Teacher Tip #6

It’s just a test.

It seems that the end of February we start entering a delightfully misunderstood and stressful season: testing season.

There’s quarter tests and WIDA about this time of year. These are followed by state-standardized tests, which are then followed by the next set of quarter tests.

These state-standardized tests and quarter tests, if you’re in secondary, may overlap with PSATs, and special subject exams (think AP). There’s also, of course, every other normal test sprinkled in between all of these *big* *important* tests.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in elementary or secondary, there’s this near two-month testing window rapidly approaching and I’m here to remind you: It’s just a test.

I have fallen victim to the stress and I passed it onto my kids. Don’t do that. They’re already stressed, they already know that these things are a big deal. So, I implore you–remind them: It’s just a test.

  • It’s one day out of 180 this year.
  • It’s one day out of however many they have accumulated over the years.
  • None of these tests are measuring their kindness, their dedication, their hard work, their perseverance, or any number of far more important qualities and traits they possess as human beings.
  • Tests can be taken again.
  • Tests are singular snapshots; they do not measure every aspect of learning and growth.
  • Tests are subject to human and technological error.
  • Tests are like every other assignment–there will be multiple opportunities to show just how much they have learned; today, and this test, are not the only opportunity to demonstrate learning and growth.

Tests–state tests, district tests, exit exams–are important, but they’re not the most important determinant, measure, or indicator of educational excellence. Remember that, and remind your students of that.



Monthly Advice–February

Don’t eat too much candy.

February is a short month, but it has two massive candy-inducing possibilities: Valentine’s Day and the 100th Day of School.

So, just a reminder: take it easy on the candy.

I know the level of stress right now, I know some of that candy is delicious, and I know that the days are long. However, cold & flu season is coming to end, New Year’s resolutions are hopefully still at play, and eating well is paramount to your health.

Therefore, I urge you to put some candy aside for friends, family, or the teachers’ lounge. It’s okay to have some, just don’t have it all–trust me, a few makes for a sugar rush, but too many makes for a stomach ache–a stomach ache at work? Nobody wants that.

So take all that candy, and pick out a few, and giveaway the rest, you’ll be happy in the end, I promise . . .

Teacher Tip #5

Beautiful classrooms can be expensive. I’m here to tell you:

Quit breaking the bank.

Don’t spend money on making things pretty.

There’s definitely pressure in the elementary world to have cute, imaginative, vibrant classrooms. I understand it. Kids are cute, so we want their learning environment to mirror their cuteness. Nevertheless, I’m here to let you know, there’s no pressure to spend money on making things cute, or pretty, or fancy.


Well, let me remind you that a beautiful classroom does not equate to rigorous teaching, or an abundance of learning. Teachers are great because of how they teach, not how they decorate their classrooms. Secondly, as students get older the decorations get more and more minimalist, if present at all. If secondary teachers feel no need, or receive no push, to decorate their classrooms neither should elementary teachers. Finally, you earned your money, spend it on you. If you want, and can spend hundreds, or thousands, of dollars on a new theme with bulletin boards, posters, bins, and chairs to match, go for it, but most people I know have tighter budgets–and that’s okay.

In fact, here are some tips and ideas for creating a great learning environment without going over budget:

  • Paint. If you can get permission, and if you plan to stay in your room for awhile, invest in paint. Hire a student for a mural, or simply sponge paint the walls. Choose colors carefully (think calming colors). If you paint your room, it looks happier, brighter, and more spacious–and you only have to spend money once.
  • Make your own posters. Fancy posters are great and durable, but they can add up quickly. Handmade posters are not only cheaper, but they can also be transformed into living documents that promote student participation and an ownership of learning–added bonus!
  • Skip the teacher store. Teacher stores are magnificent; however, even with a discount, they’re pricey. Instead, try the Target dollar section, Dollar Tree, the 99 cent store, or a craft store for items that add color, or provide other sources of classroom decor. You’re spending money, but it’s a lot less money.
  • End of the year swap. Instead of throwing things out, exchange items with other teachers at your school. You get new items, you get to clean out your closet, and you don’t have to spend anything!
  • Craigslist. My first year of teaching I wrote a post letting people know that I was starting my teaching career and needed supplies. You would not believe the response! A couple of places I had to drive a fair amount of time (60-90 minutes) but I received so much in return. I even found a retiring teacher who gave me a ton of primary supplies. Only one person asked for money–$20 for a mountain of books and stuffed animals. People are generous, especially to teachers, seek them out, especially at the end of the school year (think retirement).
  • DonorsChoose: a platform for teachers to write grants to receive much needed supplies, or supplies for augmented and/or special learning. Over the course of 5 years I received over $5,000 worth of items through DonorsChoose. I received markers, colored pencils, 10 sets of primary books, a bookcase, playground equipment, math journals–you name it! It’s a little bit of work–you have to write a proposal, thank the donors, and send pictures, but it’s more than worth it. I mean people are donating to you, you should send them a thank you note and a picture, right?

This is just a sampling of great ways to save money and still manage to have a little pizzazz in the classroom, or a great way to get some basic supplies without breaking the bank.

Teaching is an incredible profession. It is rewarding, dynamic, and always an adventure. However, it’s incredibly difficult work too. Therefore, I advocate finding creative ways to bolster the learning environment while still keeping that hard-earned cash. 💵💵



**On secondary classrooms: I want to note that I have seen some insanely beautiful secondary classrooms; however, the bulk of what I have seen, and the driving experience that has been shared by every secondary person I know, is that classroom decor is not nearly as rich and the pressure to have thoroughly decorated classrooms is non-existent in comparison to elementary folks. I want to make sure my earlier comment doesn’t offend; my lens is overwhelmingly elementary and I can speak to my experience that the pressure or the push feels grander than what I have heard or noticed in the secondary world.

