Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: November 2017

Dear Tired Teacher

Dear Tired Teacher,

You need to hear this...

I know that you are exhausted. I know that you spend countless hours at school worrying about your babies. I know that you are stressed about test scores, report cards, grading, observations and conferences.

The holiday season is upon us and that brings even more stress and even longer to do lists. I hate to be the bearer of that bad news.

Before you start stressing about student gifts and holiday crafts, can I offer some advice? If not, my feelings won't be hurt if you close out this post.

Most of your kids will not remember the gift that you stressed about and spent your own hard earned money on. Most of your kids won't remember the holiday crafts that you spend hours planning and prepping.

Do you know what your kids will remember?

They will remember feeling loved. They will remember feeling important. They will remember being happy. They will remember feeling proud.

Those memories don't have to cost a cent or take away your precious time with family. 

Sit in a circle and share holiday tradition stories. Leave happy notes on their desks. Give them a hug. Give them smiles. Challenge them. 

What I am saying is... you don't have to give gifts if you don't want to. They won't mind. You don't have to plan an elaborate celebration that will leave you feeling even more exhausted and poor. They won't mind. If you want to go all out, that's fine too. But only do it because you want to and not because you feel like you have to.

You do enough for them every day. You are enough. You don't have to be Pinterest worthy. If you love your students, then you are doing it right.

Your students need you to take care of yourself. So give yourself permission to throw away some papers. Don't agree to anything that involves glitter or sprinkles. Don't feel guilty about saying no. Take time for that nap that you deserve.

You are worth it.

Have a Not So Wimpy day,

Christmas Gift Ideas for your Students

Let me start by saying that you do NOT have to get your students a Christmas gift. You go out of your way to create meaningful experiences for them every day. That is enough.

But sometimes we really want to send our babies home with a little something. A couple dozen gifts is tough to do on a teacher salary. Even going to the dollar store and getting cheap goodies gets expensive and most of the junk will break or get lost within a day or two.

I put together a list of fun, but inexpensive, gifts that I think your students will find meaningful.

1. Book

Books are hands-down my favorite gift to give my students for any holiday! Scholastic dollar books make it a very economical gift. Plus, you can use your bonus points to order books that are higher priced. Check out THIS post to learn more about getting the most out of your Scholastic book order.

You can just write a note on the front cover, wrap them up and give them to students.

Or.... have a book raffle!!! Seriously, book raffles are a blast! It's a great activity the day before break and it ends with everyone getting a book that they love! Click HERE to learn more about having a book raffle. 

PSST...you can even do this with your students who don't celebrate the holidays!

2. Class Gift

I think that a class gift is a genius idea! Instead of spending a lot on trinkets that will probably get thrown away, broken or lost- how about getting something for the classroom?

You could get playground equipment, board games, STEM materials or flexible, seating options.

Gifts like this will be used over and over again year after year. They are not gifts that will be tossed aside and forgotten.

3. Personalized Ornament

Putting the ornaments on the tree is such a fun family tradition in my house. We all share memories from past vacations or special celebrations that are captured in the ornaments.

What if your students could remember you and your classroom family every year when they put up their tree? 

These ornaments are very inexpensive and you can personalize them with a Sharpie, a paint marker or using vinyl and a die cut machine.

4. Scented Pencils

I love smelly school supplies and so did my kiddos! 

THESE scented pencils are so fun! Writing workshop will be 10x more fun when their writing smells like blueberries! 🤣

5. Math Game and Cards

I have no problem being that sneaky teacher who sends home educational holiday gifts! <Insert evil cackle laugh> My students love to play math games in the classroom. So why not send home a simple math game that they can play with their family?

I bought the cards at the  dollar store. I got two decks for a dollar which made this an extremely inexpensive gift. I used some glue dots to attach the deck of cards to the direction card. I made a card for Addition War and a card for Multiplication War. You can grab the direction cards for FREE by clicking HERE.

6. Class Picture

I am all about sentimental gifts. I think they are the most meaningful. And there is nothing more sentimental than a framed photo.

