What Every Teacher Wishes Parents Understood

I have been a teacher for almost eighteen years now.  I have also been a parent for 13 and a half years of my teaching career.  When I was a young and innocent new teacher, I had these cute little business cards printed up that had a little slogan on the bottom that said, “Parents + Students + Teachers = Success” and back then, I truly believed that.  I still do believe in this equation… for the most part.  But, just as our students have changed over the years, so too have the parents we are interacting with in our profession.  As educators, we have seen the overbearing helicopter parents, the completely non-existent/deadbeat parent, and everything in between.  Parents can be a huge asset to teachers or a huge pain in the ass!

Leave the hovering to the helicopters and let your kids figure things out for themselves - especially when it comes to school.
Leave the hovering to the helicopters and let your kids figure things out for themselves – especially when it comes to school.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak to a lovely couple who, upon finding out that I am a teacher myself, told me that their daughter is a teacher as well.  They then told me that this next year would be her last year of teaching.  I mentioned that their daughter must be so excited to be on the brink of retirement.  Her parents didn’t share in that excitement, as they lamented that she was retiring earlier than she anticipated because, “she just can’t deal with the demands of the parents anymore.”  They went on to tell me that their daughter adores her students and her students love her, but the parents in their daughter’s school are all too eager to blame the teachers for anything and everything.  Yikes!

Heading into retirement early because parents are forcing you to is no way to end your teaching career.
Heading into retirement early because parents are forcing you to is no way to end your teaching career.

So, what can educators do to make the relationship between home and school stronger and better?  How can we help parents to better understand that as educators, we share the same hopes and desires for their children? We also want to see their children become successful and productive adults one day, and let’s face it – both parents and teachers have a huge role and responsibility in this undertaking.  But, when teachers feel like parents are out to get them or parents feel like teachers aren’t fulfilling their child’s educational needs, there is clearly a breakdown in that precious school to home connection – and the real loser in this all is the child/student.  Teachers and parents must become a united front when it comes to education.

Time and time again, I’ve heard it (and said it), “I just wish that parents understood…” This blanket statement doesn’t usually just stop there, as it becomes a fill in the blank of reasons parents just don’t understand.  While I am well aware that there is an innate and quite intricate relationship between both parents and teachers when it comes to student success, for the purpose of this piece, I will focus on what we as teachers wish parents understood – about us, our job, and their child.

I wish parents understood that teachers have a child’s best interest in mind in the classroom. If you are a student in my classroom, I will do whatever I possibly can to make sure you not only pass my class, but also gain valuable skills and knowledge.  I am a professional and that is my job. I went to college after all, and I actually have a master’s degree too! Of course as parents, we feel like we know our child better than anyone (and we probably do), but that doesn’t give a parent the right to try to overstep a teacher’s best intentions.  Sometimes it feels as though parents don’t fully trust teachers anymore and that distrust breeds negativity and sometimes even hostility.  Some parents have overstepped boundaries with teachers, firing off nasty emails and leaving really insulting voice mails. While I am a huge proponent of having a strong relationship between home and school, sometimes as parents, it is wise for us to just step back and let the teacher teach!  Parents, please trust us as educators.

I have a master's degree. I rock at teaching! Please let me do my thing.
I have a master’s degree.  Please trust me and let me teach. I rock at teaching!

I wish parents understood that teachers work very hard all year long to provide the best learning experience possible for all learners.  I can’t believe when people have the audacity to say, “Yeah, but teachers get the summers off, so all that hard work is worth it.”  Of course we love our summers off, but many of us have second jobs to make ends meet.  Many of us are also doing professional development over the summer for our teaching certification. Even with summers off, honestly – many teachers are still stressed out, overworked, and underpaid.  It seems that in recent years, it has become standard to attack the teaching profession.  It also seems like parents are quick to think that teachers aren’t doing their jobs properly.  While this may be the case in certain situations, it definitely isn’t the norm.  Most of the teachers I know bust their butts trying to ensure that they provide an equal opportunity learning environment for all students. So the edict of teachers not doing their jobs or having it easy because we have summers off really has no basis in reality. Teachers are very much held accountable for student learning. Strict teacher evaluation systems are in place to weed out the slackers of the teaching profession, but sadly these evaluations can be so involved and cumbersome that some seasoned teachers just don’t have it in them any longer to jump through these hoops and have enough energy left for the classroom so they leave the teaching professional altogether.

Summer is relaxing for teachers, but many of us still work during our time off from school.
Summer is relaxing for teachers, but many of us still work during our time off from school.

I wish parents understood that teachers can’t solely be blamed for their child’s grade in a class.  While I will do whatever I can as a teacher to help your child succeed, if your child is putting forth minimal effort, or is being problematic in the classroom, I can’t do my best work either. Teachers are seeing an influx of parents pointing the finger at them for the shortcomings of their own offspring. It’s hard to admit that your own child may not be the strongest in a certain subject or that a child’s behavior may be impeding their learning, but pointing the finger at the teacher can be unfair and detrimental to the student’s learning. Parents and teachers should work together to figure out why a child may be struggling and do whatever it takes to ensure student success.

Sorry, but your little cherub might not be the angel you think he is when he is in my classroom.
Sorry, but your little cherub might not be the angel you think he is when he is in my classroom.

I wish parents understood that I have (at least) 155 other students.  Yes, I understand that your child is precious to you, and please understand that your child is precious to me as well, but I have five classes a day full of around 33 students per hour. While I would absolutely love to devote my undivided attention to your child and your child only, that isn’t feasible. Rest assured that if your kiddo is struggling, I will most definitely do whatever I can to help out and make sure your child’s needs are being met.  I’ll let you in on a little secret too – every single teacher that I know would be more than happy to tutor your child free of charge, before school, after school, during lunch – whenever! You just need to ask. Heck, most teachers will even offer it before you even get a chance to ask! So just because I can’t necessarily provide one on one instruction in the classroom, there are certainly other avenues we can pursue if your child needs more individualized attention.

I can help your struggling student! Just ask me how we can work together to save their grade.
I can help your struggling student! Just ask me how we can work together to save their grade.

