my dress!
In November I visited one of my best friends in Auburn.
While in Auburn I was reunited with one of my sweet sorority sisters who I hadn't seen in 4 years!
And we closed out 2015 with some wonderful friends at one of our favorite spots.
As I look at these photos I am reminded of how blessed I am with such great friends and family.  I'm so excited for what 2016 will bring!  If we're being honest, I'm looking forward to July the most because I'm getting MARRIED! AHHH!

With the end of the holiday season comes back to school.  I don't know about you, but I'm not ready... AT ALL!  This break, although short, has been wonderfully relaxing and just what I needed.  Today I have spent time cleaning up my desktop and getting organized for the new year.  Adding a calendar to my desktop was my favorite organizational addition a few months ago.

Today I made all new calendars for the rest of the year!  Be prepared, y'all!  You can download my 2016 printable calendars in my TpT store today!  They're FREE until 7:09 to celebrate my wedding on July 9th. :) Click the picture below to take you to product link.

I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

How to Organize Your Literacy Rotations

The biggest thing I try to explain to a teacher who is asking me for help setting up their literacy rotations is that I didn't organize all of this over night.  I spent the last two years really figuring out how to organize everything in order to best suit my needs.  Everyone works differently, so PLEASE don't think that my organization system will necessarily work for you.  

My goal when I set up my classroom is to make everything my students will need on a daily basis easily accessible and easy for them to find.  I want them to become independent in the classroom so I can focus on my guided reading groups.  I make sure there are no reasons for any student to interrupt my group time because they don't know what to do.  The only reason a student should interrupt my group is in case of an emergency. 

1. Clear display of literacy rotations 
I like to use a pocket chart to display my literacy rotations.  It doesn't have to be a pocket chart as long as it stays on the wall all day.  I don't particularly like using my Promethean Board because I use it for another purpose.  My center cards have a visual aid for those students who need a visual support.  The Daily 5 banner was made with my Editable Banner Template in my TpT store. 
I move my Nemo clip as we move to each rotation.  This is so students can easily check to make sure they know what they're doing.  Sometimes I have a student who has been in the library for one rotation and returns once we have started the next.  This student can look at where Nemo is on the chart and quickly find their place. 
To the left of the pocket chart is a clip chart.  I have two classes.  My morning class is on the left and my afternoon class is on the right.  I use the clips to show students which group they're in.  This makes moving students from group to group easier.

2. Group materials organization
This 6-drawer plastic organizer is directly next to my small group table.  I have the materials I will need for each group stored in the proper drawer.  In each drawer is a folder to separate the materials for each class' group.  I put the books, plans, and organizers (if applicable for that day) in the folder.
The two larger drawers at the bottom are for other materials.  The first one has extra copies of organizers for me to quickly grab if I need them.  The bottom drawer has plastic covers with Jan Richardson inspired word analogy charts for word study.  When I taught Kindergarten I had alphabet charts and letter tracing sheets in them.
On the top of my rolly cart is my timer.  I have a color countdown timer that shows green for more than 10 minutes, yellow for less than 10 minutes, and red for 1 minute.
On the floor in front of my organizer I have extra book boxes.  When I take a trip to our Guided Reading Library I always grab at least one extra book set for each group so I am not constantly searching for books in the book room.  I keep leveled texts for each group in these book boxes.
I have a limited amount of slates in my classroom so I like to use the Wall Pops on my kidney table.  They also add a bright color pop, which I clearly love!  I use these for my students to practice writing a few of our weekly spelling words before we start our reading.

In front of each student's Wall Pop is a pencil basket with needed materials.  Each basket has an Expo marker, felt square for a dry erase eraser, crayons (for Luckeyfrog's Text Detective activities which we LOVE), and a pencil.  Since taking this picture I have wrapped all of my small group pencils in purple duct tape so they know it belongs to the guided reading table.  As soon as they accidentally walk away from the table with my pencil they rush back to return it.  If one is dropped to the floor they know where to return it.  I have stopped having to replace these pencils. #teacherwin

3. Word Work
Each week students have a new spelling word list.  Usually our word work consists of a spelling word activity.  However, when we're working on a particular grammar skill I do switch it up with a grammar activity.  For example, for the last few weeks we have been reviewing plural nouns so students may have a plural nouns activity for word work.  I always keep the word work basket in the same place so students know where to go.  I love these baskets from Really Good Stuff!  They're bright and easy to find.  If I write on the board "Word Work: Plural nouns activity in the yellow basket" they know where to go.

4. Work on Writing- Process Piece
This is our writing board.  Students independently move their clip down the chart when we're working on a process piece.  This makes it really easy for me to see who is getting close to being ready to meet with me or who is taking too long in one area and needs me to check in on them.  You can find this Writing Process Clip Chart in my TpT store.  I also have a chalkboard + chevron version.  
Notice the poster on the left for revising (green) and editing (red).  This is color-coded for a reason.  (Please see explanation below the picture with pens and highlighters)
Right below my writing board is a plastic drawer organizer. On top are our revising and editing tools: highlighters, green pens, red pens, and a few booklets for students to reference.  The highlighters are for students to find "boring" words in their writing that they may be able to find a synonym for in a thesaurus.  Green pens are for revising and red pens are for editing.

5. Displaying directions
I always have my directions for Work on Writing and Word Work displayed on the Promethean Board throughout my literacy rotations.  I keep the directions short and sweet for students to refer to.  If directions are posted there are no excuses for students to interrupt my small group with questions about what they should be doing. 

6. Keeping track of turned in work
Students turn in their completed Word Work into this bin.  Only teaching language arts is amazing because I have less papers to check every week.  This bin is a LIFESAVER!  All of a student's turned in work is in one place.  I can quickly check the bin every afternoon to see who I'm missing word work from as I complete my check list (compliments of Ladybugs Teacher Files).  Our school requires a Thursday communication folder.  Each week I am able to grab each students' work straight out of the completed work bin, check it, and stick it in their Thursday folder. 

I hope you found this helpful!  Please feel free to leave a comment or question below. :)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Spelling App

Hey y'all!

I wanted to share my new favorite app with you.  I'm always looking for something to make any aspect of my instructional day easier.  Honestly... I can only get but so much done.  Ya with me?

Every Monday we give a spelling pre-test and then a post-test on Friday.  Easy enough, right?  Well if your room is anything like mine, students come in late, students are pulled out for PALS or other services, etc.  This is all fine and dandy, but when am I supposed to find extra time to do it again with these students? Sometimes one comes in and the next goes out.  That's two different students I need to make it up with now.  AH!  It occurred to me that with all of the technology we have there must be SOMETHING out there to help me no longer lose my mind. Well, I was right. If you don't know about A+ Spelling Test you're missing out!
You can type in your spelling list and voice recording for each word.  There are two practice features you can utilize.  I have not used these features yet, but like the idea of them.  Students can practice typing out the words.  This feature shows them the correct amount of letters with blanks.
Students can also unscramble the words.  If they need the word repeated all they have to do it press the microphone button. 
Lastly, here is the test feature, a.k.a. My Time Saver.  Words are read to the student so you don't have to sit one-on-one and call them out.  They type out the word.  It provides instant feedback to the student after they hit NEXT if it was incorrect by showing them the correct spelling.  At the end it will show a report.  I can see if the student missed any words and if they did how they spelled it.  I can't tell you enough how much I love this app. Did I mention there is a free version?  Yup!  That's the version I am currently using.  
Do you use this app?  Look into it if you do spelling assessments and have the same issues I do.