7 Things Auto Racing Taught Me About Teaching

I will start out by saying that one of my favorite blogs in the world to read is Jennifer's from Cult of Pedagogy. I recently came across her post 4 Things I've Learned About Teaching From CrossFit  and it made me start thinking about how my experiences in life shape how I am in the classroom. After pondering, I started to think about what I have carried over from my hobby of autocross, a type of auto racing, and I thought I would share. 

Maintenance is Vital

In auto racing you are constantly fixing or checking something. Some things are routine like oil changes, and sometimes you have to replace a whole engine. 

Likewise in teaching our Professional Development is what keeps us fresh. Sometimes it is a faculty meeting or planning with your team that "change our oil." Other times we have to get extensive training on a new curriculum or area that we struggle with. Either way, we are better teachers for it. 

Study the Course

One of the first things I do in the morning when racing is walk the course. I try to memorize it to the best of my ability to know what is coming up. I visualize where I will apex in a turn, where I need to slow down, and where I can really hit the gas. 

In teaching our course is the curriculum, and it is important that we know it backwards and forwards. We need to know our standards as well as where our students are, so that we can front load information and stay on track. 

 You Are At Your Best When Challenged

Halfway through the last racing season I switched cars. I went from the cute little red Miata you see above which is rear wheel drive to the sporty little silver CRX seen below which is front wheel drive. Basically the only thing they have in common is that they are little. I really struggled/am still struggling to learn the new car. It has been a challenge to say the least, and has been frustrating at times. Through it all though, my driving skills have become sharper, and I know I am better for it. 

Sometimes it is all too easy to get comfortable with doing the same thing each year in our classrooms, but when that something is not what is best for our students we need to challenge ourselves to branch out and try something new. 

The People Make It Worth It

As much fun as I have racing, the absolute best part is the people that I have met doing it. I have formed life long friendships with people who enjoy the same things I do. 

In teaching it is important to find your tribe and surround yourself with others who are positive teachers who also love what they do. Teaching is tough, and you need a support system of people to help you at your hardest moments. Build up those bonds and help each other out. 

Ride Alongs Are Encouraged

You can study a course all you want, but there is no substitute for taking a ride along with another driver. Seeing the course at speed offers a whole new vantage point. Also, seeing how other people take a course slightly differently from how you do it can only improve your skill set too. 

There is also no substitute for observing another teacher teach. You can talk through lessons until you are blue in the face, but actually seeing it taught with a class of students is a whole different thing. I can't tell you the number of times that I observed a teammate teach the same lesson I did, but in a different way. It was always eye opening. 

You Never Stop Learning

There is no plateau to your driving skills. They need to be constantly practiced, reviewed, and tried again. Seat time is the only way to continually improve. 

You will learn something new every day in your classroom. Most days it won't be what you thought it would be either. 

Look Ahead

In racing if you are looking at the turn coming up, you are already behind. You need to constantly be looking far, far ahead to prepare yourself for the twists and turns.

In education you should never stop planning. Even when your world is crashing down around you, and I know that it does from time to time, the one thing that you can never stop is planning. 

In Reflection

To be successful in both auto racing and teaching make sure to perform regular maintenance, know the course, challenge yourself with new things, surround yourself with positivity, take ride alongs, never stop learning, and look ahead. 

My Texas Symbols and Cultures Notebook

Welcome back for the Annexation edition of a peek inside my Texas History INB. If you would like to check out previous entries on setting up your notebookmapsregions of TexasNative Americans, European explorers, Spanish Missions, Colonization, the Texas Revolution, Republic of Texas, Annexation, Statehood, the Civil War, the Oil Boom, or Frontier Texas just click on the title. 

You've made it! This is the last unit that I taught each year, and the end of this blog series, but you can click on any of the links above to find other units.

