One of many fantastic topics to teach in kindergarten is the alphabet! Students are like sponges in the classroom ready to absorb anything you put a song to when it comes to letters. As a kindergarten teacher, I was always looking for the most engaging ways to energize my students, so they would quickly learn their letters.
Letter Identification Activities
Sometimes I couldn’t find what I needed, so I would design it myself. I wanted students to have a lot of practice with each letter. In centers, it is not enough for students to write a letter. I wanted to help create a hands-on experience. So, we would use play doh to form letters, trace them on each other’s backs, and use rice or pudding in a pan to form a letter with our fingers. The class’ favorite way to learn about letter identification was to solve mysteries. It could be escape rooms, puzzles, or problems to solve as a classroom to find missing letters from the word wall. Anything that seemed “secret” was a hit!
Every morning my students would get a morning work tub with different activities. This would provide extra reinforcement with the letter for the week. They could choose a hands-on activity or their Morning Work Journal. Students played games, looked around the room for the hidden letters, and had to find all the letters for the week that were in a large pile mixed with other letters. They loved morning work!
The Next Step
Once students grasp letter identification, it’s time to work on the letter sounds. This is much more difficult than letter identification, but so rewarding!
Teachers are resigning from teaching in droves! I’m ONE of them. I loved teaching in the classroom. Being in the classroom for 20 years is one of my greatest life treasures. Now, like many teachers, I resigned and work full time out of the classroom, leaving my tenure behind. My field is still in education, but I’m out of the classroom.
WHY ARE THEY LEAVING?
While I can never talk on behalf of all teachers, I can share why I left the classroom. After meeting lots of other teachers who left the classroom, I found that we all had similar stories. The student behaviors are getting worse. You would think that would be the reason we left, but it is not. Helping troubled students was part of our vision. There’s an amount of pride in being able to help a student through their grief, anger, or loss. The reward it high. Some students we never think we reach, but years later, we receive letters of appreciation from them for our hard work.
So why? It is not about the behaviors, it’s about the lack of support from the administration and the district. There are many administrators who don’t have the best interest of the children in mind. Some have used a behavior situation to encourage a teacher to leave who they might not like, or they see that one teacher is talented with behavior problems and overload them with too many. The district doesn’t provide proper training for teachers to deal with severe problems. School counselors are busy doing lunch duty, testing or some other activity that has nothing to do with their job description. With many evaluations today, the teacher gets written up for not being able to handle behavior problems. How is writing a teacher up helping them learn how to handle a future behavior problem?
The lack of support is a helpless feeling for a teacher. Many teachers have had nervous breakdowns from being physically abused from the students and emotionally abused by their district who provide not support to the teacher. When you have to weigh teaching in a classroom with your own personal health, there is really only one option.
Yes, this can be prevented to where we can retain our most experienced and qualified teachers. Teachers need to gain the respect of being the professional in the classroom. They need to be taken seriously when they inform administration about behaviors. There should be a plan in place that EMPOWERS the teacher. The plan needs to provide the teacher with the knowledge of how to handle problems, insurance that they are not alone while dealing with severe behaviors, and real training prior to getting in the classroom that is on-going. Our students are in crisis! Our dedicated teachers are leaving! It’s time to fix the problem.
I am so thankful for everything that is part of my life right now including you! My life is drastically different than it was a couple years ago! I’ve never talked about it openly because I was fearful, insecure, and riddled with anxiety.
A couple years ago, it was my 20th year of teaching. My son was in 5th grade at our school. For me, it was a year of H-E (double hockey sticks!) For the first time in my career, I had a principal who hated me. Still not sure why. Not only did she hate me, but she got the rest of the staff, who I considered my family for 18 years, to pretty much dislike and/or avoid me too. I was threatened with my evaluation, lied to, challenged with impossible tasks, given 5 MAJOR behavior problem students who physically hurt me and the other children regularly, and faced life-threatening health problems because of the stress. Prior to the last year, I had been a well-liked and highly effective teacher who loved her career path.
