Twenty-six Minutes


Twenty-six minutes. That is all a teacher gets for lunch. When you subtract the time it takes to escort your untamed feral kids to the cafeteria only to turn around and pick them back up again, you are left with about 15 minutes to pee, heat up your food and scarf it down like a violent piranha.

Twenty-six minutes. The only time during the day you are promised a tranquil break from the sound of middle school chatter. The only time during the day you have to forgive yourself for losing it in 2nd period…again.  The only time you have to recover from your horrible unannounced observation that you are still shaking from.

Those twenty-six minutes are coveted. I yearn for them every single day. It is a time to catch my breath. A time to regain my composure for the next two classes. A time to feel sane and nourished. A time to guzzle down a giant cup of coffee that fills my veins with the very enthusiasm that my next two classes need from me.

I used to have a “no-students” policy during my lunch. No students for lunch detention. I need my twenty-six minutes. No students completing work. I need my twenty-six minutes. No students for ANY reason. This is my time. I need it. I simply will not survive the rest of this day without my twenty-six minutes.

This past year however, something changed. I started inviting students into my classroom to finish filming a news project we were working on. Once the project was finished however, the students continued to ask if they could join me. Every bone in my body was yelling at me to say “No! This is my twenty-six minutes. I’ll see you in class.” For some reason, and I’m not sure why, I said yes. That is when everything changed.

It started with just a few students. I’m not sure why they wanted to be there. Maybe it was to sit with friends they normally wouldn’t be able to sit with. Maybe it was to escape the excessive noise in the cafeteria. Maybe it was to avoid drama. Maybe it was to spend more time with me. It didn’t matter the reason. They were there, day in and day out spending those twenty-six minutes in my room.

In a normal class period, we really don’t learn that much about our students. They want to tell us their personal stories in the middle of a lesson and our eyes roll over to the ticking clock on the wall and we remind them gently, “we don’t have time for that story right now..but I would love to hear it later!” But..when is later? You won’t have time to listen to them when you are monitoring the hallway transition, you won’t have time to listen to them when you are rushing them off to their buses, and you won’t have time tomorrow, or the next day…or the next. You will keep shoving standards at them and expect every conversation in the classroom to be related to the learning objective. All you will ever learn about them is whether or not they can pick out the theme in that story that they won’t even remember 24 hours from now.

Giving up my twenty-six minutes every day, I learned about them. I learned about their families. I learned about where they used to live. I learned about who was dating who. I learned what colleges they wanted to attend in the future, or what they really wanted to be when they grew up. I learned what books they were reading for fun. I learned that some kids do still read books for fun.

Somedays I learned about them as they were speaking to me. Other days I learned about them just by sitting in the corner, sipping my coffee and listening to them speak to each other about anything BUT the day’s learning objective. I didn’t have to stop and remind them to use accountable talk. I didn’t have to “get them back on track.” It was their twenty-six minutes as well. Their time to be themselves. How incredible they are when they are allowed to be themselves.

Little by little, more and more students started to join me during my twenty-six minutes. The lunch crew was growing. What would have seemed like a nightmare to me years ago, now became the regular routine. One I actually looked forward to. What would I learn today about my students? I couldn’t wait to listen to them.

Our job as an educator is tough. We have very little time to ourselves during the day, and we beg and plead with our students hour after hour to LISTEN to us. LISTEN to my lesson. LISTEN to my directions. LISTEN to this video. Just LISTEN!!!! Sometimes I think we forget the power that lies in just listening to them…perhaps even for twenty-six minutes.

Why Building Student Confidence is Key to Their Success

Confident Student

Confident Student

By: Trevor Muir

My students once had a project where they created presentations based on interviews they conducted with people they considered heroes. These presentations would be displayed at a public event at the local library, and one of the components was creating a podcast telling the hero’s story. For this project, I required students to work on tasks that are new to them, attempting to stretch them and teach adaptability.. One student named Drew was given the podcast task, and begged me to let him work on something else. He said he hated working with computers and had no idea how to record and edit a podcast.

I saw this as the perfect opportunity for him to learn and adapt. Therefore, I required Drew to keep the podcast role, and to let me know if he needed any help.

A couple times throughout the project, I sat with Drew and showed him a few basics to editing audio and directed him towards Youtube tutorials. I believed he was equipped to complete his tasks for his group.

On the day of the presentation when I had students set up their work at the library for the event, Drew’s group was missing the podcast, and Drew was suspiciously absent from school that day. The show went on without him and that group’s podcast was missing from the presentation.

The next day when Drew was back in class and I found out his podcast wasn’t even finished, I confronted him about his absence from school on such an important day of class.

And I wasn’t very nice about it.

I asked Drew, in front of the class. how he could do that to his group? “Did you not think about how they would be affected by your failure to complete the work? How could you let your laziness get in the way of such an important project?” I thought I was emphasizing the importance of accountability with Drew, but as I was addressing him, I saw him sink further and further into his seat. I realized mid-sentence that I was shaming the kid. I could see it in his eyes that he was embarrassed and so was everyone else in the room.

