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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Getting Ready for Meet the Teacher Night

Most schools have a Meet the Teacher Night before the first day of school. In between getting your classroom ready for the first day, lesson planning, making copies, and attending all those back to school meetings, it can seem overwhelming to even think about how to prepare. But it doesn't need to be that way! I've got some tips for you to make your back to school night a little less stressful - and use the event to cross other things off your to-do list as well!

THE DETAILS: Get Your Paperwork Ready
Meet the Teacher Night is one of the few nights of the year where you will see most, if not all, of your students' families all in one place. This is your chance to get that all-important paperwork filled out by those who attend! As a primary teacher, here are the forms that I absolutely must have before the first day, if at all possible.

Student Information Cards

I use these forms to get basic contact information for my students' families including name, phone number, e-mail, photo release, and after school transportation, among other things. It's a great way to get current, updated contact info in case you need to get ahold of any parents on the first day (it has happened!).

After School Transportation Form

Okay, stick with me here. But the after school transportation form is arguably my MOST IMPORTANT form I need to have parents and guardians fill out before the first day of school. Why? Because you don't know these kids yet. You don't know the parents yet. You don't know where on earth they are supposed to go after school! I can't even tell you how many times I've had one of my kindergarteners tell me they were supposed to ride the bus (newsflash: they weren't, they just wanted to go to their friend's house!) and I was able to use this form to check and make sure they were getting where they needed to go. It's a bad feeling to not know where a student is supposed to go and, more importantly, who they are able to go with. Definitely get parents to fill this out before the first day because some parents don't always bring their kids to the classroom on the first day of school - then you're stuck trying to call or e-mail at some point during an already crazy first day to find that information out. Trust me, it will make your life a lot easier come the end of the day!

Supply List

Your school may have handed your supply list out to parents over the summer. But if not, meet the teacher night is a great place to give families this information. We always make ours a "suggested" supply list as we do not require students to bring in supplies if they are financially unable to. The school usually provides the basics (but we all know teachers supplement and buy supplies with their own money in spades). In giving this supply list to parents at Meet the Teacher night, this gives families the opportunity to bring donated items to you at school on the first day. If you can give them the supply list even earlier than that, then you can have parents bring them in on Meet the Teacher Night, giving you a chance to organize the supplies for student use before they arrive on the first day of school! That is the ideal option there! I put big buckets out for families to put their donated supplies in since I do community supplies in my classroom.

That picture is probably giving you organized people heart palpitations - ha! - you could do smaller buckets and have parents sort the supplies for you, but since the main goal of Meet the Teacher night is to introduce yourself and get to know your students, I don't make this a huge priority.

How Can I Set it all Up?
Okay, now that you've gotten all your paperwork and forms copied and ready, you might be wondering how to set it all up so that parents can easily see the forms and know they need to fill them out that same day.

I fan the papers out on each student desk so that they can clearly see the title of each paper. I also color code them all so there aren't any mix-ups or things missed.

Notice I put the transportation form on top - most important! :)

Putting the papers on top of each student desk is also a nice way to see who you still need to give the paperwork to on the first day if they didn't make it to Meet the Teacher Night.

Next, I clearly label baskets on a table so that parents can turn in their completed paperwork AND it gets sorted for me all at the same time!

If you're interested in using the student information card, transportation form, and supply list for your Meet the Teacher Night, I have editable templates for all three forms in my TPT Store! Just click on the picture below to add them to your back to school resources and you can type your own information in to fit your needs!

While parents are filling out paperwork, it gives you an opportunity to meet and greet with other families who come trickling in so you can greet your new students as soon as they come in. Which brings me to the most important thing about back to school night....

