Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ways to Refresh Over the Summer

This past weekend I was running around with a chicken with my head cut off, as one does on a day when EVERYTHING is scheduled, and it donned on my that summer is half-way over for most teachers. I don't know why, but a sense of horror washed over me. It occurred to me, that for the most part I am still in teacher mode. I have still been pouring over Pinterest, thinking about curriculum, and wondering about my students. While I don't think there is anything I can do about that last one, the first two have to stop, if even just for a few days.
So here is my game plan to refresh myself. I would love to hear below what you do to make sure that you are relaxed and refreshed over the summer!

Walk Away

Put down the computer and walk away. Plan some time where you can completely unplug and enjoy it! My favorite is hiking. Living in Austin we have an abundance of green spaces that are nearby and make for great trips to spend a few hours out and about. Some other favorites are the community pool, a concert, and let's be honest a good stroll around Target. 

Get Away

This can be as literal as you want it to be. I am a big fan of traveling, and in fact am getting ready to leave for six weeks, but for others traveling can be stressful. Either way, plan some time for a little adventure whether it be to check out a new restaurant in town or a trip away from your home state. Either way, you are sure to feel refreshed after a little time away. 


If you are anything like me then there is just no way that you can press pause on your teacher brain for the whole summer. If this sounds like you, then give into it just a little. For me, Mondays are my prep days. I plan a small project, some research, or a little general prep that I can do for a couple of hours. This way I feel like I am accomplishing something that will help me out during the school year, but it doesn't become overwhelming and take over the summer. 

Do Something Just for You

This is another one that means something different to everyone. For me this means taking a nap whenever I want, going to the library and checking out books that I have been meaning to read for months, or marathoning a terrible show on Netflix. These may sound like terrible ideas to you, but that is exactly the point! This one is just for you. You get to do what you want!

You've heard my plan! Now what is your plan to make sure that you are feeling refreshed this summer?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Setting Up Your Texas History Interactive Notebook

If you haven't noticed by now, one of my favorite parts of the day is Texas History. We teach it in fourth grade, and then they pick it up again in seventh grade. Due to this split I think it is really important for students to have a place where they can log their learning. 
By using an INB for Texas History, students are able to organize their learning and keep if for the future, which I am sure all of them do.
In the beginning of the year I try to start out INBs off on the right foot with this Start-Up Kit. The kit includes a table of contents, about me page, sentence stems, and a rubric for the INB. We usually complete these pages during the first week of school to get started on the right foot!
I like to go ahead and have my students write in each of the topics that we are going to be studying throughout the year on the table of contents. This gives them a good preview of what will be covered, and gives students a plan for the year. I also have students go ahead and number the pages in the INB at least to page 100.
This about me page is a good way to have students introduce themselves to you and their classmates. After completing it I like to have students stand up, hand up, pair up and share about their pages with one another.
Sentence stems are one of my favorite ways to encourage students to think about their learning, and respond through output in their INBs. These sentence stems are generic enough that they can be used to encourage thinking throughout each of the units.
Finally, a rubric allows both students and their teacher to be on the same page about the expectations for their INB. I like to pick up INBs periodically, usually only once per grading period, and use this rubric to grade them.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

13 Things to NEVER Say to a Teacher

Okay friends, I have been pushed over the edge with questions about teaching. Every year when summer hits the same ones come up, and every year I bite my tongue. I just have to get it out. I know these questions are asked of all of us, and I would love to hear your witty responses or mundane questions in the comments. Here are my "favorites."

1. It must be nice to have such a long summer break!

Really? Do people still not understand that we work over the summer. A teacher is really never off. If we aren't at an inservice, then we are home brainstorming ways to do things better, scouring Pinterest for new ideas, and cutting out lamination. So yes, summer is a great, but it isn't what you seem to think it is.  

2. 7-3 are great hours for a workday.

Wow, they sure would be, but unfortunately that is a student's work day, not a teacher's. I, like most other teachers, arrive before my students, and stay long after they leave. Even those of us who have been teaching for a few years still have our late nights at school. If you want to challenge this, drive by any school in the evenings long past three and count the cars in the parking lot. 

3. What do you do all day?

I sit on a carpet and eat cupcakes of course! What do you think I do? I teach! I read with my students, we have small group, I guide them through social skills that are still developing, and so many more things that I can't even list. Please don't ask me what I do all day, because my answer will be exceedingly sarcastic, and I really can't be held accountable for that. 

