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Teacher Appreciation Week- Giveaway

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!  Teachers are some of the most hardworking, passionate, and selfless people I know, and this week it is all about you!  We are here to celebrate your hard work and dedication.  We are here to celebrate the love that you have for your students.  We are here to celebrate all of the "ah ha!" moments you have made happen.  We are here to celebrate all of the little victories that occur every day, in classrooms everywhere BECAUSE OF YOU!

To show our appreciation, some of my favorite bloggers and I have come together to bring you a Teacher Appreciation Giveaway!  10 Teacher-Bloggers will be giving away 10 Teacher "Must Haves" for your classroom!  Not only that, but we will be giving away a $100 Gift Card to Teachers Pay Teachers for you to stock up on all of your classroom needs.

My sweet friend Ashley Sharp (from One Sharp Bunch) and I are teaming up to share our "Must Haves" with you today.  Meet my best friends- Laminator and Paper Cutter!

I don't know about you, but I laminate EVERYTHING in my classroom.  I learned early on in my career that if you don't laminate it, you might as well say goodbye to it.

You work hard to create all of the materials in your classroom (not to mention the fortune many of you spend on colored ink!) and it's important that you get the most out of them.  Whether you are creating reference posters for your classroom, resources for your literacy centers, or name plates for your tables/desks, the only way to guarantee longevity is with a good old laminator.

My darling Scotch Laminator has saved me so much time in recreating materials.  That is now time that I can use to better differentiate instruction, enhance curriculum, connect with families, and maybe even leave work at a reasonable hour!  Here are just a few things that I make sure to laminate in my classroom:

1.  My Word Wall and Math Wall Cards:  I spent way too much on colored ink to let anything happen to these beauties!  Solution?  Laminate them of course!

2.  My Math Center/Literacy Center Materials:  The time it took to color code, copy and cut these essentials is something I don't ever want to have to repeat! Even if it is just our alphabet strips and number lines, they are laminated!

3.  Anything That Gets Daily Use:  Whether it is our schedule cards, in/out board, calendar pieces, name tags, desk plates or any other part of our classroom that sees daily use, you can bet that it's laminated!

There are about a million uses for a laminator in the classroom, and that is why it is my #1 Teacher Must Have.  And what goes perfectly with a beautiful new laminator?  Why a beautiful new paper cutter of course!  Just think of all of those newly laminated, perfectly cut materials you could make!

You can head on over to Ashley's blog over at One Sharp Bunch to check out how she uses her paper cutter in her classroom!

Be sure to enter below for your chance to score these two Teacher Must Haves for your classroom!

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Don't forget to enter the Grand Prize Giveaway of $100 to Teachers Pay Teachers!
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You can check out all of the amazing Giveaways by visiting any of the amazing bloggers below!  Thank you for stopping by, and have a wonderful Teacher Appreciation Week!  You are appreciated!

Books Teachers Love- Earth Day Close Read Freebie

Hi Friends!  We are back for another edition of Books Teachers Love!  This month I'm taking a look forward to April and focusing on Earth Day!

Today I want to take a look at one of my favorite Earth Day books, The Curious Garden by Peter Brown.

This is the story of a city without any trees or plants.  The illustrations paint a dark and dreary city landscape.  A young boy, Liam, is one of the only citizens that venture out of doors.

One day, Liam discovers a hidden staircase that leads up to the top of an abandoned elevated train tracks.  There he discovers a single patch of green with a pop of color.  Liam decides that the small patch needs a gardener's help.  With Liam's love and attention, the curious garden begins to explore the surface of the railway, and makes its way through the city.

You can see the landscape change over time, and color contrast helps students understand the change in mood as well.

Liam's curious garden starts to wander throughout the city, venturing to the tops of buildings, between cracks in the sidewalk, and anything else it can find its way into.  The story ends with a beautiful picture of the city, where students can deduce the effect of the garden on the city and its citizens.

I LOVE this story (obviously- that's why I chose to talk about it this month!)  It reminds me of the New York City High Line (the elevated train that used to run through Manhattan that was recently converted into an outdoor park!)  If you are not familiar with the High Line, I highly suggest checking out the short video below to get some background knowledge.

I don't know about you, but I get excited any time I find an opportunity to compare a fictional story to  something in real life!  I decided to use this specific text-world connection to help my students learn to compare a fictional text to a non-fiction text.  The only problem is that I couldn't find a non-fiction text available at my student's "just right level."

So I did what any teacher would do- I made one myself!

Since we have really been working with Close Reading passages, I included a series of text-dependent questions, as well as some that encourage inferencing and deeper thinking.