I wish parents understood that teaching is a teacher’s number one priority during the school day.  If a teacher doesn’t respond back to your phone call or email right away, there is no need to call the office (or worse yet – the principal) and say you can’t get ahold of that teacher because they aren’t responding back to you.  While there is no set rule as to how long a parent should have to wait to hear back from a teacher, please be patient and be aware that we spend our days teaching. We will try to get back to you as soon as we can.  If we are lucky enough to have a little bit of time during our prep period, we will try to call you back or email you back, but sometimes, we just don’t have the time!  Factor in after school meetings or other extracurricular activities, and all the sudden it’s 9 p.m. and we still aren’t home yet.  Teachers are busy professionals – please cut us some slack!  But, by all means, if you don’t hear back from us in 24-48 hours, a gentle reminder is not out of order.

We are teachers and we are busy!
We are busy teachers!  Please cut us some slack!

I wish parents understood that their children may be telling them half-truths and only part of the story.  Yes, your child may come and home and tell a sordid tale of woe involving an incident in the classroom, a missing grade in the grade book, or something that a teacher said or did at school. Please understand that as a parent, you are only getting part of the story filtered through your child’s perception of it. Please don’t jump to conclusions and please do try to get the other side of the story before deciding to make that phone call, demand a meeting, or call the principal.

Sometimes your child may take a page out of one of these books. Proceed with caution.
Sometimes your child may take a page out of one of these books. Proceed with caution.

I wish parents understood that going to a principal with a problem should really be a last resort, not a go-to solution.  I never really understand why a parent won’t try to address an issue with a teacher first.  When a principal has to intervene with a situation because a parent has contacted the office, it’s embarrassing for us as teachers.  Usually, it’s something silly that the principal should not even be bothered with in the first place.  When a parent calls the principal about an issue, it should be because there has been no resolution with the teacher after you have tried to work it out with that teacher. Often teachers are completely blindsided when a principal says they received a phone call or an email about something. Now, by all means, if it is truly a problem that needs to be dealt with by going over a teacher’s head, of course a parent should contact the administration.  This also goes for issues that have not been properly addressed by a teacher. But, parents – please, please, please – give us a call or shoot us an email before a situation is escalated and a principal is involved. We can’t help you with a problem or issue if we haven’t been made aware of it.

Give us a ring or email us. It's much easier than unnecessarily involving our administration.
Give us a ring or email us. It’s much easier than unnecessarily involving our administration.

I wish parents understood that many of us are parents ourselves and feel the same way you do.  Yes, many of us have our own kids too, and we totally get it.  We want what is best for our children too.  We understand how important their education is. We all want our children to be successful and independent, but sometimes you have to resist the urge to be too helpful when it comes to your child’s educational struggles. Sometimes kids need to fight their own battles.  More and more parents seem to want to swoop in and save their babies. While I understand that as a parent, as a teacher, it can be frustrating when a parent is always there hovering in the background waiting to be the hero and rescue their child. Part of growing up and maturing involves struggling and problem-solving.  If a parent is constantly intervening and not allowing their child to experience failure in life, you are doing a huge disservice to your child.  Let your kid struggle, let your kid fail, let your kid figure it out for themselves.  Try being a guide on the side to your struggling child and gently help them make the right choices, but allow them to make mistakes too.

Please let your kids solve their own problems sometimes. It will help them to become better people.
Please let your kids solve their own problems sometimes. It will help them to become better people in the long run.

The bottom line is this – teachers are human, and we make mistakes. No teacher is perfect.  We have good days and bad days, just like any other professional. The same is true for parents; we have good days and bad days as parents too. Parents and teachers need to allow a child some room to grow and experience their own growing pains as they figure out how to navigate through their education and their lives in general. When parents and teachers work together to provide the best educational learning environment possible, we all win! So, can we please work together, for your child’s sake?

Reflections of a First Time (Education) Blogger

IMG_1082My little baby blog is celebrating its one month anniversary today! To celebrate, I thought I would do a wee bit of a reflection about what I have learned so far about this whole blogging gig. While this is solely based on my own (in)experience, if you are new to blogging or considering it, I hope that this reflective piece will help others. I’m big into lists, so I figured I would assemble a top ten list of things I learned my first month of blogging, suggestions I have for others, and just general little nuggets of wisdom I have gleaned this past month.  Let’s get started!

Actual photo of what blogging can often feel like.
Actual photo of what blogging can often feel like.
  1. Blogging is a lot of work. I can see how it could easily consume your life! But I have to say, it’s so incredibly fulfilling and rewarding and even cathartic on many levels, so it’s totally been worth it. Would I ever give up teaching to become a full-time blogger? No way. Do I love doing it in addition to my teaching gig? You bet! I do have to say I am a bit nervous about school starting back up and still having enough time to devote to this pet project of mine and my beloved students. I have to admit, I have used my summer time wisely, and I have stockpiled some blog posts so I have them ready to roll in case I don’t have time when the back to school craziness starts.

    Be your own quality control - give your readers quality over quantity when it comes to new blog posts.
    Be your own quality control – give your readers quality over quantity when it comes to new blog posts.
  2. Avoid the temptation to kick out new posts too often. Yes, you want to build your content and your website, but you need to find a nice rhythm of posting. I committed to posting at least once a week. I certainly don’t want to abuse my privilege as a blogger, and I don’t want to give my readers anything but the best of my writing. I also don’t want to overwhelm my readers with too much at one time, otherwise you run the risk of annoying your readers. You definitely want to avoid watered down posts on your blog. Just because you have something hot off the press, it doesn’t mean you should fire it off to your readers right away. Give it some time to marinate! You may end up regretting posting something too soon for a variety of reasons, so it’s better to just hold onto some content rather than hitting the publish button too soon. As a new blogger, it can be super tempting to churn out a lot of content in a little time just to fill your blog, but it’s going to take time and patience. Just relax, and fill your blog content with quality not quantity.

    Blogging is not a get rich quick scheme!
    Making money from your blog is time-consuming and advertising on your blog can be tricky! Be patient and you’ll figure it out… eventually!
  3. Figuring out the monetization of your blog can be much more difficult than it should be. I definitely did my research (hello, I’m an English teacher – I teach research!) and I was very confused about something as simple as Google AdSense. Nothing makes you feel like an idiot faster than not being able to figure something out quickly. I had to read and reread articles about Google AdSense and even watch a couple of videos before I felt confident enough to try to get it up and running. Even as I am typing this right now, I am unsure if I am doing it right or if it is working properly! But hey, at least I tried.