FOCUS: Meeting and Greeting Your Students and Their Families
As nice as it is to get all those extra details lined up and collected and filled out and in buckets and the like... the main point of Meet the Teacher Night is to (wait for it) meet... the... teacher! So even if you aren't able to get forms filled out or supplies donated or the room perfectly cleaned up and ready for the first day, none of that matters as much as making your new students feel welcomed as soon as they walk in the door. Most of the littles are scared and nervous and just greeting them with a little excitement and love helps ease their worries just a little bit. Meet them, smile, ask them their name, introduce yourself. I always make sure to give some sort of encouragement to let them know how glad or lucky I am to have them in my class this year. Forging those initial relationships and first impressions with students and family members can go a long way in starting the year off on a positive note.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Holiday Crafts with a Educational Twist

During the month of December, I'm always looking for ways to keep my students engaged in learning activities - as any teacher knows, the closer you get to Christmas, the bigger the struggle that is! I wanted to find a way for my students to practice skills, but not with your typical worksheet, so I created three different holiday crafts that you can use with your students to practice any skill or concept!

In this resource, all of the template pieces are included to make a reindeer, Christmas tree, or gingerbread house. On the blank templates, you can have students practice any skill you want including sight words, math facts, word families, spelling words, letters, fact families, grammar skills, and MUCH more!

Here are some of the ways I used the Monthly Skills Crafts in my classroom:

I wanted to give my students a chance to practice reading and writing their sight words they'd learned for the first part of the year, so I put this activity in a center and they wrote their sight words on the Christmas lights and put them on the reindeer antlers. After they created them, I hung them up in my classroom and they made the cutest decor to boot!

This student decided to make hers like Rudolph!

In math, my students were working on decomposing numbers so I decided to have them create a Christmas tree to practice their math facts for making ten.
There are SO many different ways you could use this craft! You could also have students practice addition and subtraction strategies, place value forms, number writing, skip counting, and more! One way I may use it this year is to have them write adjectives to describe their tree after they decorate it.

For the last craft, a gingerbread theme is always one that students enjoy. This template allows students to decorate a gingerbread house the way they want it and then use the candies to practice different skills! This example has students practicing writing words in the "short I" word family. There are so many great options for this template and they always turn out so cute and creative!

My favorite thing about this resource is that the activities are SO versatile, students love creating them, and they make fantastic holiday decor to hang in your classroom as well. 

If you'd like to add this resource to your classroom this year, click on the picture below to find out more!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Teaching CVC Words with Games in the Classroom

One of my favorite things about teaching in the primary grades is how much they grow as readers throughout the year! When I taught kindergarten, most kids came in not knowing all of their letters and sounds, much less how to blend them to read a word. But by the end of the year, they were independently reading decodable CVC word readers with ease! It absolutely amazes me every year! As a teacher, it is such a thrilling moment to see how far they've come.

Now that I'm teaching first grade, the beginning of the year is SO different - now I'm starting out the year working on CVC words and word families! The majority of my kiddos this year are at or above grade level, so I've been able to dive right in with some short vowel review activities and literacy centers. I'm going to share some of my favorite strategies and resources for teaching CVC words and provide some simple, low-prep activities that you can implement right away!

One of the best ways to increase student engagement and learning is to have them play games! Kids love to play them and half the time they don't even realize they are working on skills and supplementing their learning. I also love getting kids involved with creating their own activities to help them learn, so here I had my students make their own game to practice one of their Short A Word Families: -ag. At this center, they created the "Bag of -ag Words". Students wrote -ag family words from a list on different paper bag printable pieces.

Then, they cut them out and put them inside an actual paper lunch bag.

Now, they are ready to play the game! Students pull one -ag bag word out at a time and write the word they read on the recording sheet.

To keep with the theme, I implemented other activities that had a play on words to go with the word family we were learning that day. The next game students can create is the "Can of -an Words" game. Students cut on printable lines to create a can that they glue to a piece of paper, cut out words in the -an family, put them inside the can, then pull, read, and color the word they chose. It's a fun way to work on word recognition and fluency!

For the next Short A Word Family, the -at Family, students can create a "Mat of -at Words". Using multicolored squares (love Astrobrights paper for this!) students will write all the -at family words they can think of and glue them in different places to create a colorful mat.

The last activity for Short A Word Families isn't a game, but just a fun little activity that is SO easy to prep. The last word family we learned was the -ap family, so students practiced reading and writing the words by creating an "-ap Family Cap". I just printed the template out on colored construction paper, the students wrote the words out and cut the cap template out, and then I stapled it together around their heads using a sentence strip!

