Sincerely, Stasia

Living and learning on a teacher's salary.

My Personal Best December 11, 2012

Filed under: Life,Random Thoughts — sincerelystasia @ 8:30 pm
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This is your warning that there is a quasi-rant below. It is intended for your amusement at my expense.

Tonight, my friends, I am at my personal best. Evidence is listed below. I defy you to find a point when I’ve been a finer female specimen.

* I have not cleaned a single room or cooked/baked a single thing for the houseful of people I have coming over Saturday for the annual Christmas party. Still have several boxes of indoor decorations to put up and the outside has not been touched save for a snowman I put up on my door. I am in panic mode but cannot do anything about it because…

* I am an idiot and did not consider the fact that Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philly, where I’m having my back surgery next week, is a campus. Not a building. Since my back pain makes it difficult to stand for more than about a minute or so, I haven’t exactly exercised much lately. Therefore, walking from building to building down numerous city blocks and back for my battery of pre-admission tests and meetings yesterday did a hell of a number on my now completely and ridiculously sore thighs. And, I pulled my calf. Perfect. If you thought it was funny when I walked before, you should see me today. I should just crawl along the floor. It would look more normal.

* The dogs. Ugh, the dogs. Tonight’s game is a new one and I’m not amused. It goes something like this: Rio positions her face about 5 inches from Layla’s face, then growls and barks at her until Layla gets fed up enough to lunge at her. Rio humps the hell out of her, they roll around fighting on my lap until I break it up, and the whole debacle begins again from the start.

* Just to make things more interesting, the rest of my body hurts because I have a wicked cold and a fever. Both of these things had better kick it quickly due to the aforementioned party on Saturday, the research proposal I still have to finish but can’t think straight long enough to be able to work on, and the fact that my docs won’t even consider operating on me if I have so much as a hangnail.

* Current incredibly stylish outfit that perfectly compliments my bright red nose and red, swollen eyes: black hot-pink-lipstick-kiss-printed Victoria’s Secret flannel pajama pants, kelly green wife beater, ancient blue hooded Navy sweatshirt courtesy of my little brother from when he was in the service. No makeup. Ponytail. How’s that for an image? Needless to say my love, who is currently across the country on a business trip, and I will not be FaceTiming this evening.

At least the Christmas tree is on and it looks sparkly and pretty, if not a little bit blurry. Now, I hope you all feel better about yourselves and got a decent half chuckle out of my current pathetic state.

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


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


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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