Without going into a lot of detail, I suffered from depression, high blood pressure, and anxiety/panic attacks. For the first time, I had been broken. My mind, my spirit, and my body were broken! I consider myself lucky that prior to that difficult year, I had never been on any kind of prescription drugs. But I knew after waking up in fetal position next to my husband, crying that I didn’t want to go to school, and losing 16 lbs. in one week due to stress, that I had to give in to what my Dr. suggested… A good therapist and drugs. I was on anti-depressants, blood pressure medicine, cholesterol medication, and XANAX! So basically, I was drugging myself to go to work. I even developed an eye twitch. If I wasn’t at work, I was fine, but the thought of going every morning would begin a cycle that was dangerous to my health. I fought it because I wanted to stay in the classroom. I loved the students and figured I could transfer the next school year. It was important to me to be there for my own son who was in 5th grade. But, even on the medication, I continued to be harassed.
After getting beat with a chair again, punched in the stomach, calling the front office for help, and realizing no one was coming to help me, I knew I had to leave the classroom. Seeing the scared faces and hearing the ear-piercing screams of the other kindergarten students as they watched their teacher get hit repeatedly, shook me to the core. I knew the only reason they were in this situation was because the principal didn’t like me. So, I had to remove myself. Now, if you question, why didn’t you report it? Why didn’t you collect data on the principal? etc.… Let me tell you, I did. On doctors orders, I left two months before the school year was over. I still had to pick up my son at school, so Xanax to the rescue. I dealt with a staff who wanted to know what was wrong with me, and because I wasn’t ready to tell them, they made up their own inaccurate stories of why I left my dream career.
My husband planned several mini vacations because I was told to relax. I know he was thinking this was the end of the wife he knew when we married. These getaways were frowned upon by staff (according to the county investigator’s report) because I was on sick leave. Little did everyone know the pain I was suffered from because WHY would I post that on Facebook? In hindsight, I should have never posted pictures of me relaxing on social media. But, in my defense, at the time I was on medication. Maybe it was also the need to let people know that I wasn’t completely broken too.
The LAST STRAW
It wasn’t until my son’s 5th grade graduation where his Certificate of Completion was conveniently removed from the pile that I pushed for a harassment investigation with the school board. Seeing her smirking face as my son sat alone in a row as his friends got their certificate knowing she was behind it as my son signaled to us that he was okay was a total mind-blowing experience. I had to beg my husband to leave before he made a scene as anger filled his “un-Xanaxed” body. Other parents were stunned, taking video and making noises to get staff’s attention that a student was forgotten. I had to stand up to tell them they forgot my son. Anyway, an investigation was done which amounted to nothing even though 9 other teachers came forward with their painful stories of harassment they endured from the principal.
The New Chapter
After that experience, even though I was offered other jobs, I decided I could not go back to teaching in this district. I took me about 6 months to wane by body off all the medication that was mandatory for my survival. Crazy how stress can mess up your entire body! I tell you this story for two reasons. One is if you are experiencing anything like this, you can know that you can come out of it stronger than you were prior to the experience. That you can find confidence, security, and begin a new beautiful chapter to your life. I found a love and passion for making educational resources that I didn’t know existed. Through this experience, I developed strategies to build my confidence back up and to become healthy again. Keep up with this blog in the future, and I will share some of the strategies that helped me. I would have never left the classroom to discover this passion without that crazy experience. The second reason is I want you to know that YOU are part of my new chapter. I love making teaching resources and helping teachers like you save time and money. This is one reason why I offer freebies and discounts regularly. Thank you for being there for me and for your students! My heart will always be in education. I value you!