Hands-on activities always make learning so much more fun! I love using these activities during our literacy center time. To add these fun activities to your short vowel resources, click on the picture below to find out more!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Changing Grades and Changing Plans

The teaching field has a way of lulling you into a comfort zone and then suddenly and without warning, turning it upside down. Things can become so unpredictable at a moment's notice. I experienced this myself a few years back, and I thought I'd share my story and offer some tips for making it through unexpected changes in jobs, grade levels, or any huge change you might come across in your teaching career.
If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know I started my career as a kindergarten teacher. I wasn't thinking about teaching kinder in the least while I was applying for jobs. In my mind, I was going to teach 2nd grade - after all, my mom had been teaching 2nd for over 30 years and loved every second of it - so why shouldn't I do the same? So, I started applying for jobs in different districts here in Arizona, confident that I would get a call for an interview at any moment. I went to job fairs. I dropped resumes off at school offices. I continued to apply for even more districts. Yet no one called. Not. One. Principal. Back in 2008, there wasn't the teacher shortage that there is now. Jobs were a lot tougher to come by. But surely someone needed an upbeat, excited new teacher who would give their all for their students....right?


My phone stayed silent nearly the entire summer. I started to get anxious and worried that I wasn't going to find a job. My friends and family kept encouraging me, and I kept trying to apply, and even e-mail principals to let them know I was interested in a job opening. Still nothing.

Finally, in mid July, which is fairly late to still have a job opening only a few weeks from school starting, I heard from a principal who wanted to interview me. I was so excited! I couldn't believe it! And it was even in a district I wanted to be in. I went to the interview and was full of nervous excitement until that principal told me what job she wanted me to interview for: a 3rd/4th grade ELL combo class. My heart sank, even though I kept a smile on my face. That wasn't the job that I was hoping for. In fact, it sounded terrifying as a brand new teacher to be faced with teaching students in not one, but two different grades all at the same time. Not only that, but I would be on a team of one, going solo. Not exactly the ideal situation to be faced with as a newbie teacher. But I kept on through the interview, answering questions as best I could and trying to be optimistic about the opportunity. I left the interview feeling disappointed and unsure of the direction I wanted to head. That night I went home, talked through it with those closest to me to get their opinions, and most importantly, I prayed that God would guide me to the decision that He wanted me to make for my life.

After deliberating, praying, and talking with family about my decision, I knew what I wanted to do. And the answer might surprise you. So when that principal called me to offer me the job....

I said no.


That's right, no. Even though it was close to the beginning of the school year and I hadn't received even one other phone call for any sort of interview, I said no. It didn't feel right. I didn't feel that God was leading me to take that job. And I had to be okay with my decision. Even though I desperately needed a job, I didn't want to get myself stuck in a difficult position where I'd be miserable and unhappy all year.

To some people, I'm sure that's hard to understand. And it may even seem ungrateful, or picky to some. Some people even told me that I should have been happy to take any job that came about. But everyone's life circumstances are different. I just did not feel like that was the right job placement for me at the time. And by the time the school year began... I was still jobless.

So, I went to Plan B - substitute teaching. No, it wasn't ideal, and no, it wasn't what I had envisioned for myself coming out of college. But here I was. I applied in the district where I student taught and started picking up sub jobs where I could. It seemed like the only jobs available were half day jobs at first, until I subbed for a teacher at the school where I did my student teaching. This ended up being a great opportunity for me. Not only was it amazing to see all my former "coworkers" (I say that loosely, since all I had done was student teaching!), but an opportunity came about for me to be a long-term sub for a teacher at the school who was soon to be going on maternity leave. Not only did this give me a steady job for a few months, but it was also at the school that I loved. It ended up being a great way to have my own classroom, but with the support of having the first few weeks' plans already made up for me. And the amazing part was, I already knew most of these kids - it was a 3rd grade class - because they had been in my student teaching class the previous year in 2nd grade. So, if I didn't have a classroom to call my own that first year, this was the next best thing. I continued substitute teaching in various ways while also working a second job to supplement my income.

The school year ended and I'd been applying for jobs all over again, but with a new excitement. Now I had something to put on my resume. I'd actually been teaching in a classroom. Surely this would give me an edge over other brand new teachers... right?

