Teacher sayings and expressions

Teachers have a language all their own.  Here are some of the most common sayings.   I think these tips should be of interest to first-year teachers, parents, and children’s book writers.

  • First-year teachers: learn these phrases all at once rather than over years
  • Parents: learn to control or at least influence children the teacher way
  • Children’s book writers: add realism and familiar language to your work

General tip: tell kids what you want them to do, not what you don’t want them to do.  For example, teachers tell kids, “WALK!”  People who don’t spend all their time with hundreds of youngsters are more likely to say, “STOP RUNNING!”  Unfortunately, kids tend to focus on the action and skip right over the don’t/stop/not.  The result is that the child continues to run, or do whatever it is you asked him not to do.

Cute little rhymes and euphemisms: these little sayings help teachers convey messages that kids need to hear over and over.

  • Dot, dot, not a lot: don’t use too much glue
  • Criss cross applesauce: the new way to ask kids to sit cross-legged or “Indian style”
  • You git what you git and you don’t throw a fit: just be grateful for whatever color of Popsicle you received, etc.
  • Sit on your pockets: the polite way to ask kids to sit on their bottoms, as opposed to crouching or balancing on their knees so the kids behind them can’t see
  • Bubble in your lips: if your mouth is all puffed up like a blowfish, you can’t talk
  • Bubble in our lips, hands on our hips:  you can’t talk or poke your neighbor while in line
  • Indoor voices: speak in a soft voice
  • Playground voices: funnily enough, you never have to remind kids to use their “playground voices” outside, but you DO have to remind them not to use the “playground voice” inside.

Do you know other teacher sayings?  Please comment and add them to this list!


 

What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 14

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Fourteen: We learn about the world, then teach our students

Teachers love to model what it really means to be a lifelong learner.  We want students to share our enthusiasm for a particular subject, but our real goal is to teach students how to learn about their world.  We want students to find the subjects and sources that make them want to learn more, more and more.

Holidays  and special events can be a great way to teach students about the world.  A shared celebration creates natural enthusiasm for lessons on culture, science, or literacy.

Free Leap Year Worksheets Part 1

Free Leap Year Worksheets Part 2

Free Leap Year Worksheets Part 3

Sunday is Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball

Juneteenth (June 19)

April is Poetry Month: Kermit the Frog Poem and Worksheet

Winnie the Pooh Day is January 18th

Celebrate the World Series—Online Resources to Incorporate Baseball in the Classroom

History of the Easter Parade (with clips from Fred & Judy’s star performance)

 Movies and books make great springboards into lessons that delve into detail.  I enjoy teaching students about civil rights, and often find interesting hooks for lessons.

 Red Tails: The Tuskegee Airmen (Part 1)

Red Tails: The Tuskegee Airmen (Part 2)

Red Tails: The Tuskegee Airmen (Part 3)

Red Tails: The Tuskegee Airmen (Part 4)

Black & White – A Crystal Kite Award Winner

Teach the Jackie Robinson Movie “42”

 You might say that The Muppets are not really academic, and you’d be right.  However, clips from The Muppet Show make fun introductions to all sorts of academic lessons.  I had a great time writing posts on how to bring Kermit and friends to your classroom.

Muppets Teach the 3 Rs (Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic)

Muppets in the Classroom Part Two

 Like many, I loved reading The Hunger Games.  Since I am a writer as well as a teacher, I analyzed the book from multiple viewpoints and created lessons that help students do the same.

Relationships Make Compelling Stories: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games in the Classroom: How to Write a Dystopia

 Happy learning!

 

 


 

What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 13

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part 13: We prepare kids for standardized tests

Standardized tests are a fact of life in today’s classrooms.  Teachers spend a great deal of time preparing students for the test—and the testing environment.

I wrote a post on How kids take standardized tests.  It gives you a picture of what happens when students face a standardized test for the first time.   In that artificial environment, things get real very quickly.  The post gives you the details on what to expect, from covering the learning posters to dealing with nervous puke.

Most states have a reading, math, and writing portion of the test.  Reading and math are multiple choice.  The writing portion involves crafting a formulaic five-paragraph essay designed to appeal to a persnickety reader. My post on Dos and Don’ts for the State Writing Test can help students, parents and teachers.

