Sincerely, Stasia

Living and learning on a teacher's salary.

Baby Steps to My Pinterest Projects July 23, 2012

Filed under: DIY,Home — sincerelystasia @ 11:39 pm
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Those of you who follow me on Pinterest know I’m all over it. I have just about a million [actual count] recipes and projects to try. As I get around to them, I’ll show you how I did. I refer to it often, but my St. Patrick’s Day fire extinguisher experiment lets you know I’ll be honest about how I do. No sugar coating here – Not my style. After a 30-minute dash through Michael’s, where I was like a kid in a candy store, I had the supplies I needed for a handful of Pinterest projects to get started. I decided to start with baby steps and work my way up.

First I went with a really simple project. Really more of a purchase-and-put-together, but I still did it so I’m counting it. Kind of like when I add things to my to-do list that I’ve already done just so I can cross them off. You’ve seen me go through messy drawers and cabinets and purge. We’ve also discussed my obsession with Sephora. Here I’m combining the two. I like to be organized, which is much easier for me at school than it is at home, as evidenced by the way I keep my makeup brushes (left).

Clearly that is not an effective, sanitary, or aesthetically acceptable way to store them. Considering those brushes are not exactly cheap, I thought it might be a good idea to take better care of them. I should also be cleaning my brushes more regularly, and this has been helping. Straight to the point: For this ridiculously simple project, I bought two bags of glass beads, a plain glass container, and voila. My brushes are now in a pretty display and always within reach. And, it’s easy for me to clean them on a daily basis and then stand them up to dry. Perfect! Looks a little bit better, too, huh?


Once this was finished I decided to try something a little more difficult. I found the idea for painted vases here. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Swedish. Fortunately, I didn’t really need to. Straight to the point: First, I picked up a few plain glass vases and painstakingly removed the incredibly annoying price tags and glue that was left behind. Then I poured a bit of acrylic paint into the bottom of the vase (starting with the smallest one instead of jumping into the bigger ones) and slowly turned the vase, letting the paint leave a trail. This took a lot longer than I expected and got a bit frustrating at times when the paint wouldn’t cooperate or I was left with bubbles I had to remove. But, there’s worse things than practicing patience. I had to strategically drop more paint in depending on which areas I needed filled in, and the large bubble vase took just about forever, but overall it went well.

So there you have it – My first two Pinterest projects, completed. Not too exciting, I know, but it’s a step in the right direction. Now just to tackle the hundreds thousands? of pins I have left…

Sincerely, 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


Stress-Free Sick Days February 29, 2012

Filed under: Organization,Teaching — sincerelystasia @ 8:17 pm
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I hate being sick. Who doesn’t? I especially hate being sick now as a teacher. When I worked in the private sector, a sick day just meant sending an email to my team assigning coverage, turning on the auto-reply and changing my voice mail message to let clients know I was out of the office. Oh, and a messy desk full of paperwork the next day along with my chair being set to the wrong height.

There was some stress where deadlines were involved, but taking a sick day as a teacher is stressful. There are so many things to worry about: How are my kids going to behave? Or, more accurately, ARE my kids going to behave? Who am I getting as a sub? Will my sub be able to, or bother trying to, follow the plans I left? Am I going to be a day behind in my schedule when I get back because I need to teach or reteach content that should have been taught in my absence? Doesn’t make for a very restful day off.

I’m an organized person, especially at work. I’ve been referred to as OCD, anal, and as the “Spreadsheet Queen.” I can admit that my organized nature does not carry over into all areas of my life, although I did create a spreadsheet with a tab for every month since January 2008 that lists every payment I’ve made on every bill (including dates and amounts paid, balances, and confirmation numbers). I’ll admit that goes a bit beyond “organized.” But enough about my now-apparent OCD. I find that being organized at work just makes my life easier. The amount of time it takes to become organized in my classroom is so greatly overshadowed by the amount of time and stress it saves me that it’s completely worth it.

Straight to the Point: When I know I’m going to be absent, I am as detailed as possible with what I’m leaving behind. If I don’t leave a solid plan, I can’t expect my substitute to magically make a great, on-task lesson appear out of thin air. The lesson plans I write for myself might be considered cryptic if you’re not familiar with the specific terminology we use in our classroom. When I write out my sub plans, I’m incredibly detailed and put all of the instruction directions in plain language.

What if you don’t plan on being out? I’d rather be up for 15 minutes at 5am sending an email with some typed up sub plans to a coworker than spend the entire next day trying to play catch-up!

The picture is from a few months ago when I was going to be out of school for two entire days. In a row. Ugh. If you think that’s bad, imagine what I left behind a few years ago when I had surgery and needed to be out for two weeks! To make things easy for my sub I label everything (from homework to notebooks to folders) with the class it belongs to and what it’s being used for. I find that when I leave clear instructions and clearly labeled work, the substitute feels obligated to follow suit and clearly labels the completed work in addition to leaving my room neat and organized. Score. If you think you might need a little extra ammo, do what I do. Leave a granola bar (also labeled with a “thank you” Post-It, because how could I not?) and a bottle of water. A little bribery can go a long way and, as far as I’m concerned, the outcome is worth the trouble if it means a stress-free day off.

Sincerely, Stasia


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