My kids LOVED learning about this "REAL LIFE" version of Liam's Curious Garden.  They rocked it, and I couldn't wait to share it with you and all of your students!

If you would like to grab a copy of this FREEBIE for yourself, just click [HERE] or on the image below.  As always, your feedback is appreciated!

I am pleased to announce that this Close Reading passage is a Sneak Peek of a bundle that is currently in the works!  It will be full of Non-Fiction Close Reads that focus on creative problem solving!  Woohoo!  Make sure you follow MY STORE on Teachers Pay Teachers to be notified right away when it becomes available.

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Pulling Back the Curtain of Social Media

Dear Teachers,

I was curled up on my couch last weekend, trying to recharge from a tiring week.  I pulled out my phone and started scrolling through my Instagram feed.  As always, I began drooling over the color-cooridnated bins all neatly filled and labeled,  the immaculate classroom libraries, the organized shelves of student supplies, the beautifully handwritten anchor charts... the list goes on.  

However, with each swipe up I could feel my chest begin to tighten and my heart begin to sink.  An overwhelming feeling started to creep over me.  It was a feeling somewhere between anxiety, inadequacy, and self-doubt.  Then, that dreaded voice forced its way from the back of my mind (where I desperately try to keep it buried) to the front.  There was no holding it back. Why doesn't my classroom look like that?  Why are these teachers so much more efficient and productive that I am?  How do they fit so many things into their day, and still have time to create such amazing resources?  Why does their student work look so different from mine?  Why am I not like them?  What am I doing wrong?

I know that I'm not the only one who gets the Pinterest or Instagram blues.  It's in our nature as teachers to want to provide the very best for our students.  We are constantly looking to improve our craft, and the world of social media has given us access to a wealth of great ideas to do just that!  However, it has also proven a double-edged sword.  While we now have a million ideas at our fingertips, we also now have a million ways to compare ourselves to others.  

When I see the beautiful photo collages of art projects, the adorable DIY gifts, or the perfectly organized displays of manipulative, the feelings of inadequacy can overwhelm me, especially after a hard week.  Sometimes it's as if I am just barely keeping my head above water as it is, and then I let social media take away my life preserver.  It stinks!

Now, given my tendency to go the logical route over the emotional (sometimes a blessings, often a curse!) I often resolve these feelings of self-doubt by taking a look at my social media feed with an analytical lens.  

I can do this, because often I am on the other side of things... I am the one posting the photos of art projects, organized bins, anchor charts and all things pinteresty (not sure if that's a word, but who cares!)  I know what goes on behind the camera to get those Pinterest-worthy photos.  I know what it looks like outside of that perfectly cropped shot.  I use this knowledge to remind myself that real life is not pinterest!  Real life is not highlights on Instagram!  Real life is unfiltered!

While talking myself out of my social media blues on the couch, my mind started to wander to all of the teachers out there that don't have the luxury of this perspective.  Therefore, I wanted to take a few moments to help pull back the curtain of social media, and let you in on what happens behind the camera.  

It can take 100 bad photos to produce ONE decent photo, and cropping is a powerful thing!  When I take a photograph, you only see what I want you to see.  I spend a lot of time cropping out the piles of paper, the tables with pencil shavings on them, the partially torn down bulletin board because one of my kiddos had a hard day... those things don't make it into the photo.  Take a look at the two photos below:

These photos haven't made it to any of my social media accounts, but they provide a great example of simple cropping.  The photo on the left was my first attempt.  When I looked back at it here is what went through my mind:

  • I need to crop out the nasty media cart, printer and broken fan in the corner of my classroom (the place where things go to die!)  
  • I need to move my student's water bottle from the table, it blocks the supply caddy.
  • I need to move my laptop case from the side of the large dice because it looks out of place. 
  • I need to flip the dice because my student drew all over the #3 side today, and even if you can't see it in the photo, I know it's there!
  • I'm trying to show how I use 3AM hooks to organize some of my student reference tools, but the blue isn't bright enough... it gets lost.  I need to put the brightest colors on top!

Crazy right?  Well, it makes a difference in what you focus on in the photo, and eliminates the messy pile in the corner.  Does it portray the reality of my classroom?  Not really... but that wasn't the point of the photo.

Now when I see a beautiful classroom photo, I remember to tell myself, 'That photo was probably selected from dozens of photos, and several rounds of moving things around and cropping took place prior to that perfect shot.'

Think of it like any magazine cover or fashion advertisement.  You know that what you are seeing has been photoshopped.  The models have all been airbrushed, their curves embellished, their waistlines and thighs thinned, and their cheekbones more defined.