After class I asked Drew to stay behind, and I apologized for how I addressed him publicly the way I did. I said that while I’m disappointed about the project, I did not handle it well at all. I apologized for embarrassing him and promised that I would do better next time. Drew was taken aback by this vulnerable moment. He then apologized for his lack of work on the project, and explained that he was just so scared of the podcast not turning out well that he just didn’t submit it. Drew explained that he has always been scared of trying new things, and gets anxiety at the mere thought of someone seeing him fail. Therefore, he decided he’d rather get a poor grade than a poor reaction to his work.

Adaptability requires courage.

Upon reviewing Drew’s work, I saw that his planning was excellent and he had all the components to complete the project. It was the final step of recording that he failed to complete. This was the part of the project that was new territory for him. His lack of confidence in himself froze his work.

According to a survey conducted by, lacking confidence is one of the key reasons young people get fired from their jobs. Not having the courage to make firm decisions and take concrete action leads to a lack of productivity. One of the key components in students becoming adaptable is instilling in them personal confidence and courage.

Positive relationships build confidence.

Lynn Taylor, workplace expert and author of the book Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant, says “The most common reason that employees lose confidence is very simply because of a bad relationship with their boss. That insecurity will last as long as the relationship is strained.” Anyone who has had this type of relationship with a principal or superintendent knows exactly what Taylor is talking about. When teachers do not feel trusted to make decisions or learn from failures, the response is often to shut down, halting progress.

When I had a principal who did not trust me and seemingly questioned every move I made in the classroom, I stopped making those moves. I quit dressing up in costumes when teaching history lessons for fear of being labeled as ‘unprofessional’ by my boss. I scaled down the scope of the projects I did with students because I feared something would go wrong and I would face punishment. I no longer brought in guest speakers to my class because I couldn’t control every word they said, and my boss made it clear that teachers should control every word said to students.

I lost confidence in myself as a teacher, and as a result became a dramatically worse one. This ended in me leaving that school and going somewhere I could be confident again.

The same is true for students. If there is a strained relationship between them and their teachers, this will affect their confidence and quality of work in class. Except students usually do not have the option to find a better school and teacher.

This is why positive student-relationships are so crucial. If a student knows they will not be scorned for mistakes, and that a teacher’s primary motivation is helping them succeed, they will not feel the same trepidation in trying new things.

From asking personal questions, having class time every day dedicated to non-academic discussion, to having an open-door policy to listen when students need to be listened to, building these strong relationships have so much value.

I think this is part of the reason Drew did not complete the podcast assignment. It wasn’t that he was being lazy; his outlining work showed otherwise. Drew did not have the personal confidence in himself, and was afraid of how his peers and boss (me) would react to his work. Interestingly, following the incident where I apologized for addressing him the way I did in front of the class, Drew and I formed a new relationship. My vulnerability opened the doors to Drew trusting me, and for the rest of the year I saw a dramatic increase in the quality and quantity of word Drew turned in.

Identical Twin Sisters Graduate High School as Co-Valedictorians with 4.0 GPAs

Two identical twin sisters were named co-valedictorians at their high school graduation in Illinois last week.

Courtesy Lemi-Ola Erinkitola

Courtesy Lemi-Ola Erinkitola

Graduates from Chicago-area Lindblom Math and Science Academy, Tia and Tyra Smith, both graduated with a 4.0 grade point average. 

Tyra Smith spoke to GMA and states "We really worked together in order to be where we were. It was the last thing we could do together in school before we have to leave each other," she added.”

Tyra and Tia will not be going to the same school next year. Tyra will take be going to Duke while Tia will be at Northwestern. 

Screen Shot 2019-06-17 at 2.04.10 PM.png

Their mom, Lemi-Ola Erinkitola, told GMA "I was glad because they're going to separate colleges and it put a nice, finishing touch on their years together academically. It was very, very emotional and goes beyond just the title," she added. "It was the fact they can share that platform together and a memory they can carry throughout their journeys in life."

Tia and Tyra shared the honors of giving a speech at their graduation ceremony. 

High School Teacher Keeps a List Of Slang Terms His Students Use To Better Understand What They Are Saying

Did you know that the term “high key” means very obvious? Or what about that “I’m Dead” means that was amusing? Welcome to the vocabulary 101 of Generation Z. It’s crazy and in some ways feels like a completely new language. So much so that James Callahan, a high school sociology teacher, has come up with a list of these slang words along with their definitions to better understand what his students are actually saying in class!

His list was so impressive that when one student snuck a picture of it and posted it on twitter it went absolutely viral (over 168,000 retweets since Saturday). "I love learning the words that their generation comes up with — both the unique ones as well as the ones where they take an existing word and give it a completely different meaning," Callahan told BuzzFeed News.

After hundreds of users on twitter begged to see the full document, Callahan agreed, posting the four-page dictionary in a public Google document while saying: “Hello internet! Hope this comes in handy! Stay up, Mr. Callahan.” (A quick cross reference in the Gen Z dictionary reveals that “stay up” means “you will be okay.”)