Texas Symbols was always a crowd pleaser in our class, because we were able to really have fun with it! It usually came during the last couple weeks of school after testing was done (sigh) and we had more time to devote to Texas History.
Each year I would start with the six flags that have flown over Texas. This fold-up is a great place to collect information. I challenge my students to go back in their notebooks and see if they can figure out where each of the flags are from and when they ruled Texas, and then we fill in the missing information together.
Then we move onto the symbols of Texas. This PowerPoint is a great jumping off place to filling in our fold-up and starting class discussions. We also read L is for Lonestar. After we have learned all about the different symbols, we play a game of Who am I? with the symbols. I just tape a notecard with a different symbol (there might be some repeats depending on how many students you have) on each student's back and then they have to ask other students questions to figure out which symbol they are.

Another great way to review the symbols is this I Have, Who Has? game.

After a few rounds of Who Am I? I am ready to test my students' knowledge on symbols and use these task cards in a scavenger hunt to get the job done.

Of course, it is also part of our standards for all students to learn our state song Texas, Our Texas. I don't know about you, but I do NOT have the pipes on me to belt this one out and teach it to my class, but luckily this YouTube video does a fine job of that! It is a instrumental version with the words on the screen, so that you and your class can sing along.

Next, we move into the predominant cultures in Texas. This is where I LOVE to invite in families form our school and community to share their heritage and traditions. These six cultures were predominant in our community, but you can choose any six (or more!) you would like. I had one family come in and teach us how to make tortillas, another who brought a tuba and taught us a polka, and yet another who brought kolaches for us all to share! Go wild on this one, because it really can be a lot of fun! 

Working with an Angry Student

From time to time it is going to happen. When you work with tiny humans, or large ones for that matter, invariably there will be a point when someone becomes angry. This is especially apparent when student hormones are a-raging as they tend to be in school. Whether it is one student that is angry a lot of the time or a sweet student that lost their cool, here are five ideas for how to help them cope and be successful in the classroom.


Consequence seems to be a dirty word lately, but it doesn't need to be. Consequences should be natural to the situation that led to them. I have found that the best format is to use "If, Then" statements. For example, "If you do not turn in your homework on its due date, then you will not be able to participate in today's free choice time." 

These "If, Then" statements put the ball in the student's court and allow them to think about what the effect of their current actions might be when their anger may cause them to be somewhat short sighted. 

Cool Down

A cool down spot or strategy should be a pre-established routine. 

For a cool down spot, make sure that the selected area is safe, but in full view of the teacher. Try your best to keep the student in the classroom where you can keep your eye on them, and resist sending them into the hall. If a student has reached a point where they need some privacy in order to get themselves back on level work with other your coworkers, such as the school nurse, counselor, or librarian to ensure that the student has a safe place with adult supervision. 

Some strategies that I have used with students in the past that work wonders for cooling down are ripping paper from the recycling bin, blowing on a feather, a movement spot where they can run in place or flail a bit, a small space where they can be alone (while still under adult supervision), or a glitter jar. This of course isn't an exhaustive list, and each student needs something different to help themselves back to normalcy. Don't be afraid to think outside of the box and try something new. 

I Statements

Sometimes students, or any of us, get wrapped up in the little thing that is bothering us and kind of spiral out of control. A gentle reminder through an I statement can be just the thing to bring a student's feet back to the ground.

The trick to an I statement is to show the student how their behavior is affecting others, especially their ability to learn. For example, "I am having a hard time concentrating while that noise from kicking your desk is interrupting me."

It is okay to put a little bit of emotion into an I statement, but do not get overly emotional. You want to remain as calm as possible. 

Table the Matter

If there is a specific trigger that is causing your student to be upset or angry then move on and table the matter temporarily. You can simply ask the student to pick a time to talk to you about their troubles later, but that now is not the time. This does not always work, but it does with a great deal of students, because you are sending the message that you want to hear what is wrong, but that there is business to attend to now. 

The trick to this one is making sure that you hear your student out at the time they have chosen. It may not always be convenient, but your student needs to trust that you will hear what they have to say. 

Imagine and Explain

This strategy works particularly well when it comes to students feeling that a situation isn't fair. It might sound a little something like this,"I don't like it when I have to stop what I am doing to clean up, but could you imagine if we only did recess all day? Then we wouldn't learn anything new!" 