4. I could never be a teacher.

That's why you leave it to those of us who love it. I know you've heard it before, but teaching is way more than a career, it is a calling. Please don't tell me that you could never do it, I already know. 

5. You know what they say, "Those who can't do, teach."

Seriously? I don't even have a response for this one. I did see a bumper sticker though one time that said, "Those who can't teach legislate." I thought that was pretty great. 

6. You only have like, 20 kids right?

Only if two are absent! Our classrooms are fuller than ever these days, and there is no end in sight for this one. In Texas 4th grade and below we have a cap of 22, but there are waivers for that too. I have been fortunate enough to have 22 or less students every year but one in which I had 25. Let me tell you, just because their bodies are small doesn't mean they need any less room, and their personalities are still larger than life. Managing the education, behavior, and social skills of 20, much less 25 or more, students is a full time job. 

7. But you get all those days off during the year too!

You're right, and we spend them with our families that are sorely neglected for a lot of the school year. Really, my life is teaching, and my home life takes the hit when things at work get tense. The other way I spend a day off is sleeping. 

8. I almost became a teacher.

Did you? I don't know if people say this to try to make a connection, but I don't start conversations with police officers and lawyers by saying that I almost did their job. If you are trying to make a genuine connection with me let's talk about hobbies, a book you've been reading, or a television show. Teachers are humans too, and don't need to be treated like social pariahs.  

9. I heard the legislature is cutting teacher salaries. You didn't go into teaching for the money anyway, right?

You are absolutely right. I went into teaching eyes wide open as to how much I would be making, but no one told me that every time there are budget cuts my salary would be the most talked about item in social circles. No one told me either that it would be news, and talked about by my friends and family every time it happens. These are important issues that should be discussed, but not to the point where teachers are seen as money hungry, something as a whole we are clearly not. 
I am not a martyr, so don't make me into one. 

10.  The algorithm was good enough for me. Why do you teach it another way to my kid?

Yes, I only learned the algorithm when I was in school too. Do I want all of my students to be able to use the algorithm successfully? Of course I do! BUT I also want all of my students to be successful, not robots. While some latch onto the algorithm right away, others need another method to help them find their success. Neither is wrong. 

11. Why are you so tired?

Because teaching can suck the life out of you, that's why. I get up early and stay up late. My immune system is compromised due to the fact that I work in a human petri dish, and I am just exhausted. So when I turn you down for meeting for a 9pm movie on a Friday night, please don't let that hurt your feelings, because I will probably be in bed, or asleep on the couch, several hours before that. 

12. You talk about your students as if they are your own kids.

Absolutely, they are mine, and if your child was in my class wouldn't you want me to feel responsible for them in that way as well? 

13. What do you do when you take a personal day off?

Short answer, it's personal, just like it sounds. Long answer is that I take a personal day as a last ditch effort to uphold my ability to teach. It is far harder to be out of the classroom than to be there sick, but there are a few things that necessitate taking a day off. It is really hard to make an appointment whether it be for the dentist, the doctor, or the accountant outside of the school day which means sometimes we have to miss school. I once took one day and managed to make it to four separate appointments, I call that efficiency. Of course I am human, and I get sick. Most of the time I will continue to go to work sick, but that just makes it worse. Sometimes I have to stay home as to not infect the entire school population. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

5 Ways to Keep the Classroom Novel

The classroom is a wonderful, magical place. With that being said, we have a lot to compete with. Most likely, your students are overstimulated in most parts of their lives, and the classroom becomes a monotonous place that becomes boring due to repetitive routines. It has been proven over and over again that when something is out of the ordinary it is more memorable, and we have to capture that within the classroom.
Don't get me wrong. I am the queen of routine. If I could make myself a perfectly symmetrical crown you bet I would! Routine has a time and place. Actually, I believe that every time and place is the time and place for a routine, because routine lends to the safety of a classroom. Just like me, most students thrive on routine. This sense of safety in knowing what is coming up next allows us to set students up for success.

Within a routine you can keep things novel! This novelty within the predictable schedule is what keeps the classroom exciting and students on their toes. Without further adieu I bring you simple, easy to carry out ideas that will make a big impact on your students.

