Great Teachers Always…

Here goes my first blog post as a full-time middle school writing teacher after two years of working as an instructional coach.

For the first week in my 7th and 8th grade classroom, we worked on creating time capsules that each student will open on the last day of school. One of the items included was a survey where, among other things, I asked my students to complete this sentence: “Great teachers always…” Here is what they said, ranked by how many students said it:



tie for 3rd: HELP and are KIND

Put together, I feel like it makes a great sentence that I can use to guide my teaching this year:

“Great teachers always respect students, listen, help, and are kind.”

It also left me wondering, what does being respected by a teacher look like to a 12 – 14 year old? That may be the next thing I ask!


Team Building in the Middle of the Year

Students need to have community building as a part of their school day, even in the 2nd semester. Below are 5 fun activities teachers can lead to help their class be a strong team.

Lip Sync Battle 

For: Team Bonding
Instructions: Ever seen one of Jimmy Fallon’s famous lip sync battles? Split your group up into teams of 3-4 people and let them decide who will be the singers, guitarists, drummers, etc. Give them some time to choose, rehearse, and perform a lip synced version of whatever school-friendly song they like.

Back-to-Back Drawing 

For: Communication Skills
What You’ll Need: Paper, pens/markers, printouts of simple line drawings or basic shapes.
Instructions: Split your group into pairs and have each pair sit back to back. One person gets a picture of a shape or simple image, and the other gets a piece of paper and pen. The person holding the picture gives verbal instructions to their partner on how to draw the shape or image they’ve been given (without simply telling them what the shape or image is). After a set amount of time, have each set of partners compare their images and see which team drew the most accurate replica.

Advisement Coat of Arms

For: Team Bonding
What You’ll Need: Coat of Arms Template Paper, pens, markers
Instructions: Have teams create your advisement coat of arms. In one space, draw something that represents a recent achievement. In the another space, draw something that reflects your advisement values. In another space, draw something that represents where you see your group going in the future. Post the finished coat of arms in your classroom.

Memory Wall

For: Team Bonding
Instructions: Write a few general school-related topics on the white board: “Kindergarten,” “First Day of Middle School,” “Summer,” etc. Gather your team together and have everyone choose one of the topics and share a story to laugh and bond over shared experiences.

Plane Crash

For: Creative Problem Solving & Collaboration Skills
Instructions: Imagine this: a plane carrying your advisement has crashed on a desert island. Teams must choose only 12 items from around the classroom that they think would be most useful in their survival, ranking each item in order of importance. Alternatively, have individuals make their selections first and then have the group discuss and come to a consensus.


These ideas are modified from ideas found here:



Celebrate Middle School



When I was an English literature major in college, I would have bet you a million dollars that I would NEVER teach middle school. I might have said I would never again ENTER a middle school — all the hormones and whining and need for just a little more deodorant. Little did I know that teaching in middle school was exactly where I would find my home and love it.

So when today’s #EdBlogAday challenge was “What do you have to celebrate today?” I knew that I wanted to celebrate middle school.

Middle school students are the perfect combination of child and young adult. They still want to have fun and play, though they take meaningful work very seriously. So many things are still new to middle schoolers. A teacher, and a lesson, can still take their breath away. But they are also becoming aware of the world they live in in a more adult way. They have authentic concern for the needs of others, and they are beginning to see that they are on the brink of being the drivers of the world.

Middle school is a time of transition from childishness to adulthood, and it is not always an easy time to be a human being. I celebrate the fact that I get to help guide my students on that journey.

What Successful Teachers Do Differently

These 5 things are from a list called 25 Things Successful Teachers Do Differently I guarantee all of these things are going on in our school! I thought it was a good reminder as we head into April and May.

Successful teachers have clear objectives
How do you know if you are driving the right way when you are traveling somewhere new? You use the road signs and a map (although nowadays it might be SIRI or a GPS). In the world of education, your objectives for your students act as road signs to your destination. Your plan is the map. Making a plan does not suggest a lack of creativity in your curriculum but rather, gives creativity a framework in which to flourish.

Successful teachers have a sense of purpose
We can’t all be blessed with “epic” workdays all the time. Sometimes, life is just mundane and tedious. Teachers with a sense of purpose that are able to see the big picture can ride above the hard and boring days because their eye is on something further down the road.

Successful teachers are able to live without immediate feedback
There is nothing worse than sweating over a lesson plan only to have your students walk out of class without so much as a smile or a, “Great job teach!” It’s hard to give 100% and not see immediate results. Teachers who rely on that instant gratification will get burned out and disillusioned. Learning, relationships, and education are a messy endeavor, much like nurturing a garden. It takes time, and some dirt, to grow.

Successful teachers have a positive attitude
Negative energy zaps creativity and it makes a nice breeding ground for fear of failure. Good teachers have an upbeat mood, a sense of vitality and energy, and see past momentary setbacks to the end goal. Positivity breeds creativity.

Successful teachers expect their students to succeed
This concept is similar for parents as well. Students need someone to believe in them. They need a wiser and older person to put stock in their abilities. Set the bar high and then create an environment where it’s okay to fail. This will motivate your students to keep trying until they reach the expectation you’ve set for them.

Second Semester – a Chance for Something New

I hope every teacher has experienced some great successes this first semester. The second semester is a fresh start for both teachers and students. After a restful break, we all come back to school ready to continue with what was working, and make changes in what wasn’t.

As teachers it is important to reestablish classroom procedures during those first few days back. Don’t be afraid to change and try something new in your classroom… the beginning of second semester can be a great time to implement change, large or small.

For example, second semester might be a great time to try out eliminating hand-raising and replacing it with the Cold Call method for questioning your students. Or maybe start having your students track their own data.

But even if you don’t plan to implement a large change, it is important to take the time revisit the procedures you want to continue from first semester. As most teachers know, sometimes it seems like the 2 weeks of vacation are enough for our students to forget everything they ever knew!
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Thankfulness as a Teacher

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 1.00.16 PMAs teachers we often ask students to stop and reflect over what they are thankful for, but we can sometimes forget to count our own blessings. There is much in life to be grateful for, but here are some of the school-centered things I give thanks over:

Current Students
Every day people send their children to my room to be educated, which is a huge act of trust. I get to learn with them and laugh with them. I always try to teach them something, and often they end up teaching me. Sometimes about content, sometimes about patience, but I am always better after spending time with them.

Former Students
One of the unexpected gifts of being an educator is running into former students out in the “real world” and hearing about what they have achieved after leaving my classroom. I recently saw a former student at the grocery store. Now in his 20s, he is not only working full-time, but mentoring other employees. I couldn’t help but remember him as the 12-year-old homeless boy who struggled to read or write even a few sentences. Speaking to him and seeing him as a happy, healthy, caring adult truly filled my heart with joy.

To me, teaching is the perfect combination of autonomy and support. I have my own classroom where I can test my ideas and set my own ground rules, but I also work in a school filled with other teachers who are always willing listen to me or help out in a pinch. I think every school can be that way if teachers remember to value each other and make the time build relationships not just with the students, but with the adults.

As a teacher, I am thankful that on holidays like Thanksgiving I get to be home with my family. Teachers don’t have to be on call; I don’t have to decide whether the time and a half is worth it to work on a holiday. Schools are closed. There won’t be an emergency to call me in. I am home for the holidays. And I am thankful.
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