    Having a business card for your blog is a smart move for many reasons.
    Having a business card for your blog is a smart move for many reasons.
  4. Consider ordering business cards for your blog. I ordered mine yesterday! I can’t tell you how many times my blog has come up in conversations lately. I know darn well I can’t depend on someone to remember what my website name is, so if I have a business card, I can definitely hand it to them and drum up some more support for it. Brilliant! It’s also one step closer to proving to myself and others that this blogging gig should be treated like a business (because it is!) and a business card is a perfect representation of my professionalism.

    Creating a successful blog is a lot like putting a puzzle together. You have to have patience and wait for all of the pieces to fit together.
    Creating a successful blog is a lot like putting a puzzle together. You have to have patience and wait for all of the pieces to fit together.
  5. Patience is a must in the land of blogging. I am definitely pretty tech-savvy on a basic level, but add in all of this new stuff on WordPress and Google AdSense, and I’m left feeling pretty inept some days. Lucky for me, I have a thirteen year old who will gladly roll his eyes at me and then help me whilst muttering under his breath about how I don’t know anything. I’ve also had to learn to have patience with having my blog take off like I want it to and I know it eventually will. In my fantasy land, I just thought that you would publish your blog and BOOM, your blog would take off and you would have so many people flocking to your blog virtually salivating just waiting for your next post. Ummmm… nope! It takes hard work, patience, networking, and even then, nothing is guaranteed as far as the loyalty of your readership is concerned. Maybe someday I won’t have to beg and plead to have anyone and everyone come visit my blog; until then, I’m at least nice about my begging and pleading! Hey, we all have to start somewhere – so I am employing the no shame in asking/begging/pestering routine daily.

    Get rid of the doubt so you can experience blogging success!
    Get rid of the doubt so you can experience blogging success!
  6. Self-doubt and questioning of your sanity are buy one get one free when it comes to blogging. After I started this blog and published my first couple of posts, the self-doubt immediately started creeping in on me. You know, those negative thoughts about what if no one supports this blog, what if no one reads it, what if I am terrible at what I am doing? Yes, you will doubt yourself. You will second guess yourself. You will beat yourself up for things you feel like you should or should not have done with your blog. You will start to feel slightly to moderately crazy for even choosing the blog life. But, you know what? That doubt and questioning of your sanity start to go away and are quickly replaced with confidence, a sense of accomplishment, and pride knowing you are chasing a dream of yours!

    Oh, Pinterest! How did I ever live my life without you?
    Oh, Pinterest! How did I ever live my life without you?
  7. Pinterest will be your best friend for blogging resources. To all of the other bloggers before me who have taken the time to post their goodies on Pinterest – THANK YOU! I salute you for your hard work and your willingness to help those of us completely new to this whole blogging stuff! Tapping into someone else’s expertise is highly recommended. Chances are, if you have a question about blogging or you are looking for a “how to” guide on something blog related, someone has likely created a pin for it and has posted it on Pinterest. I have found better information on all things blog related on Pinterest than I have just from trying to hunt around for the information on my own.

    Blogging has become part of my nightly routine, and it's oddly relaxing.
    Blogging has become part of my nightly routine, and it’s oddly relaxing.
  8. Settle into a routine for writing and blog posting. It’s been very important for me to set aside time for blogging and to choose at least one day a week where I will post my new post. I have committed to doing at least one new blog post a week. It helps to keep me accountable for the upkeep of my content, and it helps my readers to stay engaged as well. I’ve developed a habit of settling in each night by turning on the TV for background noise, kicking up my feet, and then firing up the laptop to check my blog for comments, take a look at my website statistics, do a little campaigning via social media, answer emails, and then jotting down ideas for blog posts or tweaking unpublished posts. I’ve also found that if I am not in the mood to write, I just pull the plug on it and come back to it later. I like my writing to be organic and genuine rather than forced and trite. I find that since I have established this nightly ritual, I have really come to look forward to this sacred time each evening – it’s quite relaxing!

    Be prepared to make lots of mistakes as a new blogger. It's part of the learning process.
    Be prepared to make lots of mistakes as a new blogger. It’s part of the learning process.
  9. You can, and will make mistakes – and that’s okay! Yep – the first day of my blog, I accidentally deleted the whole thing. The. Whole. Thing. I nearly cried. I was so excited to go live, and I dutifully did my first post, my about me page, and put some pics on it. I went live, and then I went into my account and tried to download something, and BAM, my blog was totally gone. I panicked and tried to undo it, and then I realized I was totally out of my league and got tech support involved. Thanks to the lovely folks at Bluehost, they were able to totally recover everything I worked so hard on and then subsequently quite easily deleted! Phew. Crisis averted. I am a self-taught blogger who did a lot of pre-work via research and took advice from current bloggers, so I am totally willing and able to make mistakes. The key is to learn from those mistakes and then hopefully avoid those same mistakes in the future.

    Relax! Just try to enjoy the blogging experience!
    Relax! Just try to enjoy the blogging experience! Don’t get caught up in all of the craziness that can come with starting a new blogging adventure.
  10. Relax and embrace the experience. It can be so tempting to become psychotically obsessed about the data generated from your blog and plugins like Google AdSense. I am totally not doing my blog as a money-making venture; I truly want to make a difference in the lives of my fellow teachers. Now, if I happen to make some extra income off this blog of mine, that’s great because I can recycle it right back into my efforts to provide bigger and better giveaways. It can also help to defray my costs of operating this little blog of mine. So, if I make some extra moolah from it – that’s great! But, if you are truly in the blogging business for money-making purposes only, good luck. It certainly isn’t a get rich quick scheme, and even if it is somehow miraculously producing gobs of money for a blogger, I can guarantee there was some serious hard work involved! Also, beware of all of the weirdos who come out of the woodwork emailing you trying to sell you their business propaganda promising you that if you buy their product, your traffic and income will skyrocket. Just ignore them and delete their emails. Some of these vultures can be very annoying and persistent. But, the solicitation will ease up in a couple of weeks and you can be free to work your own magic! You don’t need their empty promises anyway!

