How to renew your energy and enthusiasm!

It always rankles me to hear derisive comments about teachers’ breaks (“we get too many”) and summer vacation (“we don’t deserve it”). Though I’m a much more efficient teacher than I was early in my career, when I was regularly up past midnight and my gradebook became an extra appendage, I learned that teaching is both a lifestyle and a job.

Yes, breaks are part of that lifestyle, but so is time spent working nights and weekends from home, time spent beyond circumscribed hours for tutorials and extracurriculars, and time spent planning and developing new materials and instructional strategies. I often look forward to breaks so that I have time to do more work!

There are days when I’m so busy that it’s difficult to get a bathroom break and I have to eat on the go. I love it, but the responsibilities that teachers have are many and growing. That’s why our breaks are not only welcome but also necessary; they provide the opportunity to catch up, recharge, and avoid burnout. As we transition from the end of the school year to summer, there are a number of strategies to renew energy and enthusiasm.

Indulge in a creative outlet

I love to bake. I think I’m happiest when planning and executing a new recipe; the kitchen is my sanctuary. I make sure that I bake a few times a week, since I don’t have time to do that much during the school year. It’s so important to have a creative outlet and to nurture that interest which translates into higher quality work.

Get organized

I take the opportunity during breaks to organize as much as I can. Organization doesn’t come easily to me, so I constantly work on it. On breaks, I organize all of my upcoming lesson plans and materials, as well as student assignments. When I have the time, such as on longer breaks, I organize around the house. My major project for last summer was to organize the 5000+ photos our family has. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I’m done, and it’s easier for me to concentrate when my environment is orderly.

Do your homework

It seems counterintuitive that working on a break can reenergize us, but research can lead to stimulating new ideas. Beyond planning for upcoming units, breaks are a wonderful opportunity to read the latest educational magazines, pore through sample textbooks and educational books, and search for new materials and ideas. I often find strategies to implement that reignite my passion for what I teach and how I teach.

Embrace novelty

Breaks provide an opportunity for new experiences; new experiences often lead to new ideas. Novel experiences also support emotional well-being. Local museums and public parks are often free or low cost resources for adventures. Websites such as VolunteerMatch can help match you with appropriate opportunities for volunteering. Cultivate a new interest. Wander around your local library and check out the programs and trips offered. Throw a themed party. Begin a new exercise routine. See a play, watch a new movie, go to a concert. The possibilities are endless!

RELAX

We need the occasional lazy day to rest both mentally and physically. When I’m feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, I prioritize. Quite often, what seems urgent can wait. Our well being comes first, and giving ourselves permission to relax allows us to decompress and avoid feeling burned out. We spend a great deal of time nurturing others; we need to remember to nurture ourselves.

Whatever you choose to do over the break, I hope it’s enjoyable and that you return for the new school year feeling refreshed and enthusiastic.

Avoiding the pitfalls of popular technology!

Technology is intended to make our lives easier in the classroom. However, there can be unforeseen consequences! From social media mishaps to students who won’t get off of their smartphones, here are some ways to cope with — and avoid — the pitfalls of popular technology.

1. Educate your students and yourself

As tech-savvy as students can be, I find they often lack the most basic common sense about digital citizenship. But that does not mean that they can’t learn! Common Sense Media, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, offers lesson plans, units, and teaching tools for all grade levels regarding digital citizenship, including digital literacy. Teach your students how to be responsible technology users. This is not just a classroom skill but a life necessity!

2. Protect yourself

Be careful with social media. Even if your settings are private and your account is difficult to find, assume that anyone — including students, their parents, and administrators — can read what you’re posting. Many teachers have gotten into trouble because of their postings, and the media isn’t shy about reporting on these incidents. Be cautious, too, about your profile information on these sites, and the people whom you follow and follow you.

Do occasional searches of your name on Google and social media sites.  You may find a past mistake come back to haunt you, and there may not be much you can do about it (though there is some advice here on what to do). You may also find identity theft. Several years ago, a Google search of my husband’s name revealed a fake profile on a social media site we had never even heard of. The profile picture was my husband, but it was a picture we don’t own. We contacted the site and had the profile removed.