My award-winning Best Multiplication Workbook EVER! devotes plenty of space to standardized testing.  The tips are explained in the following blog posts.  The workbook has pages for students to practice each tip in isolation, then apply all the techniques to sample tests.

How to Ace Standardized Tests

How to Ace Standardized Tests: What Must Be in the Ones Place?

How to Ace Standardized Tests: Use the Given/Find Method

How to Ace Standardized Tests: Analysis of Given/Find Method

How to Ace standardized tests: Cross off the Wrong Answers

 I wrote a blog entry on the National Center for Educational Statistics.  The data on the site comes from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  Interestingly enough, the data from test results is very helpful in teaching test-taking skills.  Kids can practice reading graphs, charts and text to glean information.

After all the hard work to prepare, it helps to cut loose and focus on How to make State Achievement Test week AWESOMEIt involves student-generated posters, theme songs, enthusiasm and FUN!  The tips in this post help students relax and feel supported so they can use the test as a platform to show what they know.

Good luck on the test!


 

What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 12

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like.  The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER!  Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Twelve: We know a million ways to get kids to read

Teachers take great pleasure in turning children into lifelong readers.  We employ a million techniques and tricks to hook kids on reading.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Get the Most out of Accelerated Reader (AR)

Many schools use the Accelerated Reader program, which is basically just a huge test bank of quizzes about individual books.  As you can imagine, AR can be pretty dry if the teacher doesn’t spice it up.

New to accelerated reader?  Get started with  How AR levels are determined and How to Print AR Labels.  Check out my thoughts on the AR Report: What Kids are Reading.  I cut through the media hype and explain the real story on kids’ reading habits.  Parents will find it interesting; children’s book authors will find it invaluable.

Looking to make AR more exciting?  Try the Accelerated Reader Genre Challenge.  Also, Encourage Kids to Take AR Vocabulary Tests.  The tests give students excellent practice and encourage them to pay more attention to new vocabulary words.  The tests are plenty exciting if you give students incentives for taking them.

Need to motivate your students?  Try So You Think You Rock? An Accelerated Reader (AR) Game.  The post explains how you can turn progress monitoring into a fun motivational and teambuilding activity for the whole class.

Special Events

Teachers love to create special events that promote reading.  Sometimes, we latch onto existing events.  One good example is National Poetry Month.  In the following two posts, I share printable worksheets with excellent poems (written by my sister!) and thought-provoking questions.

During National Poetry Month, I like to use some of my favorite resources: serious poems, fun poems, and excellent workbooks that teach students how to analyze poetry.

By the way, April is School Library Month.  It’s a good time to thank the school librarian, spend extra time in the library, and do a little community service with A Quick Way to Help the School Librarian.

Another popular literacy holiday is NEA read across America Day.  This year, you might Try a Dr. Seuss-Themed Reading Buddies Session on Read Across America Day.

Special Techniques

Teachers love to help kids improve reading skills.  One of my favorite things to teach is Speed Reading.  This simple technique helps students at every level, in every grade.  I also love to Read aloud to build vocabulary.  Students can listen at a higher reading level than what they read independently, so your read alouds can introduce them to higher-level vocabulary words than students could read on their own.

It’s also fun to use technology, such as the highly effective computer program Ticket to Read.  Even TV has its place.  If you use the closed captioning, you can do a lesson on Watching TV to build reading skills.

Kindles

Kindles  (and other e-readers) are a great addition to the classroom.  My series on Kids and Kindles shows their many uses and offers tips on bringing them to your classroom.

Favorite Authors and Books

We love to help kids find their new favorite author.  We also love introducing kids to a variety of authors, genres, and resources.

We even build literacy skills through song.  My “Figurative Language with Taylor Swift” lessons are wildly popular in the classroom.  Kids love to apply their knowledge of literary devices to Taylor’s catchy tunes.  Here is the complete series:

·         Figurative Language with Taylor Swift: You Belong with Me
·         Figurative Language with Taylor Swift: Love Story
·         Figurative Language with Taylor Swift: Hey Stephen
·         Figurative Language with Taylor Swift: Mean
·         Figurative Language with Taylor Swift: Speak Now
·         Figurative Language with Taylor Swift: Our Song
·         The Hunger Games: Analyzing “Safe & Sound” by Taylor Swift


 

What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 11

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Eleven: We are miserable when our class has trouble with math

Teachers get very upset when their class has trouble with math.  We consult with colleagues, search for resources, and look deep within ourselves to find ways to make the math lessons stick.

