Wednesday, September 21, 2011


There's an article in GothamSchools today about how teachers plan to use iPads in their classrooms. I too have a DOE iPad, purchased by my school during last year's "the DOE is not going to let schools carry over their extra funding" spending spree. I honestly didn't see a use for it at first and wasn't sure how I would put it to use in the classroom. But I'm a big believer in making an effort to use all the resources provided to me -- especially ones as coveted and as expensive as the iPad -- so I started to build a library of apps that slowly but surely are making my teaching more effective. There is an app called Confer that is designed for the workshop model. For each subject, I can group my students by level or arrange them into groups of my choosing (in writing, for example, whenever I do a small group for a certain strategy, I rearrange the groups in the app). Each time I meet with a student, I can list the "tag," "strength," "teaching point" and "next steps" of our conference. The best part is that the app saves everything I enter so that I can enter it again if I find myself, say, using the same teaching point over with another student. It's also really nice for small groups so I don't have to put in the same information on four different sets of conference notes. Also, I can list my students by date, so I can see who I haven't conferences with in a while. This year I even started doing my running records on the iPad, which has taken some getting used to but which is cutting down tremendously on the amount of paper and ink I use. I open the running records from the TC website in an app called iAnnotate, which allows me to type directly into the PDF file. I use an app called TeacherPal to keep track of attendance and grades; it also has features for tracking behavior and personal information (for example, I have my students' parents' e-mail addresses in there and I can quickly send an e-mail to my class list from it). Lastly, I always have this problem where I type up my plans, print them out and then promptly misplace them before a lesson. Now I just load everything into Google Documents or Dropbox and then they're always available when I need them. I don't think I'd go out and buy an iPad if it hadn't been provided for me, but I'm lucky to have one and I'm looking forward to figuring out other ways I can make it work for me!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rocking and rolling

One full week (plus two days) of school is in the can!  As Emeril Lagasse would say back in the '90s, "BAM!"

My students for the most part seem bright, personable, and eager to learn.  As an extraordinary bonus, there are only 21 of them (for now) -- by far the smallest class I have ever had.  Every time we line up to go someplace I experience a brief moment of panic where I think, "Where are the rest of them?!" until I realize that I do in fact have my entire class in front of me. 

I have been frank about how nervous I was starting off this school year.  I was brutally honest with myself in admitting that last year my co-teacher and I both made a lot of mistakes in the first few weeks of school that set the tone for the rest of the school year, errors that I obviously didn't want to repeat.  At my former school, first period was first period: we gave our classes about ten seconds to unpack and then it was on to the academics of the day.  My current school is more progressive in terms of the expectation that you conduct a "morning meeting" and build your classroom community, and one of the things I really wanted to nail in the first week of school was a sense of routine at the beginning and the end of the day.  As part of our morning meeting, we're checking the weather and doing a brief math activity, and we've been able to jump into shared reading right from morning meeting every day, so that has been a success. 

Another area where I can declare "so far, so good" is behavior management.  My behavior chart looks like this one (only my students have numbers on our chart so it's not instantly like, "Look at Julio always on red again"), and I built in an escape clause for those students who turn their behavior around.  At the end of the day, they use crayons to color in the day's square on the calendar; a week of greens earns a reward.   I'm trying (and this is going to make me sound like Mean Teacher again) not to be too soft, or at least not to set consequences where I don't follow through (...actually, I guess that's not really the same thing).  Our first consequence is a "friendly reminder," so instead of issuing a warning/threat like, "If this continues I will ask you to move your card," I just ask them to move their cards.  More often than not the offending behavior stops and the student is back on green by the end of the day. 

There are some teachers who warn you not to smile until December, and there are other teachers who will tell you that's baloney and you should be yourself from the beginning.  I have to confess, after my students last year openly worried about how I would fare in a classroom "by myself" because they insisted I was "too nice" (I felt like an evil dragon lady from hell, but apparently my co-teacher was the "strict one"), I'm in the first camp.  That doesn't mean I don't say funny things to my students or that I'm mean to them or that I'm unsympathetic when someone is hurt or sick or needs to use the restroom; it doesn't even mean I'm not nice.  But in the past I've let far too many behavioral issues turn into negotiations or power struggles.  As a recent article put it (I can't remember where I read this): "You're the only adult in the room. You've already won."  So I'm trying to be gentle in my reminders but firm in my expectations. And so far, knock wood, I haven't raised my voice or felt my blood pressure shooting through the roof. 