So, there you have it. Month one of my blog done and in the books and on the web! I plan to look back each month and reflect on what I’ve learned and think about what my plans are for the upcoming month. The teacher in me likes to reflect on my past experiences and develop some goals to make Teacher Sweepers totally epic! Have any questions about blogging in general? Ask them below! I will answer them honestly and genuinely without sugar-coating anything. Also, if you would like advice about starting your own blogging adventure or if you want to be a guest blogger here at Teacher Sweepers, email me: maya@teachersweepers.com.


What I Learned about Teaching Students from Working with Dogs

dogblogI often joke that in addition to being a high school English teacher, I am also a professional dog stalker. The only problem is, I am totally not joking. If there is a dog around, chances are I am making a beeline for it. I often forget to talk to the human that may be accompanying any dog I encounter. I will also remember your dog’s name before I remember yours. Our local tennis courts share a fence with our local dog park, and my tennis partner knows how to make me miss a swing at the tennis ball by simply gasping and saying, “Oh my gosh, look at that dog.” Yes, I am a dog person, a dogaholic, that crazy dog lady!

I also happen to know a lot about dogs.  I am a dog mom to six (yes, 6) rescue mutts. I also currently have a seventh dog at my house because I rescued a stray who was roaming around our neighborhood for days. I could bore you with useless analogies likening my relationship to dogs to that of peanut butter and jelly, but I think you get the point – I am obsessed with dogs. So obsessed that I actually work part time on the weekends for a premium dog food company as a Blue Buffalo sales rep. I get the fancy title of being called a Pet Detective, because I am interacting with pet parents and talking about their beloved furry friends, and I am listening for clues as to what I can recommend from our exceptional line of products.

Dogs add so much to our lives. I love interacting with dogs and my students.
Dogs add so much to our lives. I love interacting with dogs and my students.

While I am advocating for my brand and interacting with the pet parents, I quite often have the opportunity to observe the dog training classes. While I listen to the dog trainer with her clients, and while I interact with my own dogs, I can’t help but see the correlations between dog training and teaching in my own classroom. As silly as it sounds, if you think about it, the goals of dog training and teaching our beloved students are one in the same: we are both teaching our “clients” valuable and necessary skills in order for them to lead more productive and successful lives. PetSmart says this about their trainers, “Trained in canine behavior, learning theory and problem solving, our skilled Accredited Dog Trainers use a positive approach to help get great results at each stage.” Let’s swap some words out of that and see how we can apply that to teachers in education: “Trained in student behavior, learning theory, and problem solving, our skilled certified teachers use a positive approach to help get great results in each grade.” So now that I have just written a stellar mission statement for a new charter school, who would like to come teach at this fabulous new school of mine?

Our furry friends can add some insight into how to best teach our beloved students.

All humor aside, once you get past the preposterous notion that puppies and students have more in common than we might initially admit, the similarities between dog training and teaching human students are actually quite striking. Just the other day I overheard the dog trainer tell her puppy kindergarten class that, “a lack of physical and mental stimulation leads to undesired behavior.” Now, think about that for a minute as it pertains to teaching. Couldn’t that easily be from a chapter on classroom management in a leading education textbook too? We all know how important it is to engage our students in the classroom – most definitely mentally and if possible, physically. If a child is not adequately stimulated and challenged, poor behavior can occur. While we won’t experience the barking, chewing, and property destruction that a bored puppy might produce, we can certainly see the repercussions of a non-engaged, non-stimulated student in our classroom. A bored student can and will act out in your classroom, as we all have observed and experienced. But, believe it or not, the similarities between puppies and students don’t end there.

Yes, you can teach an old dogs new tricks - the same way you teach students!
Yes, you can teach an old dogs new tricks – the same way you teach students!

Watching dog training classes is very much like witnessing what would occur in an actual classroom with human students. While observing the puppies in class, it isn’t hard to identify the different types of students who are attending. The similarities between the different types of puppies and the students in our own classrooms are striking and uncanny. Take for example that one superstar puppy already behaving and doing what it should be doing. You know, that one student who is almost too perfect? The one who really probably doesn’t even need to take your class because he/she is really that smart and gifted. But the student attends the class just to jump through the hoops and is on to bigger and better things like becoming an astrophysicist and your class was just merely a necessary stepping stone in the grand scheme of things. This is the same student who is wise and mature beyond his/her years and has no time for the shenanigans of immature peers. You almost feel sorry for this student, because you can just sense that there is a constant level of annoyance with this student having to put up with the others in the classroom.

This is Jacob. He may look innocent, but he is a talker, and he will take the whole class down with him!
This is Jacob. He may look innocent, but he is a talker, and he will take the whole class down with him!

Next up, there is that one puppy who loves to hear himself bark/talk and can be quite the social butterfly. This is the puppy who barks, and barks, and barks! Oh how we love those students in our class who are clearly there to socialize and how dare we interrupt their social hour with our teaching? It’s that kid who you have to strategically place in a seating chart because he will talk to EVERYONE. It’s that student who you wish you could just look straight in the eye and say, “SHUT UP!” (but you would never do that, because you are a professional… but we won’t judge you for your own private thoughts and fantasies). This is the same one who would literally talk to the wall if you placed him there in an effort to thwart his undying dedication to talking non-stop… You are smiling because you are picturing that student, and he has name. It’s Jacob, isn’t it?  Dammit Jacob, I am trying to teach!

Oh sweet shy puppy... It's a crazy world out there.
Oh sweet shy puppy… It’s a crazy world out there.

The next type of puppy is the one who is shy and reserved and totally freaked out by all of the fussing/barking going on in the class. It’s that student who you try so hard to draw out of her shell and draw into the class discussion. But alas, no amount of coaxing can convince her to outwardly participate. But when that student is with you one on one, she totally opens up to you and shows you how much she really is learning and getting out of your teaching, it’s just that she is painfully shy and the thought of speaking up around her peers is overwhelming and terrifying.

How about the puppy who cannot pay attention no matter what? This is the puppy who is way too concerned about what every other puppy is doing in class, so this puppy has a very hard time focusing on the trainer. This is the same puppy who is all too eager to distract his classmates and deter them from paying attention. This puppy slowly but surely lures his classmates one by one into the sordid world of off-task behavior. He is the pied piper of inattentiveness and tomfoolery! If this sounds all too familiar, that’s because we usually have multiple students who struggle in the attention department in our classroom. Isn’t it amazing how the one child who cannot pay attention can so easily persuade his classmates to join him? It’s like a terrible game of distraction dominoes, and that is a game you do not want to lose when playing with your classroom management methods. Dog training classes focus on impulse-control, and much of my Freshman English course does too.