Seriously, we spend A LOT of time thinking about math.  This is probably why ClassAntics has so many posts on the subject.

Summer slide, the yearly decline in skills during vacation, affects every academic subject.  Making up the deficit and math can be quite challenging.  A series of posts provide tips for teachers and parents to help kids build math skills.

Beat Summer Math Slide: Estimating

Beat Summer Math Slide: Rounding Numbers

Beat Summer Math Slide: Place value

Beat Summer Math Slide: Five tips for Multiplication

Multiplication really is an important skill, and teachers employ many, many techniques to teach it.  Every child learns differently, so a host of methods are needed to reach the class.

I developed award-winning resources for teaching multiplication.  Best Multiplication Workbook EVER! won the prestigious Learning® Magazine 2013 Teachers’ ChoiceSM Award for the Classroom.    It covers everything from memorizing facts to How to introduce two digit multiplication.

My Best Multiplication Songs EVER! has won multiple awards.  I love to encourage students to  Sing Multiplication Songs During Transitions

School districts provide textbooks and workbooks, but these are rarely sufficient to teach every mathematical concept.  Teachers have to look elsewhere.  We find fun games for our class to play during computer lab time.  Good examples are found in the posts on FREE Online Resources to Practice Rounding Numbers and Online Resources to Teach Money Math

We find printable practice sheets at sites like The Math Worksheet Generator and Dad’s Worksheets: my favorite math resource for parents and teachersFREE Four quadrant graphing characters worksheets let kids practice this often dull skill by creating fun pictures of their favorite characters.

We make math fun with games like Secure the perimeter! and More than a Math Bee—The Math Smackdown.  We buy flash cards and Learning Wrap Ups – great for basic math facts!

Every year, students struggle with place value.  My students made a breakthrough when I developed The Comma Method for Reading Large Numbers.  Sometimes I have to write my own worksheet to teach a concept.  Here is one example: Place Value & Addition: Adding 10, 100, 1000 FREE Worksheet.

We try to incorporate math into other subject areas.  Science is an obvious one, but did you know math and poetry can play nicely together?  Here is a fun lesson: April is Poetry Month: Math Poem and Worksheet.


 

What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 10

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Ten: We spend time and money on professional development

Teachers keep their skills current by spending time on professional development.  We take courses, attend workshops, read books, and work toward special certifications.

Lately, professional learning communities have become popular.   My grade level team formed our own professional learning community before it became a directive from the district.  We developed best practices that really helped us meet the students’ needs.  In my series of posts, I share our tips with you.

Extremely dedicated teachers pursue National Board Certification, undergoing a rigorous process of evaluation and professional development.  My posts on National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) explain why the certificate is valuable and why having a NBCT in the classroom benefits your child.

Teachers like to read up on pedagogy and child development.  One of our all-time favorite books is Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14.  The book is always helpful for its descriptions of children’s learning styles and thought processes at different ages.  It becomes invaluable when a teacher is switching grade levels.

Teachers like to learn more about the world around them.  They might take college classes or seminars in the content area they teach.  Or they might learn for fun with The Great Courses, videotaped lectures on a variety of subjects.

It’s a cliché, but it’s true: teachers are lifelong learners!


 

What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 9

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Nine: We are just one of many teachers who work with your child

A classroom teacher is just part of the educational team.  Also important are special area teachers, resource teachers, and substitute teachers.

I have written many posts about special area teachers: talented people who instruct students in music, art, physical education (PE), library skills, and computer skills.  If your child attends the same school for many years, special area teachers know him or her quite well.

I often Consult special area teachers about individual students.  For example, I might notice a child has trouble paying attention in class, and I want to know if the music teacher or librarian and has seen the same thing.

To help my students get the most out of their special classes, I make sure that they know Special area teachers are EXTRA-special!  Students like to know if their music teacher is also a performer, or if their PE teacher just completed a triathlon.

