How to Have an Amazing Classroom without Overspending

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When I envisioned my first classroom I saw amazing bulletin boards, neatly organized bookshelves, and a colorful theme throughout. Of course, as a new teacher I spent my summer shopping on decor that would make my classroom amazing and would impress my students and their families at Meet the Teacher night.  Looking back, I realized that I spent too much of my summer on shopping and I overspent.  One thing that made me realize that I had spent too much money was when I was desperately waiting for my first paycheck to pay for my classroom!

I probably would have continued to overspend during my career as a teacher, but a life event changed everything.   During my first year of teaching the recession began and the business my husband worked at closed.   My hobby job became our only source of income! It really brought me to reality of how much money I was spending for my classroom.

The following year, I had to really think what was important for my classroom. I tried to reuse as many things that I possibly could. The only thing I bought for my classroom that second year was classroom name tags. My budget truly was zero dollars.  It was so hard because in our profession you are judged and rated by your classroom.   I was embarrassed that my coworkers would think I didn’t care about my job, just because my class wasn’t decorated like a showroom!  As the years went by, money did not improve but my resourcefulness on classroom spending did.

Take Inventory and Make a List

At the end of the school year take an inventory of your classroom.  I know you want to run out of your room in elation, but take some time to look around because it will save you time and money.

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Library – Remove damaged books and ones that you never see anyone reading. Dispose of the ones that are damaged and donate the books to other classrooms or a donation center. Ideas to replenish books:

  • Advertise in your weekly class newsletter that you take used books for your library
  • Go to thrift stores and buy inexpensive books- The most used books in my class are picture books that have a lot of subjects and are non-fiction.
  • Go to second hand book stores on their discount day.
  • Review Craigslist and OfferUp at the end of the school year when everyone is cleaning out their school supplies.
Office Supplies

Office supplies- Take inventory of glue, tape, pencils, paper, etc.

  • Order them through the school supply warehouse if you can.
  • Write your dream list of supplies. That way on the first week back to school you can notify parents of what you need for your classroom.  Many times, I get my class list a week before school starts and I send a Welcome Email with a wish list of items that are needed for the classroom. Parents are more giving at the beginning of the year because most have planned a budget for those items.
  • I also send a wish list around the holidays with items such as tissues and pencils.
Creative Teaching Woodland Press

  • Decorations- Look at the poster paper, borders, and classroom décor. If they are in good condition keep them.
    • If you want to update them go to the discount store or Amazon and buy them right after school the school year ends because prices are cheaper.
    • If you need posters visit retiring teachers and online sites such as Craigslist and Offer Up for teachers who are selling their items.
    • If in a pinch and you need to cover those walls on the cheap, there is always the Dollar Tree Teacher section.  Although, I have found that these items may be cheap, they do not stand the test of time.

Now that you have a list of what you need it is time to shop.  Before I buy anything for my classroom I ask myself these questions:

  • Can I use it for many years and varied grade levels?
  • Is it useful for the students and will maximize learning?
  • Will it save me or my students time?
  • Will it reduce my workload?

If I can answer yes to any of these items and it is the best price I can find, then I make the purchase.  My goal is to be ready when I close my classroom.  It saves me a lot of time and energy that first week back from running to the teacher store and impulse buying when prices are at their highest.  I hope this helps you to save money and remember to always keep your receipts for reimbursement by PTO, if your school offers it, and for tax deduction.

 

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5 Investment Items for the Classroom Under $75

When I was a new teacher I remember shopping for hours on what I thought were my classroom essentials.  Looking back, I wasted a lot of money on items that I thought that I couldn’t live without. After 13 years of teaching, I don’t shop as much as I used to, but I thought if I had to start over what are the 5 true investment pieces.

Classroom Pocket Chart

I can’t tell you how many scissors I have bought for students.  After years of buying scissors, I bought this pocket chart that was intended to prevent my scissors from disappearing. If the scissors are stored, it also prevents the students from whittling their desks and pencils!  A common occurrence in 5th grade.

Although my intention was just for the scissors, it ended up holding their ear buds, calculators, passwords, and any item they felt needed to be secured.  For example, whenever they had to change classrooms and a “stranger” was sitting in their desk, I would see random students start putting their treasures in their numbered pocket.