This gift idea is very inexpensive.
Have someone click a photo of you with your class. Have them printed and put them in dollar store picture frames. I grabbed this pretty one from Ikea.

Simple and sweet!

I hope this this gives you some fun ideas for Christmas gifts for your students.

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

Dealing With Poor Student Behavior

Do you have a student who just doesn't seem to care about your behavior management system and rewards? Do you know what motivates them?

We have all been there. We have all had that one student who constantly pushes our buttons and doesn't seem to follow any of the class rules. We have all had a challenging kiddo with behavior that has made us cry.

So how do we deal with a student who has challenging behavior?

I think that lots of teachers would say that you need a good behavior management program. 

I agree. Good classroom management is key!

But I also think that you can have an amazing program and still struggle with a kid or two that just don't seem to care.

I am about to share my honest opinions about challenging student behavior. Please know that I am not a psychologist. I am not a child behavior expert. I am just a mom and a teacher who has been insanely stressed by student behavior. I am just like you.

So if you don't agree with what I am about to say, no worries. I hope we can still be friends. 

So here goes...

There is NO classroom discipline program that is perfect. Sorry. 

The reality is that there is no class that is filled with students who are exactly the same. All students are not motivated by the same things. The key to dealing with a student who has poor behavior is to figure out why they are behaving that way and what motivated them.

Do you have a student who just doesn't seem to care about your behavior management system and rewards? Do you know what motivates them?

And that is NOT easy.

I am going to share some of the most common reasons for poor behavior that I observed in my third grade classroom. There may be lots of other reasons, but I hope that they help you to learn more about your challenging kiddo. I know you want to help them!

Student Misbehaves to get Attention

I found that this type of misbehavior is common with students who have lots of siblings and/or students who have parents who work extra long hours. This is not the only student who might have this problem, so don't rule it out just because you think they have the "perfect family."

This student is not phased by clipping down or losing Dojo points. They are motivated by attention. This student is used to getting attention because of their misbehavior and will have to learn to want positive attention rather than negative attention. 

How to reach this student:
  • invite this student to have lunch with you 
  • pair them up with a buddy from an older classroom 
  • if they play on a sports team or take dance classes, it would mean everything to them if you came to watch a game or recital
  • figure out what their hobbies are and learn about them. Ask the student about their interests on a regular basis
  • give them positive praise for any small acomplishment
  • ask them to help you with a project
 Any time this student is NOT misbehaving, give them attention! (Even if that is just one minutes out of the day. 🙃)

Student Misbehaves because they Don't Know how to Behave Properly

This is most common with a student who does not have a good role model at home. This is the student who is allowed to do almost anything that they want at home. 

Your consequences probably don't work with this student because no one at home will care. Mom doesn't care about the clip down or principal visit.

This student is motivated by having someone who cares about them. Their home life might be lacking this feeling. Sometimes this student can get very angry and struggle with emotions.

How to reach this student:
  • choose a small daily goal to focus on rather than all of their behavior problems
  • reward them every time they meet the goal (Example: a sticker for every time they raise their hand before speaking)
  • work towards weekly goals when the student starts to show improvement
  • when the student has setbacks (which they will!), remind them that you love them still
  • find something to compliment them for daily (even if it is just a compliment about their shoes)
Remember that this is going to take time! No kid learned how to behave in a week when they were three. And they still won't learn in a week when they are eight. 

Student Misbehaves because they Need to Move

Do you have a kiddo that is always talking to his neighbors, getting in other people's personal space and out of his seat constantly?

This is common with a student who needs constant physical activity. This is the child that needs to talk and move and is unable to sit still for long periods of time. When they are asked to sit for long stretches they start fidgeting and talking. They might be ADHD, but that is not always the case.

You need to remember that their need to move is beyond their control. They aren't doing it to bug you.