While most of the twitter universe had a positive response, many users were quick to point out phrases that were not on Callahan’s list including “stan” and “littly boi”. Callahan told BuzzFeed that his underlying observations on his Gen Z students is that they are “creative and funny.” 

Thank you Mr. Callahan. Hopefully this list will help all teachers understand their students a bit more!


By: Jen

I’m obsessed with Target Dollar Spot erasers. Aren’t we all? We walk in, get sucked in right away to the Dollar Spot, and what do we see? These sweet little baggies full of cute erasers. Do we know what do to with them? No. Do we care? No.

I thought to myself, I probably have AT LEAST 3 baggies per holiday/season, which is about 20 different designs, and about 50-100 in each baggy, which equates to…(maybe I shouldn’t do that math)…at least 1,000 of these adorable erasers! I can’t seem to part with them as student gifts because they are too cute. And do they really erasers? I don’t know, I’ve never tried. I think they’d break right in half. Every so often I walk over to my math manipulative pile or open my box of seasonal items and BAM there’s a baggy of erasers. I thought, I really need to figure out how to use these. So here is a compilation of ways you can use these sweet little erasers for education (not just shelf life).

I listed these in accordance to common core standards, since that is how I and many other teachers teach.

(in this activity students use erasers to count by 1)


counting from any number forward

counting by 1’s

representing numbers with objects

comparing number of objects in two groups to be less than/equal to/greater than

(in this activity students can use the erasers to add or subtract)




decomposing numbers (number bonds)

making ten (ten frame)




(in this activity students use the erasers to measure the lines using non-standard measurement)




measuring in non-standard units


(in this activity students use a small handful of mixed erasers to represent fractions)



(in this activity students use the erasers as spacers)


picture stories/sentences

end punctuation




(in this activity students use the erasers to coverf the sound/spelling pattern, use them as phoneme tiles as they sound out the word, or cover the initial/medial/ending sounds)


phoneme tiles for phonemic awareness (initial/medial/ending sounds, sound segmentation)

syllable segmentation

recognizing phonics patterns (cover the pattern)


(in this activity the students use the erasers to place them around an object to use prepositions, ex. “The eraser is under the fish.”)




How do you use your target dollar spot erasers? We always have room for MORE ideas!

Pin it for later using this image below.


By: Jen

It’s a Sunday night and I’ve had an incredibly horrible day {due to my own fault}. My fiancé had sent me this link to Love, Teach. I laughed all too hard {this teacher is AMAZING by the way, tells it like it is, thank goodness she’s anonymous…}. I felt like after my day & what I put my poor fiancé through, I should add to her list…so here’s my version:


1. Sunday Night Blues

Every Sunday, about half way through the day, no matter what you are doing, her mood will change drastically. Just right smack in the middle of something, she’ll get depressed or angry and never express why. We call this the “Sunday Night Blues”. It’s the dreaded day before you start again with your 32 rambunctious beings who can’t stop coughing and tattling on each other and then there’s that one who still hasn’t figured out your name and it’s December {TEACHER!}.

2. Teacher Radar

She can sense another teacher from a mile away. She will leave you dead in your tracks to talk to another teacher for an hour swapping horror stories, common core speak, and exchanging of ideas. Hope you enjoy standing around pretending to listen…

3. Teacher Talk

She’ll bore you for hours about how she analyzed her data and her kids have learned nothing {WHY?! I did everything right!!} She will talk about the latest gossip between Mrs. Know-It-All and Ms. Sensitive who won’t speak to her right now because she took all the copy paper. She won’t stop talking about how little Johnny finally passed his multiplication times two. And “why can’t I just have a day without a child throwing a book across the room??”

4. Future Children

You’ve always dreamed about having kids of your own someday. Maybe a little princess and a Jimmy Jr. Someone to twirl around and someone to play a little catch with in the backyard. Take that dream and flush it down the toilet. With a teacher as your significant other, you will be reduced to hoping for a friend who will name you God Parents, because kids ain’t gonna happen. You’ll shortly come to find out that with the 32 kids she spends most of her time with {3 with IEPs, 10 with ADD or ADHD, 2 with anger management issues, 1 off his meds, 1 that doesn’t read above a kindergarten level and you teach 5th grade, 5 parents who act like children, and 4 perfect angels-wait there’s your hope…}, 15 of which call her “mom” non-stop all day, she will be mothered out. The discussion of kids will always be answer with, “I already have 32 and that’s 32 too many”.

{side note: mad props to teacher-mamas, I don’t know how you do it}

5. Over Planning

You thought you could have a peaceful night of relaxing on the couch and maybe watching a movie. Think again. She’ll grab her computer and start making some elaborate unit to sell on TpT or to get her kids to learn how to write a paragraph. You’ll hear things like “I’m almost done”, “I just need to finish this…”, “I’m making you money”, or “I can’t just sit here and do nothing”. Teacher planning is never done and it will encroach on your time. If she busts out the laminator, you better run…

6. Helpers

If you date a teacher, you automatically become a “helper”. Your table will be cluttered with activities, games, lesson plans, and papers to grade. No longer will you be eating dinner looking longingly into one another’s eyes. If you are in the vicinity, you will be pulled in to grade something or cut something. You’d better arm yourself with a pen at all times {and please…no red, that just makes the kids feel bad}.