Some teachers simply drop their kids off at special classes, but in my post on How to work with special area teachers, I share simple techniques for building relationships and helping students get the most out of their lessons.

Developing a knack for working with substitute teachers can really benefit students.  I have posts on How to Help Your Sub and how to prepare Emergency Sub Plans so you never have to go in at 5 am to make copies and write sub plans.

Do you have a degree?  Consider the Benefits of being a substitute teacher.  Seriously, you can learn a lot!  Subbing is helpful for parents who want to learn about the school environment or children’s book writers who want to interact with today’s kids.

My students also work with special education teachers, resource teachers, and other professionals.  I find that students really enjoy Showing thanks with class books.  The kids can reflect on what they have learned from these professionals and provide a nice keepsake.


 

What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 8

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Eight: We manage 30 kids’ seatwork and homework hang-ups

You know how it’s difficult to get your own child to complete homework, do a project on time, and remember to turn things in?  Well, teachers go through that every day with 30 students.

First things first: in elementary school, Homework isn’t always graded.  One major reason is because the teacher doesn’t know who actually did the work, but there are other factors that come into play.  My blog posts explains the logic behind this common practice.

That said, your child still needs to get the work done.  Homework teaches responsibility and reinforces the lessons taught in class.  However, it can be overwhelming when your child racks up numerous overdue assignments.  Here are some tips for When your child has missing or late work.

Teachers have little tricks to help make seatwork and homework more fun.  We pep kids up about the assignment, set goals, or let the kids sit under their desks to work.  (Super exciting!)  If all else fails, we break out the markers and crayons, because Work Is More Fun If You Do It in color!

We try to make students understand that they need to turn in quality work.  One of the most common problems is (extremely) short answers where the prompt clearly asked for a sentence.  In that case, we devote another lesson to Teaching Kids to Write Complete Sentences and then have kids redo the assignments.

As you can imagine, paperwork piles up quickly in the classroom.  I developed a super-simple system wherein students mark their number off when they turn on assignment.  That way, it’s easy to Track Assignments as They Are Turned In.  (Click on the post for my printable keep-track chart.)   I make several copies of the chart and put them in sheet protectors.  Then I tape them to the board.  I can keep track of several assignments this way, and it’s easy for students to see what they still need to do.  The kids really enjoy crossing their number off when they finish an assignment.

Sometimes, the goal of seatwork is skill mastery.  For such assignments, I use a “fun” game called So You Think You’re Done?  Basically, the kids form a line and I quickly scan each paper right there in front of the student.  If the paper is not 100% perfect, I ask the student to fix it.  The nice thing about this system is that you know whatever papers you do collect are already A+ perfect.

I highly recommend the series of workbooks called I’m Through! What Can I Do?  They are full of fun puzzles and activities that are easy to copy and set out for students.  You can use them as fast finisher activities.  They also make good activities to leave with a substitute teacher.


 

What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 7

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like.  The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER!  Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Seven: We teach kids how to learn

Teaching isn’t enough; education only happens when students makes a concerted effort to learn.  Most students benefit from lessons in how to teach themselves to learn new material.

In my experience, students feel truly empowered once they understand how to study and learn.  I have many tricks and tips for helping students learn how to acquire knowledge.

Teach memorization: before IQ tests, ability to memorize was an important indicator of intelligence.  I think that the two go hand in hand: memorizing builds intelligence, and intelligence makes memorizing easier.  My post on Memorization and Learning offers tips on teaching this important skill and ideas for what your students can memorize.

Teach kids how to remember, recall, and retrieve: memorized information is much more useful if you can call it up when you need it.  I learned a clever way of Teaching Kids to Access Memorized Information.  It helps students discover their own remembering style and learn how to harness their power of recall.

Teach vocabulary: there’s a reason the STAR Reading test uses vocabulary as a predictor of Accelerated Reader (AR) reading level—it works!   5 tips for teaching vocabulary give you ideas on building vocabulary skills during every lesson.

Take a break from trendy teaching: get to real learning with a time-honored technique—the lecture.  Done right, a lecture shows kids that they can acquire a great deal of knowledge by listening to someone who has already taken to the trouble to curate the content.  Lectures Can Be Good! gives ideas on how to harness the power of the lecture.  Check out The Great Courses for excellent examples of engaging lectures.  Click here for my post about The Great Courses.

