Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher

10 Mistakes Teachers Make

Teachers are humans. They are not infallible. They make mistakes. Even the best teachers.  And they learn from their mistakes and become better educators. So before I share the mistakes that I think many teachers make, I want to preface by saying that teaching is one of the toughest jobs on the planet. I have made most of these mistakes, and that I why I am so passionate about writing about them. Also, it is just my opinion that these are mistakes. Since every class and classroom are so different, they may not be a mistake in your classroom.

In my early years teaching, I preferred to keep my students in their seats. It was actually a class rule! That seemed like good classroom management to me. But let's be real. Kids aren't made to sit still. They need to move!

Some ideas for getting kids out of their seats include:
  • Task Card Scoots
  • Brain Breaks
  • Centers
  • Games
  • Reading or Working on the Floor
  • Alternative Seating
Click on the photo below if you are looking for more ideas to get kids moving and increasing engagement.

This is typically a mistake made by new teachers. They are scared that if they discipline, they will be seen as mean and the kids won't like them. This often leads to a class that isn't managed and causes undue stress for the teacher and the students.

Here is a truth- Kids want to know that you love them enough to fairly discipline them. This does not mean that you have to be a drill sergeant! Instead, teach your students the class rules and expectations.

Talk about what it will look and sound like when students are following the class rules. Make sure they know how many warnings will be given and what the consequences will be for students who break rules. I also let my students know right from the start that no one is perfect, and there is a good chance they will break a rule at one point or another. I will still love them, but they will receive the consequences. During the first few months of the year, I find myself needing to use my discipline program. I am fair and do exactly what I told the students that I would. Usually, by Christmas, my class is free of any discipline problems. I am very firm, but my students still like me! Don't be scared!

When we went to school, it was probably perfectly normal to give a worksheet for every skill and subject. Educational research has come so far, and studies consistently show that students need to move, talk, perform, teach, create and experiment to truly solidify their understanding of a topic. I know that worksheets are easy to prep, and I am not saying you shouldn't ever use them! They are perfect for subs, quick assessments and certain skills. But be brave! Use some interactive notebooks. Do some task card scoots. Provide centers that are hands-on and get students interacting with the assignment. Your students will thank you!

We are teachers. We love our kiddos. And we have a soft spot for those low fliers that need extra time and attention. It is tempting to move at their speed. But we can't!!! The rest of our kiddos need us to keep the pace moving. Otherwise, they become bored, behavior problems pop up and we never get to all of the standards. I am not suggesting that teaching your lower kiddos is unimportant. But the best thing we can d o for our whole class is to go at a healthy speed and then reteach and enrich in our small groups.  Keeping a steady pace helps all students to remain engaged.

When we went to school our teachers stood in front of the class and lectured. It was boring! You don't have to be that teacher! Keep your students engaged by keeping the whole group lesson super short. Then break out into centers and meet with small groups of students to practice the skill. This will allow for great differentiation and so much more fun!

If you need some ideas for using small groups and centers, click on the picture below.

Too many amazing educators are spending their nights and weekends grading stacks of papers. STOP! There is not enough time in the day!

Have students trade and grade some assignments themselves. Send math facts or spelling tests home to be graded by a reliable parent volunteer. Do more performance based assessments that check for understanding rather than giving a grade. Sometimes I just put a problem on the board and watch as students complete it on their white boards. I have a spreadsheet with their names and the skill. If they get it- they get a check mark. Those that don't- get a reteach. No papers to grade as I am just doing a quick look at their personal white boards. I do the same sort of thing when assessing my interactive notebooks. They do the activities during small group and I just give them a quick look over while they are sitting there.

Grading center work can be very time consuming! I deal with this by giving one center book that lasts for 3-4 weeks rather than new assignments every week. Also, include centers like read to self, games and technology. You can always give participation scores if you really need a grade for every center.

Another novel idea, that some teachers will hate me for suggesting, is to throw away some of the stacks of papers. Not all of them! But throwing away an assignment from time to time won't hurt anyone.

I  know this will sound crazy to some of you- but you should not be the last car at school every day! Or any day! I know that you love your students and you are planning amazing lessons for them. However, your students need you to be balanced and rested. Go home! Be with your family. Enjoy your hobbies! Go to bed early! You will be a better teacher because of it. I promise.

Decide on a reasonable time to leave and stick to it. It means you can't just hang out gossiping and complaining with your teacher buddies. It means that you are going to need to prioritize your to do list. And it means you won't get everything done all of the time. But that is okay!

I know that lesson planning can be overwhelming. But the truth is- if you are planning just one week at a time, you are always going to feel behind and overwhelmed. At the start of every quarter (or the end of the previous quarter), I pull out my calendar and start penciling in my math lessons, science units and reading standards. I write in any holiday and I begin to search for the activities I want to plug into those days. Then I send them to be copied or have a parent volunteer copy them for me. Why wait?! This makes me feel ahead of the game! And it doesn't take long if you do it in batches. Do all of your math centers and then do all of your holiday activities, etc.

