In the Trenches

Thoughts and Ideas from a Classroom Teacher

First Days of School

Teacher workdays start in two weeks, and I am counting down the days. I am one of those people who is ready for school to start just a few days after we finish up for the year. I can’t help it! Over the summer, my family and i moved to the Greensboro area, so I’ve taken a few weeks off from the blog in order to get re-settled. As I see that isn’t happening any time soon, I figured it was as good of a time as any to get started again. Over the next days and weeks, I will spend some time blogging about the things I do to get ready for a new year and activities for the first days of school.

The first thing I do every summer is stock up on school supplies. I try not to spend a ton, but there are things that I just can’t resist. This year I’ve taken advantage of Walmart’s price matching, and I’m loving not having to run all over the place for the best deals. Here’s a brief run down of the things that I always get to start the year…

1. 3 prong, 2 pocket folders (about 100) – at $.01 each from Office Depot, I can’t complain!

2. 1 subject spiral notebooks (about 50) – I can usually find these for under $0.10 each at some point.

3. Elmer’s glue sticks (about 24) – you can get the cheap ones all year at Dollar Tree, but for craft projects, you can’t beat Elmer’s for $0.25 or less.

4. Pencils (oodles) – I hate mechanical pencils, so I make sure that I have plenty in the classroom.

5. Highlighters (20-30) – these are something else that is worth stocking up on when you can get the high quality ones for a low price. They don’t bleed through and last a long time.

6. Crayola crayons (15) – at $0.25 or so, they are worth the money for the quality. I always make sure to stock up on some Crayola ones because they are the brand that includes white crayons. We don’t use them much, but when we need them, they are impossible to find for a decent price!

7. White address labels (2-3 packs) – I can usually find these at Dollar Tree and stock up whenever they are there. They can be used for everything! I start by making a name label for each student and printing 5 of them. They are awesome and so convenient!

Truthfully, for under $30, I can make sure that my students have a lot of the things that we need for various learning projects throughout the year. I try to get things that are multi-functional and can be used as needs evolve. Obviously, I ask my students and their parents to help us out by sending in a lot of these materials, but I will never let a student go without something that he/she needs. It’s much less of an issue if I can just grab the item from my cabinet and let them “pay me back” when (and if) they can so that I can do the organizing that I want on day one!

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Before You Speak

I am pretty sure that this sign will be hanging in my classroom next year! I may modify it slightly to say “Before You Speak or Act” but I love the sentiment!  You can click on the picture for a printable version from the Sweet Blessings blog.


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So Stinkin’ Excited

Last night, I had a total “geek out” moment when I discovered this site on Pinterest. It’s Classroom Organizer! The title is obviously fabulous in and of itself, but Classroom Organizer tackles a part of my classroom that I’ve been struggling with for years… my classroom library. Over the past 13 years, I have sought out every yard sale, Scholastic clearance, used book store, Friends of the Library sale, and clearance rack that I could find. I choose not to reflect on the amount of money I’ve spent on these books, but I also can’t put a value on them either. Having a huge collection of books for students is essential, in my opinion. But, I digress. Classroom Organizer is a web-based application, with Android and iDevice apps, that tracks your classroom library books and has a check out system built in for the students. The smartphone app scans books by ISBN (or you can import a csv file if you are already super awesome like that) and imports it automatically. I have some more playing to do with this site/app, but it looks more promising than others that I’ve seen. I love the fact that it offers reports on student books, the fact that students can enter reviews, etc. If you’ve tried it out, please share your thoughts. If you haven’t tried it, will you?

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Parent Communication

I am a firm believer in positive parent communication. I try to send good news to all of my parents throughout the year. But, I admit it, I am terrible about making phone calls. Something always happens and I forget, or it’s too late, or I’ve left the phone numbers at home. I finally developed a solution.

Have you ever gotten a stack of “A Note From Your Teacher” postcards that you really meant to use? Here’s your chance. At the start of a new quarter or Mailboxsemester, I get a postcard for each of my students. I address and stamp them and put them on my desk. Throughout the nine weeks, as the student does something “note-worthy” all I have to do is write the quick message and then drop the postcard in the school mailbox. A few days after I send a note, my student always comes in and mentions how they got the postcard. I’ve learned over time that it isn’t what you write or the event that you choose to reference. It is the fact that you send the note.  By addressing them all ahead of time, I don’ t lose track of who I’ve sent the notes too, and I don’t worry about leaving someone out. By keeping them on my desk, they are also another reminder to keep myself always looking for the best in my students! And, if you are bit geeky like me, I love making my own postcards too.

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Quick Tips for When You Just Need a Minute

Today in the lunchroom, I shared one of my favorite behavior management techniques with some of my colleagues, and my friend Jessica said that I should post them to my blog tonight. How could I say no to that?!

1. The “Going to the Bathroom When You Can’t Trust Your Students for Three Minutes” Technique: When I was pregnant with the twins, I had the use the bathroom frequently. In one particular class, I knew that there were one or two students who I just couldn’t leave alone – not even for a minute. At this time, I perfected the “You Go So I Can Go” Technique. When I could feel a bathroom break coming on, I did a quick scan for the “instigator of the day.” That person was sent on a quick errand. Sometimes it was just sending a note to a colleague on the other side of the building. Having one person out of the room often sets the mood in a better place. Just make sure the errand you are sending them on will take long enough for you to actually get to the bathroom and back again!

2. The “It’s Not You, It’s Me” Technique: Sometimes, you need a break from a student. You are reaching that point where you know you are going to lose it. When that feeling comes on, send that student on a mission. Often, you just need a minute to re-group and that child needs a change of reference. Besides, all the kids know is that teachers only send the “good” kids on errands. This is how this might go.

