Sincerely, Stasia

Living and learning on a teacher's salary.

New Jersey Herald – Hijacking public education March 23, 2013

This article by Mike Harris (link below) shares insight on some very important and very real issues impacting students, parents, and educators in the U.S. I specifically enjoy Diane Ravitch‘s site being noted – She’s an incredibly knowledgeable, very well-respected, and credible member of the education community, especially having served as assistant secretary of education for President G.W. Bush.

New Jersey Herald – Hijacking public education.

For more from Dr. Ravitch check out the video below from an address to the United Teachers of Los Angeles in 2010.

Sincerely, Stasia


Worst. Blogger. Ever. October 6, 2012

So I promised you the second half of The Great Pinterest Wall what, like, a month and a half ago? This is me living up to my promise to be a terrible blogger. I’m going to be getting that post up, hopefully by the end of the weekend, because I have so much other stuff to share with you guys!

First, the school year is in full swing. I moved across town to a new school and a new grade. I can’t wait to share some of the things I’ve been working on! You have to see the before and (hopefully soon-to-be-finished) after pictures of my new classroom. I inherited my room from an amazing teacher who had retired. Like many teachers (and sometimes I include myself in this category) she was a school supply and material hoarder. The first day I went, my friend and I threw out 6 leaf-sized garbage bags of junk and we didn’t even make a dent. Among some of the items we found were a ceramic Mrs. Claus and sombrero, which we had to combine and put in view of the security camera in the hallway so the office staff had something interesting to look at.

Second, grad school has been even crazier than usual – I have my regular two classes this semester, plus leftover projects for classes that started in the summer and finish in the spring: a pilot study for my dissertation and a leadership analysis project. That equals no free time and, I’m pretty sure, some extra gray hair. Don’t worry – I’m hiding them. The good news is that, as long as I pass my qualifying exam this winter, I’ll finally be a doctoral candidate and finish classes this summer!

Third, the situation with my back has been the bane of my existence for the past few months. I’m finally on the road to recovery! After waiting far too long for an MRI to be prescribed, it was discovered that I have a severely herniated disc. Yay for validation! My very conservative doc, who does not like to send patients to the operating table, gasped at the first sight of my MRI and said she’d be completely comfortable skipping alternative methods and going straight to the surgery due to the severity of the herniation and the pain I must be having. That, my friends, about sums up my luck in life! She also offered to write me out of work so I could stay home for a bit. I declined both (sometimes I regret the latter!). I had my first epidural a week and a half ago and it’s definitely helping, but there’s another in my future. Hopefully after that I’ll be back to working out, my heels, and moving at more than a snail’s pace.

Naturally after my procedure I heard about a bad batch of epidurals that can cause fungal meningitis. Minor heart attacks are good for your health, right? Because that’s what I had waiting to find out if I was in the clear.

Straight to the Point: I’ve been crazy busy and a terrible blogger. This back issue is making things that would take 20 minutes take 2 hours. I miss you guys and I’ll be back on my feet soon! I’ll post this weekend. Promise.

Sincerely, Stasia


How Do You Get Paid? July 17, 2012

Filed under: Life,Teaching — sincerelystasia @ 9:45 pm
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As a teacher, this time of year is heaven. No work, living off of my enormous salary that affords me my summers off… Well, maybe on opposite day. Like nearly every teacher I know, I don’t take summers off. True, I don’t work with kids. In my opinion, we need a break from them just as much as they need a break from us. Instead, I am lucky enough to have worked for a company in my pre-teaching days that takes me back as an intern in the summer.


I’ve had several people ask me why I work in the summer if I don’t have to. Newsflash people: Despite what you read on the internet or hear from your friends, teachers aren’t raking in huge paychecks. I work in the summer because I do have to. I have bills to pay and would like to have some semblance of a social life. However, it doesn’t bother me to work in the summer. The salary is part of the job. But, we do get some perks that aren’t typical in the private sector. Believe me, I’ve worked in the private sector and return each summer – Hugs and hand-drawn cards are not typical in the office. It would be a bit disturbing if they were.

This picture shows how I really get paid. My students never, ever hand me something that doesn’t get displayed somewhere in my classroom. What you can’t see are the smiles, hugs, and thank yous. Have you ever been hugged by someone and felt as though you were possibly the only person to hug them that day? That week? I get that on the regular – And it’s far more rewarding than a healthy 401K or a huge paycheck. Or, at least, that’s what I’ll assume.