Mnemonic devices: These time-honored tricks help kids learn everything from musical notes to planets.  Oh You Lucky Duck! for would, could and should is one of my favorites.

Make connections: the joy of learning deepens when we realize that everything we study is connected.  It’s so exciting to realize how complex the world is, and how the academic disciplines are not discrete at all.  Teach kids to make connections between their learning and their world with fun tips about how Making connections makes children smarter.

 Happy learning!


 

What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 6

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Six: We teach kids life skills

Teachers impart much more than book learning. We try to teach life skills and maybe even a little common sense.

I teach my kids that if they want self-esteem, they should act like someone they can respect. One must have a feeling of competence in order to be truly happy. Teacher to the rescue—we know that Chores Build Confidence. We Set up class jobs right away! Each student has a specific task to do that makes everyone’s life better. We all depend on each other to come through every day. My system for class jobs really gelled when I assigned year-long duties.  If you have a more unwieldy system wherein students change jobs weekly or daily, check mine out. I even give you the Excel spreadsheet we use to organize class jobs. Truly, this is hard-won knowledge and I would love to share it.

We have all sorts of tricks to help kids with their handwriting: some students find that graph paper really helps. You know DMV forms with one square for each letter? Well, that system really helps you write more neatly, and some kids need that kind of structure just so they can turn in something legible. Another creative use of paper: we show kids that Turning Notebook Paper Sideways helps keep math problems lined up.

We teach kids basic table manners: chew with your mouth closed, don’t talk with food in your mouth, and keep your elbows off the table. We teach little tricks like the b-d Method for Setting the Table. Students will never forget where their bread and drink go. (It also helps kids who mix up b and d in their writing.)

Kids lose things all the time, and so we remind our students to  Check the Lost-and-Found before each school vacation. Otherwise, their sweatshirts and lunchboxes will get donated to a child who might keep better track of it.

We spend a lot of time and effort to Teach kids to respect school staff. It brightens everyone’s day when kids make the effort to show appreciation.

Plus—if your students are short on common sense, they might be able to make up for it with charm!


 

What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 5

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Five: We put time, money and energy into meeting kids’ basic needs

Teachers wear many hats, slipping each day between the roles of parent, social worker, social coordinator, and tutor. We care deeply about our students and don’t hesitate to spend our time, money and energy to meet their basic needs.

Many ClassAntics posts reflect the little things teachers do for their students. The three-part series on kids and glasses shows some of what we go through: the grief we take for referring reluctant glasses wearers, how we help obtain glasses for students, and common pitfalls we encounter each year.

Kids and Glasses Part One: It Often Begins in Third or Fourth Grade
Kids and Glasses Part Two: Common Pitfalls for Students New to Wearing Glasses
Kids and Glasses Part Three: Special Cases

I feed my class every year. It started with keeping spare supplies, but as the economy got worse and lunchtime crept later each year, my class developed a Stack a Day Habit for Saltine crackers. I keep spare treats for kids with allergies so they enjoy something yummy when a classmate brings in a treat.

I like my students to be comfortable and happy when they learn. The class has a stash of sweatshirts, because Cold Kids Can’t Think. Chapped lips are a major distraction, so we have the Class Vaseline Jar with Q-tips so students can get a dose of relief. Some kids have trouble focusing because of ADHD or some other issue; I find that Point & Focus really helps them.

Sometimes we have to help our students do the best they can with the hand life has dealt them. My post about Kids Who Miss School to Baby-sit offers advice for helping students with adult responsibilities make the most of their time at school.


 

What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 4

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Four: Lunch doesn’t just happen

Managing a class is like herding cats. At no time is this cliché more applicable than lunchtime. We have to convince thirty children to finish their lessons, put away materials, clean up the classroom, and locate lunch supplies. Then we have to maneuver this group to the cafeteria and get everyone settled in. Some teachers have lunchtime duty; others grab a quick bathroom break, then scarf down a sandwich while doing errands and prepping afternoon lessons.

