Putting it in Perspective: Toy Story 3

I took my kids to see Toy Story 3, and of course, I noticed things that only a preschool teacher would notice. Whoever designed Sunnyside got the details right: the mismatched furniture, the art projects made with found objects, and of course, the donated toys. Sunnyside looks like a place with a low budget, trying to do right by the kids who go there.
Piles of clutter? You never know when you might need something and the money won’t be in the budget.
They could have made Sunnyside look like a page from a Lakeshore catalog, but I loved it the way it was. No wonder Barbie and Ken and all the rest of the toys who stayed there seemed so happy at the end!

Uniquify Your Lectures

Adjust your lecture notes and educational plans to fit your students and where they are in their educational journey. Remember, repeating the same lecture, year after year, is deadly boring to both you and your students. Even if they have never heard it before, your presentation will be stale. Pay your students the courtesy of preparing your class uniquely for them.

Laughter is Learning

A classroom in which you can hear laughter coming from daily is a healthy classroom. Laughter and the noise of learning is different from classroom chaos. New teachers will soon learn the difference.

A Partnership with Parents

Dealing with parents is often the most difficult part of teaching. However, education should be a partnership between students, teacher and parents. If something breaks that partnership down, you have to address it. Before reacting, take a look at things through the eyes of your students and their parents.

Teaching the Unteachable

No matter how hard you try, there will always be some students you won't be able to reach or teach. Don't get discouraged. Instead, do the very best you can and try every approach you can think of to educate the student. And, always keep the student as the focus. Be sure not to beat yourself up over what you might perceive as failure; you might be making more of an impact than you think.

Teacher Esteem

It is easy to say - "I should not be held to higher standards just because I’m a teacher." The truth is, you are a role model for your students, whether you wish to be or not. So, it is important that you act accordingly. If you can’t accept holding higher standards or being a role model, you may be in the wrong profession.

Keep on Truckin'

As a teacher, there will be days when you think, "I'm in the wrong profession,wrong job, wrong school and/or working with the wrong students.” Don't get discouraged and don't give up. Just think, tomorrow or the next day something wonderful will happen - a discipline problem will resolves itself, a student will make a break through in math or a parent will call to tell you what a difference you have made. At that moment, you'll think, aha, how could I have even thought about giving it all up?

When to Be Pushy...

Be practical in your expectations for your students. Always strive for improvement but understand how hard and how quickly you can push students. Don’t expect miracles, but remember there is nothing a student can’t learn on some level if it is presented correctly.

Mad Middle School Scientists

Middle school science students love to adopt the persona of a mad scientist. Embrace it! Let your little mad scientists present some spectacular and showy science experiments to the class. This will create all kinds of enthusiasm for science. Additionally, your other students will absorb the information in a new fun way. The mad scientist students will also gain a greater understanding of the material by not only studying it but also teaching it.

It's the Principal of It

Sometimes it may feel like your principal is your enemy instead of your educational partner. If that happens, try to view the situation through his/her eyes. There may be issues going on that you are unaware of or maybe you are just wrong. If you consider all of these things and still feel that you are in the right, stick to your guns. Just make sure, that the primary focus is always about the students and what will be of benefit to them.

The Praise Policy

There is nothing wrong with occasionally rewarding your students for an exceptional accomplishment. However, all rewards do not have to intrinsic. Adults have extrinsic rewards and goals and so should students at times. Don’t be afraid to say “Hey, you guys did so well on this math test, lets have popcorn and a movie. I’m proud of you!” Of course, you will need to know the school’s policy on rewards.

The Rules of Making Rules

It works better if your students know from the beginning of the year what your rules, discipline policy and educational goals are for them. Don’t change daily, be consistent. If you need to change a rule because it isn’t working, hold a class discussion to alert the students and allow them to have input.

Quit Your Gabbing

Establish a good working relationship with your colleagues. Life is so much easier when there is not additional stress in the workplace. Never take part in any gossip session in the teacher’s lounge, whether the gossip is about a colleague or a student. Always remember be a professional.

Allow Students to Choose

Always leave a student with away out, don’t push them to the wall. Avoid phrases like “do this this instant!” Instead, say something to the effect of “I would appreciate it if you could have this done in five or ten minutes. Could you do that for me?” This will allow them to make a choice and feel as though the have some control in the situation. Additionally, if the situation is tense, the five to ten minutes will allow the student to calm down, think rationally and make the right decision.

Individualize the Group

Group work is a good way to get students of different abilities to work together. Group work helps students with teamwork, brainstorming and critical thinking. When grading, be sure to give a group grade that reflects the groups' performance as a whole. In addition, give each student an individual grade. This way, if one student does all the work and another completely drops the ball, other group members aren't penalized and/or rewarded for their teammates' efforts.

