College students: get Amazon Prime for free

Pre-service teachers: join Amazon Student and sign up for free Amazon Prime ($79 value.)  You get free Two-Day shipping on almost everything Amazon sells.  Join now and use it to buy your textbooks for this term.

I use Amazon Prime when I order workbooks and things for the classroom—my orders arrive in two days, sometimes less.  It’s great to have access to so many teaching books without having to drive to the teaching store.

Pre-service teachers, I really want to help you.  I try to share tips that will make your internships and student teaching easier—and your first year bearable.  Sign up for ClassAntics updates and you’ll receive my posts automatically, delivered by FeedBurner.  The space to do so is on the right, just under Recent Posts—enter your email address and click “Subscribe.”  I don’t share your contact information.

Good luck with school this term!

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Posted in First Year Teachers by Corey Green @ Jul 30, 2010


Pencils, Part Two: Some Advice About Pencil Sharpening

Hard-Won Knowledge about Pencils in the Classroom:
An Occasional Series (Part Two)

Your classroom cannot function without a steady supply of sharpened pencils.  You, however, cannot function with the pencil sharpener whirring constantly.

Here is some advice on how to manage pencil sharpening.

1.  Get a good-quality pencil sharpener.  It will cost $35 or more, and it is totally worth it.  I hope you can buy this through your district or convince someone to give it to you.  A generous parent might help, or maybe the parents will pass the hat.  If not, suck it up and buy the pencil sharpener.  (Try Craigslist—you might be lucky!  Just make sure it works.)

My pencil sharpener: X-Acto School Pro Heavy-Duty Electric Sharpener (1670) for $35 at Amazon

For fifteen dollars more, you can get a sharpener that Amazon shoppers seem to love: X-Acto Teacher Pro Electric Pencil Sharpener with SmartStop, Black (1675)

2.  Use the two-cup pencil system.  Label one cup Dull and the other Sharp.  Students put dull pencils in the Dull cup and take a new sharp pencil from the Sharp cup.  This is standard practice in primary classrooms.  Intermediate classrooms don’t use this system—and so kids are always interrupting class to sharpen pencils.  (Rules about when kids are allowed to sharpen pencils don’t work.)  Having tried the two-cup pencil system in my third-grade classroom, I would never change it, no matter what grade I teach.

3.  Will you let students touch your expensive pencil sharpener?  Some teachers sharpen all pencils themselves to protect their investment in their pencil sharpener.  I did this for a while, but then I freed up a surprising amount of time by turning the job over to students.  Just make sure to teach them not to put in really short pencils—they will get stuck.

4.  Create a pencil sharpening job.  I call it Pencil People for alliteration.  You need two students for this job: one to actually sharpen the pencil, and one to hand the next pencil to the pencil sharpening person.  This makes it much more efficient.  Explain to your pencil sharpeners that they should spend about three seconds on each pencil.  Also, provide them with a hand broom and dustpan or a Dust Buster to clean up shavings.

5.  Hold Pencil Drives.  You will always be short of pencils in the Sharp cup because kids don’t turn in their Dull pencils.  Hold Pencil Drives to counter this problem.  Basically, a Pencil Drive is a fancy way of declaring “Bring me all your pencils, NOW!”  More details follow in the Pencil Drive post.

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Posted in Classroom Management,Classroom setup,First Year Teachers,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Jul 29, 2010


Idea: Recite the Preamble with Your Pledge of Allegiance

My class recites part of the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence after the Pledge of Allegiance each morning. It inspires pride in our country.  It also shows us that our government (and class rules) are designed to secure our unalienable rights.

Memorizing the Preamble also shows us that we can learn big words and understand important ideas that shape our system of government.  Pretty special for a third grader!

I create a sheet to help my students memorize.  In addition to the straightforward excerpt from the preamble, I give a line-by-line breakdown that makes it easy to memorize.  (Plus, I’m teaching a memorization technique: organize the information to make it your own.)

Below is the text from my memorization sheet.  Here, I use a normal size font.  For my kids, I use font size 16.  When the type is big, the task seems easier.  Try it!

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

Step by step:

We hold these truths to be self-evident,

that all men are created equal,

that they are endowed by their Creator with certain  unalienable Rights,

that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of  Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted  among Men,

deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

My students memorize this excerpt from the preamble quite easily during the first week of school.  This sets a great precedent for the entire school year!

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Posted in Academics,Classroom Management,Social Studies,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Jul 26, 2010


Lectures Can Be Good!

I would like to put in a few good words for the good old lecture.

If you’re like me, many of your professors and professional-development instructors began class by saying they wouldn’t lecture you.  I often wished they would give a lecture.  A lecture can be well-organized, informative, fun—and a highly efficient way of delivering information.