It's a good thing that dogs are so lovable! Same goes for my students!
It’s a good thing that dogs are so lovable! Same goes for my students!

Often, we need to use different types of positive reinforcements to help with issues such as impulse control. What if I told you that the same types of positive reinforcements used in puppy classes work on human students too? Puppies respond very well to verbal praise. I can attest to the fact that my students also enjoy verbal praise (and I love giving it out quite freely and often). Puppies also like to have a treat for a job well done, and I have been known to dole out a Blow Pop or two for an extra reward or incentive. The bottom line is this – puppies and students enjoy knowing when they are doing something pleasing and good! In order to make sure that our little learners are keeping up the good work, we need to keep up the positive reinforcements. A thoughtful, handwritten note to a student for a job done well can have a lasting impression on our precious pupils. A positive phone call home praising a student’s hard work in your classroom can set the stage for further success. Positive reinforcements are so much more valuable and helpful to a puppy and/or student compared to punitive actions in most situations.

We need to throw our students a bone now and then and praise them for their efforts.
We need to throw our students a bone now and then and praise them for their efforts.

At the end of classes, the dog trainer always tells the pet parent what the homework is for the week. Just like dogs, our human students need to practice and refine their skills. Learning is not a one shot deal. We need to pay homage to the old adage about “practice makes perfect.” Although I am certainly not looking for perfection as an indicator of success, I am looking for growth in my classroom. I don’t measure the success of my students solely on formative and summative assessments – students need to practice tasks before it comes to any test or assessment. We cannot teach a dog to sit, stay, or roll over just once and expect it to know how to do it. That’s why homework is an important part of any instruction. Pet parents need to work with their dogs on their skills to develop and master those desired behaviors. Teachers need to work with their students on their skills to develop and master the curriculum. And here you thought I was crazy for comparing puppies to students; it’s all starting to make sense now, isn’t it?

Sometimes dogs and students need a little more practice at something.
Sometimes dogs and students need a little more practice at something.

Most dogs and students are eager to please and want to impress you with their skills and knowledge. Most dogs and students also just want to be told they are doing a good job and may need some gentle reminders about what is appropriate behavior. Then the trainer or teacher chooses what needs corrective action and how to appropriately counteract any negative or undesired behaviors. Most dogs are highly trainable, just as most students are highly teachable. It’s all about finding what works best for our students. After all, we all want tail wags from our doggies and those incredible aha moments from our students in our classrooms. PetSmart touts its training efforts as fun, effective, and focused on success; the same can be said about my efforts in my classroom.

Well, there you have it, my semi-serious, semi-comical comparison between puppies and students. Although this blog post is not necessarily meant to be taken seriously, I do believe there is some wisdom to be gleaned from relating our teaching to other parts of our lives. What comparisons can you make between other areas of your life and your efforts in your classroom? Comment below!

What to do when you have no classroom supply budget

IMG_0751It’s mid-July. Slowly but surely the “Back to School” sales are coming upon us.  On one hand, I love getting a good deal; on the other hand, I loathe the thought of pushing pause on my summer fun to think about spending my own money on my classroom supplies.  Just today my husband asked me how many of the 17 cent notebooks he should pick up for me from Walmart.  That conversation ended with the semi-serious question, “How many can you fit in a shopping cart?”

How many of these will fit into a Walmart shopping cart? Asking for a friend.
How many of these will fit into a Walmart shopping cart? Asking for a friend.

It’s an unfortunate reality that teachers around the nation face – little to no money for us to do our jobs – TEACH!  Classroom supply budgets are becoming a thing of the past for many of us.  When I first started teaching nearly eighteen years ago, we had healthy, robust classroom supply budgets.  I could basically get whatever I wanted and needed for my students.  Now, I am reduced to begging on Facebook for basic supplies. Some of my most generous donations from Facebook have come from former students.  This is so bittersweet to me, because I love that they are willing to help me, but it’s almost embarrassing to have to ask for help. I say almost because I am certainly not above it, and I am extremely grateful for that extra help. I appreciate anything that anyone is willing to donate to my classroom.

Teachers spend an average of $500 of their own hard-earned money on their classrooms.  To me, that sounds low, but it’s an average, so that number factors in those who spend none, and those who spend well over $1,000. I don’t necessarily keep track of what I spend, because it has just become commonplace for me to pick up a notebook here, a pack of pencils there, some Expo markers when the good ones are dried out or mysteriously disappear… etc.  I will also make special trips to the store if a student is in need of something in particular and it’s inexpensive enough for me to grab it for them.

Is it just me? Or do new Expo dry erase markers make other teachers just as happy? Especially in Tropical Tones!?
Is it just me? Or do new Expo dry erase markers make other teachers just as happy? Especially in Tropical Tones!?

Honestly, I can’t think of other professions which necessitate a professional to purchase their own supplies.  These are not just any supplies either – these are supplies which are absolutely necessary to properly do a job. Imagine if doctors had to humbly take to Facebook to solicit donations for them to interact with their patients.  Their post might sound something like this:  “Hey Facebook friends!  So, I ran out of tongue depressors and band-aids today.  Can anyone possibly donate some so I can keep helping my patients?  Thanks!”  Now let’s replace the items with a teacher’s plea for donations:  “Hey Facebook friends!  So, I ran out of lined paper and pencils today.  Can anyone possibly donate some so I can keep teaching my students? Thanks!” Why is it that it sounds comically ludicrous for a doctor to ask for supplies, yet it seems completely acceptable for a teacher to ask for supplies?

I certainly don’t want to sound like an educational martyr because I choose to spend my own money on my classroom to make my job “easier,” but the reality is teachers are spending more and more of their own hard-earned money every year. I also don’t want to blame the school districts either, as their hands are tied as well with ongoing budget cuts and woes.  My school district tries to support our needs in every way. I know that if I truly need something, I could talk to my principal and he would do whatever he could to help me secure any items I deem to be necessary.

But, let’s face it, education as a whole has taken a beating in the budget department nationwide.  Many schools don’t have money for professional development, teacher/classroom supplies, or building improvements. Many schools are also forced to make choices about which courses they can offer because of budget constraints.  We all know that music and art classes often take a hit because some view these courses as being extracurricular or unnecessary (which couldn’t be further from the truth).

