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An Apple a Day

The teaching of children should not be sacrificed in favor of paperwork - ever!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster: Where Was I?

On the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster, I remember exactly where I was on that day in 1986. I was a first year teacher and chronicled that day in my book Apples & Chalkdust.

Hundreds of squinting eyes focused upward on a cloudless Florida morning. Teachers gathered and waited along with their students for the show to begin. It's always great to bring the classroom outdoors. It adds a real-life quality to the lesson.

Finally, waving hands began to point toward the eastern sky. Applause and cheers built to a roaring crescendo. It was a proud day for teachers and students alike.

"Go, Christa, go!" they cheered.

The space shuttle, disappearing into the atmosphere, suddenly exploded, and its expanding cloud of debris streamed to the waiting ground below. The applause turned to questioning gasps and disbelieving screams. Teachers hurried their students back into their classrooms like mother hens gathering their chicks. The questions were many. The answers were nowhere to be found. Although crisis teams descended on every school, children continued to look to their trusted teachers for stability and comfort. Teachers became mothers, sisters, friends, and counselors.

Doing what they do best - they taught.

They re-established routine, and they prayed.

Whether it's war, scandal, or tragedy, you cannot shut the world out of your classroom. Every once in a while, the world's classroom crashes into your own. Handled well, even tragedy can teach the most valuable lessons.

Teaching to the situation allows the situation to teach to you.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

"How May I Help You?" Get the Classroom Volunteers You Want When You Need Them

At the beginning of each school year teachers are often overwhelmed with the logistics of a new crop of students - setting up the classroom, organizing materials, designing lessons, identifying the needs of each child in their care, and for me, remembering their names! (took me several weeks to get them all).

Inevitably during this same crazy time volunteer requests come from several directions. The PTA sends out a needs request to teachers, the administration also asks what we need volunteers for, and then parents face us during Open House (often within the first week or so of school) asking us when they can volunteer. Sometimes they even "tell" us where and when they want to volunteer.

I don't even remember my students' names by week 2, let alone have any idea of what my volunteer needs are for the school year!

In the spirit of crowd sourcing, there's a new way to get the classroom volunteers you want when you need them.

Volunteer Spot is a free online app that teachers can use to take control of calls for volunteers, invitations to conferences, open house, and other school-related events.

You can streamline your volunteer scheduling by first having parents give you their email addresses and then when you have a need, you can let them know using Volunteer Spot and the app takes care of the rest. And since parent involvement and collaboration is often part of how teachers are evaluated, you can maintain a database of all volunteer opportunities using this app as evidence for your evaluation.

You can also include the link to Volunteer Spot on your teacher website or as a QR code on your paper and electronic correspondence. Take control of volunteers in your classroom this year!

Happy teaching.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Setting Up My Classroom: My Teacher Space

Good teachers, by nature, are good planners. Being able to effectively plan ahead is a part of the job description. I always say "plan now or pay later" - one aspect of planning may not have been covered during teacher preparation. . .

Space planning.

I accompanied our oldest son as he set up his first classroom. A narrow classroom with too many desks and little room in which to maneuver. He teaches science like I did at one time. Finding his "teacher space" was a challenge. But since it was his first classroom, the fact that he even had a desk was exciting to him.

What we inherit as teachers is usually odd shaped rooms, discarded furniture, and not enough chairs. How do we make magic in such settings?

It took three years before I had my first classroom to myself. I shared a room with another special education teacher initially - well, "room" is a generous term. It was a portable classroom with several 4 foot high bookcases separating us and our respective students. My husband, my boyfriend at the time, is a space planner and he enthusiastically helped me arrange my space in a way that worked for us. I had very little in the way of furniture, and even less in the way of resources, so the challenge was to find a way to make this an inviting, yet functional, space for myself and my students.

Vicki's first classroom - circa 1985

It was a pretty drab existence those first couple of years. I was embarrassed by the paucity of my surroundings. I didn't want parents to visit because I didn't want them to see the tossed-to-the-curb desks and flea market find bookcases that littered the yellowed linoleum floor of the 14' x 40' trailer we called our classroom. But I found ways to make this space work. I personalized it in ways that made my students feel welcome and made my own work space - my desk area - a place that reminded me why I became a teacher in the first place.

You will need a space that inspires you, motivates you, and reminds you of your calling. Judy Deeley, a veteran teacher in Florida, who continues to find new ways to make a difference, organized her "teacher space" in a way that shows her passion for teaching. We know who she is and what makes her a great teacher by her space.

Whether your classroom is an awkward collection of mismatched hand-me-downs, or a brand new classroom in a state of the art school, personalize your teacher space as a reminder to yourself and your students of who you are and how much you care. Your students will be inspired by you!