The setup for lunchtime begins in the morning, with a streamlined procedure for students to indicate the lunch they will eat today. (The cafeteria needs the lunch count so workers can prep the food.) Teachers have to organize lunch money from a variety of sources and make sure everyone’s account is current.  Otherwise, kids end up with a crummy cafeteria emergency lunch and are in a foul mood all afternoon.

Before we take the class to lunch, we convince everyone to wash their hands. Some teachers do a bathroom break; others do some variation of a hand sanitizer Squirt Procedure. We sneak in a little learning by having kids Sing Multiplication Songs During Transitions. (We can review at least four times tables in the time it takes to sanitize the class’s hands.)

Kids don’t want to keep track of their lunch box while they’re playing at after-lunch recess, so many schools have a lunch bucket to hold each class’s lunchbox collection. Our class found that The Lunch Wagon is easier to maneuver and much more fun.

Teachers really care about their kids and spend a lot of time attending to their basic needs. Nourishment is an important need, and we spend some time teaching kids how to fill up at school lunch. (Hungry kids appreciate knowing that eating their protein first is the smart way to fill up.)

Lunchtime isn’t the only time teachers manage food for thirty kids. We develop systems for dealing with birthday treats and hope parents will heed our Tips for Sending Treats to Class. We have rules and procedures to deal with Water Containers at School.

Fun fact: Lunch is an important part of the school day—but did you know it can promote diversity and build school community? The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance Mix it Up at Lunch Day has been doing just that for ten years.


 

What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 3

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Three: Keeping students disciplined and engaged is exhausting

Elementary school teachers spend years learning pedagogy—how to teach. Then we get our own classroom and find out that most of our energy goes into keeping kids disciplined and engaged.

Before I tried my hand at teaching, I thought kids more or less behaved at school. WRONG! If the teacher doesn’t manage every single thing, the kids quickly revert to their natural state. Which is WILD! I cannot imagine what a group of 30 youngsters would be like without a teacher managing them.  Frankly, Lord of the Flies comes to mind.

We try to learn what we can from books. The New Teacher’s Complete Sourcebook helps us plan for the school year. It even gives a step-by-step plan for surviving the first day of school. A manual like the Elementary Teacher’s Discipline Problem Solver can help with problems ranging from gum-chewing to gossip. But that advice only takes us so far.

Once in the classroom, we develop our own systems. We manage kids by sorting them into table groups and launching competitions—whoever cleans their table first wins five points, etc. But when we find ourselves accidentally wronging a child, it’s time to break out Guilt Points.

To keep the kids on their toes during a lesson, we create games like Ask Random Third Grader. Students never know if they will be called on, but they have a chance to earn points for the whole class if they answer correctly. If that doesn’t work, we resort to the desperation Fun with Whatever technique to give a boring lesson a good name: Fun with Long Division really is slightly better than plain old Long Division.

We can motivate the class to behave or achieve by using the always-successful Instant Motivation: Boys versus Girls. But to launch a learning activity, we are probably going to have to give directions. Without a system for Giving directions to the whole class, only about 20% of the students will know what’s going on.

Constant argument is part and parcel of any elementary school class. Without an iron will and a strong plan to Make your classroom a tattle-free zone, every lesson will be interrupted by a tattler.

The best-laid plans go awry when something funny, embarrassing, or awkward happens. (The classroom sink spontaneously explodes into a jet of water, a two-year-old who got away from her mother wanders into our room.) It’s best to let the class enjoy the hilarity*, then implement the We are over it! procedure for getting back on track.

Teachers can discipline, motivate, and manage all they want. But, like firefighters and ER staff, we know that if things have gone really bad, It Must be a Full Moon. (The word “lunatic” is no accident—many people really do believe that the lunar cycle affects human behavior.)

*Don’t worry, we sent someone to help the two-year-old find her mother!


 

What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 2

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Two: Classroom management: our daily struggle against the forces of chaos

Managing a classroom really is a constant fight against the forces of chaos. It takes just one little slip-up for everything to crumble. To prevent all but the most unpredictable problems, I create a million management systems.

Every single thing about our classroom and schedule was engineered by me, the teacher. Before the kids ever set foot in the classroom, I try to have the entire day thought out, the materials ready, organizational systems in place. Then we proceed through our day, following procedures for everything from turning in library books to distributing hand sanitizer.