The photo above lets you see what just a small change in color saturation can do for a photo!  Imagine what happens when you play with more than one photoshop option!

It's not a secret that some states, some districts, and some schools get more funding than others.  To compound it further, despite the amount of funding, it can be dispersed in different ways.  Discrepancies in funding can significantly impact what you see in an individual classroom.  This can impact several areas of our classrooms, some of which I have listed below:

  • Art Supplies (colored cardstock, paint, colored pencils, construction paper...etc.)
  • Access to Technology (classroom and school housed iPads, laptops, media stations...etc)
  • Quality of Developmentally Appropriate Furniture
  • The Purchasing of Books for Classroom Libraries
  • Classroom Supplies (math manipulatives, individual white boards, magnetic letters...etc.)
  • Classroom Storage Options (Bins, Shelves, Cabinets, Cubbies...etc.)
  • Upkeep (painting walls, fixing broken furniture, replacing old rugs...etc.)

A photo can't tell you the kind of funding that classroom receives.  It does not tell you if that school has a generous PTO, or if their district has had to close 40% of their schools due to lack of funding.  It doesn't tell you if individual classrooms are given an art stipend, or if teachers have to purchase their own pencils.  It doesn't tell you if that beautiful library was pre-purchased for that classroom, or if those books were brought together by countless trips to yardsales, scholastic points, and online donations.  You just don't know!  My point?  You may be trying to compare apples to oranges, so as hard as it is, try to avoid it!  Do not let classroom funding be your barometer for good teaching!

The amount of students in you class can greatly influence how you teach!  It's just a simple fact that prepping for 28 students is different than prepping for 12.  It doesn't mean that one teacher is better than another, it just means that they will have different needs and focuses.  If you are teaching the class of 28, it means that you are prepping for 16 more parent-teacher conferences, answering 16 more parent emails/phone calls, assessing 16 more students in all academic areas, supplies for 16 more students need to be funded, not to mention the daily centers that you need to prep for each student.  Your classroom management style will likely differ as well!

Depending on your class size, your time will be spent differently.  Again, you cannot compare apples and oranges... you'll drive yourself crazy!

Each student brings their own strengths to the classroom, and as teachers, we use those strengths to help our students grow.  We work tirelessly to modify and extend our lessons, differentiate our centers, and provide accommodations to help all of our students meet high expectations.  However, it is no secret that your student population can impact how much time you spend doing this.

Just like you cannot determine class size or source of funding from a photo, you also can't know the individual students and their needs.  You do not know how many students in that classroom have IEPs.  You do not know how many students are English Language Learners, and what levels of proficiency they have reached.  You do not know the student's socio-economic status, past experiences, or the stability of their home lives, and how any of those impacts their availability for learning.

These details can significantly impact how much time you spend previewing, differentiating, modifying, translating, supporting, and reviewing.  Just remember:  You only have so much time.  Your students are your priority!  If you use all your hours making sure they can access the curriculum and see themselves as successful learners, you have done an AMAZING job!  Don't worry about the unfinished bulletin board in the hallway!

Another piece that many don't consider is that some teacher bloggers are currently teaching part-time or are no longer in the classroom.  Many have made the move to full time presenters, resource creators, and bloggers.  Others have made the choice to stay home and raise their children, but stay connected to the classroom through blogging and creating resources for the classroom.  Each of us has our own journey ahead, and you cannot compare your journey to someone else's.

How often does your classroom actually look clean and photo-worthy?  Mine might be less than 10% of the time, but for a good reason:  LEARNING IS MESSY!  As much as I love the organized chaos of teaching, I don't typically document it.

I wanted to make an image to go along with this idea, but when I searched stock images for "MESSY", nothing remotely messy came up!  Seriously!  I couldn't find ONE!  That, in and of itself, says A LOT about what we seek to portray.

While I love the amazingly clever and creative ideas that I now have instant access to, I feel like social media has also started to take a toll on us as teachers.  I worry that we are all striving towards something that we cannot obtain, because it isn't real!  

I would like to propose that we start a new trend.  I challenge you to help pull back the curtain of teaching!  We can help support one another by shedding light on the realities of teaching while also sharing great ideas!  

I want to encourage our teacher community to start posting unfiltered, uncropped, unedited photos of their classrooms, their projects, and the beauty of messy learning.  If you would like to join in, use the hashtag #unfilteredclassroom in your posts so that we can easily search these images.  I hope that providing a real look into the world of teaching will help provide a better balance for us all, and remind us that we don't have to create a pinterest-worthy photo to be an amazing teacher!

Thank you for stopping by! Now go be amazing!