Wrong. Again.

All throughout the spring and summer, once again, I did not receive a single call for an interview. I began to wonder what was wrong with me. Sometimes doubts even creeped in that maybe, just maybe, I wasn't supposed to be a teacher after all, even though I'd dreamed about it since I was a kid making up class lists and seating charts with my Barbies and dolls. May passed. June passed. July was flying by. I felt hopeless and sad. When people asked me if I'd found a job yet, and I had to tell them no, I felt them silently thinking, "You could have had that other job a year ago." I already knew, I'd think back to them, because I already was doubting my decision myself.

At the end of July in 2009, I was just about to resign myself to applying for substitute teaching positions once again when I received a phone call. FROM A PRINCIPAL! A principal who wanted to interview me for a kindergarten position. Well now, as I said before, I never really thought about teaching kindergarten, but who was I to say no at this point? I certainly wasn't opposed to it. So, we set up the appointment and I hung up the phone feeling excited and hopeful. The day came, and I left a whole hour early, and printed out the directions on Google Maps (no smartphone or GPS at that time... haha!). And... the directions led me to THE WRONG SCHOOL. You see, it was a fairly newly developed neighborhood and not all of the directions had been updated. And I was late to my interview.

Do you know what a terrible feeling that is? To finally get an interview, leave way ahead of time, and not be able to find the school? Who on earth would hire anyone that was late to their interview? But what could I do? I called the office, let them know I was lost, and then finally made it there. I met with only the principal, no other teachers, and I thought it went well, but wasn't feeling so sure because of my lateness. The whole weekend passed and I didn't receive any phone calls. I thought that was it. I remember it was a Sunday afternoon that I was at a friends' house for a barbecue, and I got the call from the principal - I had gotten the job! I was beyond excited, but also so nervous and stressed because the first day of school was literally one week away, which meant that I had to spend the entire week before school started attending new teacher orientation meetings and new staff meetings in the morning and set up my classroom as fast as I could during nights. Meet the teacher night was only 4 days after I got hired, so mere minutes before parents and students were due to arrive, I was shoving things into cabinets and hiding boxes in my office. 

Needless to say, saying "no" to that 3rd/4th grade combo class was the best decision I ever made, because that kindergarten job ended up being my dream job. I had the best teammates ever - they taught me so much about what it meant to be a good teacher and they even made their own amazing resources - which inspired me to further do what I do today. We were a well-oiled machine and always had fun every day we came to work. It's hard to find a team that has that magic together. You can have a solid team, even a good team, but I was lucky enough to have the magical unicorn team teaching a grade that I ended up absolutely loving. If I had settled for that first opportunity that I knew wasn't right for me, I would have never experienced that. So, sometimes it's okay to say "no".

Things were great. I loved my school, loved my students, loved my team, loved my coworkers. 6 years passed by and I figured I would be at this school forever.

Wrong again.

I don't know what it's like where you live, but in the state of Arizona, we often have school district overrides that the public votes on in order to continue a property tax that provides funding to our school districts. This provides for low class sizes, full-day kindergarten, teaching jobs, classroom resources such as aides and support staff, etc. Every time one of these is up for a vote, it's a scary time, because we know if it doesn't pass, people are going to lose their jobs. My first year teaching, this override was up for a vote, and it didn't pass, and because I was the low man on the totem pole, I received a Reduction in Force (RIF) slip. However, for whatever reason, that spring, it was able to be put up for a revote, and it passed, so I ended up keeping my job. This year, 6 years later, I was worried about it not passing, I stood on street corners with signs encouraging others to vote "yes", and I attended meetings for support groups, but I wasn't worried about my job. After all, I'd been at my school for 6 years and was on the leadership team, and was more of a veteran on my team. Surely I wasn't the low man on the totem pole anymore, right?

Wrong. (Are you sensing a theme?)

The override didn't pass. The people of my city had voted it down. We were crushed. And no one was more shocked than me when I received a RIF notice. For reasons I won't get into, the way they decided who got to keep their jobs hurt kindergarten teachers the most, and the biggest percentage of people who lost their jobs were kinder teachers. So, all of a sudden, I was a part of that, even though others who were first year teachers in different grades got to keep their jobs. I never, ever want anyone to lose a job that way, but that didn't quite sit right with me.

