Monday, August 28, 2017

10 Things I Wish I Knew as a New Teacher (via Movie Quotes)


Being a new teacher is as terrifying as it is thrilling. Nothing can quite prepare you for the moment you are left standing in a room full of young people as the sole adult. Let's be honest, here...THAT moment is absolutely terrifying. If you can survive those precious few seconds of sheer terror, a challenging and exceedingly rewarding career awaits you.

As a new teacher, one moment there's action, the next you're embroiled in a drama of epic proportions. The classroom can sometimes feel like the Wild West while at other times be as picture-perfect as a Hallmark movie. Continuing the movie analogies, here are 10 things I wish I knew as a new teacher:

I think we can all relate to the Tin Man. His face is exactly how we all felt inside on the first day as a new teacher!
Image from The Wizard of Oz motion picture
"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
- The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Learning how to be a teacher and actually, well, being a teacher are two very different things. No matter how much I had learned in college, it was still a steep learning curve when I had 20 faces staring up at me. That first year made me realize that the theoretical approach to lesson planning was very different from  the reality of the situation. Ideas I thought would work sometimes flopped and meeting the needs of each individual student was quite challenging that year. Sometimes I felt like Dorothy - transported to a beautiful new world with wonderful new friends but thinking about how it was different than what I had expected, in some ways. I wish I knew that these feelings were normal and that despite all the challenges, it would be the start of the most amazing adventure.

PSA: Don't smoke. Just get a bigger boat.

"You're gonna need a bigger boat."
- Jaws (1975)

You are a new teacher and you can't go it alone! I think the one mistake we all initially make as new teachers is that we think we can solve all problems ourselves. Sometimes we even feel embarrassed to ask for help for fear that it will make us look inadequate. Being a teacher isn't about driving a boat through treacherous waters all by yourself. You're going to need help, so don't be afraid to ask for it. Imagine that your little boat is actually a cruise ship. You're surrounded by colleagues who are ready and willing to help you! Your floating village is working together to navigate those treacherous waters. You're never alone.
His face is all of our faces when we realize we're in the midst of a miscommunication fiasco. IT'S THE WORST.

"What we've got here is a failure to communicate."
- Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Miscommunication happens. It's never, EVER fun, but at some point during your first year or two, signals will get crossed between yourself and a parent, colleague or administrator. Deep breaths. The best course of action is to schedule a conference or meeting and clear the air. Work towards finding a solution and carefully, thoughtfully express yourself. The goal of educators, parents and administrators is to provide the best care and instruction to our students as possible. Open the lines of communication again by focusing on that goal and thinking and acting in the best interest of the students.

*Sunglasses are optional
"Alrighty then."
- Ace Ventura Pet Detective (1994)

Sometimes things don't go according to plan. You're going to spend hours on a lesson only to find that it flops. There will be times when you do everything in your power to help a student and a parent says you're still not doing enough. The moment will come when your lesson runs 20 minutes faster than you anticipated and you have to come up with something engaging and instructional to fill the gap. In those moments, I always here Jim Carey's voice in my head saying, "Alrighty then" before jumping in to find a solution. As a new teacher, you're going to get lots of practice finding solutions on a moment's notice. As time goes on, you'll learn from your experiences and you'll become adept at creating a Plan A, B, C, D and E for every situation. 

Lighten up!

- Dark Knight (2008)

When I started teaching, someone passed along this age-old advice: "Don't smile until Christmas." I think they were joking (I hope they were joking) because I've found that to be one of the worst pieces of advice I have ever received. Classroom management can be very difficult for new teachers, but the answer isn't to stop smiling. The key to classroom management is establishing a routine, setting high (but achievable) expectations for your students and cultivating a positive atmosphere where students feel safe. Try greeting students with a smile instead of a frown and you're probably off to a good start. :) 

Cutest movie EVER.
"Just keep swimming!"
- Finding Nemo (2003)

These three words are just what a new teacher needs to hear as the school year gets into full swing. Between teaching, lesson planning, grading and meetings, days can be long and tiring. During those first few years you might feel as if the weekend is a million years away. Just remember what Dory said: "Just keep swimming!" Push through those challenging times and reflect frequently on the ways you are growing as an educator. I get it. Some days and weeks are rough but there are always calm seas ahead. Just keep swimming!

Just look at the hope in her eyes...and the tears.

"After all, tomorrow is another day!"
- Gone with the Wind (1939)

This is similar to a phrase I tell my students all the time: "Tomorrow is a new, fresh day!". We all make mistakes sometimes and I always let my students know that I treat each day as a fresh opportunity to make good choices. As a new teacher, you'll make mistakes, too. Learn from your errors and remember that with each day comes a fresh chance to improve your teaching practices, classroom management plan or interactions with students. Go home, relax and come back ready to get the day started on the right foot. 