If you are needing tips for getting all of the papers and supplies organized, click on the picture below for some tips.

Teachers love to talk. We get up on that stage and perform a monologue. It's a good monologue. But it's missing something. The kids should be doing the talking! Students will be more engaged and remember more of the lessons if they are encouraged to do more of the talking. I highly recommend using pair share routines. I personally use the Whole Brain Teaching Teach-Okay procedure. You can learn more about it by watching the video below.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I do 10-15 of these during each of my mini lessons!

When students have some control over their learning, they become much more engaged in the classroom activities. They become more invested in their learning and more independent. That should be the goal! Find ways to allow for student choice each day!

Some ideas include:
  • Picking their own seat
  • Choosing their own partner or group to work with
  • Picking a game from a basket of games that all pertain to the skill they need to practice
  • Choosing their own book for read to self time
  • Deciding on the order they will complete their centers
  • Menus that allow students to choose the prompt or task

Don't let this list overwhelm you. The greatest teachers are still making mistakes. They are just great because they are consistently looking for ways to improve upon their craft. So choose one area to focus on for the time being. And always know that your students are lucky to have an educator who is still committed to learning and growing!

Ways to Increase Student Engagement

Student engagement is my number one goal in the classroom. None of the academic goals can be achieved without student engagement. It is essential! My biggest advice to you is to decrease teacher talk and the time students spend in their desks.

I want to share some more specific ways that I keep my students engaged in our lessons.

I LOVE this quote by Eric Jensen: "If you don't have time to play music when you teach then you talk too much." TRUTH! There is so much research out there about how music lowers anxiety and nerves and releases endorphins that make you happy. Music wakes you up and makes your body move!

Use music to increase student engagement. Get them ready to learn by playing fun music as they walk in the room and unpack. Play soothing music while they write. After a test, play some upbeat music to reenergize them. Play fun music while they are packing up  and cleaning the classroom. Use music as a reward. If my kids get compliments in the hall, they get a song and free dance during snack break. So easy and so fun.

The simple truth is that when you are happy, you are more engaged. Music makes us happy!

I bought this old iPod from a used bookstore. It was very inexpensive. Perhaps, you can load the music on to your phone? I bought a $20 speaker from Wal-Mart. It works perfectly!

When students have some control over their learning, they become much more engaged in the classroom activities. Find ways to allow for student choice each day!

Some ideas include:
  • Picking their own seat
  • Choosing their own partner or group to work with
  • Picking a game from a basket of games that all pertain to the skill they need to practice
  • Choosing their own book for read to self time
  • Deciding on the order they will complete their centers

A lot of teachers use pair share from time to time. I use pair share about 5-10 times during every mini lesson. I am not exagerating! I actually use the Whole Brain Teaching Teach-Okay for my pair shares. I tell them something and then they teach it right back to their accountability partner. Students are hearing what I say and then repeating it to a partner. It increases memorization. I also find that students are more tuned in and engaged during my lesson because they know they are going to have to teach regularly. Giving students lots of opportunities to talk helps to decrease the chatter during quiet work times too. I highly recommend that you watch this video to see how this works in a classroom.

I seriously do this constantly! Teach your partner the directions that I just gave you. Teach your partner how you solved this problem. Teach your partner how you know that you are correct. Teach your partner what a character trait is and give examples.

And I love to use silly voices when I say "teach." Then they students have to say 'okay," in the same voice and they love it!

Students love to be given permission to talk and/or be silly! If you tell them to honk their nose every time say you say a word with a prefix- those students will listen harder than ever before! And research of the brain has shown the significant impact that laughing can have on memory and retention! I know that it sounds noisy. But kids were not meant to just sit quietly all day. Consider being bold and allowing the noise from time to time. But, if you have a class that cannot handle it- use a quiet gesture like patting their head and rubbing their bellies.

When we are correcting math facts, my students are encouraged to do an air fist pump and say "yes," whenever they get the fact correct. It is simple and totally effective. My students WANT to do math facts!

What if you had a daily vocabulary word. Anytime the teacher says the word- students call back the agreed upon synonym. Students will enjoy the daily change of callback and be practicing their vocabulary words for the week! Do you really want to increase the engagement? Have a specified type of voice students will use to callback. Such as high pitched, low pitched, sing song, whisper, etc. They will be sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for you to say the word! That is complete engagement!

The important think is that you never give instruction while the class is being silly or not listening. So always have an agreed upon way that you will get student's attention. It can be the vocabulary callback or another callback or gesture, as long as everyone knows. So practice your attention getter before adding too much silliness to it.

There are times when I notice that my kids have been sitting for too long or are getting antsy. That is when it is time to get them up stretching, dancing and moving. Go Noodle is a free website that has tons of video brain breaks for kids.
They are so fun for the kids. (But I must fess up- I do them too. Great exercise and catchy tunes!) Our favorites include: Pop See Ko, Go Bananas and Roller Coaster. After we do one of these guided dances- then we do one of the Go Noodle stretching activities to calm the kids down.