7. Money
They say when you start dating someone you usually gain a few pounds and all your money goes to nights out. Well, you’ll gain the pounds & your money will disappear, but not on anything for you. Your lovely teacher significant other will spend money on tons of teacher supplies. No one will buy her students glue sticks, so she will go out and get them herself. Then she will see some cute prizes for the prize box, a new book that teaches a wonderful skill, or an amazing product on TpT. Say goodbye to eating out, that money’s gone to the school. Now your stuck eating not-so-lean pockets {there’s your extra weight}. Oh, let’s not get started on Amazon books for her “personal professional growth”…

8. Fridays

From experience I can tell you, dating a teacher is the worst on a Friday night. She will be so excited to see you all day long and then when you pick her up she will start complaining about how tired and hungry she is. Thinking food will satisfy her is just wishful thinking. She’ll eat her food, refuse to talk about her “unbelievable” week of horror, and fall asleep on your couch at 8pm. When she wakes up, she’ll be mad that you let her sleep and waste your precious evening together. It’s a lose-lose.

9. Mr. & Mrs.

Mr. & Mrs. aren’t the old neighbors across the street you grew up with. In the business world you can call your boss “John” or your colleague “Susanne”. School’s a whole ‘nother story. When dating a teacher, you will never know the first names of the people she works with, so get used to calling them “Mr.”, “Miss”, “Ms.”, or “Mrs.” If you don’t she’ll correct you by saying, “Oh you mean MR. JONES right?” So don’t expect her to memorize one single first name. Unless it has at least two apostrophes in it {Mar’que’son?}.


I obviously have my own case of the Sunday Night Blues, goodbye Thanksgiving, hello crazy world until Christmas!

 All of this to say…I love being a teacher {and I only write these things from true, over-exaggerated, experiences}. Dating one comes with it’s funny challenges, but teachers are amazing, dedicated, and passionate about what they do. Any man/woman would be lucky to have one 

{And they have GREAT stories!}

What other “reasons” can you think of? Add your own in the comments!

{special thanks to the Teacher of Love, Teach for inspiring this post, my best friend who coined the phrase “Sunday Night Blues” & my fiancé for helping me realize my craziness}


End of the Year Organization


There is no tired like end of the year teacher tired. So I’m here to give you a few tips on how to end the school year ORGANIZED so you can enjoy your summer off!

Tip #1: Tackle that Mountain of Papers

Are you still hanging on to that activity you wanted to do with your kids, but just didn’t get around to it? Recycle it. You won’t use it next year.  Have a mountain of master copies that never got filed back into cabinets or binders? Have a parent volunteer or student helper sort those for you. If your students aren’t sure how to organize them, simply have them sort the master copies by subject (math, language arts, etc). That can help you save some time at the end of the year!

Tip #2: Sharpen Pencils NOW

I don’t know about you, but sharpening pencils at the beginning of the school year is tedious. That time spent standing over the sharpener could have been better spent on another BTS activity or planning. That’s why I have helpers toss any pencils that can’t be used again and sharpen tons of them for next year’s class. Students love to be helpful, and you save yourself some more time! It’s a win-win. If I can’t find any students or parent volunteers to do this for me, I still do it in June rather than August. Ain’t nobody got time to sharpen 100 pencils during BTS prep!

Tip #3: Give Your Students Jobs

My students LOVE helping. I think most kids really like to feel like they are special helpers. What better way to channel that positive energy than to give students special end of the year jobs! The day before our last day together, I have a list of must dos that get checked off and completed. For example, students help me file any papers that need to go home before summer break, check to make sure all my pens are working, check glue sticks to make sure none of them are dried out or missing caps, etc. The list is long, but they are eager to help out! Below are some of my must dos you can have your  kids help with too!

  • sharpen pencils

  • check/test dry erase markers

  • check/test flair pens

  • organize student library by book genre/level

  • clean math manipulatives with a wet wipe

  • clean white boards

  • organize construction paper by color

  • clean tables/desks with a wet wipe (inside and out)

  • take any tape off of desks

Tip #4: Prep BTS Materials NOW

There are always a few copies you can make at the end of the school year that’ll help lessen the workload when you return. I like to prep some of the basic BTS documents I hand out at BTSN or first week of school paper for parents. That way, I’m not worried about forgetting to send something really important home. It’s already prepped and ready to be distributed.

You can find these  forms  in my shop by clicking on any of the images!

You can find these forms in my shop by clicking on any of the images!


Those are just a few tasks that can save you TONS of time this summer. That way when you return to school for the following year, you won’t sweat the small stuff! It’ll all be done for you. :)

Do you have any great end of the year tips for me? I’d love to hear all about them!