Needless to say, I was totally devastated. I loved my school and didn't want to leave my team, or my former students, who are ALWAYS my students for the rest of their lives once they walk through my classroom door. The thought of not seeing them anymore in the halls crushed me. I cried a lot of tears that month.

All of a sudden, I was having to apply for teaching jobs again. By the way, do you know how hard it is to apply for jobs when you hadn't gone to college in ages and had to track down all of those transcripts?! Ha!

This time, I had a lot of interest from principals wanting to hire me. I was grateful for that. In the span of a week, I ended up having 3 interviews. I was nervous and excited, but also confident. The first couple of interviews didn't feel quite right. There wasn't anything overtly wrong with them, but I just didn't get that feeling that they were the places I was supposed to be. And if there's one piece of advice I have to anyone who is going through a similar situation, it's go with your gut. Don't ignore how you feel! My third and final interview was amazing. I felt so excited about what was going on at that school, and I left the interview feeling so excited about the possibility of working there. And after 4 long days of waiting... I got the job! I was completely over the moon about it and felt like it was the exact school I was supposed to be at. And that's the school I have been working at for 3 years now, I'm happy to say.

However, things STILL didn't end up working out as planned - and as I'd learned throughout my short career, do they ever?! I was hired to teach kindergarten, but then they didn't end up having enough students to warrant a third classroom, so they cut my job and I was moved to first grade in the middle of the summer. Thankfully, I was able to stay at my school and not get surplussed to a different one. I taught first grade for a year, and then the same thing happened - we didn't have enough students for 3 classes, so I moved grades again - this time to 2nd grade!

I have to say, teaching a new grade level is not easy. When I taught kindergarten for as long as I did, I knew it like the back of my hand. I was becoming an expert in that field; and I knew what those kids needed best to succeed. I thought I had myself all figured out, and I was going to stay in kindergarten forever! But, needless to say, God had other plans. I've now taught 2 different grade levels in 2 years, and each time I felt like a first year teacher all over again. It's tough. And this year, I'm moving again! Only two second grade classes were needed, so it's back to first grade I go for this upcoming school year. Maybe someday I'll be able to stay in the same grade for more than 1 year :) - but for now, it's all part of the adventure, and I try to embrace whatever challenge comes towards me, because no matter what grade I teach, it's all about the kids; and it's been kind of fun teaching new material.

If you are still with me and reading the longest blog post on earth, I thank you! Hopefully you can relate to my story in some way and know that you are not alone. If you're experiencing unexpected change in your school or job, here are some tips to help you make it through:

Even though losing my job at my first school was one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. I love where I am now and the school I am at allows me to bring out my creativity in the classroom. And even though it's been an adventurous two years moving around to different grades, I'm grateful for it. I feel like I'm a better teacher having had these experiences in different grades. I love teaching kindergarten, and I still feel like that is where my heart is, but teaching first and second grade is also a blast in their own different ways as well. And if there's one thing I've learned as I'm going into my 9th year of teaching - expect the unexpected, but embrace it when it comes.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Make a Geoboard! {Guest Post from Education.com}

When it comes to learning, sometimes it's the simplest things that can be the most effective. You and your child can make your very own geoboard with a few simple supplies from your local hardware store. This is a fun and inexpensive project and it's a great way for your child to build basic geometry skills, like shape recognition and pattern and angle familiarity. Plus it's loads of fun!

What You Need:
  • Pegboard, 12" x 12"
  • Nuts and Bolts, sized to the pegboard
  • Rubber bands, multi-colored
  • Small container with lid

What You Do:
  1. Help your child push the bolts through the holes in the pegboard, securing them on the back with the nuts. The front of the geoboard is the side with the protruding bolt ends. Each hole should have a bolt in place.
  2. Your geoboard is ready!
  3. Place all the rubber bands in the small container with lid.
  4. Encourage your child to use the rubber bands to create shapes, designs and patterns by stretching the rubber bands around the bolts. She can also overlap the bands to create a variety of complex designs.
  5. When finished, have your child take all the rubber bands off of the geoboard and place them back in the container for later.