This is a strategy to make students think about the situation and possibly re-evaluate their viewpoint. It works especially well for students that get caught up in what they are doing and don't think about the big picture. 

Wrapping Up

At the end of the day it is important to remember that when a student is angry it is our responsibility to help them work their way out of it and teach them coping mechanisms that will help them for the rest of their lives. 

Do you have a strategy for helping a student who is angry? Let me know in the comments!

For More Classroom Managements Ideas Follow My Smart Classroom Management Board on Pinterest!

Class Building that Integrates Content

I think all teachers desire for their classrooms to be a cohesive community. I mean, why wouldn't you want it to be? You and your students spend a LOT of time with one another, wouldn't you want it to be a pleasant experience?
One of the BEST ways to build community in the classroom is through class building activities. I know what you're thinking, "Yes, I do lots of class building during the first week or so of school!" That's great, and don't change that, but research says that teachers should plan to include at least two class building activities a week for the WHOLE school year. That's a lot of class building.

When I first read this my mind was spinning. How in the world am I supposed to fit two class building activities into out already break neck speed schedule? There was only one way to go, and that was to integrate our content into the class building activities, so that is exactly what I did.

At first it seemed daunting, and as though it was going to take a ton of prep, but then we got into a rhythm, that honestly required NO extra work on my part, but had my students doing the three essential things that class building requires.
1. They were up and moving.
2. They were working with many different classmates.
3. They were talking to and enjoying their classmates.

Seriously, talk about a win-win situation. After a few weeks of trial and error, here are what turned out to be our favorite class builders that easily integrate content.

Find a Classmate Who

This one requires absolutely zero prep. Take a worksheet or task cards that you are already planning on completing in class, but instead of each student doing their own work it is their responsibility to find a classmate who is able to answer each of the questions. 
To do this they:
1. Find a partner.
2. Trade papers.
3. Choose a question to answer. 
4. Answer the question showing any work necessary and initial their answer. 
5. Trade back papers.
6. Find a new partner and repeat the process until time is up or all questions are answered. 
To make sure that students are getting lots of practice I also require them to partner with as many different classmates as possible, and answer a different question each time they trade papers. 

To make test prep more interactive these Test Smash review pages could be used with this activity!


Quiz-Quiz-Trade may be my favorite class builder. It requires a little more prep, but not much. Each student is given a card with a question on the front and the answer on the back. When students partner up they hold their card in front of them with the question facing their partner. They partner reads and answers the question. The first person then praises them for a correct answer or coaches them towards the correct answer. The roles reverse, and then they switch cards and find another partner to repeat the process. 

Again, I challenge students to work with as many different classmates as they can, but it is okay for them to go back to the same partner later because they will have a different question. 

I LOVE this class builder for practicing fact fluency, because I can use flash cards that I got at the dollar store. They are fantastic because they already have the answer on the back. If I skipped a day of fact fluency with my students through Quiz-Quiz-Trade they definitely let me know!

Who Am I?

This class building activity is perfect for building up content vocabulary in the classroom while having a little fun! Each student is given a word on a notecard that they can't see. I have done this either by taping the notecard to their back or giving each student a headband to slip the card under. Then students roam the room asking classmates for clues about what they "are." 
An example interaction may sound something like this:
Student 1: Who am I?
Student 2: You are a 2D figure.
Student 1: Am I a square?
Student 2: No
Student 1: Who am I?
Student 3: You have six obtuse angles.
Student 1: Am I a hexagon?
Student 3: Yes!

This activity gets students working together and using content area vocabulary and language. These word wall cards are perfect for using with this game if you want to practice with math vocabulary and are already divided into units of study. 