For example, without a complicated pencil-management system, you have NO pencils when you need them. Kids sharpen pencils just any old time, interrupting lessons. Or kids hoard pencils. Or the pencils are just littering the floor. It’s a mess without…

Pencils, Part One: Managing Your Pencil Supply
Pencils, Part Two: Some Advice About Pencil Sharpening
Pencils, Part Three: The Pencil Drive

A classroom full of kids requires management systems just to keep everyone straight. First, we assign students numbers and use them to organize everything from paperwork to our class line.

Although kids have a designated place to be in line (based on their assigned number), there are still lots of ways for them to make mischief. Five tips for getting kids into line represents hard-earned knowledge on how to avoid the most embarrassing mishaps.

Teachers use student numbers to organize seatwork—but the system depends on kids putting their number on their paper. Heck, the kids need to remember to put their name. Do they? Of course not! The Name and Number Song helps, but the The No-Name Form “intervention” is necessary to deal with the 10-20% of students who constantly forget to label their papers despite having just sung the song.

Everyday decisions provide students with time to hem and haw, argue, jockey for position, and just generally make mischief. After several years of teaching, I learned to Offer a choice of two for pretty much everything.

How do teachers know which students understand the material and which need more help? Whiteboards help—they let kids work out the math problem, then hold up their answer. But whiteboards are expensive. Luckily, teachers learn things like how to make Cheap “whiteboards” for no-budget classrooms.

After a long day, the class might want to kick back with a simple art lesson. But how do you manage the kids who finish early and the ones who take forever? How do you give kids an opportunity to share their art without creating work for yourself in the form of decorating yet another bulletin board? Quick and Easy Classroom Art Gallery is a good system for accomplishing those goals. Such a simple idea—let kids display their work on the whiteboard as they finish—but I had been teaching for five years before another teacher taught me the trick.

Management systems help a lot, but nothing can save us when a bird dive-bombs our window, someone falls out of his chair, or a boy decides to take an impromptu poll of who the class thinks will win the Super Bowl. In each of those cases, the forces of chaos reigned for a while.

Fine by me! I may manage everything, but I wouldn’t want a school day to go by with out a few funny ClassAntics.


 

What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 1

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part One: Our day is planned to the minute

Elementary school schedules must be one of the great mysteries of life, because A typical elementary schoolday schedule is one of ClassAntics’ most popular posts. The blog entry explains that the schedule is determined by outside factors and does not necessarily reflect a teacher’s priorities.

The typical elementary school schedule is extremely regimented. The entire class’s schedule revolves around special areas and special interests:

  • Music class is at 9:32 and not a second before
  • Lunch is at 11:50 and if you’re late, they might run out of the good food, plus your kids will miss part of their recess and be mad at you
  • Math had better be underway by 10:35 because that’s when the instructional aide will come to help
  • Dismissal must run like clockwork—every day, even if you have a sub

This regimented schedule explains why Alarm Clocks Make Classroom Life Better: I set them to go off when it’s time to get ready for lunch and dismissal.

Teachers typically plan lessons well in advance. We have a yearlong curriculum map, goals for the quarter and month, and lesson plans for the week. Problem: we never know how long students will take to do anything!

Will they be able to complete this math lesson in the 40 minutes allotted? Will they still remember the material tomorrow or next week? The slightest change can wreak havoc on all a teacher’s careful plans.  However, teachers are happy to adjust the lessons and schedules they spent so long developing.  Our job is to teach what these particular students need now.

Elementary school teachers never have a spare minute. What looks like prep time—before school, after school, during specials, and lunch—is spent attending meetings, performing extra duties, and tracking down key personnel to address classroom issues. Really, many teachers count themselves lucky if they get a chance to go to the bathroom during the day.  Prep time happens during the evenings and on weekends.

Fun fact: while teachers never have a spare minute, kids have no sense of urgency about anything but recess. Part of this is because they’re kids, but part is because they just don’t understand time. Teaching kids to tell time and read a clock is an annual struggle, no matter the grade level.

Why kids struggle with telling time and reading a clock
FREE online resources to practice telling time and reading a clock