Me: “Oh. Beth, I almost forgot. Mr. Jones said he’d like to see you this morning for just a minute.”

Beth: “Ok.” She leaves.

Me picking up phone and dialing rapidly: “Mr. Jones. This is Mrs. Hines. I just sent Beth to you. Will you tell her what a great job you heard she did on her math project last week? Keep her for a few minutes before sending him back. I owe you. Thanks.”

10 minutes pass as I just breathe for a few minutes.

Me: “Oh, Beth. I’m glad your back. Is everything OK?”

Beth with a smile: “Yes. Mr. Jones told me what a great job I did.”

Me: “Awesome. Well, we are on page 35. Your neighbor will show you.”


3. The “Area 51” Technique: This is for emergencies only. It requires only a  cooperating buddy teacher or staff member, preferably as far away from your classroom as you can find. It can be used as a substitute for techniques one and two when more detailed plans can’t be made. It should not be over-used. It is especially useful when you see an issue escalating between two students and you know they need a time out. When you see that a child needs a bit of a break from the class, send them to your buddy teacher and have them say, “Mrs. Hines needs the key to Area 51. Do you have it?” This is the important part. Your buddy should them spend a convincing amount of time rifling through drawers, looking in pockets, sorting through purses, etc. After a few minutes, she can send your child back with the bad news that she wasn’t able to find the key. Of course, you will act highly disappointed but thank the student for his time to go ask. Again, you’ve had the time to regroup.


5 Killer Classroom Management Tips?

This morning, a member of my Twitter PLN shared a link to an article titled “5 Killer Classroom Management Tips.” Of course, I wanted to check it out. As a mentor to new teachers and a cooperating teacher for university students, I am always on the lookout for tips to help with this most difficult part of teaching. Immediately after reading it, I was struck the wrong way. I re-tweeted the article, asking my PLN if they agreed with the tips. Only one person responded, but it sat on my brain all day. I decided to make this the focus on today’s “In the Trenches” because I think some of these “killer” tips would be more effective in actually killing your classroom management. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t entirely disagree with the points mentioned here, but I need to explain more. I also include 5 of my own tips for classroom management.

Tip One: Post Classroom Rules

Well, sure, it is important for students to know what you expect, but that’s what they are… expectations. Our school has a Sacred Path that all staff and students are expected to follow. Our expectations are:

1. Be responsible.

2. Be respectful.

3. Be truthful.

4. Be caring.

These are the “rules” in my class, but I’m not sure that they come across in the way shared in this article. Before my current school, my classroom rule was a question.

Does your behavior help others to learn and me to teach?

Tip Two: Set Up a Discipline Policy

This is the one that burned me and is a huge pet peeve. The warnings that they outline here are the norm, but when the author recommends sending warning slips to the administration, I was shocked. In my experience, the number one thing that teachers need to do is maintain the authority in their own classrooms. I do not send students to the office for disciplinary issues other than the “non-negotiables” (fighting, extreme bullying, etc.) Failure to bring your homework or a pencil or excessive chatting in class is not a discipline issue. These are management. It is important to differentiate between the two. Involving the student and parents in classroom discipline and management are essential. When you hand over trivial issues, like lack of a pencil, to a building administrator, you lose your credibility and authority with your student. Frankly, I think my students would rather be sent to the office sometimes. They know I will be tougher on them because I know their strengths and abilities and won’t accept excuses.

Tip Three: Teach Students to be Active and Engaged

There are many things here that I agree with, but the emphasis needs to be on the teacher. We must plan lessons that are active and engaging. We can’t just expect students to know how engage themselves. If we plan lessons that are inherently gripping for our students, we won’t need to coax them into correct behaviors. They will already be along for the ride.

Tip Four: Be a Presence in the Classroom

It is true that we need to create an inviting and engaging learning environment for our students, but the greatest way to do this is how you treat your students. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your bulletin boards are or how neat your posters are hung if your students don’t feel welcome, safe and appropriately secure. Being a presence in the classroom requires being a positive presence in your students’ lives.

Tip Five: Use “I Messages”

I have some reservations about this one as well. My classroom management isn’t about “me.” It’s about ensuring learning in my classroom. Behind every contrary classroom behavior, there is an underlying issue, and that issue is not about me. Understanding and improving student behavior is about the student. Until students realize that they are valued and prioritized, they won’t really care about the “I.”

If I were to write 5 tips for classroom management, they would be…

1. Know your students.

What gets your students excited about learning? What makes them want to come to school? Who is in charge of watching her baby brother every night

when her mom goes to work? Who will work his rear end off for the football coach and knows every player and all his stats? This information is priceless.

2. Set clear and appropriate expectations.

Know what you need in order to create a safe and orderly learning environment, with the focus on the abilities of you to teach and others to learn.

3. Choose your battles.

If Jessica has not had a pencil for the last 76 days of school, is it reasonable to expect her to have one tomorrow? It takes less effort for you to hand Jessica a pencil and move on than it does to berate her for missing it again. Should Arnold sit out of recess again for not having his homework? Did he mention that he’s home alone every night? Think about this question: Does this behavior keep me from teaching? Does it keep the child or others from learning? If not, is it a battle worth fighting? Are you spending valuable instructional time dealing with these issues when you could be teaching?
4. Respect your students.Don’t ask your students to show you respect when you don’ t show it to them. Period.

5. Plan excellent learning experiences.

Planning engaging lessons that meet students where they are and appropriately challenge them will negate any classroom management plan. You won’t need it.