Field Trip Kits


By: Aris Rossi

Field trips….the BEST part of teaching! I personally LOVE going on field trips with my students, but they can be super stressful if you aren’t fully prepared for everything. Today I’ll be sharing with you one way I help ease my field trip anxiety with chaperone field trip kits!

Here’s how to make your own kits! You’ll need:

  • gallon Ziploc bags

  • travel tissue packs

  • Band-aids

  • Wet wipes

  • travel sized hand sanitizer

  • sweet treat for your chaperone :)

I like to add extra info like our schedule or group names to each kit…you never know!


Once you have all your supplies, just add them to a gallon bag and ta-da! You’ve just become the most organized teacher on a field trip! You are so ready to tackle this day!


What are some ways you stay organized for field trips? What are your tricks or tips? Would you like to use these kit labels and kit templates for your next field trip? Just drop your name and personal email address in the contact box and I’ll send them over to you right away into your inbox!


By: Ashley Marquez

I usually introduce the bingo board during morning meeting. We talk about ways we can earn a bingo piece as a class.. working together, staying on task, participating, transitioning quickly, etc. We decide on what prize we would want to earn as a class! Throughout the day when I see our class doing something to earn a piece for the board I pull it from a small pail near the white board or have a student do it for us! 

They love seeing what piece we pulled and seeing how close we are to earning a bingo. It’s an exciting and FREE tool to help with classroom management – that the students truly enjoy!


Every class bingo theme includes:
-6 Ready to use bingo boards with editable prize space:
      -classroom bingo
      -transitions bingo
      -homework bingo
      -kindness bingo
      -teamwork bingo
      -participation bingo
-Blank editable bingo board to add your own topic
-5 Classroom bingo boards with ready to go prizes filled in
-Bingo pieces
-How to use




BY: Ashley Marquez

Have you ever thought about the power of student led parent teacher conferences? Parent teacher conferences are a great tool for the success of our students. As teachers, we meet and talk with parents frequently throughout the year. A lot of us even have a set day or days to meet with parents for an official conference time. I have always done this your typical way. I met with each parent or family individually and shared their child’s data, grades, and behavior in the classroom.

This year I decided to change it up. I am a huge advocate for student leadership and independence. I have seen great benefits from opportunities for this in my students. Whether it’s self reflections or class jobs, kids thrive when you give them the reigns. I can tell you after doing student led conferences this year, I won’t go back to before.

Let me tell you why.


YES- I do still share their data and my own information with parents..but the first 10 minutes is for them to start us off. I have them complete the self reflection, goals sheet, letter to families, talking outline, and gather the work the want to share a little each day leading up to conferences.

Then, I give them one or two times to practice with a partner on their outline and what order they will share their information with their families. This helps them build the confidence that they can totally do this! They rocked it and loved it.

I have to tell you.. the amount of POSITIVE feedback during these conferences I received from parents as well as the proud looks and moments from my students… WORTH IT. I will never go back!

I’ve done all the hard work for you and created these simple and effective printable forms and pages to help you AND your students prepare for conferences! And quick tip… even if you don’t go the student LED route..your students can still fill these out for you to share!


A Day in the Life of a Teacher

1.    Convince yourself to wake up—and find the coffee.


You wake up at the crack of dawn. Your alarm clock has no sympathy for the fact that you stayed up late grading papers and worrying about that kid in your 2nd period. You think of reasons why you need to call in sick, but decide that it will be more work to find a substitute than to actually teach. You ask yourself irrational questions like, “Do I REALLY need this job?” and “What will happen if I just go back to sleep?” You eventually silence the questions with thoughts of, “I have bills to pay” and “my kids would be lost without me.” You get up drudgingly and after a cup of coffee, decide that maybe, just maybe, this day won’t be so bad after all.

2. Mentally go through the day’s To-Do list.


You walk down the hallway toward your classroom with your mind working at a maximum capacity, filtering 93654578 thoughts per minute: “I need to make copies. I need to write the bell work on the board. I need to get Austin’s make-up work together. I need to catch Jenny up to speed after her surgery. We need to review thesis statements one more time before the test. I need to keep a positive attitude today and not let the little things get to me.” You flip the light on, set that second cup of coffee on your desk, and take in the momentary silence of the classroom—all before 7 a.m.

3. Do and say ALL THE THINGS.


The next few hours are a whirlwind of teaching, disciplining, counseling, and surviving. It’s a blur of raised hands and exchanged words every time you turn your back. It’s a repetitive sound machine of statements: “The papers go in the box in the front. You just used the bathroom ten minutes ago. Stop talking. Listen. Good job. That’s right. Yes. No. Yes. No. I’ll see you all tomorrow!” You’ll repeat it all every period, every day.

4. Use your planning period SUPER WISELY.


It’s your planning period! The angels sing and all is quiet again (although your room now resembles a trash can.) You stare blankly at the wall for a moment because you have lost all ability to think coherently. You regain your composure and try to decide how to spend your short time before your classroom is full again. Should I finish my lesson plans? Should I enter my grades? Should I eat a quick snack? Should I organize this unruly desk? Should I just lay my head down and soak up the solitude? And, your time is up.