I don’t know if you like or LOVE themed days in your classroom, but I LIVED for them! Themes get kids excited, which can be exhausting, BUT, they get them engaged. Don’t get upset when your kids are loud and jumping with excitement. When they are excited to learn, especially when they are having so much fun they don’t even know your academic objectives, is when you can pat yourself on the back knowing you are Teacher OF THE YEAR! My favorite theme that I used most of my career was The Polar Express. The story is perfect for squashing any “non-Santa believer’s” verbal language with other students who want the magic still. I’ve also used a Winter Frozen theme and a Movie Theater themed day.
The Polar Express
I’ll walk you through my typical Polar Express day. Parents are asked to send in hot chocolate, marshmallows, and dress the kiddos in their school appropriate PJs. (Make sure you get your principal’s permission first.) In the morning, students arrive to a chalk or taped train track on the floor leading to my classroom door. At the door, they are greeted by a crazy conductor (ME), who wants to collect money or items in exchange for a golden ticket. This is really fun! It is also the time I tell parents to come and take photos. I joke around telling kids to get some money from their parents, and then settle for a shoe or pencil in exchange for a ticket.
Polar Express Ideas
When the students enter the room, they hear train sounds, see the chairs in rows (like a train), smell hot chocolate in the air, and are instructed to stay on in their train seats with their
golden ticket. After they settle, we review rules for the day. I take out a hole punch to ask for each person’s golden ticket. I pretend to punch holes in the ticket by excitedly putting the tickets under my let, over my head or behind my back making the clicking sound. You can either collect the tickets and reuse them every year, or allow them to take them home for a keepsake.
We read the book first. I tell them that the movie came out after the book. Students are encouraged to find differences when they watch the movie. We talk about characters, settings, problem and solutions. We talk about the author’s purpose. During the week they do various writing activities, but the main themed day is about keeping the excitement all day, so focus on the fun. I tell students they are going on the imagination express to take their seats on the train. After beginning the movie, I have a little cart that I keep the hot cocoa on that has wheels. When the part of the movie comes on where the kids get cocoa, I roll out the cart, I DANCE, yes, DANCE around like crazy. Before I got to old, I did cartwheels! This is always the part of the day that the kids go home telling their parents about. I have a hot cocoa maker that I use every year that makes a whole pot of cocoa. I make it really strong and then, mix it with water so it is not too hot.
After The Movie
After the kids watch the movie, we do a Venn Diagram to compare the book and the movie. I hold a bell up and ring it. I pretend like I can’t hear it, because I must be too old or not a believer. (Sniff Sniff) The rest of the day we make crafts, sing holiday songs, and usually write a letter to Santa. This way I can send the letters home to help the parents out with some gift ideas. If you are looking for a fun themes holiday day, The Polar Express just may be your ticket!
If you struggle with figuring out how to teach science to young students when you have little time in the classroom, I have some strategies to help you achieve a positive learning experience for your students. I know for me, finding time to squeeze in science and social studies in my jam-packed plans was a struggle. The first thing I do to alleviate the stress is to integrate my reading, writing or math into a science lesson. By utilizing the other subjects during science lessons, it is a real time-saver.
If having students being engaged in your lessons is a problem, integrating science into a boring math lesson can help to produce 100% engagement with the students. For example, if you are teaching addition in math and matter in science. Why not have students collect types of matter, write about the properties of matter and then create addition problems with the matter they collected. Which brings me to the most important way to teach science. Kids need to have their hands actually on physical items in order to help retain information, especially after a long morning of learning. Encourage students to set up experiments or participate in science discussions to help boost their confidence and critical thinking skills.
Providing a Science Data Notebook helps student develop writing skills while exploring science concepts. Encourage them to collect information and drawings about their observations. Have students record steps they need to take to create a science experiment. Have them think of a burning question they want answered. Then, develop a safe plan to test something in order to answer the question. You can pick one out of all of them to actually do with the whole group. This will help them understand the scientific method.
I like to always refer to my students as scientists during science class. I want them to know that everyone can be a scientist. On Fridays, I would have Science Investigation Stations. Students could wear their father’s white button up shirt, and goggles to feel more like a scientist. Then, they get to explore at different stations. I incorporate reading and writing in the lessons to ensure I’m hitting all my academic targets. Each station has posters with vocabulary words that go with the unit we are focusing on that week. Learning science vocabulary is essential for helping students to think and communicate in future science lessons.