My Early 20th Century Notebook

Welcome back for the Annexation edition of a peek inside my Texas History INB. If you would like to check out previous entries on setting up your notebookmapsregions of TexasNative Americans, European explorers, Spanish Missions, Colonization, the Texas Revolution, Republic of Texas, Annexation, Statehood, the Civil War, the Oil Boom, Frontier Texas, or Symbols and Cultures just click on the title. 
We are in the home stretch of this series of blog posts, and I hope that they have been useful. This unit, Early 20th Century, covers an era with some VERY important events including World War I, the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression, and World War II. If I could, I would spend two months on this unit, but the reality of the situation is that we usually have about two weeks. So, while we want to touch on all the major events, there is really not time to go in depth. It is also important to keep in mind that everything we learn is supposed to be through the lens of how it affected Texas.
We start with WWI and the two sides of the war with this Allied and Axis Powers fold-up. In here we list the countries and major goals of each side of the war. Students tend to have a hard time grasping that as part of the United States, Texas was deeply involved in the war even though none of the war took place in the physical United States.
Next, we start our timeline fold-up. This is an ongoing activity as we reach each year throughout the unit. 

I love to introduce my students to the Roaring 20s by playing some music from the 20s and having a little dance party. I ask them to guess how people felt during this time, and why they think it was such good times. We look at pictures from the fashion of the time, and sometimes have ourselves a little party to celebrate the end of the way.

After we have had all kinds of fun learning about the Roaring 20s, I use the above video to introduce the Great Depression. One of the toughest things for students to understand is rations, and how the economy went from being so good to so bad, so quickly. This video helps them to get a grasp. 

To help them experience a little bit of this time period, we complete this Dust Bowl Dice Simulation and Writing Connection that puts students in the shoes of a family trying to reach California and find work during the Dust Bowl. It gives students something to relate to, and makes their learning more memorable. 
The last part of this unit is all about World War II. It has never failed that I always seem to have at least one student in my class that is fascinated by this time period and helps to get the rest of the class really excited. We start by talking about the Central and Allied Powers and make comparisons about the different sides in both of the World Wars. Then we bring it back to Texas and talk about the contributions that were made by Texans during war time and recognize some significant people such as Marjorie and Katharine Stinson, Audie Murphy, and the Tuskegee Airmen. 

Communicating with THAT Parent

We all have them. That parent that emails and calls you every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Sometimes these parents belong to our very special friends, but many times, these parents are just concerned. No matter where they are coming from, their constant barrage of messages can quickly turn into what feels like an attack, even when they don't mean it that way. 
 Here's the deal. If you have not had one of these parents yet, they are coming, and 99.9% of them really don't mean any harm. However, especially as a new teacher, they can be quite intimidating. So, here's a game plan for communicating with THAT parent, for your sake and theirs.

Start With the Positive

Most of the time these parents have a reputation, and you know that they are on their way to your room long before they do. Do yourself a MEGA favor and reach out first with something positive. One year, when I received my class list I noticed that I had one student whose parents were very concerned and contacted his previous teachers often. I worked with our AP to invite them to our classroom before the school year started so that they could ask any questions, check out our room, and open the lines of communication. They were incredibly appreciative and it gave us a great start to the year. 

While this might not always be possible, a quick phone call most certainly is, and these parents will remember that you reached out to them.

Actively Listen

As teachers we are natural problem solvers, and often times have a habit of jumping in and trying to solve a problem instead of hearing it out. I am definitely guilty of this. These parents want to know that they are being heard, so bite your tongue and hear them out. Once they have finished you can offer input. The trick here is to really truly listen to their concerns, because most of the time they just want to know that you are there for them and their student. 

Take a Deep Breath

It is easy to roll your eyes or gasp when the seventh email of the day rolls in from the same parent, but remember to breathe. I mean it. Instead of getting frustrated try to remind yourself that they are contacting you out of love and concern for their child. This one is particularly tough when parents start to become accusatory, as they sometimes can, so take a break and walk away. 

As a teacher, I had a 24 hour reply policy. This way, if that parent continued to email me over and over again, they knew that I might not get back to them right away. It gave me the opportunity to walk away and take a breath, gain some perspective on the situation and reply with a level head. 

Pick Up the Phone

Email is amazing, and it is how I chose to communicate with parents for the most part, BUT tone cannot be conveyed through email very well and I would often read into things that just weren't there. If I was doing it, chances are the parents were too. Moral of the story, when you have something tough to discuss, pick up the phone, or even better do it in person where tone and connotation can be conveyed easier. I know that it is tougher, but it is definitely worth it. 