5.    Survive.


You drudge through the end of the day with more caffeine-fueled enthusiasm, while knowing that the finish line is near. You feel the mental exhaustion creeping in and just when you think your head will explode, it’s time for the kids to load the buses. You think—“Did we cover everything today? Did I do enough for them?” And you did. Tomorrow, you’ll do it again.


Make No Mistake, Teaching Requires Creativity

By: Trevor Muir

In college, I took two years of classes all about understanding education theory, creating assessments, understanding content standards, and all the subjects that fit the job description of a “good teacher.” I was taught how to synthesize content standards into lessons. My professors taught me how to design effective assessments, and how to read the data from those assessments. I took courses on pedagogy and wrote several essays on how I intended to lead my future classes. In one class I wrote a paper on what my future classroom would look like, and how I’d arrange the furniture to achieve maximum student engagement.

Upon graduation from the program, I was well-versed in education theory; understanding cognitive constructivism, and could write a mean essay on behaviorism as a classroom management plan. I felt I was well-equipped to step into the classroom and put these theories and ideas into practice.

And then in my first week of teaching, a student told me that she’d been recently abused at home, and nothing in my teacher preparation program told me how to handle that conversation.

The first content standards I had to teach were on literature, and so I thought I’d have my students read The Great Gatsby, and we’d just have a bunch of deep conversations about the novel like the ones my friends and I would have in college.

If you’ve taught high school language arts before, you can guess how that unit turned out.

I had a strong set of ideals and believed I could subvert the system and avoid teaching certain content standards. The real world does not expect students to know MLA format, so why should I?

Unfortunately, my principal, as well as state testing, did not agree, and I had to start submitting my lesson plans every single day to demonstrate my students were indeed learning specific content. So much for being a rebel in year one.

I often had to yell to get students to be quiet.

I didn’t know how to respond to disgruntled parents.

I was overloaded with work to bring home.

I had no idea how to say no to other teachers, administrators, and parents who requested extra work of me.

And frankly, my lessons were boring.

This was my first year of teaching. Sound familiar?

I learned quickly in this first year that all of the textbooks, classes, and research papers on teaching will not adequately prepare you for the real thing. I had this notion that the work of teachers was formulaic, and that if I could just follow a simple process, I could be one of those great, memorable teachers. However, I’ve learned since that those great teachers of my past hardly had a simple formula that they followed.

Finding the words for a student who shares about being abused can only come from wisdom and experience. Discovering a way to take a set of content standards, which at first glance can look boring and insignificant to a student (and teacher), and crafting them into an engaging and  meaningful experience is not something that can simply be taught.

The truth is, there is a stigma that teachers are merely deliverers of content. First, the teacher masters the content themselves, then gives it to students. The object is for students to retain that content long enough to demonstrate their understanding, and then discard it so that the teacher can deliver more. According to this stigma, which has dominated the collective consciousness for over a century, everything revolves around this ‘delivery model.’ Classroom management equates to having a quiet class that allows the teacher to deliver. Lesson planning is about devising effective delivery. Assessment is about measuring that effectiveness. Professional development is about improving your delivery skills.

When I was a student, I thought of most of my teachers as content deliverers. From Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Bueller… Bueller), to the teacher on Charlie Brown (WA WA WA), teachers have been labeled in media as deliverers. I was trained throughout my education program in college to deliver. And frankly, after years of teaching, I still often slip into the mindset that my job is simply to deliver.

However, I learned in my first year of teaching, and every day since, that teachers are far from just being mere deliverers of content.

Teachers are creatives.

The work of a successful teacher takes immense creativity. Designing engaging work for students, having the ability to constantly improvise, overcoming obstacles and barriers, and crafting a space or setting for others to flourish are among the many daily tasks of a teacher. Creativity by definition requires that something be brought into existence. Whether crafting original lectures, designing curriculum, or having a certain look to bring thirty students to silence, the work of a teacher is creative and original.

It’s very easy to look at teachers who do big and elaborate projects with their students and think that they are the “creative teachers.” And yes, we can use them as models and examples of what we want to strive for. But don’t let those aspirations negate this fact:

What you already do as a teacher is creative work.

I don’t care if you subscribe to a more traditional model of teaching and have your students sit in rows and use textbooks, the work you do is creative. If you teach reading to 1st graders, you are doing creative work. If you coach soccer and have to decide on the best drills for your team to practice, you are being creative. If you work at a university and give one hour lectures five times a week, and you spend time crafting those lectures into a format you believe your students are understanding, you are creative.

Of course I think we should take this creative energy and utilize it to make learning as effective as possible, and that might mean shedding some of those traditional practices that do not engage and inspire learning.

But that’s for another article.

This one is about the undeniable fact that teaching is a creative profession. And if teachers adopt the mindset of a designer; someone who creates compelling experiences for their students, they might just be blown away by what they can create.