Find more great geometry resources over at Education.com!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Fun with See and Build: Homophones!

So, I'm teaching second grade this year, and with that comes teaching many concepts either that, I've never taught before, or if I have, it's on a much deeper level. One week, upon looking at my curriculum framework, I saw that one week my students' spelling words were to be homophones. The tricky part about that is that my students were going to have to understand the word in the correct context of a sentence to know which word they were supposed to spell. This is easier said than done! So throughout the week, I knew I had to come up with multiple ways to practice homophone spellings and meanings in ways that would be meaningful to my students.

They love anything hands on - and since they were going to be spelling words for the week, I wanted to incorporate some sort of word building activity. I was having trouble finding too many resources to fit that skill, so I came up with my own!

I wanted to create an activity where my students had to do their own thinking, was hands-on, and also easily assessable so that I could tell who was still having trouble identifying and spelling the correct homophones.

I came up with an activity called See and Build: Homophones. I created a PDF with pictures of common homophone pairs. Then, I projected one slide on the smartboard.

The students had their own letters - enough for each word they'd be building - that they cut out and built on their own to attempt to spell the correct homophone.

My favorite thing about this activity is that it includes self-checking slides for students to check and fix their work! After students have a chance to build and spell the word, simply click to the next slide on the screen and the correct word will pop up! My students literally cheered as loud as they could if they spelled the word correctly. They loved it!

We kept going through 8 pairs of homophones and my students were totally engaged!

You can grab See and Build: Homophones by clicking on the picture below!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Using Elf on the Shelf in the Classroom

For the past five years or so, I've brought the Elf on the Shelf into my classroom each December. My students absolutely love it each year and it brings a little holiday magic into our room! They love looking for the elf each morning and it's a great behavior incentive as well. They never want the elf to  see them doing anything "naughty"! But here's the thing - it may seem like a big chore to implement a few elf activities into your day, but it doesn't have to be anything time consuming for you unless you choose to do it that way!

On the first day the elf arrives at our classroom, I usually wrap the box up and cover it with super gaudy, sparkly bows and ribbons. I then put it somewhere in the classroom and don't say anything about it until someone notices! I then, of course, act completely surprised that there is even a gift in our classroom.

We open it, the students are excited (understatement of the year), and then we read the book. After reading, we brainstorm potential names for our elf and vote on them to choose.

The winner last year was Snowflake! Every year, my students end up picking a different name. Sometimes the name doesn't even have anything to do with Christmas or winter, as evidenced by the list pictured above.

I don't usually do anything too huge in regards to the elf. I move him every day so the kids can find him.


He can also be a little bit mischievous... going on joyrides while we're not at school!

And sometimes he brings us special treats... like candy canes!

Then we have a mini-candy cane day! We observe them and describe them using our 5 senses and create a web of all the adjectives we came up with.

Using an elf in the classroom is also a great opportunity for students to write in a variety of ways. My students always love to write their own notes and letters to our elf telling him their Christmas lists, how much they love him, and any other little sweet things they want to "tell" him.

One of my favorite writing activities to do with my students is a persuasive writing project. Students write a letter to their elf to try and convince him to tell Santa why they've been good this year. 

The stuff they come up with is always so funny! They come up with reasons you wouldn't even think of as to how they've been nice all year. If your students need help coming up with ideas, you can create a group thinking map together to brainstorm ways they've been kind to others, followed directions, or worked hard all year.

After they write their letter, they create a craftivity of our elf and pair it next to the letter. They always turn out absolutely adorable.

You can find the elf in the classroom persuasive writing activity by clicking on the picture below! It has differentiated writing paper options for you to choose from to best fit your students' needs.

Once Christmas break begins, our elf returns back to the North Pole. Sometimes I like to get a gift from the "elf" for the kids to find when we return back to school in January. In years past, I've gotten supplies for our kitchen/home living center, a holiday book, or a stuffed animal like the Grinch. The kids are always sad to see our elf go, but finding a special gift from him is a great way for them to say goodbye. Having an elf in the classroom can be such a special, magical experience for your students!