So, with all of these budget woes, what can a teacher do to ensure that all students have what they need?  Sometimes we have to get a little creative, jump through some extra hoops, and we have to beg and borrow – but we always get the job done!  Let’s take a look at some easy ways to supplement our non-existent classroom supply budgets.

First of all, if you are not the type to ask for help, you should reconsider your stance. Last year when I found out we would not have any classroom supply money, I took my plight to Facebook.  I was amazed at the response!  I had classroom supplies (that actually ended up lasting me all year) pouring in from my Facebook friends.  I would get random messages all the time asking if I could meet up so people could give me supplies they had picked up while they were out shopping.  I will totally admit to looking completely shady and meeting people in parking lots so we could exchange the goods.  You know, they would give me school supplies, I would give them a genuine appreciative hug for their thoughtfulness!  I’ve also taken to Facebook to ask for help with needy students, and the response has been incredible. We’re talking new shoes, new clothes, backpacks and other supplies for students who were in desperate need.

This whole table in my classroom was full of goodies from donations from Facebook friends last year.
This whole table in my classroom was full of goodies from donations from Facebook friends last year.

Another perfect example of asking for help is letting parents know that you are accepting donations. I know that when my own son would bring home a note asking for certain classroom supplies, we were more than happy to provide those items. If you are able to reach out to parents via email or a newsletter, don’t be afraid to let them know that you are in need of something.  The more specific your requests for your classroom, the better. You could also make a wishlist of items to have available at an open house or during conferences.  Most parents will be more than happy to help you and your classroom, as it will likely benefit their own child. This is more of a popular practice in the elementary grades, but I see no reason we can’t ask for help at the secondary level as well.

A really great way to get more for your classroom can be through grant funding.  A couple of years back, I successfully applied for and received a grant to get my team of teachers some amazing supplies to implement a new Reading Apprenticeship program. It was really a painless and easy process to apply for the grant, and we were thrilled when we got it.  We had a lot of fun shopping for it too (but then again, my team of teachers pretty much has fun whenever we are together), and the supplies lasted well beyond that school year.

If possible, consider charging students for supplies.  Now, that’s not necessarily feasible at all grade levels, but as a secondary teacher, students are certainly able to give you a quarter or two for a pencil or a notebook. That money can be recycled to purchase more supplies and you won’t have to totally foot the bill.

It’s also always smart to keep an eye on the great back to school sales that often start up right around this time of year. It’s the good old more bang for your buck when stores are offering these amazing deals. Often, stores that say items are limited to a certain quantity will bend their rules if you simply tell them you are a teacher.  Staples has always been good to me in that department. Most stores will be happy to help you out when you tell them you are purchasing these items for your classroom.  Some may even cut you a better deal – it never hurts to ask! Many places will even price match other stores that are offering something for a better price.

Strike when it's hot! Get the good deals starting now! Back to school sales are happening now through August.
Strike when it’s hot! Get the good deals starting now! Back to school sales are happening now through August.

Speaking of asking, don’t be afraid to ask other teachers at your school or within your school district for items that you may need. I’ve had great luck putting out an all-staff email asking for something.  Chances are someone in your building will not only have some extras of whatever you need, they will be totally willing to give it to you.  Sometimes you can even orchestrate a swap of items, or you can be sure to somehow repay them for their generosity.  Honestly, a nice little thank you card or some baked goods can suffice as repayment.  If other teachers within the building don’t have what you need, don’t be afraid to ask your admin. Your admin knows how hard you work, and most will do whatever they can to help you do your best work in the classroom. They won’t know that you are in need of something unless you ask.

Another teacher in my school district sent me this huge box full of goodies! She also sent a really sweet picture of her and her students with a lovely note. Yes, I cried!
Another teacher in my school district sent me this huge box full of goodies! She also sent a really sweet picture of her and her students with a lovely note. Yes, I cried because her generosity!

Another idea for classroom fundraising could include holding a school supply drive before school starts.  Even gently used supplies are a big hit in my classroom.  When I asked on Facebook for help, I had lots of former students who are now in college and have accumulated mass quantities of pencils, pens, slightly used notebooks, and other coveted classroom goodies, and they were more than happy to donate these items. I’ve also seen some good cheap supplies at garage sales and on some local online Facebook garage sale groups. Garage sales, thrift shops, and flea markets are also great resources for my classroom library too. Once again, if you play your teacher card, many will give you the goods at a reduced rate. Some other online considerations include starting a GoFundMe campaign or check out DonorsChoose for possible classroom funding.

Garage sales, thrift shops, and flea markets are prime places to pick up cheap books for your classroom library.
Garage sales, thrift shops, and flea markets are prime places to pick up cheap books for your classroom library.

Although you may not feel comfortable asking for help when it comes to your classroom needs, put your pride aside and let others know what they can do to help.  You may just be surprised how willing others are to make your job a little easier.  Obviously, this list doesn’t cover all of the ways you can help yourself as a teacher with a classroom budget deficit, so tell me, what have I missed with this list?  What are some ways you supplement your classroom budget?  Be sure to comment below. Also, make sure to check out this month’s giveaway here on Teacher Sweepers, because it might just help you and your classroom!

Teachers shouldn't have to worry about supplies, when we have all of this grading to do!
Teachers shouldn’t have to worry about supplies, when we have all of this grading to do!



Top Ten Ways for Teachers to Make Money During Summer Break

You’ll make more than this if you follow some of the suggestions on this list – I promise!

If you are like me, you enjoy some nice relaxation over the summer.  I love having extra free time and down time over the summer, but I have to admit, I also enjoy making some extra money with my down time!  Many of the teachers I know use a portion of their beloved summer time to make a little extra income.  The great part of it is, it’s on your terms – you can work as little or as much as you want, and you can even get a little creative as to how you can make that money.

Today’s post will be a list and a brief explanation about some different ways you can make some extra income this summer.  Trust me, it’s easier than you may think, and it can even be a lot of fun and quite rewarding, and you may even makes some extra money to spend on your classroom.  Let’s take a look at the top ten ways teachers can make some extra money this summer.  Who knows, you might even like it so much you can do it throughout the school year or on the weekends too.