In your classroom, break out a lecture once in a while!

Not convinced?  Remind yourself that “lecture” does not mean “boring.”  Erase memories of parental lectures when you stayed out past curfew.   Think of a lecture as a teaching show.

Some of my best memories of second grade are Story Time after lunch.  Mrs. Brenn would pull down the classroom map and tell us fascinating stories about cool characters.  My favorite was George Washington.  Yes, years later I realized that we had a half-hour history lecture after lunch each day.  We loved it!

My students enjoy (entertaining and developmentally appropriate) lectures.  Elementary school students are hungry for knowledge, and today’s skills-based curriculum doesn’t always address that need.  Kids today practice things like reading comprehension skills or the scientific method, but don’t learn in a straightforward, traditional way.  Students love introductory lectures that give them background information so they can get more out of skills-based classroom activities.

By all means, involve your students in cooperative learning—but don’t be afraid to lecture now and then.

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Posted in Classroom Management,First Year Teachers,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Jul 23, 2010


Pencils, Part One: Managing Your Pencil Supply

Hard-Won Knowledge about Pencils in the Classroom: An Occasional Series (Part One)

As a teacher, you will spend a surprising amount of time thinking about pencils.  Your teaching career will probably be one long pencil shortage.

I hope these tips help new and veteran teachers alike.  I sure wish I had known them when I was a new teacher.

1.  Buy as many pencils as you can at the back-to-school sales.  I recommend the Ticonderoga brand.  Some other brands tend to shred in the pencil sharpener.

2.  Obtain (hopefully through your district) fat pencils like little kids use.  These will be helpful for students with bad handwriting and poor fine motor skills.  Every year, no matter what grade you teach, you will instruct someone on how to use a pencil.  In doing so, you will make a lasting impact on the student’s life.

3.  Buy mechanical pencils if you can, but DON’T HAND THEM OUT.  Keep them for standardized testing.

At the beginning of the year, collect all pencil students bring in and control the supply yourself.  (If this isn’t the policy in your school, check with the principal first.)

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Posted in Back to School,Classroom Management,Classroom setup,First Year Teachers,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Jul 19, 2010


Kids Who Miss School to Baby-sit

Sometimes, you will have a student who is frequently absent, but doesn’t seem sick.  The child may never tell you why he or she is missing school.  In this economy, the reason might be that your student is baby-sitting younger siblings so parents can go to work.  This situation happens more frequently than people realize.

When a child is absent a certain amount of days, the school follows specific procedures.  If you think a child is being kept home to baby-sit, you can work with the school attendance clerk and social worker to encourage parents to send the child to school.  In extreme cases, courts might get involved.

While the administrative wheels grind, help your student get a quality education while she is in your classroom.  Sometimes you can give your student schoolwork to do at home, which the child might really appreciate.

Kids really want to learn.  Try to instill a love of learning and “stay in school” attitude if one of your students is faced with a scenario such as this.  Life is going to be difficult for that child, and maybe you can help her persevere against difficult odds.

This can be an especially difficult situation for first year teachers to recognize.  Good relationships with the office staff and social worker will be especially valuable when one of your students is vulnerable.

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Posted in Classroom Management,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Jul 14, 2010


Take Advantage of Back-to-School Sales!

Or, don’t get cheap before school starts.  Back to School sales often occur in mid-summer.

If you can afford it, shop the Back-to-School sales for school supplies.  You will not find these prices for the rest of the year, guaranteed.  Last summer, my sister talked me into loosening my purse strings at the back-to-school sales.  My whole school year went more smoothly.

My recommended back-to-school shopping list for teachers:

> PENCILS!  You can never have too many.  Ticonderoga is the best brand.  Some of the other brands of pencils shred in the pencil sharpener.
> Mechanical pencils—if they’re cheap.  We use them for state testing week.  It saved our pencil sharpener and our sanity.
> Notebook paper packages for 1¢
> Folders for 1¢ (the kind with prongs, and the kind without.  I buy 35 each of several colors for classroom organization.
> Crayons for 20¢ or less.  I buy crayons for the class, but I don’t let kids keep them in their desk.  Keep these crayon boxes for special projects only.  Number the crayon boxes for accountability.
> Markers for $1 a box or less.  Great for art projects!
> Reams of copy paper at great sale prices.
> Expo markers for dry-erase boards.  After sale time, markers are often a dollar each.  During a sale, you might find 4 for a dollar.
> Expo board cleaner.  I went through ten bottles last year.
> Spiral notebooks at 5 or 10¢ apiece.  Don’t buy more if you already have a class set left over from last year.  After a few years of buying notebooks, you don’t need to buy them each year.