How to reach this student:
  • increase hands-on activities such as STEM, art, games, centers, etc.
  • give this student time to talk (pair shares, group work, etc.)
  • try flexible seating 
  • set small goals rather than expecting perfect behavior for the entire day 
  • do not take away recess as a punishment

Student Misbehaves because they are Bored

We have all had a parent that claimed their kid's behavior problem was caused by boredom. It's annoying because it feels like they are passing the blame. But, I think this is a true problem. 

If a student is not reasonably challenged, they are likely to find trouble. They have too much time on their hands!

How to reach this student:
  • have engaging fast finisher activities that students can access
  • use differentiated math and reading groups so that students are being properly supported and challenged
  • don't give MORE work
  • incorporate STEM, project-based learning or Genius Hour
Do you have a student who just doesn't seem to care about your behavior management system and rewards? Do you know what motivates them?

I am sure there are many more reasons that a child does not behave. I just noticed that these reasons were the most common in my classroom.

It is important to remember that student behavior is not going to change in a day or even a week. It will require patience. A child is not born with bad behavior. This was learned over time and it is going to take at least as much time to help the child to learn new positive behaviors. 

Always remember that it's not just about this year or about your classroom. You are helping to raise these children and it's about their future.

Don't give up on them! If one strategy or reward doesn't work, try something else. They are worth it!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

Math Centers: What to do When Students are Struggling

Tips for helping students who are not behaving or getting their math centers completed

If you have been following my blog for long you probably know that I totally geek out over math centers in the classroom. I think math centers are THE BEST way to differentiate and meet all of your students' needs.

Math Centers are my Jam!

I wrote an entire blog post series about how I run math centers. It is a must read!

Here is the thing: Even if you have the best math center routine and activities, you are still going to have some students who struggle during math center time. Sometimes you have students who don't behave during center time. Other students may not get their work completed or find the work to be too hard. This is normal!

They are kids! They won't be perfect. But with a little help...they can be NEAR perfect! 😜

I typed up some of the most common math center challenges and provided several suggestions.

What should I do if students are not behaving during center time?

Do you need to practice procedures and expectations?
The number one way that I have found to improve behavior during center time is by spending TONS of time teaching and modeling the expectations. You can make anchor charts about what center time should look and sound like. You should have students modeling the each procedure (taking out materials, working, transitions, putting materials away, etc.). You can read exactly how I teach the procedures by clicking HERE.

Even if you have already taught the procedures, you might need to go back and review if lots of your kiddos are struggling with behavior during center time. I like to do a quick review after long breaks!

Do you need to use rewards?
Some students are highly motivated by compliments. Make it a point to compliment students who are on task. I also like to make a big stink about choosing the "math group of the day." I don't even give them anything. They just get excited because kids are naturally a bit competitive. 

You could also offer small rewards for students who meet their math center goals. My favorite reward is a brag tag. Other options are Dojo points, class money, positive notes home or the use of special school supplies for a day.

Do you need to use your classroom behavior system?
If you have reviewed the procedures and given rewards- don't be scared to use your behavior management system. It is there for a reason. Hopefully if a student has appropriate consequences once or twice, they will improve their behavior.

What should I do if the math centers are too challenging for some students?

There are several ways that you can ensure your students are successful with their center work. After all, we don't want them to just be time fillers!

Are you using centers as a spiral review?
Students will do best working independletly when they have had instruction and practice with the skills from the centers. For this reason, I use my centers as a review. In class we may be working on our division. unit, but during independent centers students are working on multiplication. This gives us time to practice division as a whole group and during small group before they are doing independent division centers. 

The review is so good for them anyway. We don't want them to forget everything after we finish a unit!

Are you taking advantage of math small group time?
If you notice a group of kiddos who are struggling with a particular skill or center, small group is a fantastic time to give them a little assistance. You can model a problem and then have them work together on the others with the group. Hopefully the extra help will be just what they need to understand and remember the skill in the future! Sometimes they just need you to help them to get started.

Are you differentiating?
Some of the center activities are going to be more challenging than others. They are all on grade level, but not all of your students are on grade level. You may need some modifications.