  1. Start your own business – As daunting and time-consuming as this may sound, it really doesn’t have to be.  I know several teachers who have summertime only businesses that run only during the summer months.  Maybe you want to start up a boat or jet ski rental, a cleaning service, or even a lawn service.  These types of businesses can be lucrative in the summer months, and you get to set your own hours. If you live in a tourist-heavy town like I do, you can really make some serious cash catering to the needs of wealthy out-of-town visitors, so a boat or jet ski rental could be your ticket to some easy money this summer.

    Consider renting out something that tourists would pay top dollar to use.
  2. Babysit or nanny – Now depending on what age level you work with during the school year, you may or may not want to do this.  Sometimes, you need a break from being around kids in general (especially if the kids are close in age to the students you teach during the school year), but babysitting or being a summertime nanny can generate some serious income.

    Babysitting and nannying can help you earn some extra summer cash.
  3. Dog/Cat/Pet sitting – If you prefer to take a break from children, consider spending some time pet-sitting for some cute little four-legged friends over the summer!  You could rake in some serious dough!  In bigger cities, you could even run a dog walking business for big bucks.  Plus, if you’re like me, spending time with our furry friends hardly seems like work.

    You can be paid to let a puppy sleep on your hand? Sign me up!
  4. House sitting – Many people take vacations over the summer.  Offer to watch their house for a fee while they feel safe away on vacation knowing their house is in good hands.  Plus, being away from your own home may feel like a mini-vacation for you too!  Bonus! If you are feeling a little more adventurous with your own home, you could also rent out your own place for the summer on airbnb.com.  Several of my teacher friends make some serious cash renting out their homes for the summer.  This allows them to have money to travel while someone else is in their home.  What a great way to have your own travel paid for during your summer break! When I went to New York in June, we stayed at a place we found on airbnb.com and it was a wonderful experience, so I would highly recommend it!

    Get paid to stay at someone else’s house – it will feel like a vacation for you too! Or consider renting out your own place on airbnb.
  5. Make something crafty and sell it – Summertime is prime time for crafty people to sell their goods. There are lots of festivals and farm markets around my hometown in the summer, and this is a great avenue to peddle your goods.  Some excellent revenue can be made by selling your crafty goodies!  If you don’t necessarily feel like setting up shop outdoors in the blazing hot sun at a craft fair or farm market, consider doing some online selling on sites such as Etsy.

    Feeling crafty? Summertime is prime time for craft fairs.
  6. Tutoring – Many parents are willing to pay top dollar to teachers who will work with their children over the summer.  Research the going rates of other teacher tutors in your area and start reaching out to possible clientele such as parents or your friends with children around the age you want to cater to as a tutor.  Word of mouth can be your friend in this situation; once other parents hear that you are offering your services as a certified teacher tutor, your little side business could really take off for the summer.  A bonus with tutoring, sessions usually only last an hour or two, so you will make great money in small intervals, leaving plenty of time for some quality pool or beach time!  If you don’t feel like doing the start up and legwork of creating your own tutoring business, check into something like a Sylvan Learning Center, or some other professional tutoring institutions. over the summer!  You could use your teaching skills to make some fast cash.

    Tutor a couple of hours a day and then spend the rest of your time here!
  7. Sell some goods online – Gather up some of those clothes or other items that have been sitting in your closet or around your house for way too long, and head over to eBay!  Getting on to eBay as a seller has never been easier. You can sell just about anything on there, and free up some space in your home (and get rid of clutter that may have accumulated over the school year) all while making some extra money! Don’t feel like committing to becoming a seller on eBay?  Have a good old-fashioned garage sale and sell your goods that way or take your goods to a consignment shop if you don’t feel like organizing your own sale.

    Time to get rid of the junk – and get paid for it!
  8. Become a secret shopper – Now more than ever there are many companies seeking individuals to shop their establishments and provide valuable feedback to them about their employees and your experience.  Getting started is just a quick internet search away, but do a little research and make sure you are signing up with a reputable company.  Many companies will pay you to dine out and then simply answer some questions about your experience.  Dinner on them for filling out a survey? That’s a win, win!

    Dine out on someone else’s dime? Sign me up now!
  9. Write test questions – If you want to keep sharp over the summer with your test-writing skills, many companies are happy to hire teachers to do what they know best – write test questions! One company that is constantly looking for exceptional educators to help write their study guides (for all subjects) is the company albert.io.  You can also find work doing ACT prep classes for companies such as Princeton Review or other reputable test prep companies.  Many of these places pay top dollar for educators to implement their products in classes that you proctor.

    Do what you already do best – write some test questions or proctor some ACT prep.
  10. Search for local jobs – there are some really great sources to check for local jobs online.  One of my favorite online sources for job searching is glassdoor.com.  They have a great setup on this website to give you an idea about how others feel (and what they generally make) that are currently with that employer.  There are some really great job opportunities that are summer only positions that are advertised on these type of sites.  I recently found a really cool job that paid me $40 for about an hour’s worth of work.  It was through an app called TRUPIC, which was super easy to install and use.  I just simply took some audit photos of some parking lot landscaping and submitted my impressions about the place, and boom – I made an easy $40!

    Take some time to look for some local businesses hiring for summer positions.

So, there you have it, ten great ways to enhance your income this summer while you are on summer break.  If you do choose to work this summer, just make sure to take some time to rest and relax, because as teachers, we sure do need that down time. Be sure to soak up some sun too, because before you know it, we will be praying for a snow day in no time!

Make sure to enjoy some of this…
Before this hits!

How Teacher Sweepers came to be

When you are a teacher, you do not just jump into unfamiliar territory without doing gobs of research.  This is especially true when you are an English teacher who teaches the ins and outs of research to freshmen year after year.  So, before I decided to jump into the world of blogging, I read as many articles as I could, found as many pins on Pinterest as I could, and looked at as many examples as I could.  Thank goodness we are on summer break, because it was time-consuming, but completely informative, eye-opening, and even entertaining.