Sincerely, Stasia


Do I Bribe My Kids? Mais Bien Sûr. March 23, 2012

I’ve long been aware of the power of the smelly sticker. I was under the impression they were the end-all-be-all of stickers. There’s not much my students won’t do if there’s a promise of a smelly sticker at the end of their task or as a reward for their behavior. Am I above bribing my kids? Nope, not even a little. If a sticker that smells like peppermint is enough to get my kids to study for their tests, then that’s good enough for me.

One day I ran out of smelly stickers (panic!) and found a set of monkey stickers in my desk. I had to pass these off to the kids as the coolest thing ever so they would hold some kind of value. I played them up (because all teachers are actors and actresses when it comes down to it) and the kids ate it up. All of the sudden they would do anything for a monkey sticker. Score!

Then I realized something… If I’m going to bribe my kids, why not give them something they can learn? I took 9 years of French: 4 in high school and 5 in college where I minored in it. I used to be fluent, but now I’m a linguistic disaster. Use it or lose it… I mostly lost it. But, I still remember some of it, however rusty it may be. The middle school where I teach requires students learn two languages on top of English: Spanish and Chinese. Many students are also native Spanish speakers.

I started by telling one of my classes that for every day they were well-behaved, I would teach them a word in French and that we could use these words in and out of the classroom. This was very quickly my most well-behaved block. Before long, there were entire conversations going on in the classroom and in the hallway. They would normally sound like this: (me) “Bonjour! Comment  ça va?” (student) “Bonjour! ça va mal!” (me) “Pourquoi?” (student) “Because I feel sick.” They loved it!

Well. Before long my other classes heard I was teaching one of my blocks French and wanted to know why I hadn’t taught them. I told them their behavior hadn’t been acceptable, and they could not learn any French until it improved. I never thought threatening a noisy class by saying I wasn’t going to teach them how to say “you’re welcome” in French would make them work hard or quietly, but it now happens in an instant. And it’s sustained!

Right now all three of my classes are able to say the following: ça va? (how’s it going?); ça va bien/mal/comme ci, comme ça (it’s going good/bad/so-so); bonjour (hello/good morning); au revoir (good bye); pourquoi? (why?); s’il vous plaît (please); merci beaucoup (thank you very much); de rien (you’re welcome). I keep signs up in the room with pronunciations for students to refer to, but now they rarely need them. They absolutely adore being able to chat with me in French, especially when it’s in front of other teachers, administrators, or students who don’t know what we’re saying.

Straight to the point: As far as I’m concerned, bribing your students to get them to display behaviors that are beneficial to them in school is fine, as long as it’s teaching them something: how to behave appropriately, safety, responsibility, the importance of studying, being a good friend, etc. Kids will accept a bribe in any form as long as you make it seem exciting, exclusive, or interesting… Even if it means they’re learning something!

Sincerely (or should I say Cordialement?), Stasia


A Little Healthy Competition March 19, 2012

The weather has been absolutely beautiful and I’m not going to complain about the early arrival of spring here in Jersey, although it’s just a bit disconcerting. The warm weather has done a number on my students though – they have some serious spring fever. For a teacher that means students who are constantly staring out the window daydreaming when they should be working, extra chattiness at all times, and an overall abundance of excess energy.

As I’ve mentioned before, time management is huge for me. I teach three 80 minute classes per day and that time flies by. In a previous post I told you how I gained back almost 15 minutes of instructional time by using music to focus my students. After I saw how successful that was, I started looking at other routines in my classroom that could use some tightening.

Organizational skills are a big part of our whole school curriculum, so students are given agendas at the beginning of the year and I give them a weekly organization grade using their notebooks and agendas. I noticed that students were taking an excessive amount of time to write down their homework, rip it out of their workbooks/pass out their materials at their tables, and get everything put away. And when I say excessive, I’m talking between 5-10 minutes. Unacceptable.

Straight to the Point: Kids are competitive. It’s natural, and I use it to my advantage as much as possible. I started small, having table groups within each class compete against each other for behavior points, where the table with the most points at the end of the week chooses from the treasure chest. Typical teacher stuff.

Then I came up with The Homework Competition. Here, each block gets a box on the board. Every day I put tally marks up for missing, incomplete, or late homework. The block with the lowest number of tally marks at the end of each month gets homework passes (1 per student) and we reset the board for the new month. My classes ate up the idea of competing against each other and my homework percentages went way up. Simple!

This is where the next phase of my time management overhaul came in. I decided to up the ante with The Homework Competition. The best part? This one requires no reward whatsoever because the kids just love competing against themselves and my other classes. Couldn’t have been easier: I started timing my students to see how quickly they could get through our homework routine.