Every movie with Leo in it is 10x better, am I right?
"Don't tell me I can't do it;
don't tell me it can't be done!"
- The Aviator

I love visiting with new teachers at my school because they are so full of ambition and promise! I wish more veteran teachers had this mentality. As a new teacher, this "can do" attitude will be one of your biggest assets. Believe in yourself and your students. You'll be amazed at what you can accomplish when you have faith in yourself and your abilities. Always be willing to try new lesson ideas in order to make your subject matter engaging and exciting. Your students will grow in ways you can't imagine.

Cameron's face is how I feel as the school year winds down. Everything moves so quickly!

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." - Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

This quote reminds me of the importance of reflection. My first year as a teacher was a blur. I forgot to stop and reflect on my experiences and it wasn't until my second year that I learned the importance of scheduling time to reflect on my instructional practices and classroom management style. The more I reflected, the more growth I was able to make. As a new teacher, remember to stop and look around once in a while. See how much your students have grown and consider the ways you have grown as well!

He looks like a guy who just spotted the Back to School dollar section at Target! So much excitement!

"Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain't heard nothin' yet!"
- The Jazz Singer (1927)
The last thing I wish I knew as a new teacher was that the first year was the start of an amazing adventure. It's easy to get wrapped up in the challenges and celebrations of that first year. It's hard to imagine what kind of teacher you'll grow to be in 2, 5 or 10 years. Although I have many years ahead of me, I can tell you with absolute surety that if you have passion, dedication, an open mind and a willing heart, you will be a greater teacher than you can possibly imagine. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

My Back to School Teacher Binder

I'm convinced that this is the year that I will become totally and completely organized. The beginning of the school year is a perfect chance for a fresh start, right? I'm armed with a binder, organizational pages, my new teacher vision board for the cover and my stash of colorful pens. Let's do this!

The Binder

I purchased a one inch white binder with clear pockets on all sides for my Teacher Binder. I'm designing it specifically to hold the teaching essentials that I use all the time. Having a smaller binder makes it easier to find what I need. You bet your bottom dollar that I rely on the giant ones for student information and yearly lesson plans!

The Cover

Teachers Pay Teachers has gobs and gobs of the most beautiful binder designs. I do plan on purchasing some for other binders I'll need this school year, but I wanted to give this binder a personal touch. I used my teacher vision board that I created last week and slid it right into the clear pouch on the front of the binder. It will be a great reminder of my dreams and goals for the new school year.

The Pages

A while ago I created one of my classroom staples: Binder Pages for the Organized Teacher. I love that I can mix and match them with different binders to keep me organized throughout the year.  This particular binder will have my classroom essentials:

1. Class Rosters
2. Important Contact Information and School Resources
3. Team Meeting Minutes
4. Staff Meeting Minutes
5. Curriculum Sequence (a print out from my school)
6. Lesson Plans

I don't keep all my lesson plans in this binder - just the ones for the week or unit. I have a separate binder for my collection of lessons for the year and another binder dedicated to student information. I'm adding a substitute binder and field trip binder to the collection this year, too. I'll definitely blog about those once they're created!

Organizing the Binder

When setting up my binder, I use dividers for each section so that I can quickly find what I need. 

The binder itself is purposefully on the thin side as I consider it my "grab and go" binder for fire drills, and staff or team meetings.

Organizing the pages itself is super easy. I just place the pages in the appropriate section and I'm ready to go! While my class roster (until a new student is added) and curriculum scope and sequence sections stay the same all year, I do add enough blank pages in the meeting notes and lesson plans sections to take me through the first weeks of school. When I see that I'm running low on blank copies of the meeting notes, for example, I print out about 10 more pages and add them to the binder. Sometimes those meetings pop up at the last minute and I always want to be ready to go!

Voila! Now my Teacher Binder is ready to go for the school year. I'll be posting about my Field Trip Binder, Substitute Binder and Student Information Binder, too, so come back and visit the blog again! :)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Create a Teacher Vision Board

I was perusing the internet recently and rediscovered vision boards. Vision boards are spaces that you fill with pictures, magazine clippings and other accessories to showcase your life goals and dreams. They are meant to be personal and uplifting reminders of your hopes for the future and provide a constant visual cue to keep you focused on your goals.

The start of a new school year always fills me with hope and excitement. I feel like anything is possible and I start writing down dreams and goals for the year. Unfortunately, those pieces of paper seem to get lost and I tend to lose focus on some of those goals once the school year starts in earnest. I have every intention of fulfilling my self-made promises but time starts slipping through my fingers in the often beautiful but challenging day-to-day teacher life. I needed to create something that would be a daily visual reminder of my teaching goals.