The easiest way to differentiate the centers is to cross out a couple of the most challenging centers for those students who are not ready for the particular skill. The students will still be participating in math centers, but they will just have fewer activities to complete.

If you have students that are significantly below level, you might want to consider using centers from a lower grade level. For example, if you teach third grade and you have a couple students who CANNOT add, you might want to get the second grade 2-digit addition centers for them. The good news is that the centers and the center books do not have the grade level listed. They won't know that it was intended for a second grader.

Are your centers consistent?
Students are more successful with activities that stay consistent. If they have to spend lots of time figuring out the directions and format of a center, they are going to be less likely to spend the necessary time doing the actual math. 

I gave my students the same centers all year. I changed topics about once per month, but the look, directions and expectations stayed the same. Students are more successful as the year progresses and they get used to the centers. It also saved me lots of time teaching the directions.

Second grade math centers

What should I do if students are not completing their centers?

First, it is important to decide why the student is not completing the work. 

Have they had sufficient class time? 
If lots of your students have not finished, then you might need to give the class more time. Based on my math center schedule, it takes my students 3-4 weeks to complete a set of 10 of my math centers

You may have to experiment a little and observe the class to determine the length of time the vast majority of your students need to complete the centers. If you look around and see that most of your students are done you can announce that all centers will be due in two days. Give some warning.

Are the skills too challenging?
Some students might be extra slow because they are struggling with the skills covered in the centers. The best way to avoid this is to give center activities after you have completed the unit in your curriculum. You can read more tips about helping students who are challenged in the section above.

Are they using their time wisely?
If you are noticing certain groups or students that are not using their time wisely, you may need to go back to the basics. Sometimes students are not clear on the procedures and other times they just need to be reminded. Pull the whole class back together and rehearse the procedures for math centers again. You can click HERE to see how I teach the procedures to my students. 

This is time well spent! It is an investment into your successful math centers for the rest of the year. 

What should I do if students are losing the center pieces?

Are center pieces easy to identify?
Students will be much more successful when putting center pieces away if it is easy to tell what center the piece belongs to. If you use the color version of my math centers most pieces are labeled with the number. Some are too small to label, but each center has the same background paper design and clip art images.

If you are using the black and white versions of my centers, you might want to print each center on a different color of paper. You can also have a couple students help you to write the center number on the back of each piece.

Third Grade Math Centers

Are your math centers easy for students to access and put away?
Students are going to lose less center pieces if they are very clear on where the center pieces belong. Make sure that you have your math centers organized and labeled! Click HERE to check out some organization ideas and free labels.

Math center organization

Do they need to practice?
You should practice the procedures for putting centers away when you start doing math centers in your classroom. But, you may need to take time to review. Show students exactly how you want it done. Have a couple students model how NOT to put the materials away. Discuss their mistakes as a whole group. Then have the same students put materials away perfectly. You can read more about how I teach the center procedures HERE.

Where are students completing the centers?
If you are having a big problem with missing pieces, I recommend that students not do the centers at their desk. It is just too easy for pieces to fall between the desks of get caught between some papers or a notebook.

Instead, designate a place on the carpet where centers are completed. Students can bring a clip board for recording answers. If the centers aren't being moved around the classroom too much, you probably won't lose as many pieces.

Can you make it into a competition?
Kids have a natural competitive streak and I like to take advantage of this in a positive way. Have your class competing against themselves. Can they go five days in a row without you finding one single math center piece on the floor after center time? Keep a tally of days on the board. If you find a stray piece, erase the tally marks and they start over. When they get the five days in a row, maybe they earn an extra five minutes of recess or free time on Friday. 

After they have mastered the five in a row a couple times, raise the ante, Can they go ten days in a row? Make it fun! Celebrate successful days!

Tips for helping students to behave and complete center work!

I hope this has been helpful and that you have some new ideas and strategies to make your math center time even more amazing! Math centers rule!

Helpful Resources

Have a Not So Wimpy day