The one consistent piece of advice about starting a blog was two-fold.  Over and over I read you should write about what you know and write about something you are passionate about so the content will be rich, engaging, and entertaining.  So, I took this advice to heart and mulled over some options.  Being an English teacher, I decided to brainstorm a list about what I am most passionate about and what I could possibly sustain as a blog topic.  In no particular order, here were my options:

  1. Teaching
  2. Dogs
  3. The Golden Girls
  4. Investigation Discovery crime shows
  5. Entering sweepstakes
  6. Pinterest
  7. Tennis
  8. Finding humor in everyday life
  9. Tacos
  10. Speaking sarcasm fluently

After I created the list, I mulled it over for a few days, hemming and hawing about what I should or should not choose as topics; and then it happened.  I had a moment of genius (I hope) and decided to combine two of my options from the above list.  Now before I tell you what I combined from the above list, I feel like I should give you a little background on why I chose these two subjects.

I have been an English teacher for seventeen glorious years.  That hardly seems possible on many levels.  It truly doesn’t feel like it has been that long, and clearly, I am aging beautifully so I don’t look like I could possibly have taught for that long.  Yes, that’s sarcasm – and no, that is not exactly what I will be featuring on this blog, but you bet it will have a special place here!  I have spent the majority of my teaching career in the presence of ninth graders.  While this may cause some of you to cringe, I can’t imagine spending my time teaching any other way.  Is it a difficult age?  Yes!  Is it completely hilarious, exhausting, and yet somehow amazingly rewarding?  Heck yes!  So, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, this blog will be featuring the quips and experiences of a veteran high school English teacher.

But wait, there’s more!  As if that wasn’t enough, there is a second component to this blog that will be as equally exciting!  Hard to imagine, I know.  The second feature of my blog is a result of a guilty pleasure of mine.  As silly as it may sound, I have recently become a bit of a sweepstakes junky.  It all started innocently enough.  I heard about a contest on the radio and decided to check it out for some reason.  I’ve never felt as though I was particularly “lucky” or prone to winning when it comes to contests or sweepstakes, but for some reason I felt drawn to this one.  The grand prize was a vehicle, and I thought it would be amazing to magically win this “free” vehicle (spoiler alert – when you win big prizes like that, you pay a hefty tax… so it’s not exactly free.  Although, I would be more than willing to pay that tax!)  Well, I played that sweepstakes faithfully for that vehicle.  I entered daily, I made wishes, I had fantasies about how awesome I would look in that SUV; and then it happened.  I didn’t win it.  Now, one thing about playing sweepstakes is that the odds are not in your favor.  All of the major sweepstakes and contests have incredibly high entry rates from fools like me just fantasizing our lives away about possibly winning the big one.  The great part about entering sweepstakes is that unlike playing the lotto or gambling with actual real money, you are not investing anything other than your time to fill out the entry form.  So, after I didn’t win the SUV, I ended up stumbling on a great website called ilovegiveaways.com.  This little website has become my little nightly addiction.  Do I win a lot?  No.  Have I won anything yet?  Yes!

My first win came from the website toofab.com.  I ended up winning a super cute little leather purse that charges your phone.  I was so excited when I received the email stating I was the winner!  I honestly couldn’t believe that I was the winner.  But I was, and I have that cute little purse, and I love it.  My next win came when I was playing an instant win game from a sweepstakes via retailmenot.com.  I ended up being an instant winner for an Amazon gift card!  Super awesome!  It wasn’t for a large amount, but I was super grateful and excited for the win!  I was able to purchase a little fun something for myself that I wouldn’t normally splurge on, so I was thrilled.


Fast forward to a couple of months later when I was sitting in my office at school on lunch.  Let me explain something.  At our school, we have a classroom and an office.  Our office houses two teams of teachers.  We are the ninth and tenth grade team of teachers (we are one of three teams – we have a big school).  I may be biased, but we are an awesome group of teachers!  Our office serves as our lunchroom, our copy room, and is basically like a teacher’s lounge for us.  So as I sat in our office, I happened to open my personal email program to reveal something that caught my eye.  In all caps, the subject line read, “CONGRATULATIONS ON BEHALF OF FIJI WATER.” Now, I vaguely remembered entering some sweepstakes having to do with Fiji water, so I figured I may have won a six pack of Fiji water or something like that… but I was wrong.  Apparently I was the Grand Prize winner of a promotion they were running called Earth’s Finest Staycation.  Long story short, I recently returned from a perfectly lovely trip to New York! (I’ll dedicate an entire blog entry to my New York shenanigans in the very near future.)  Thank you Fiji water!  It really was an amazing experience!

fijiwater IMG_8628

So, if you haven’t figured out what I am combining here for my first adventure into blogland, here’s a hint – I am creating an awesome blog about teaching/education, and I am offering little giveaways/sweepstakes created specifically for teachers!  I decided on the name teachersweepers.com because in the crazy land of playing sweepstakes and entering contests, participants are known as sweepers.  I am going to limit the playing field of these giveaways to only teachers, so teacher sweepers will be the new moniker for those of you able and willing to participate in this new blog adventure of mine.  I will also admit that the name teacher sweepers can also be misread as teachers weepers which gave me a giggle – because if you haven’t cried as a teacher, are you even human?

So, what will this blog look like?  Well… that’s a great question!  It’s also a question that I can’t exactly answer just yet.  To start off with, I will commit to at least one blog post per week here about teaching/education.  I will also commit to one monthly giveaway/sweepstakes to start off with until this whole concept hopefully takes off like wildfire.  If this idea really catches on, I would love to do weekly giveaways!  Now, I will be honest – I will totally accept donations for these giveaways.  As a matter of fact, I will solicit various companies and organizations to hopefully donate to this worthy cause.  I will also be more than happy to promote products, allow advertisers to sell their goods via ads on this blog, and do whatever else I can to increase traffic here to be able to give away bigger and better items.  Remember when Oprah invited all those teachers to be audience members and then surprised them all with goodies valued at about $15,000 per person!  Oprah said, “You give, and give, and that is why I wanted to give you the hottest ticket in television,” as she displayed the generous prize packages for the audience members, who began yelling and wildly jumping up and down.  Now, I can’t promise that kind of awesomeness (yet!), but on a smaller scale, I hope you will at least have a smile if you are a winner of one of the giveaways here.  Oprah is right, as educators, we give and give… and often we dig and dig into our own pockets for the simplest classroom supplies due to dwindling budgets, cutbacks, and our needs outweighing our means for provision.  So, if I can pay it forward and make another teacher’s load a little lighter by providing a little joy from winning something to make teaching a tiny bit easier, then that is reward enough for me!