Finally, should you find any evidence of bullying, threats, or illegal activity while on social media or hear of it from a student, you need to report it to the appropriate person in your building. In my class, Twitter in particular has been a source of student conflict. Although students know that public profiles are monitored, they still make unwise posts.

3. Make clear rules and consequences

From the first day of school, establish clear expectations, rules, and consequences regarding technology; then, consistently enforce them.  Whatever rules you have, make sure your students fully understand them!

Plagiarism is another issue. I have a clear policy about plagiarism: it’s not tolerated at all. But I make sure that students understand what plagiarism is and teach them how to avoid it. Also, since I teach seniors, who must write a thesis paper as a graduation requirement, I use Turnitin.com.  TurnItIn allows students to check their own work for plagiarism before the assignment is due, so it’s a learning tool as well.

4. Set a good example

If we don’t want our students on their phones during class time, we shouldn’t be on ours either. I keep my phone on vibrate and in an unobtrusive place. As the wife of a NYC firefighter and the mother of two small children, emergencies have happened. In those (fortunately rare) instances, I explain to my students why I need to use the phone. In turn, if a student has a genuine emergency, I’ll let him leave the room to use his phone. Students appreciate that I give them my full attention and thus, they are more likely to do so in return.

5. Schedule some technology free time

Sometimes the amount of technology surrounding us is overwhelming, and can even affect our health (carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain, an obsession to beat a level on a game).  Don’t bring your technology to bed (it can cause problems falling asleep).

And, every once in a while, it’s nice to be technology free.  My family recently spent the weekend camping in Montauk. I begrudgingly left my laptop at home (I didn’t want it getting sandy or overheated in a tent or car).  When we arrived, we discovered that our iPhones were useless, since there was little to no service. After the initial panic, I enjoyed it. So what if I couldn’t check my email, text, or tweet? I enjoyed simply being with my family in a beautiful setting that no device could rival.

Time to get up-to-speed with technology!

When I started teaching at my high school twelve years ago, we had to fill in bubbles on forms to take attendance, complete progress reports, and complete report cards. Today, we have one integrated web-based system for such student records. Implementing technology previously meant incorporating a laser disk player or displaying a presentation on a small TV. Now, most classrooms are equipped with interactive whiteboards, or are even 1:1. Certainly technology has made teaching easier in some aspects.

Here are my favorite apps and sites that can enhance teaching:

1. ClassDojo: ClassDojo is available on the web and as an app for iOS and Android. ClassDojo allows me to record student behaviors (which are customizable) in real time. Students and parents can either log in to the website or download the app to track student behavior. I can generate individual or class reports to share, and even more exciting, I can instantly message with parents!

2. Easybib: Easybib is my go-to site for students working on a research paper or project to aggregate and properly cite their sources – essential to avoiding plagiarism. It also features an Educator’s Portal, which has free lesson plans, flyers, citation guides, and more.

3. Google Products: Where to begin…Google seems to have a product or app for everything! Many Google products can enhance teaching and learning:

  • Chrome is the browser my students and I use. I find it the most powerful and it is extremely user-friendly.
  • Google is the most popular search engine in the US. There are so many useful features that my students love exploring.
  • Google Books allows users to search for books. If the book is out of copyright or if Google has obtained permission, users may see a preview or the entire text. If the book is in the public domain, users can download a PDF copy.
  • Google Calendar allows you to create a schedule that can be shared with colleagues and students! This is also a great tool for teaching organization and time-management.
  • Google Drive has changed the way students and I share information and work. We are collaborating more than ever. With a suite of products that rival Microsoft Office, students can create documents and projects and then share them with others. I often create documents for class notes and save them on Drive so they are easily accessible for all my classes and easy to print out for students with IEPs.
  • Gmail: My school uses a customized form of Gmail as our official email. I require all of my 12th graders to create an address suitable for contact with teachers and colleagues, and I encourage my 9th graders to do the same. Gmail is widely used and highly customizable, with filters, tabs, and a powerful advanced search feature.  

