Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Take a Break!!

Just a quick note to remind all of my wonderful readers to take some time out and enjoy the holiday season; you deserve it. Merry Christmas!!

Please comment or send your questions to me at organizingteacher@hotmail.com

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I'm wishing a very, merry Christmas to all of you out in blogland.

Just a few, quick Christmas tips:
  • If your teacher mug collection is already brimming, you might consider dropping hints as to what you really want (you know the stereotypical teacher gifts aren't on that list); but at the same time accept any gift gracefully.
  • Don't give a huge assignment that is due as soon as they come back, that's just mean.
  • Know that there will be Christmas assemblies and snow days, and plan for the missed time (without overworking the kids when they are there).
  • Change your word problems to be Christmassy (ie: Sally has saved $12.50 for her brother's Christmas present which costs $11.00 plus tax (insert your local percentage). Does she have enough money for the gift?
  • If you have students that celebrate Kwanzaa or Hanukkah, let them do similar art projects or stories about their holidays, share what these holidays are with the other students, but don't feel that you have to ignore Christmas; just add in Kwanzaa... Many children may feel awkward because they don't celebrate Christmas and are 'different', make everyone feel welcome.
  • Remember that this is a time when many students are highly distracted and excited, so planning a 5 chapter algebra midterm is not the best thing right now.
  • Build your repertoire of Christmas (and Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah) materials that fit with your curriculum, you can still teach and the holiday is still celebrated.
  • If your school is not having a social for the older students, you may want to consider having a small one in your classroom. Maybe not a dance, as much as a party with games, music, and goodies.
What are your Christmas classroom traditions?

Please comment or send your questions to me at organizingteacher@hotmail.com

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Colour Coding Crazy

I'll admit that perhaps I go a little overboard, but I like to colour code when I can. Use different coloured folders, duotangs, binders, plastic envelopes, sticky flags, and binder clips.

Now, there is no set way to colour code, just pick one way and stick to it. I loosely follow the curriculum documents (which themselves are coloured on the covers) for my main set of colours. Blue is for math, green for science, yellow for language, orange for phys. ed., pink for art, etc. It works for me. You choose the colours that work for you.

So when I have my lessons in the day's folder, I have all of the papers for each lesson clipped together with the right colour clip. So, instead of flipping through, looking for the right lesson, I do a bird's eye view from the top, grab the coloured clip that I want, and I'm ready.

Do you colour code? Do you code by subject or by something else? Do your students need to follow your colour code as well? (Everyone's science work is in their green duotangs?)

Please comment or send your questions to me at organizingteacher@hotmail.com

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Supply Your Substitute

If you plan ahead for your substitute teacher they will know what to do AND you will not get behind when you are away.

Now I know that sometimes you have no clue that you will not be in the day before, but that doesn't mean you can't be prepared. If you follow a basic weekly plan like we talked about before, then your photocopying for the week will be done. If you then have a folder for each day of the week with that day's lessons and handouts (which you can routinely use yourself) then a substitute can just be directed to the day's folder.

I highly recommend a substitute teacher folder. In this folder have class lists, extra paper, easy activities that the teacher can use (that could possibly tie in to a future unit), notes telling them where supplies and the photocopier are, a seating plan, any tips about certain students, notes about special school policies, notes about your daily and weekly routines and schedules, notes about what to do in a fire drill, your yard duty schedule, and anything else that you think would be helpful for them to know.

Please understand that it is much more difficult for substitute teachers to control the students and they may not get as much done as you would have if you were there, but if you don't leave them a plan to follow then they can't get anything useful done.

And if you are a substitute teacher, please follow the instructions left for you to the best of your ability. But always have a bag of tricks (or binder of activities) in case you aren't left much.

Please comment or send your questions to me at organizingteacher@hotmail.com

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Organize Right Now blog post

I saw this post on Organize Right Now, and I HAD to share it with you. Her post is about organizing papers that go back and forth from home to work. These ideas can easily be adapted to the teacher's life.

Please comment or send your questions to me at organizingteacher@hotmail.com

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Friday, November 7, 2008

It's yummy...

In fact, it's delicious! Delicious.com is like bookmarks on your browser, but infinitely better. First of all, it's web-based, so you can access it from any computer just by signing in. (I know, I know, another login.... but if your computer is secure, you can opt to stay signed in for 2 weeks!)

Also, instead of putting your bookmarks into folders that only categorize by one topic, you can tag each website with as many categories as you want! For example, you could tag Organizing Teacher under blog, organize, declutter, ideas, teacher, resource, and more!

I downloaded the plug-in for Mozilla Firefox for using delicious at the click of a button. Now, whenever I'm on a website I want to save, I just click on the tag icon (which is just to the left of the url box) and a new window pops up, all I have to do is pick some tags and hit save. I really like how they pull up a group of your previously used tags and a group of "everyone's" tags to suggest what to tag the site under, you can just click on some options, and/or type in new ones. It's really quite simple.

If you don't want to download the plug-in, you'll have to open a new tab or browser when you want to save a website, log in, cut and paste the url, and then input some tags. It's not difficult this way, but I like having the plug-in.