Deliver Your Lesson from a Different Location

Do you usually stand by a projector or in the front of the room? Mix it up! Stand in the back the whole lecture, or take a seat and have more of a conversation with your students. One of my favorite spots is to sit right on one of my student's desks. This puts me right in the middle of my students, and it totally throws them off their game for the first few minutes, meaning that it will be memorable.  

Change of Venue

Go outside, go into the hallway, go to a different classroom, or go to the gym! It doesn't really matter where you go, just go! Students love a change of venue, and you will too! Of course, not every lesson lends itself to this, but most do. 
One of the questions I get asked a lot of this one is whether students get more distracted in a different environment, and to that I ask, aren't our students distracted in the classroom too? I have found that my students were actually less distracted in a new spot, because it is already novel, and you better believe that they remembered that lesson. I would hear things like, "Ms. R, remember when we went on the blacktop to finish our lesson on character changes?" They really truly did remember and connected the lesson with our new spot. 

Elevation Change

This may be the easiest of all. Stand on your desk to deliver a mini-lesson. Your kids will think you have gone crazy, but your better believe that attention is glued to you. My students loved this one so much, that we then shared all of our writing using this method with students standing on my big blue kidney table. 
This is a great example of how novelty can become a part of your routine. By reserving this change in altitude for our writing time, it gave students something to look forward to, and encouraged them to share their writing. 

Cooperative Learning Structures

You didn't think this one was going to slip through the cracks did you? You know I am all about cooperative learning, and these structures are an amazing way to include novelty in your classroom. My favorites for instant, no-prep structures are TimedPairShare, RallyRobin, and AllWriteRoundRobin 

Wardrobe Change

Do you usually wear a dress? How about jeans and a t-shirt? Have you every thought about wearing a costume for a lesson. Now, I am not talking a complete costume, although have at it if that is what floats your boat. I am more of a crazy wig or funny pair of glasses. Those small changes alone are sure to grab your students' attention!

What ways to keep your classroom novel? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Teacher Supplies I Can't Live Without

I have been asked a few time what my favorite items for the classroom are, and truthfully like most teachers I make due with what I have. There are however a few items that I absolutely cannot live without. So, here they are:

Paper Cutter

This paper cutter has saved my hide multiple times. It is entirely plastic other than the blade of course and very light weight. It stows easily in a cabinet and is easy peasy to pull out and take care of business. I was the envy of the teachers on my grade level, and they borrowed it often. I have had this bad boy for six years now, and it hasn't lost any cutting power yet! 

GOOD Pair of Scissors

A good pair of scissors are a life saver. I am a huge fan of laminating and dull or loose scissors just won't fit the bill. My absolute favorite pair are from Hobby Lobby and were not at all expensive. 

These bad boys are (mine are lime green my favorite color) amazing and have worked wonderfully at home and at school. I have a pair in each location. They have stayed sharp through all of my cutting of lamination, cardboard, water bottles, velcro, and pretty much anything else imaginable. 

A friend got me a pair, and I have never looked back. 

Air Freshener

Fourth graders stink. I mean that in the most loving way possible, but they really do. I mean, have you ever walked into a fourth grade classroom after recess or PE? It is a bit ripe. Any form of air freshener will help, but my favorite is Scentsy. I have a wall plug in in my room and it does the trick. I love that I can change the scent on a whim and with the seasons. I received my warmer from a student and have never looked back. My favorite scents are Tomato Vine, Central Park Praline, and Pumpkin Marshmallow. Basically, I like things that smell like food! 

Stickers and Stamps

Stickers and stamps are wonderful for so many things. First of all, I have never met a man, woman, or child that doesn't smile when given a sticker. Second, I like to keep track of who has completed certain tasks by giving them a sticker or stamp. If your students are anything like mine that sticker usually goes right on their forehead and it is really easy to keep track of who has completed the assignment. Of course I also sticker and stamp quality work of course. 

I use stickers and stamps on the daily, so we go through a ton of them. For this reason my stickers (including the highly coveted scratch and sniff stickers) come from Dollar Tree. They usually have a great selection and come in gigantic packs! 

Stamps on the other hand I usually pick up at the local teacher store or Hobby Lobby when they are on sale. Since these guys last a lot longer, I don't mind shelling out a few extra clams for them. I do have to say though that my absolute favorite ink pad is a tie die one that I can't find anywhere anymore and I will most likely cry, a lot. 