You probably don’t need:
> Individual pencil sharpeners.  I thought buying a few for each table would help classroom management, but we were cleaning pencil shavings all the time.  We took them away after about a week and no one complained.
> Colored pencils: many teachers like them, but I find they create pencil-sharpening logistics problems.  Crayons or markers are much easier to manage.
> Whiteboard erasers: you only need a few, and the district often supplies them.  Wash erasers with non-moisturizing dish soap a few times a year and let them air dry.  For some reason, spraying erasers with Windex after washing but before drying seems to help.

My favorite back-to-school store is Staples.  Why?
> I subscribe to the Staples weekly e-newsletter so I can go in on the first day of the sale.
> Many stores let teachers purchase in excess of the advertised limit for each sale.
> Perks from your teacher rewards card really add up.
> Staples matches competitor coupons.
> Easy rebates translate to free products in many cases.
> All of this might also be true for OfficeMax or other office supply stores.  I just have really good luck at Staples.

Best tip of all:
Copy your teacher rewards card code and ask parents to use it when they shop at Staples.

This is one in a series of posts for First Year Teachers.

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Posted in Back to School,Classroom Management,Classroom setup,First Year Teachers by Corey Green @ Jul 9, 2010


How to Ace a Teaching Job Interview

Teaching interviews are a little different from other job interviews.  All the usual advice applies: dress professionally and modestly, don’t fidget, speak clearly, know your audience, and act confident.  However, there are intricacies that make a teaching interview unique.

As a teacher, you want to give the sense that you can effectively manage a classroom and work well with others.  “Others” refers to administration, other teachers and parents.  My advice is to focus more on your management and organization than your actual teaching.  Resist the urge to throw out many creative teaching ideas—one or two go a long way.

Be sure to read the school website and get a sense of the organizational culture.  Arriving early and sitting in the outer office is a good way to observe interactions among the staff, teachers, and parents.

Interviews can have different formats.  Sometimes you will talk to just the principal, but sometimes all the teachers at the grade level are present for the interview.  Bring along several copies of your resume and cover letter so you are prepared for either scenario.

Speak slowly.  Remember that you are probably talking faster than you realize.  Take time to think about your answers.  You don’t need to have a rapid-fire answer for everything.

Here are some sample interview questions.  Think about your answer for each.  Remember to show how organized and professional you are.

>  Tell me your philosophy of teaching.
>  How would you handle xyz problem?
>  How do you involve parents in the classroom?
>  How do you build a literacy-rich environment?
>  We use the xyz teaching program.  Are you familiar with it?  (If you aren’t, say so.  Then listen closely to their description of the program.)  A typical follow-up question might gauge how you feel about teaching with this special program.
>  Do you have any questions for me?  (Have a question:  The school website may give you a good idea for a question.  You can also ask about qualities the principal values in a teacher.)

Always send a thank-you note!

This is one in a series of posts for First Year Teachers.

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Posted in First Year Teachers by Corey Green @ Jul 6, 2010


How to Get a Teaching Job

Applying for a teaching position with the school district is just the beginning.  In most districts, your application will go in a pool of other applicants.  Principals usually do the hiring, and I wouldn’t count on them noticing your application in a sea of files.

Do not wait for principals to call you.  You need to contact them, individually, at each school.

I recommend that you call (or better yet, visit) each school in the district.  Arrive professionally dressed and prepared to give an impromptu interview.  Make a good impression on the secretary.  Leave your resume and cover letter.  Address your letter to the principal at that school.  You can get the principal’s name from either the district website or the site for the individual school.

Keep a record of schools you have visited.  Note the date and time of your visit, and whether you should follow up at each school.

Hope that someone calls you for an interview.  Ace the job interview.  Be sure to write a thank-you note.

Many teaching jobs are created a day or two before school starts.  At this time, contact every school again so you are fresh in the principal’s mind.

Sometimes schools hire after the school year has started.  This could happen if class sizes are large enough to warrant hiring another teacher.  If you are hired for one of these jobs, ask for time to set up your classroom and coordinate with other teachers at the grade level before your class is formed.

Sometimes, politics and economics align in a way that makes jobs for new teachers rare to non-existent.  If this happens before you get your first teaching job, realize that it’s not personal.  Other professions suffer through similar  boom-and-bust cycles.  Broaden your job search as much as you can. 

If all else fails, substitute teach.  You will make many contacts.  You might be hired for long-term substitute positions (such as to cover maternity leave.)  You might still be hired midway through the year.  New jobs are sometimes created after the first semester.  Good luck! 

This is one of a series of posts for First Year Teachers.

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Posted in First Year Teachers by Corey Green @ Jul 1, 2010