Make It FUN!
Most importantly, be excited for science. Students feed off of your energy. Making learning fun is simple when you use science lessons!
Here is a FREE Energy Sample for Kindergarten and 1st Grade, if you are looking for some ideas.
I love teaching in November! I know that I have so much to be thankful for this time of year! Young students should learn about Thanksgiving by focusing on being thankful, spending time with family, the First Thanksgiving, and the Mayflower Voyage. You can even teach about teamwork of how the pilgrims had to work together to build a common house. Every year I would perform a Thankful Festival for parents. The performance focuses on being thankful, family and the feast. I use music by Jack Hartmann. He is my favorite children’s musical artist! We invite the families in to see us sing songs, and eat together. Sometimes we do traditional food, but I’ve done breakfast instead, if the timing of the show was early in the morning.
I use this time of year as an opportunity to talk about family traditions, sharing, cooking together, and teaching where food comes from. Of course there is always the traditional turkey hand print that goes home every year and other turkey crafts. I like to invite guest readers during this time too. The holidays can make students a little excited, so a fresh new voice reading a book usually is just what the Dr. ordered to keep their attention.
Turkey in Disguise Family Project
By far my favorite home project all year is Operation Disguise Turkey! We send a letter home with a turkey printable for the family to help disguise the turkey so it is not on the table for Thanksgiving. Students also have to write a few sentences about the disguise. The families are always creative! My son made his into a dog. My daughter made hers into a vampire. Yes, a vampire. I guess she still had Halloween on her mind. The projects make a great conversational piece during the celebration with the family.
Great Turkey Stories
I have two favorite turkey stories I read during Thanksgiving. Turkey Trouble and A Plump and Perky Turkey. Students compare and contrast food, write about how to trick a turkey, summarize, practice comprehension, and learn new vocabulary words with these stories. If you have not read these adorable books, I suggest you buy the books or find it at your local library. They are my “Must Haves” for November.
3… 2… 1… BLAST OFF! Apollo 11 was the first manned space flight to the moon where the first man walked on the moon. It is the moment the whole world watched with wonder. What was it like to walk on the moon? What was it made of? Would they be able to return back to Earth? NASA has just started to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo’s Space Program which landed a dozen Americans on the moon. So, I think now is a great time to teach your students about the Apollo 11 mission. The movie First Man also comes out October 12th, 2018.
Lunar Module STEM Activity
To really get students to engage in your amazing moon landing lesson, let them do a STEM activity. The astronauts used a lunar module during Apollo 11 called the Eagle to land on the moon.
Give students supplies and have them create their own lunar lander. Some supplies to give the students can be plates, cups, packing tape, rubber bands, paper clips, tin foil, card stock and marshmallows.
The marshmallows could be used as shock absorbers or astronauts in the space craft. They would have to create a module to safely get their astronauts home. The space craft would have to have 4 shock absorbers, and two astronauts. To test their craft, they would drop it from 4 feet. If it didn’t land upright, they have to re-design and re-test their space craft.
Free SPACEMAN for Writing
Read a book about Apollo 11. Have students summarize it during writing. For young students you can use these FREE “Space” man word spacers. Just attach a Popsicle stick or pencil to the back of the spaceman. Students can place it as a spacer between words, if they struggle with spacing skills. Students can share their summaries with each other.
I am a huge supporter of guest speakers in the classroom, so why not ask a someone from NASA to Skype with your class. They can do a little presentation about their job. Then, students can ask questions. Incorporate writing skills by having your students write good old fashion thank you cards.
Our solar system is so amazing. The fact that we landed on the moon 50 years ago revolutionized our thinking about Earth, and it’s peers. Bring the excitement into your classroom this year by teaching about Apollo 11. Who knows what the lesson may lead your students to discover!