It goes something like this: I hand out the materials they need (practice sheets, workbooks, loose leaf paper, etc) and my kids put their hands up in the air. The only thing they’re allowed to have in front of them is a pencil – no agendas, binders, or folders. I get the timer on my iPhone ready and give it the old “ready, set, go – write it down, rip it out, put it away, pile it up,” then I watch my students scramble. Time doesn’t stop until all of their supplies are put away, their workbooks are piled neatly in the center of their tables, and their hands are folded to show me they’re ready to rock & roll.

Each class’s daily time and fastest time are kept on the board in their Homework Competition box. I knew I had come up with a winner the first time I heard my classroom explode with cheers and applause when a class found out they had beat another class’s time. They’re still held accountable for their organization – Their homework needs to be written exactly as I have it on the board (for reference purposes) and it must be written neatly, otherwise they lose points on the notebook and agenda check I have each Friday. They know the rule: It’s good to be quick; it’s best to be correct.

So how well does it work? Those 5-10 minutes it took in the beginning of the year have been cut down significantly, although it took a month or two to get to where we are now. As you can see in the picture, my classes’ fastest times are now between 39-59.7 seconds. In the past month, the slowest time we’ve seen was a minute and twenty seconds. When it comes to kids, a little competition can definitely go a long way.

Sincerely, Stasia


What are you proud of? February 23, 2012

Filed under: Teaching — sincerelystasia @ 8:00 am
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Why are middle school students so hard on themselves? Well, do you remember how difficult middle school was? It’s not typically anyone’s favorite life stage. Take socializing and peer pressure, add academic stress then throw in puberty for good measure… Just the thought of going back to that is enough to put a knot in my stomach! Luckily these girls don’t typically have our sky-high aerosol sprayed bangs to go with their thick rimmed glasses and braces circa 1990, but they also don’t have Bel Biv Devoe, so I guess it’s a trade off. Ah, Poison. Sigh. My own middle school memories aside, I find that my own students rarely realize how amazing they are and sometimes need a little reminder. Enter Post-It Notes of Pride.

Straight to the point: Every Friday my students’ Do Now is the same. While I check their notebooks and agendas for an organization grade, the students each brainstorm three things they’re proud of from that past week. Their proud moments don’t need to be school related and they don’t need to be monumental. Each student then decides what they were most proud of and they write it on a yellow Post-It note along with their name and the date.

I make it a point to walk around the room and read each one silently as I collect it, followed by a sincere comment and a high five. I want these kids to be proud of themselves and know how proud I am of them! I put each Post-It on my bulletin board and we stack them as the year goes on, adding a new note every Friday.

At the end of the year, the students get their stack of notes (stapled together). It’s a fabulous reminder of everything they’ve been proud of all year and they get a huge kick out of looking through it in June! The brainstorming is hard at the beginning, but a little patience goes a long way with this activity.

Kids have so much to be proud of – Give them a push so they can be as proud of themselves as you are!

Sincerely, Stasia




We need to hurry… But how? February 22, 2012

Filed under: Teaching — sincerelystasia @ 9:15 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Have you ever asked a 10-year-old to hurry up and do something? It’s hit or miss. Asking a class of 10-year-olds to hurry up and do something? Good luck! Since my students switch classes, I lose a lot of instructional time to transitioning. Let’s just say that fourth graders are definitely not known for their speed.

In September, students show up to class 5 minutes late, take 5 minutes to get homework handed in and settle into their seats, and then use up an additional 10 minutes to complete their Do Now assignments. I’m not a math teacher, but losing 20 minutes from an 80 minute block still seems like a lot – And it is.

It took a lot of brainstorming followed by quite a bit of trial and error, but I finally found a way to get my kids to book it into the classroom, rush to get started, and produce quality work in a short period of time. Like most of the ah-ha moments I have that lead to ideas for the classroom, the answer was so simple that I kicked myself for not thinking of it sooner. Music! I’d used it all the time when I taught pre-k, but hadn’t brought it into my middle school classroom.

Straight to the point: Below is the song that I use. I think it’s important to choose a song without words so the students aren’t distracted by lyrics. I turn the song on as the students are walking in the room.

The rules are that we must be able to clearly hear the music at all times (otherwise they are being too noisy) and by the time the song is finished, the following must be accomplished:

  • Homework handed in
  • Students settled at their seats
  • Do Nows completed

What was taking 20 minutes at the beginning of the year now takes less than 6 minutes! If you consistently use the same song, students begin to develop their own time management skills and estimate how much time they have left based on the part of the song they are hearing. Add the incentive of using some of those minutes you gain back to play a closure game and your student buy-in will increase immediately. A simple solution with a priceless reward: More instructional time. Enjoy it!

Sincerely, Stasia




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