The Class Psyche

A phenomenon of teaching is that every class has its own unique "class psyche." Smart teachers work with that. Don’t be influenced by a class’s reputation or what other teachers say. Form your own opinion and adjust your teaching techniques accordingly.

L-O-V-E for Reading

Creating a love for reading is one of the most important things we can instill in our students. However, age-old book reports often encourage quite the opposite. Fortunately, there are other ways we can test our students’ reading comprehension without making them write the dreaded book report. Try oral reports. Have students express their likes and dislikes about the book to you or other students. Another option is journaling. Have students write a journal entry after reading each chapter of the book showcasing what they learned,their thoughts and likes and dislikes.

Keep em' Active

Physical activity during the school day is important. For this reason, be very careful about taking away recess for incomplete work. Instead, institute ways to encourage on-time work completion. For instance, create an incentive program that rewards students who complete work on or ahead of time. Rewards could be candy, extra points and even extra recess time.

In Teachers They Trust

Trust is important in any interaction and no less so between teacher and student. As a teacher, you will have students' confide in you about all sorts of things. Never betray their confidence, unless of course the "secret" is potentially dangerous or harmful. Make sure your students know that what they tell you will be held in confidence.

Give Me a Break

Don’t work yourself into a frenzy every day. Take part of your break time for yourself. It is tempting to use every bit of your spare time to prepare for class or check papers. Instead, relax for a while with a cup of coffee or soda. Five or 10 minutes of down time can make so much difference in your stress level. You and your students will be better for it.

Plan Ahead

Make lesson plans for a week at a time. Additionally, always have practice worksheets available. That way, if you need a substitute unexpectedly, they will have something to work with. Never leave a sub unprepared. An unprepared sub is an unproductive class.

Make Em' Mentor

Allowing students to be mentors is an excellent teaching strategy. Students often learn best from one another. Mentoring also reinforces students understanding and teaches them responsibility. Additionally, as mentors, students will ensure they know and understand classroom material thoroughly, so they are able to teach it effectively.

Back to Basics

Students have to learn the basics before applying their knowledge to explorations such as science experiments, group projects, reports, etc. They need this background knowledge for explorations to be meaningful. Gaining this knowledge involves research, reading and practice. Be sure students fully understand basic concepts to ensure they are ready for proper exploration.

Practice the Scientific Process

Kids love process science and it’s the only way really to teach science effectively. Don’t just assign pages to read in a science book. Instead use the information in the background material to set up experiments and inquiry. Let students use the information in the science books to help them with applying the scientific process to explore and find out.

Science Beyond the Book

Only use the experiments found in your science book as a springboard for further inquiry. Be sure to set up exploration that go beyond these to enhance your overall science curriculum. You can access excellent science experiments and explorations via the internet to help you plan. Choose scientific topics you are interested and your students will find interesting and relevant.

Double the Subjects, Double the Fun

Integrating two subjects can be a great way to show students how classroom material translates into the real world. For instance, show students how the disciplines of science and math intersect by doing projects such as making tissue hot air balloons during a unit on space and aircraft technology. Students will have to use math to measure and design their balloons, while learning the concept of molecule movement and air pressure for science.

Math, Make it Interesting

Playing math games with students gets them accustomed to thinking in a math frame of mind. At the start of my math class, I like to do mental math with my students. No paper or computers allowed; it’s all mental. Here is a sample problem I would give during this exercise.
“Think 2, double that and then square it. Add 4 to that answer then divide 5, add 6 and then double that, what do you have?"
The purpose of this activity is to help students learn quick ways to solve complex problems. This fast-action game not only creates healthy competition among students, but it makes math fun and interesting.

Being Phony is Bologna

Middle school students are very intense in their evaluation of right or wrong. So, always be fair in your treatment of them. Never have favorites, and don’t have a different set of expectations for different students. Remember, kids, especially those in middle school, see right through phony.

Perk Up Pollyanna, Teaching is Tough Love

Don’t approach teaching like a "Pollyanna", thinking everything will always be light and sweet...because it won’t. Teaching is a tough job, but oh-so worth it. Nothing can compare to the feeling of seeing a child, under your tutelage, improving their achievement and/or attitude. To borrow a phase from Peace Corp: Teaching, “it’s the toughest job you’ll ever love.”

Set Boundaries but Have Fun

Set parameters for both behavior and achievement in your classroom, let your students know what they are and then relax within that structure. Have fun with your students, goals are much easier reached with students' cooperation. And, by teaching students to have fun while learning, you create a valuable educational tool.

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