**Want some more great info for teachers, parents and administration?  Check out Gerry’s new book Go See The Principal.  Available at Target, Walmart, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  

The Hardest Part About Being a Teacher

By: Trevor Muir

On my very first day as a teacher, I met a boy named Dave. Dave was that kid who kept his head down in the back of the room and hid behind his long hair and expressionless face. I soon found out that Dave was in foster care, and heard his backstory of abuse and suffering. As an ambitious new teacher determined to engage every single student who walked into my classroom, I fought hard to win Dave's trust and attention. I'd sit down and talk to him regularly. I would comment on his clothes and ask about his interests. Sometimes I would wait with him at the end of the day at the bus stop. 

However, after over a month of this, I wasn't seeing any progress. Something was keeping this kid cold and isolated, and I took it upon myself to warm him up. I remember other, more experienced staff would say stuff to me like, "Good luck with that kid Trevor. He is too far gone, and you just can't save them all." I wanted to defy those people, and believe they just didn't try hard enough. I would not let jaded people prevent me from saving this boy. 

And after several months of constantly pouring myself into Dave, he began to talk to me. And then it was like a dam burst, and all of a sudden Dave was alive. He worked hard in class. He began to make friends. Dave came out of isolation.

When he received the first A of his life in my class, I wanted to scream from the mountain tops that there is not a kid a teacher cannot "save" or rescue if we try hard enough.

In fact, I did do that:

I had another student named Gerald. Gerald also came from a broken home and unimaginable pain. He usually only got his meals at school, and those were on the days he showed. Often Gerald's seat would be empty.

But this kid had a look behind his eyes that told me he desperately wanted to "make it." He wanted to defy the odds, finish high school, and make something of his life. I spent so much of my energy on this boy. I met him on the weekends to play basketball. I swallowed my pride many times when Gerald would act out in class, knowing that with enough patience, I could see this kid turn a corner. I even expended a lot of my time and energy outside of school, away from Gerald. I carried his burdens home with me, shared them with my wife, and would lose sleep over him. 

I was determined to save this boy. 

And then one day, Gerald did not show up to school. His cousin had been murdered, and it shattered his world. When he finally showed after being out a week, he cried in my arms and told me how scared he was. I assured him that I have his back and that we'd get through this together.

A couple days later, he dropped out of high school.

The kindness I showed Gerald; my deep questions about his life and family; the endless amount of grace I showed him when he'd steal a phone in class or even cuss me out; the hours spent at home worrying and praying for this kid- were not enough to save him. It didn't suffice to turn his life around and help him finish his education. 

Those other teachers were right, I cannot save them all. 

This absolutely devastated me. I began to question the purpose of my job, and the impact teachers really can have on their students. 

You might imagine I've got a silver lining coming up soon. Some type of resolution or inspiration I later had about how we can reach every kid. 

But this is not that kind of blog post. In the years since Gerald, I've had many other students who entered my classroom distraught and damaged. And while sometimes I do get to see dramatic change unfold before my eyes, other times I end the school year feeling like a failure. Maybe a kid drops out. Or does not pass my class. Or leaves their time with me hating the subject just as much or even more. Sometimes at the end of the year, I find out a kid even despises me. These are the hardest parts about being a teacher for me. 

When I break my back with sweat and blood landscaping my yard, I expect the end result to be a beautiful yard. 

When I pour everything I have into the students in my classroom, I cannot guarantee the outcome. I can't ensure the result will be beautiful. I think this difficult reality is shared by every teacher and person who works with kids. And it's been enough at times to make me want to get out of education. All of the love, kindness, consistency, discipline, and work will not save, or transform every student

But it can for some of them.

And this fact is why I did not quit when I saw a student I care about fail. I've seen enough students transform before my eyes throughout the years- grow in confidence, adopt a hopeful view of the world- to know that love, kindness, consistency, discipline, and hard work is worth giving.

So while you can't save them all, you can still love them all. And show every student respect. And strive to engage them in your class. And let them know their potential for greatness.

Whether this causes them to overcome their past or not is not for us to decide. But the potential for this work makes it worth it. 

Want some more great info for teachers, parents and administration?  Check out Gerry’s new book Go See The Principal.  Available at Target, Walmart, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  

Stop Calling Them Soft Skills; They're Essential Skills

Written By: Trevor Muir put out an article about the top 11 reasons millenials get fired, and the top five are: the need for independence, lack of confidence, anxiety, miscommunication, and that millenials lack vision. Essentially, the main reason millennials get fired is because they can’t collaborate, they lack confidence in themselves and their decisions, which can lead to anxiety, they struggle presenting and communicating, and are not critically thinking to see overall goals and vision.

These are what we in the education world call “soft skills.”

They’re secondary to the “essential” work of school, which is English, math, science, history, algebra, British Literature, the starting and end date of the French Revolution, what an igneous rock is- okay, now I’m being sarcastic.

I think it’s time we stop calling them soft skills, because there’s nothing soft about getting fired from your job, or never getting hired in the first place.