Keep the Line of Communication Open

Haven't heard from your usually daily emailing parent? Shoot them an email checking in. This will win you major brownie points, and make sure that the parent knows that you are committed to keeping communication open. This also makes it much easier to pick up the phone if a tough situation arises. 

Invite a Third Party

This one is particularly important if there is any tension between you and the parent. Tension is never good and can lead to some very uncomfortable conversations, but it is still important to have them. Make sure that you are covered though by inviting a third party such as the school counselor, administrator, or another teacher that works with the student. Ideally it would be someone that the parent also knows, because you don't want it to feel like an ambush.
This is also VITAL if the parent has been accusatory or threatening in any way. It is crucial to have someone else in the room as a witness for both of you.

Document Everything

Keep a simple log of communication between you and the parent. I had one parent my first year that tried to say that I had never tried to speak with her about her student's progress, but I was able to show the numerous emails, phone calls, and notes home that I had tried. This is a CYA thing for sure, but necessary. 

Also, if the student of the parent in question is challenging make sure to keep anecdotal notes of anything that happens throughout the day both positive and negative so that you are able to give specific information when discussing it with the parent. 

Stay On Topic

This one can be so tricky, but it is important to focus on the task at hand and not wander into another conversation. Make a list of the items that you want to discuss and make your way through them succinctly. If the parent is the one who tries to drag the conversation off topic, let them know that you only have a few minutes, but want to make sure to hear their concern. This should make sure that they get to the point right away. 

Be Honest

This final one is quite possibly the toughest, but also the most important. Parents need you to be honest with them about their students. While it is important to be positive, there is no need to sugar coat things. Celebrate the living daylights out of accomplishments, but don't be afraid to discuss areas that need improvement. 

Above all else, remember that you can do this! Parents can be difficult from time to time, but always keep reminding yourself that they are fighting for their child, the same child that is in your class that you are fighting for too!

Cooperative Learning Structures that are Great for Sharing Writing

One of the most important parts of the writing process is sharing your writing, but if you are anything like me it is tricky to keep this part of the writing workshop novel. It is way too easy to slowly slide into just sharing with your table partner each day, because I mean, that's sharing right? While sharing with your table partner is certainly better than nothing, here are five ideas for spicing up how your students share their writing. 

 Inside Outside Circle

This is a really fun way to share, and students get excited about it. To make this structure work, divide your students into two equal groups. The first group forms a circle facing outward. The second group forms a circle around them facing inward so that everyone has a partner. Partners then share their writing with one another. Once you are ready to switch you can have either the inside circle, outside circle or both move. I like to do movements such as inside circle move three people to your right, and outside circle move two people to their right. That way students aren't able to predict who their next partner will be. 

Stand Up Hand Up Pair Up

This is a great structure to use if your students' writing varies in length, because instead of everyone having to switch partners at the same time, they can move to the next person as soon as they are ready. To do this structure students do exactly as it says; stand up, raise their hands in the air, and find a partner. After students partner up they each read their writing, give a compliment, and repeat the process to find a new partner. We usually continue this process for about five minutes, and students are able to meet with multiple partners. 

Round Robin

This is another quick structure that allows students to hear multiple pieces of writing, but only share once. In table groups, students take turns standing up and reading their writing. Once each person read everyone else at the table gives a compliment or asks a question. Sometimes I would give each student a sticky note to write the compliments and questions on, just to mix things up. 

Quiz Quiz Trade

Quiz Quiz Trade is one of my all time favorite structures, and this is a little spin on that. Students stand up hand up pair up and trade papers to read. This way, the author is hearing their writing being read by someone else and allows them to listen objectively. Once both papers are read they switch papers back so that they have their own, and find their next partner to repeat the process. 

Gallery Walk

This is a great strategy is you have a bit longer to spend on sharing writing. Instead of students reading their own writing they simply leave it on their desk for others to read. I prefer to have my students flow naturally from piece to piece, but if your class needs a bit more structure you could format it just like a scoot game with a particular order. 

You Might Also Like...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...