4. YouTube: Students, from preschoolers to high schoolers, love activities involving YouTube. Common Core Standards require close reading of texts and analysis of video; I’ve been using YouTube clips to introduce topics. I create a list of questions based on the clip and students are responsible for answering the questions as we watch. They are interested and engaged, actively seeking answers. Active watching with YouTube is a lot more interesting than a presentation, for both the students and me.

5. Wikispaces: I maintain two class websites on Wikispaces – one for my AP English Language and Composition students, and another for my 9th and 12th grade Regents classes. It’s free for educators and students and is very user-friendly! Keeping up this website is great for teaching responsibility for students who need to find a handout or any other assignment they might be missing.

What do you use to enhance teaching?

ADHD: friend or foe?

One sentence sums up “John” perfectly: He’s a class all by himself.

Possessing a great deal of energy, John is a bright, intense, young man with strong opinions, an off-beat humor, and obsessive interests. John can be polarizing, but he’s quick to stand up for others and what he believes is right. On a rare bad day, his silence puts a damper on the classroom atmosphere; usually, he is actively engaged and talkative. Though he frequently needs redirection, he usually leads class discussions. John is a powerful, positive presence in the class.

John is also one of the increasing number of students I have who have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Many students with ADHD have accommodations with 504 or IEP plans; others, like John, do not. That’s why it’s so important that teachers not only comply with 504/IEPs but also be aware of how to help students with ADHD be successful in a classroom setting.

Here are some suggestions for supporting students with ADHD.

  1. Knowledge is Power: It’s important to educate ourselves about what ADHD is and how it affects each individual student. Understanding ADHD helps me remain patient when students exhibit some of the associated behaviors, such as blurting out comments, being distracted, forgetting important items, and being very defensive. I know that their behavior isn’t intentional (usually) and focus on helping them rather than correcting them. Some excellent resources for teachers who would like to learn more about ADHD include adhdaware, humansnotrobots, and Idonline.
  2. Emphasize organization: I always pick up plastic file folders when I see them in the dollar section at Target. Most of my students, with ADHD in particular, love these folders for organizing work. I invite my students to attend tutorials and I help them periodically organize their notebooks, folders, and determine what they can throw away and what they can file. I also them time in the beginning of class to write down the work due for the week.
  3. Redirect and channel that energy: Often students with ADHD have a great deal of energy, which we can help them channel into positive activities.  One student, who frequently finishes his work early, becomes an adept peer tutor, assisting others with their work. Another student is an excellent helper, distributing handouts and running small errands. A third student likes to lead group work. Here are some excellent tips for how to redirect and channel excessive energy from intervention central.
  4. Make accommodations: Though 504 and IEP plans dictate any modifications students are entitled to, there are many students who do not have these plans, but benefit from some simple accommodations. I encourage them to privately share with me any conditions they may have and what I can do to make them more comfortable and productive. For example, I provide copies of class notes to students with ADHD (as long as they are engaged and take their own notes as well). They appreciate having a printed copy, as many of them have poor handwriting and difficulty keeping up with taking notes. Also, I always seat students with ADHD in the front of the room so that it’s easier for them to stay on task. Here are some helpful suggestions regarding accommodations from attitude mag.
  5. Embrace differences: On the first day of school, I tell my students that I have ADHD and explain how it affects me as a teacher. I may talk too quickly or jump from topic to topic. I ask for them to let me know and help me stay on track. But I also explain that people with ADHD often have gifts or a “superpower”, from speed reading to acting ability.

Encourage students to discover and cultivate their gifts! It’s amazing to see how confident students with ADHD become when they learn to embrace who they are and emphasize their positive attributes. Here is a great article about the benefits of ADHD from healthline.

At a parent/teacher conference, I met John’s mom. She thanked me, saying that her son had told her that he had finally accepted his ADHD and liked himself. She had tears in her eyes, and so did I.