Sterilite Large Basket (Approximately 17×13)

 

After many years of carrying my grading pile in cute teacher bags, where the papers can get damaged, slip out of order, and paper clips fall off, I found these simple white baskets.  As the last student turns in their assignments I have them paperclip the papers and put them in the grading basket.  The basket is big enough that you can rotate the papers.    I also use one for my “To be Copied”  items.  I have had copy moms tell me how much they like the basket because they can easily rotate the stacks and they are easy to carry with the typical teacher load of papers.

Super Strong Magnet Hooks

 

These are dual purpose for your white board.  I use these not only to hold papers and posters to the white board, but when a student is absent I use it to hold assignments onto the side of their desk.  This prevents all of the papers from falling to the floor and keeps any returned work private.

I also use them to hold the hall passes and hang random ear buds that are left around the classroom for someone to claim them.

A Nice Magnetic Dry Eraser   

It seems when I am teaching I misplace everything I need.  Then when I need them most, I can’t seem to find a marker, dry eraser, overheard remote control etc..  My magnetic erasers never leave the board!

I know we all have those cheap foam ones, but it is time to replace it with a quality dry eraser!  After receiving these as a gift  I can’t go back to the free ones that always smeared my board and never really erased.  Spend a little extra on a nice dry eraser, you are worth it!  Plus, it is used daily!

 

File/Document Sorter

This item is the biggest time saver for me.  In fact, part of the first week of school in my class is teaching students how to turn in their papers in the sorter.  During the first week, I always think this is so arduous, but it is worth it!  When my students turn in their papers they have to go in a certain traffic pattern and line up to put their paper in the sorter.  It gets them out of their seat and gives a little break.  Once they know the process it can be completed within minutes.  The best part, I never have to spend time in class to figure out the “no name”  or who didn’t turn in their paper, because they are always in order.  The last person in line pulls the paper from the sorter, paper clips, and turns it into my grading basket.

These are my 5 investment pieces for my classroom.  Tell me your investment pieces that you can’t live without in the comments.

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Display Class Work Easily

 

It is important to display student work, but it is hard to find the time to update and maintain.  In order to help manage the display of student work I use hanging clip boards.  I had a set of clipboards for my students that weren’t being utilized.  I also found some at Amazon to complete my set.  It is important to get the traditional clipboards with the metal clip.  The spring is stronger than the new models.

The clip boards slip easily over a plastic push pin.  This makes it easy to take the clipboard from the wall to slip in new work.

 

To set up the clipboards I used a laser level to keep the boards straight .

I initially had 24 clipboards, but this year I had 28 students so I left room on the ends to add clipboards.  I use the boards to hold the student’s work for the entire year.  I just place the newest display in front.

End of the Year Books

At the end of the year, I have all of the student’s work organized and create a book that I give to the student.

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Time Capsule Project

Every year, I  have  my students fill out a time capsule worksheet that I keep in a jar labeled “time capsule” in my room.  They fill it out on the first day of school and I store it on the shelf until the last day.  The students get so excited to  see what they wrote, and are astonished by their answers.  This year, I decided to elevate the time capsule and actually make a more detailed time capsule craft, and complete it during the first week of school.

I turned it into a lesson to discuss:

  • Using scissors
  • Traffic patterns around the classroom
  • Coloring expectations
  • Complete sentence structure
  • How to turn in assignments using the file sorter

Instead of putting them on the shelf immediately, I hung them up to display them in my classroom.  The students enjoyed looking at what the other students created.  I also had an immediate decoration in my classroom for any impromptu Marzano reviews.

After the first month, I took down their time capsules and stored them.  They easily fold flat and I was able to fit them in a shoe box shape box.

Mother’s Day Writing Craft

Mother’s Day Writing Craft

I am so fortunate to have wonderful parents that support my class that I wanted to create something special for my students’ moms.  Knowing that this will probably be one of the last homemade school gifts that my class moms will receive  I wanted to make a special keepsake, that was more than a simple craft or card.  I created 19 questions that my students answer about their mom or special person.  There are two versions so it fits non-traditional households, so all of my students can participate.  Students answer questions as to what is the best thing their mom cooks to what kind of princess they are most like and why.

The project takes about two hours to complete.  There are plenty of lines that the students can write detailed sentences.  I teach how to elaborate when I complete this lesson.  I do grade this project and there is a rubric included.

Completed Mother’s Day Craft

Earth Day

 

Earth Day is April 22nd and it is a perfect time to teach conservation concepts such as Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.  I love teaching this to my students and then have them share their knowledge when they teach their buddy class.