Monthly Advice–January

Start fresh.


It’s a new year!

You’re coming back from winter/summer break, depending on where you are in the world. It’s January, it’s 2019. It’s a brand new calendar year. This can be a new start for you, and your kiddos.

The greatest thing about a long break is the energy and life that comes after it. So, the greatest thing we can do as teachers in January is start fresh.

Interpret that as you will:

  • Write a few classroom specific resolutions.
  • Have your students write a few school-centered resolutions.
  • Participate in a deep-clean of the classroom. Get your students involved–make the fresh start tangible, visible.
  • Revise/create new academic goals.
  • Let go. Let go of any lingering doubt, regret, or negative memories. Teaching is hard, being a student is hard–we all have days, lessons, and moments that are less than beautiful, let them go.
  • Redecorate your room.
  • Change all assigned groups.
  • Rearrange furniture.
  • Buy a few new work outfits. 😉

Whatever you do, figure out how to breathe new life into your work. The year, and learning, has begun again, so start fresh. 😁


Teacher Tip #4

December is filled with gifts.

It’s the end of the semester, most likely. It’s the end of the calendar year. We are inching towards a long break.

With all of this in mind:

Figure out what to say and do about gifts–NOW.

Ideas for the classroom:

  • Create a center for card-making, picture-making, etc. Extol the merits of a handmade gift, after all there is nothing else in the world quite like it.
  • Be creative. We live in a materialistic world, and it can get extra materialistic around this time of year.
    • Gifts I “gave”: homework passes, extra recesses, no shoe hour, bring a stuffed animal to school day
    • Favorite responses when asked what I wanted:
      • in kindergarten: “Greatest gift in the world is knowing all your sight words.”
      • “I have everything I need.”
      • “A clean desk.”
      • “Tissues.” (or some other school supply for the classroom)

Advice for the rest of the school environment:

  • No one says you have to attend the party
  • No one says you have to contribute to a potluck, a gift card for administration/office staff, etc.
  • If you can afford it great, but if you can’t then don’t feel you have to buy anything (treats, clothing for spirit days, decorations, etc.)

Gifts are beautiful. However, they are not expected–not from you, and not from your students. Just make a plan–figure out what you can say and do to be kind, gracious, and generous in your own way.



Monthly Advice–December

Sometimes less is more.

Sometimes inquiring about something unknown leads to a great discovery.


As you know, in the United States, the Christmas market is overwhelming.

Before you plan and execute two to three weeks worth of Christmas festivities, insert Christmas-themed worksheets, and read a Christmas-inspired novel each day, consider the following:

  • Not everyone celebrates Christmas. Although considered a Christian holiday, even some Christians do not celebrate Christmas.
  • Christmas celebrations vary wildly. Ethnicity, race, income, religion, are just a few meaningful and highly influential factors that determine any holiday celebration.
    • Is what you do, or include, reflective of your worldview, or many worldviews?
  • There are holidays all year long–why emphasize this one over all others?
    • If the same amount of time is not spent on other celebrations, what exactly gives this holiday added merit in the curriculum?
  • Is spending one lesson on Hanukkah and ten on Christmas really inclusive and meaningful, or does it merely provide a way to assuage guilt?
    • Someone once told me that they knew Christmas well, so that’s why there’s more of it in their classroom. If that’s your rationale, is there anyone to help you? Is there anyone to teach you, and your kids, about other traditions?

This is an ongoing discussion I have had for 11 years in my classroom, and with my coworkers.

I have always taught in public schools, which requires the separation of church and state. I understand that private schools and other forms of schooling may not need to consider religious-based questions in the same way I do.

However, the reflection aspect, thinking about why we do certain things in our classroom, even with the best intentions, is always beneficial.

This month, before you plan anything, I encourage you to think critically and plan mindfully. More happens in December than we realize . . .

Mathematical Discussion Topics

Last week I discussed the importance of math-centered literature.. I realize my list of books is small. Since I’m still building my math library, I make it a point to “speak math.”

The opportunity to “speak math” is unlimited; therefore, in addition to books, when can I ask mathematical questions? When can I practice mathematics?

I plan purposefully for mathematical discourse. My questions, my plans, apply learning and make real-world connections.

I have made plans and written suggestions for my classroom and for my students’ families. I have even used some of my ideas with close family and friends. It can be fun and learning-filled, I promise!

The following are questions and ideas I have shared and used:

  • Cooking: thought process and calculations
    • How many cups?
    • How long will it bake?
    • What’s the temperature?
  • Shopping: price estimations and sales reductions
    • The price is $20.99, if it’s 50% off it’ll be about $11.
  • Driving: signs
    • The sign says 45 MPH, that means 45 miles per hour. How long, approximately, will it take to drive 20 miles?
  • Zoos, museums, and parks: number specifications
    • How much does the animal weigh? How much does the animal eat?
    • When was this painting made? How long ago was that?
    • The park costs $10 to enter, I gave them $20, how much change do I get back?

Math is everywhere. It sounds cliche, but it’s true. If we can remind ourselves, and show our kids, how often we apply math in our everyday life they will not only see its value but they will also see themselves as mathematicians–which is a most positive and beautiful way to see themselves.