The only logical conclusion? I needed a teacher vision board! Not just any size vision board, though. I needed one that I would see every day - a constant reminder of all that I hope to accomplish over the year. So what's a teacher to do? Place it on the cover of her teacher binder, of course!

Here's how to create one for yourself:

I usually read magazine subscriptions digitally so I ran down to my local library and picked up some out-of-date magazines for sale near the front. Cost: 25 cents each. Woo! Once I got back home, I rounded up scissors, a glue stick, a piece of 8.5x11 cardstock and an upbeat playlist to jam to while I created my teacher vision board.

This step is obviously very personal. My focus for this board was on the new school year, so I selected images that related to my professional hopes and dreams. I cut out words, titles and pictures that fit with my growth goals. The beauty of vision boards is that each one is perfectly unique.


After cutting out all the words and images I began arranging them on the piece of paper. It took me about 30 minutes to organize everything. Then I grabbed the glue stick and carefully glued everything down.

Ta Da! I love my new binder cover! It's meaningful and will impact the decisions I make this year as I'm constantly reminded of my initial priorities. I'm excited to see where the new school year takes me as I strive to follow my vision for an engaging, student-centered year!

If you create your own teacher vision board, share a picture with me! Use the hashtag #teachervisionboard on social media or send a picture to I'd love to see what you create!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Back to School Must-Haves for the Middle School Classroom

P.S. There are no affiliate links in this post. There are links to Amazon but they're just regular old links! :)
I LOVE shopping for new supplies for my classroom before the school year starts. It's an opportunity for me to upgrade my organizational tools, change the color scheme and work to improve the classroom environment for my new students.

Here are some of my favorite things for Back to School that won't break the bank!

1. Flair Pens - These pens are GORGEOUS and I love using them to grade papers, plan lessons and write little notes of encouragement to my kiddos.

2. Post-It Notes - My students say that I'm the "Queen of Sticky Notes"... and I totally agree with them. There are sticky notes all over my desk. The blue colors are perfect for my d├ęcor!

3. Expo Markers - I'm a little obsessed with having a colorful collection of Expo Markers for my whiteboard.
P.S. I also use mini whiteboards with my students. I always order a few boxes of the skinny markers online because they're often cheaper (unless you can snag some in a great Back to School sale!!)

4. Paper Organizer / Inbox - Stacked inboxes are a must-have in my classroom. Now if only I had a magic wand to make my papers grade themselves...

5. Astrobright Paper - I love printing labels, posters and class sets of directions on colored paper because it's easy to spot. Class sets of documents especially fall into that category since I collect them at the end of every class. The kids rarely take them home by accident because they're so bright and easy to see! I was excited to find the Astrobright paper on Amazon because it actually costs less to buy it there then at my local superstore. Score!

6. Ancient Civilizations Posters - 5 pack - I may have gotten a teeny bit too excited when I spotted these posters on Amazon (and the price). I love the imagery and information on the posters and I know my students will, too. 


7. Cascading Wall Organizer - I like that this organizer from Amazon gets papers off the desk and onto the wall, especially for those of us who have that weirdly-sized wall space behind our desks and can't figure out what to do with it.

8. Desk Calendar - Having a desk calendar is an essential tool to keep life in and outside the classroom organized. How beautiful is this one with the peacock feather design?!

9. Highlighters - I've ordered a bunch of highlighters for my students to use this year when marking up primary and secondary sources. Seeing different sections of the documents marked with certain colors help students break apart difficult text for a better understanding of the purpose of the documents.

10. Paper Trimmer - If you plan on cutting a lot of paper this year, save your hands from scissor-cramps! I love my paper trimmer and use it all the time.

I hope you all are gearing up for the start of a fantastic new school year! Happy Teaching!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Reflection Connection: August

Pencils (or keyboards) at the ready! Today begins the first entry of our year of reflection. If you’re just joining us, welcome! During the first week of each month, I’ll be posting a question that encourages you to reflect upon your experience as an educator. By answering these questions privately or in the comments, we’ll grow stronger as educators and discover more about ourselves in the process.

Entry 1: What are you most excited about this year? What makes you nervous about the start of a new classroom adventure?

My Response: Like many teachers, I always get a bit nervous to meet my new students. We’re about to embark on a year-long adventure together and I’m anxious to create positive relationships with each of them so that we can create a classroom community that encourages learning, participation and respect. Of course, while I’m a bit nervous to meet my new students, it’s also something that I’m really excited about! I look forward to getting to know each one of them over the course of the school year and helping them grow as individuals. Besides meeting my new students, something else I’m excited about is finding new ways to grow as a teacher. I’m on the hunt for new professional development opportunities that will offer effective strategies for my classroom. Let’s get this school year started!

I invite you to join us in the August reflection! If you’d like, leave a response in the comments below or write it down in a journal all your own.

~The Teacher’s Prep