History

My favorite way of starting the lesson is to give the history behind Earth Day.  Brainpop has the best video to begin the lesson titled “Rachel  Carson”.  The video gives the history of the environment in the late 50’s and 60’s, use of DDT, and the book Silent Spring.

Conservation Concepts

Students typically understand recycling efforts, but struggle with reduce and reuse.

Examples for Reducing

  • Buy items in bulk with less individual packaging
  • Turn off running water- example when brushing teeth, shorter showers
  • Use a reusable lunch bag
  • Turn off lights and fans when you aren’t in the room
  • Plan trips to limit gas

Examples for  Reusing

  • Donate clothing
  • Shopping bags
  • Use excess water on the garden
  • Reuse water bottles
  • Use glass jars to store other items
  • Paper for scratch paper

Earth Day Craft

A perfect way for my students to reflect on the lesson is to create this 3D Globe.  It is best to have them complete the globe as each concept is taught.  Each side of the globe is a different view so I have the assembly instructions on the screen.

After my class creates their craft we visit our buddy class later in the week.  We read It’s Earth Day! by Mercer Mayer.  Then my students help their buddy make a 3D globe using the primary version.  Plan for  an hour to complete the project at your buddy class.  This works best with 2nd and 3rd grade classes.  I hope you enjoy teaching about Earth Day!

 

 

 

 

 

Teacher Interview Tips- What to Wear and Bring

 

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

This week,  I was part of an interviewing team to hire new teachers for the intermediate grades 4-6. I thought I would share the positives from the other side of the interview desk.  These tips will be helpful to anyone interviewing for a teaching position.

Unique Job Interview

Interviewing for a teaching position is completely different from a business job interview.  We are professionals, yes, but as a teacher your interview has to show  you have personality, be able to work with children, be friendly to parents, creative, and the list goes on.  The tips on other interview web sites are helpful, but showing up as a stern professional in a dark suit won’t get you a job as a teacher.

Clothes

As a teacher we do not make a lot of money, so try looking through your closet before the interview to find an outfit.  I really like the ideas from  http://theteacherdresscode.com/.  I only aspire to look like her!  She has a section for teacher interviews.

What looked nice during the interviews were:

  • A pop of color from a trendy blazer, scarf or shirt( for guys, a sharp stylish tie)
  • A spring dress with a nice sweater
  • Nice shoes that were moderately high and stylish (not our regular comfort teaching shoes or the ones you wear out for a fabulous night)
  • Make sure your shoes and everything looks nice and well kept (I used to work with an IBM contractor in my business days, and he said they would always look at their shoes,  the rationale was, if they couldn’t take care of their shoes, they couldn’t take care of IBM’s product)
  • Moderate jewelry
  • Tattoos all covered, and no piercing jewelry showing- policies are different at each school

What to Bring

Leave your school tote in the car and bring in just a few items.

Walk in to the interview with:

  • 5 Copies of your resume on nice paper
  • Stylish notebook to refer to if needed
  • Nice, clean purse, tote, or portfolio binder that is appropriately sized
  • Small water bottle that is plastic or disposable (if you leave it behind it won’t be a problem, and a metal water bottle always falls over at the most inappropriate times.  It’s annoying in class, so you definitely don’t want it to fall over in your interview.

Hopefully these tips will help you make a great first impression.  Follow my next blog on how to prepare for the interview questions.  Best of luck on your future interviews.

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It’s Testing Time!

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April is the month where testing is on our minds.  In honor of the testing month of April I am going to share some tips that have helped me tackle the days of testing.  This is actually one of my favorite times of the year.

No. 2 Pencils

Ask for donations of Ticonderoga pencils.  Parents will send you all different kinds of pencils, but save your Ticonderoga’s for testing time.  After years of listening to the whine of the pencil sharpener, I just put this in my wish list at the beginning of the year.  Ticonderoga’s are usually on sale in August and September and my parents will usually provide me with plenty of pencils at this time.  Testing time is not the time for the cheap, decorated, dollar pencils.

Computers

A lot has changed since I started teaching.  We used to use the standard bubble sheets and No. 2 pencils, but we now have computers to complete testing.  We just started computerized testing last year, and we definitely had some challenges.  If testing starts at 8:30, then start the computers 20-30 minutes before.  While the computers are starting, (don’t let the students leave until they start the computer), have the students go to the bathroom, get drinks, set up their desk for the test.  Have extra computers on the charger turned on in case a laptop dies during the test.