We need to call them what they really are: essential skills. They are skills that are absolutely necessary to thrive in the modern world. I mean, how is the ability to collaborate not the most emphasized standard in the Common Core? It’s not even its own standard! It’s no wonder people are being fired for not knowing how to work together; we don’t teach it. We don’t emphasize it. And the result is division and the inability to seek compromise. Sound familiar?

Young adults struggle with confidence. I wonder if having kids take roughly 112 mandatory high-stakes tests between kindergarten and senior year, tests that only measure a sliver of who you really are and what you’re really capable of, but are the deciding factor for your future, has anything to do with it. I wonder if that has anything to do with skyrocketing anxiety as well?

People are fired for not having vision; for thinking they are just a cog in a machine? For many students, that’s what school is for them. Sit quietly, learn this information, regurgitate it on a test, and then move to the next level. We want millennials to see the big picture and understand why they’re doing certain tasks? Maybe this should start with school, and if we can’t explain why students are learning a certain subject, then we shouldn’t teach it.

People struggle to communicate? Well, have we taught them to communicate? Or are they sitting in rows most of the time, not being allowed to talk.

“But I have to have them do that. They’ve got to learn this information. I’m accountable for them to do well on these tests!”

And that’s exactly my point. This isn’t teachers’ fault. It’s a systematic error.

We need to change things up, and I think that starts with us stop calling communication, collaboration, critical thinking, work ethic, and confidence “soft skills.” Instead, let’s call them “essential skills.” Because they are essential, arguably more essential than your ability to memorize facts and equations.

“But wait, we can measure someone’s ability to memorize facts and equations. We can’t do that with those skills.”

Oh, is that why we put so much more emphasis on the hard skills, because they’re easier to measure and keep track of, and compare?

Not a good enough reason.

Because 92% of talent professionals and hiring managers say that soft skills are just as important, if not more important, than hard skills.

Am I saying we should stop teaching the core subjects in school? No! An educated society is a healthier society, and we still need to know how to read, write, solve, observe, experiment, and learn subject matter. But I do think we need to adjust the benchmarks a bit, and not just emphasize knowing the information, but also how students obtain it. And present it. And what they do with it.

We need to teach essential skills. And the truth is, when students have these fundamental skills, and are confident, creative, critical thinking, hard working collaborators, you’ll find learning that other stuff comes much easier. And they can still do well on those big, bad tests.

Although, I think we should change those up too. But that’s for another article.

eBooks or Print Books? The Surprising Choice One School Made in Regards to Technology

By: Whitney Ballard

All over the country, schools are ditching textbooks in favor of ebooks. There are many reasons for this shift taking place: ebooks are more environmentally friendly and make information more easily accessible. There’s no denying that technology is becoming more prevalent in our future with each passing day; ebooks are yet another avenue to teach our children proper technology usage. Textbooks are becoming “old school” and ebooks are on the rise. However, some schools have not been as impressed with this educational shift to replace print books with technology.

One school in particular, Reddam House in Sydney, Australia, ditched iPads altogether after exposing students to both print books and ebooks, and monitoring an overwhelming favoritism towards the print books. In addition to the favoritism, the students displayed increased comprehension skills after the swap took place. Interestingly, the school is more than satisfied with its decision to dump the technology.

Courtesy of Getty

Courtesy of Getty

In an interview conducted by The Concier, Reddam House principal Dave Pitcairn shared, “The ease of navigation through the textbook was easier with the hard copy. I believe they learn better the more faculties they use, the more senses they use in research and reading and making notes.”

Pitcairn also warned of distractions with the beloved ebooks: “[Students could have messages popping up and all sorts of other alerts.” These messages, according to Pitcairm, were too much temptation for young minds to resist.

Although the traditional route seems to work for Reddam, most schools across the country haven’t slowed their pace in implementing the newest technology into their curriculum. This comes as no surprise as twenty-first century teachers are heavily persuaded, and often forced, to abide by educational technology trends. Across the country, you’ll find lesson plans centered around smartboards, laptops and ebooks; a malfunction or momentary lapse of WiFi can set these plans ablaze for teachers, leaving us feeling almost debilitated from a failure that isn’t ours.

How much dependence on technology is a healthy dependency? Is there such a thing? Is there a balance that exists? These are all questions we are faced with in this period of transition.

The answer? It seems to be—it depends. The technology that works for one school may not work for another. Likewise, the print textbooks that have brought greater comprehension and retention at one school could be detrimental to a student body already striving while using ebooks.

In accordance with the majority of U.S. schools, a Walden University listed the abundant benefits of using ebooks in the classroom, including a more engaged environment, an incorporation of different learning styles, an improvement in collaboration, a preparation strategy for children’s futures, and a greater connection with students.

A teacher may very well connect through technological devices, considering their popularity among adolescent students; the internet is a never-ending source of information, seemingly always within reach. Who would turn down this wealth of abundant knowledge? Well, apparently, the staff and students at Reddam House. Unapologetically, even. They don’t regret stripping away their ebooks in favor of traditional print books. Would you?