The kids are happy and their blood is moving again. They are ready to think and be engaged in your lesson! (Plus- they think you are the coolest teacher EVER!)

Students are almost always more active and engaged when they are being taught in small groups. They are more willing to offer responses, since they are not having to speak in front of a large group. Students are more likely to follow along and not get lost when the teacher is right there guiding and leading. It is harder to get distracted.

Also, teaching in small groups means that the students will need centers to work on while other groups are meeting with the teacher. This gives students the opportunity to get up and move, work with a partner, play games and/or use manipulatives. It is all so much more engaging than a worksheet done at their desk!

Click on the picture below to read more about how I manage my math groups and center time. I use the same sort of schedule for my reading groups!

Worksheets are NOT engaging! I very rarely ever use one in my classroom. Students still need to practice key concepts that I am teaching in my mini lessons. I use interactive notebooks to give kids the opportunity to practice skills while keeping engagement high. They get to cut, glue and fold. Sometimes they are rolling dice or using crayons. They are moving and creating. 

My students take pride in their interactive notebooks and pay close attention to detail while they work. They actually look forward to notebook activities. There is no doubt that my students are engaged!  

You can shop for interactive notebooks in my store by clicking HERE. Or download some free notebook activities to get started by clicking on the picture below!

You can read more about how I use interactive notebook in my classroom by clicking on the pictures below.

I hope you are able to take some of these ideas and implement them in your c classroom to get your students more engaged!

3 Reasons to Get Rid of Your Teacher Desk

Do you have a teacher desk?

I have vivid memories of my primary school teachers sitting in their desks while we wrote in journals or did Silent Sustained Reading time. Anyone else?

As a first year teacher, I thought that I needed a teacher desk. It seemed pretty standard to me. My room did not have a desk, but my neighbor teacher thought that was crazy and helped me figure out how to get one from maintenance. Seemed legit to me!

But the very next year, I was begging that same sweet maintenance man to remove the desk from my room. I got rid of my teacher desk and never missed missed it one bit. You can see pictures of my "deskless" classroom HERE.

Let me tell you why I got rid of my teacher desk and you should too!

A lot of teachers think that they need a desk because it will help them to keep the endless papers organized. But if you are being really honest with yourself, is your desk organized? Or is it just the place that you store the piles of papers that you might get to someday? Where would those papers be if you didn't have a desk? You would be forced to take care of them! I know that is scary, but it really is a stress reliever!

Being organized is tricky! Teaching requires so much paperwork and so many supplies. But the truth is that if you have a very limited amount of space for these papers- you will be forced to take care of them sooner. You will be forced to be more organized. You have no choice!!!

Instead of desk drawers that are stuffed with random office supplies, I organized all of mine in a toolbox. You can read more about how I put this toolbox together HERE. I also hung cups on the wall for my pens and pencils. It was unused space before and now students can't reach my Flair pens. ;-)

Instead of a desk covered in papers that need my attention, I use a teacher binder and this dish tub. If it doesn't fit in the tub, then I need to spend some time on the paperwork. It takes up very little space, is portable and forces me to keep on top of tasks rather than letting them sit on the desk.

I NEED things to be super organized and I have found a way to do this without a teacher desk. You can read more about how I organize my classroom by clicking on the picture below.

"Mrs. Sears! Come sit! You know you're tired. Your feet hurt. You deserve a break. Sit!" Does your teacher desk call to you like mine did? Sometimes I would sit at my desk during snack break or while my students were silently working. I didn't sit all day, but I did sit at the desk from time to time during the day.

I hate this meme because of the alcohol bottle, but the saying  couldn't be more accurate, so I had to share.

As a teacher, we feel like we never sit. However, the moment that we do sit, admin walks in our room. At least that is how it seems. 

Getting rid of the teacher desk means that you can't sit. At least you can't sit by yourself. You will have to sit at the small group table or kneel down by your students' desks. You will take your breaks with your students. You will have no choice! And it is WIN-WIN! Now that I do not have a desk, I find myself walking around the student desks and work areas more. I am giving more feedback, praise and direction! And when I am sitting, I find that I am sitting WITH my students.

Do you have room for a teacher desk in your classroom? Close your eyes and imagine what you could do with that space if the desk was removed. Could you add more bookshelves with books for students to read? Could you add some flexible seating, like bean bags or stools, for students to work from? Could you add more games and manipulatives? Could you have more floor space for class meetings and playing games?

A teacher desk is taking away valuable student space! Classrooms keep getting smaller, while class sizes seem to be increasing. (At least that is what is happening in schools in my area.) Is your space best used for students and their materials or for your desk? I don't mean to sound harsh, but I am suggesting that you really look at your space.  I am proud to say that just about my entire classroom is set up to be used by my students!

Are you ready to take the plunge with me and ditch the desk?!!!


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