Tissues

Does allergy season begin the day testing starts? Does someone roll the tests in pollen before they are delivered to the school?  The minute the test gets delivered to  their desks and everyone gets settled the sniffling begins.  I have 8 boxes ready to go that can be delivered to student desks.  In fact, in my class if your nose is running my students just put a tissue box at their desk.  There is nothing worse than watching a student use their sleeve because they feel they can’t get up.

Attack the Grading Pile

As you get ready for testing in the morning give yourself a little treat by setting up a grading station to grade your papers.  The treat is at the end of the week, you don’t have to bring any grading home!  Before school starts on the testing day I set up 2 areas ready for grading.  One is in the back of the room, and the other  is at my desk.  My grading station has the papers piled with the answer key.  As you are walking the room sit for a while and do a little grading then rotate around to the next grading station.

After the Test

Your students are done with the test and all the other classes around your are still working.  Ugggh!  How do I keep these kids quiet! I usually plan a quiet activity that my  student’s can do that is educational and fun.  For 13 years, our big project in 5th grade is to Color and Label the United States.  This is a great review before State Reports are assigned.  This lasts for the whole week of testing, and they can use the computer or Atlas Book to help them complete the map assignment.  I have added this as a free download on my Teachers Pay Teachers site.  I size the United States on a legal size paper and run it through the copier.

Free Download on Teachers Pay Teachers!

State Reports

 It’s State Report time!

 

At my school we have a tradition of State Day.  All 5th grade students are assigned a state and they research their state, create a poster, and on State Day they run their “state booth”.  The students even wear costumes that represent their state.  I have had students dress up as fisherman from Alaska, a Minnie Mouse costume for Florida, and cowboys from Oklahoma.  The students bring display items and food for tasting. We tape their poster on the front of the cafeteria benches and invite parents and other grades to come visit in the morning for about 2 hours.  It is a great way to show off all of the hard work the students have completed.

State Booth Example

Everyone looks forward to this event, but let’s backtrack to the month before the event when the work has to be done!  Over the years, I have thought of all of the challenges that this project brings and how to make next years even better.

Challenges of the State Report

  • Communicating expectations
    • For most students this is their first exposure to research and handing them a sheet of paper to fill out through “research” can be daunting.
  • Answering the same question repeatedly
    • Even though you explained it in whole group, and everyone seemed to be listening,  you end up answering the same question 25 times.  I think I answered the question, “What is a natural resource?”  400 times in my career. Maddening I tell you!
  • Grading
    • Now it’s all done and how do I grade this gigantic project that’s worth a huge portion of this quarter’s grade.  If the kid bombed they can never recover.
    • Weekends are filled with the task of grading this huge project.  No teacher likes to go home and grade.  We need weekends off!

Redesigning the State Report Template

As much as I loved State Day; I just dreaded this project.  I set off to create a State Report that addressed the 3 challenges that I had identified.  Each page of the research tells the students what is expected of them and has point allocations at the top of the page.  This part can be cut off for display.

For those maddening questions, I answered repeatedly, I put an explanation under the question.  I give an example of what is a natural resource, natural disaster, census etc..

The last part was to streamline the grading process.  As the students complete each research page they sign up on the board to meet with me for grading of that page.  I meet with students and check off the points.  I keep a running score with the rubric form for each student.  This helps if the project is taking a long time I can enter points for each page in the gradebook.  This can also help me to be the time manager and ensure a student isn’t falling behind on the project.  Parents expect a completed project and poster on State Day, and having a poster partially completed can be awkward. Yes, this has happened!

The 50 State Report Bundle is now available at my store https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Learning-In-An-Hour.

 

Learning in an Hour

I created Learning in an Hour as the store where teaching products are developed to be completed in a 1 hour block of time, or more.  I also wanted to  create projects that were easy to grade in the classroom.  I have taught for 13 years and love to be in the classroom, but many weekends were spent with my tub of grading. I have tried every trick in the book to manage the ever increasing grading pile.  At the end of the day, there may be 30 minutes away from teaching, duties and meetings that I could dedicate to the grading pile.  That was just not enough time with emails, questions from coworkers, etc.

The only way I have been able to manage the grading has been meeting with students and grading before their eyes during class.  This allows for immediate feedback, ability to correct work, and clarification of student expectations.  My goal is to help teachers spend less time grading and more time enjoying their weekends.

To the future,

Learning in an Hour

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Learning-In-An-Hour