Peace can and SHOULD be celebrated all year! Today is International Peace Day, so I want to help bring an awareness to peace and kindness by telling you some things I do to celebrate peace in the classroom and offer you a teaching resource you can use in your own classroom or school. Hopefully you celebrate peace daily, but maybe you aren’t aware you are even doing it. Here are some simple things you can do for International Peace Day. Use the hashtag #DoitforPEACE and post something you have done that is similar to these examples.
Hugs (Yes, it is an easy one! Go hug someone today!)
March for peace
Buy someone food who is in the car line behind you
Play peaceful music
Make a new friend
Share examples of peace with your students or staff members
Write a nice note to someone
Write about peace
So what have you done today? What will you do tomorrow? Small bits of kindness can grow a tree of peace. Start today!
Here is a great lesson you can do in your classroom or even have your whole school participate with these cool painted rocks.
I haven’t posted lately because I was on my dream vacation in Hawaii! It was everything I imagined and more. The pictures don’t do it justice at all. Although Waikiki and Honolulu were a bit more commercialized than I expected, I found one island just amazing! My favorite island was Maui. If you love tropical vacations, like I do, it is an experience of a life time. I live in Florida, so I’m use to the beach life. The Road to Hana, hidden waterfalls, legends, Poke Bowls, caves, rain forest, volcano, spectacular snorkel spots, and friendly locals made a magical trip for my family. The trip hit the wallet a little harder than I expected even with all the research I did prior to the trip, but it was well worth it. Now, I have so many ideas for a new classroom decor!
Every corner I found inspiration for new #TpT products. I took a lot of pictures to create a tropical classroom decor pack that I can’t wait to see come to life. So far I have made a Hawaiian themed Color Word Posters and a Word Wall Banner Set. These will become part of a Hawaiian Theme Classroom Decor BUNDLE… COMING SOON. Go check them out though, if you are thinking about a beach classroom theme for your classroom. One of our favorite hidden lunch places that we just happened to stumble upon is called The Garden Terrace at Kula Lodge! Eat outside while enjoying the spectacular entire west side of Maui view. They have an outdoor wood-burning pizza oven that my kids still talk about today! Mama’s Fish House Restaurant was our favorite place on the island for catching a view of Maui’s amazing sunsets. The food is absolute terrific! You can find some of the sunset pictures in the new calendar pack I’m in the process of making that will be part of the set. I rarely post pictures of my family on my blog, but here is one showing the beautiful sunset.
Check back in the future for blogs on the new Hawaii Themed Decor Sets that I will have up in my Teacher’s Brain store soon. As they say in Hawaii… Mahalo!!!!
Okay, so hopefully you have all that testing behind you now and are freed up to do some educational activities that are engaging for your students! I always have an end of the year celebration with my student that is themed-based. I also have an end of the year celebration where the parents are invited to share some special moments with their child before summer heats up! Here are some theme ideas that I usually let my students choose from:
We do activities with items I purchase from Oriental Trading Co. usually. I also ask parents to donate items for the day. We make a t-shirt to go with the theme. All the activities are educational, but they are theme-based. This is a do just for kids, but I do have a couple volunteers helping me with activities.
When I invite the parents to the room, we have a slideshow showing pictures taken throughout the school year. Each year, (20 so far) I’ve made individual photo albums for all my students and present them to the parents as a parting gift. Even though these cost me a lot, they proved to be priceless! Many students return years later with that album in hand. They tell me how meaningful the albums are to them. One even said, “When I’m down, I can look at it, and it always cheers me up.” I’m glad I invested in them. Then, I have parents bring in a dish to share. They can also bring in footballs to play outside with the kids after we all eat. It’s a great day! To make it really special, I also give every child a candy certificate as a keepsake.
Then end of the year is a busy time for teachers, but it also the best time to make memories that will last a lifetime with your students, build connections with the community, and celebrate the time you shared together as a class!