Smelly Markers

Who doesn't love smelly markers? My favorites of course are Mr. Sketch. Did you know that they come in skinny form now too? Not going to lie. The day I learned of the skinny Mr. Sketch markers was a great day!

File Folders

I use file folders for everything! My students also use file folders for tons of things. I use them to organize my stuff, create portfolios, and as a way of keeping notes on my students. My students use them to create lap books, fold-ups, and publishing their writing. Really, you can never have enough!  


I like containers of all shapes and sizes. This is another one of those items that I pick up whenever they are on sale.  Most of mine come from Dollar Tree and the Target Dollar Spot personally, but I get them where ever I find them. Some of the best, most durable ones that I have found are actually Rubbermaid brand dish pans. These have stood up to six years of fourth graders throwing them around which is a pretty good testament in my eyes.  

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

3 Ways to Check for Understanding with Technology

Checking for understanding is a constant in our classrooms. There are many ways to accomplish this in our classroom, and each and every one of them has a time and place. Some of my favorites include exit tickets, checklists, and four corners.
In a world with increasing technology there are always new tools to make teaching and learning more exciting. There are a lot of apps and websites out there, but these three are my absolute favorite!


I am fairly certain that you have heard of Kahoot! It is a really easy quiz site that is amazingly friendly with just about any device. My students love it because they can use their phones, tablets, Ipads, Chromebooks, or just about anything else to participate. I don't know why, but the idea of using their own device as opposed to one of our classroom devices makes it infinitely more appealing to them. 
Did you know that Kahoot! provides your with data afterwards? After you have given a quiz you can instantly download the results of each student's response in an Excel file. This makes it amazingly easy to see where students are thriving, and where they need a little more assistance. If you are not using this function of Kahoot! yet you are missing out!


Plickers is a fantastic app to use if you are limited on devices because it only takes one! Each student has a QR code that they hold in a certain direction to answer the question. You can read more about it here

Like Kahoot! Plickers also has an aspect that allows you to look at the data afterwards, but unlike Kahoot! you also get real time data as students answer the questions! 


Baiboard is a great app for working collaboratively to check for understanding. I love that this app allows students to work together and check up on each other's thinking. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Looking Forward

The time is here. I have anxiously awaited this moment for about the last three months, but now it is here and it is a bit surreal. The last day of school is always a little bitter sweet, but this year it is VERY bitter sweet. 

My classroom is packed, but this year it isn’t a game of Tetris on top of the cubbies to get everything off the ground. This year it is being loaned out to coworkers and friends with the remainder piled in my garage, because I am not going to be in the classroom next year. I don’t think it has sunk in entirely, but I know that it will hit me like a ton of bricks when it does. 
I am not the typical story of teacher burnout. In fact, I am trying to avoid exactly that, because I truly do love teaching. I have taught for six years now, and can honestly say that I am nothing like I was my first year. Many of you are probably thinking, “Duh, no one is!” Most reasons I say that are very positive, because experience (and while I know that six years isn’t nearly as long as many, it is more than quite a few too) absolutely leads to better teaching. Experience in my case though has also led to other things such as a loss of myself. 

This year has been tough. I am not trying to over dramatize my situation at all, and I don’t think that I am the only one who had a tough year, not by a mile, but for me this year did me in. 

This is also coupled with a unique situation for me. I have been given the opportunity to pick up some odd jobs (and keep plugging away on TPT) giving me the opportunity to travel. When I speak with just about anyone, their biggest regret is not traveling more when they were younger, and since I am being given that opportunity, I feel like I would be a fool not to take it. 

This opportunity will also serve as a break. I am not leaving classrooms entirely. I will still be in and out of them throughout the year, but it will be a break from having my own classroom and all the paperwork and panic attacks that come along with it. 

So, in the coming months this blog is going to turn into a little bit of travel, a little bit of teaching, and hopefully a whole lot of adventure! With that being said, I am totally open to advice and suggestions. If you are looking for a more day to day of what I am doing be sure to check out the Teaching in the Fast Lane Facebook or Instagram, but I will of course be posting the highlights here! 

Most of all I want to thank you all. You, each and every one of you amazing people is a large part of why I am able to do this, and for that I can’t thank you enough!
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