I'm not sure whether I've gotten more efficient at planning or whether it's the good fortune of having a relatively low-key class (again, so far! knock wood!), or more likely a combination of both, but during the first week of school I accomplished pretty much everything I set out to accomplish, which is both rare and awesome.  I'm fortunate enough to have tons of technology available to me (I have a SMART Board, a document camera and an iPad), which has also made the beginning of the year much smoother; no more hours spent writing up mock drafts on huge chart paper, now I can just model with the document camera.  I'm even able to do running records on the iPad, which cuts down tremendously on paper and printer ink...and considering that my toner is already low and the cartridge costs an astounding $400, is amazing.

I swore I was going to be better about blogging regularly and more thematically this year and this post is pretty much a mess, but there you have it: We all survived the first week of school.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Just trying to test out this mobile blogging app...

(1) First official day back for staff is tomorrow...good luck NYC teachers!

(2) Through Wednesday, Staples is selling packs of 8 pencils and packs of 8 erasers for one cent each. (Yes, that's one penny each.) The limit is 2 per customer, but if you show your teacher rewards card, you can buy up to 25. So that's 200 pencils for 25 cents. I'm going to try to go back tomorrow and Wednesday if I can!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Dear Me

 A few weeks ago, another NYC teacher blogger, Mr. Foteah, wrote a letter to himself on the eve of his first year teaching.  (I hope he doesn't mind me co-opting this topic here.)  I enjoy reading Mr. Foteah's blog because it's so earnest.  He comes across as incredibly passionate and dedicated, which makes me feel bad about my unkind thoughts toward the profession.  Like this one: After I read Mr. Foteah's heartfelt letter to himself, I asked myself what I would have said to myself on the eve of my first year teaching.  And as I told Mr. Brave, my letter could have been written in a single word: "Run."

Teaching will make you crazy, I would have told myself.  Some nights you will come home so exhausted that you will eat Cheez Doodles for dinner and pass out on the couch by 8:00.  You will find yourself hiding in your classroom with the lights off, alternately crying and blotching the redness out of your eyes so no one will notice you have been crying.  You will feel anger directed at copy machines, hole punchers, staplers and staple removers.  You will be called a "stuck-up bitch" by an eight-year-old.  You will want to quit.

...which is why, four years later, I'm glad I never wrote such a letter.  I've lived through a great deal of the teaching horrors I feared, and I survived. Even more miraculously, I stayed.  Because I think I can do better.  I refuse to be a cliche and tell you that it was all worth it when Michael learned to read or when Meredith thanked me for being the best teacher ever.  Of course teaching has its magical moments; I've even written about some of them in this blog.  But I would have wanted myself on the eve of my first year teaching to be clear on this: Teaching is not a movie, and being a teacher means so much more than teaching.  On any given day, you may have to carry forty notebooks up six flights of stairs (manual laborer), mediate an argument between two seven-year-olds (marriage counselor), decide on a just punishment for misbehavior (judge), console a distraught parent who can't control her child (social worker), copy two stacks of handouts (secretary), bag a lost tooth (dentist), fix a broken zipper (MacGyver),...and the list goes on.  No one teaches you those things in college when you're learning about Piaget. 

Now, I wouldn't want Mr. Foteah (or you!) to think that I'm getting all bitter and jaded, so on the eve of my fifth year teaching, I issue myself this challenge: Find the good in every day.  Last year I ended too many days feeling frustrated -- with my students, with my co-teacher, with myself -- and began too few days feeling refreshed and ready to start anew.  I once read an anecdote about all these teachers in the faculty room comparing classroom horror stories, and another teacher comes along and says, "It happened to [the kids], not to you."  Last year I too often felt selfish: What a bad day I've had, instead of realizing the kids had lived it too and it was up to me to change it for the better.  I've already set all sorts of teaching goals for myself this year: Conduct targeted small group strategy lessons in reading and writing at least three days a week, squeeze in read aloud every single day, do an end-of-the-day wrap-up meeting as often as possible, make better use of my vocabulary word wall.  Now my personal goal is to dwell on the good instead of the bad, to do my best to do better. 

There are 185 days in the school year.  That's 185 things I can teach, 185 good things that can happen for my class, 185 times we can all think, "I'm glad Miss Brave is my teacher."  Let's make it happen!