One more thing, you do have a privacy option, but I like how delicious has lists of the most popular sites, you might find some gems, just browsing there.

I'm sure there are other sites that offer similar services, but this is the one that I found first and use. (It's not broke, so I'm not fixing it.) Feel free to put some links in the comments to other tagging sites that you use.

Please comment or send your questions to me at organizingteacher@hotmail.com

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Shattered Ice

I received a great comment from Karime Diaz, and she wants some ice breaker ideas. She is working with 2-5 year-old children, teaching English to Spanish speakers.

Getting to know you...
Have students sit in a circle and go around having everyone answer one simple question each round. Questions that ask their name, favourite colour, number of siblings, what they had for breakfast, etc. Since Karime is teaching English, she can translate some of the answers and actually teach something during the game.

Name tags.
Have a piece of bristolboard (or similar sturdy paper) about the size of letter paper for each child. Have the students fold their page in half (smaller children will need help) and write their first name on it (oriented so the name tag will stand up and you can read their name). On the underneath of the paper have them draw to represent their favourite game in one corner, something exciting they did recently (What I did this summer...) in another corner, maybe their favourite animal, and their favourite food in the other corners. When this is done, the students can share what they drew on their name tags, and the name tags can be used until you get to know their names.

Yes, no, maybe...
Put three posters up on different walls of the room (or different areas) one will say 'Yes', one will say 'No', and the third will say 'Maybe'. You can also use smilies so they are :) :( :| (but not sideways). Explain that you will ask questions and the students are to move to the area of their answer (you may want to emphasize walk vs. run, or else make sure there is nothing in the way). Then ask a bunch of questions that have yes, no, or maybe answers. ie: I LOVE chocolate. My favourite colour is blue, I have two sisters (start to wonder about kids who answer maybe to that).

Two great sites I found are Kim's Korner and icebreakers.ws; many of these games may need to be simplified/modified for younger students.

Do YOU have any ice breaker ideas for Karime?

Please comment or send your questions to me at organizingteacher@hotmail.com

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Two! Four! Six! Eight! We ought to associate!!!!

It is a good idea for teachers to join their respective associations.

There are many different types of associations, some are free, some have membership fees, some have annual conferences, and most are great treasure troves of resources.

There are local associations, subject associations, grade level associations. I challenge you to do some research and check out a couple of teacher associations that apply to you. All through teacher's college, and hopefully this year too, I attended the NOMA conference Northern Ontario Math teachers' Association. Speaking of which, I better head over to the OAME website and see when this year's conference is.

Happy associating!

Please comment or send your questions to me at organizingteacher@hotmail.com

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Do your SHARE!

Ever since you were little you have been encouraged to share. If you are a parent you are encouraging your children to share. As a teacher you want your students to share. So... are you sharing?

I have a mission for you: make a team and share your lessons. I know I've talked a little about this before, but this time I want to be a little more specific.

If you share your lessons, you'll have so much more time to do other things. First things first, you need someone to share with. I suggest getting a group together of teachers near you who teach the same grades/subjects as you. If you are in a large school, and there are three grade 7 classes, and you teach one of them, then work with the other two grade 7 teachers. If you are not in a large school look to the other schools in your board/area. Any teacher that works or lives within a reasonable drive from you and has to cover the same curriculum as you is a potential group member.

Also, try and think outside the box. In Ontario, there are public schools and Catholic schools. But they both have to cover the Ontario curriculum. It *should* be relatively easy for a Catholic teacher to take a 'generic' lesson and add some faith ideas into it; especially with all of the extra time they will have from the process.

So do a little research, make contact with some colleagues, and set up a meeting. Try to emphasize that this is a time-saving meeting and not a time-wasting meeting. I suggest that after your initial meeting, most of your lesson sharing be done via email, so that you can easily edit each others work for your own purposes.

Things to consider during your first meeting:
  • Divvy up the lessons (will each teacher take one subject for the year, or one unit of math this month and one unit of science for next month?)
  • How often do these lessons need to be exchanged? (plan a lesson at a time, a week at a time, a unit at a time?)
  • Are you sharing EVERYTHING or just a few subjects?
  • If emailing lessons, what format to use? (old Microsoft office, new Microsoft office (annoyingly not backwards, compatible), wordperfect, within the body of the email, .txt, other)
  • What units have already been covered by each teacher (you could share these, or if all teachers have already covered the same unit, you can move on)
By the end of your meeting you should have a clear idea of who will be responsible for what units, and when the first units can be ready for.

Let me know if you try this, and remember, the more teachers in your group, the less units you will have to prepare yourself. And, don't be afraid to tweak the lessons you receive.

You could even take this one step further and have meetings to reflect on the units after they have been implemented.

Please comment or send your questions to me at organizingteacher@hotmail.com

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Dollar Store

I love my local dollar store. Every single item is for sale at the price of one dollar, or less! Now you do need to be careful, and not everything in there is a bargain, but most of it is such a good deal.

The obvious place to start as a teacher is bins. You can have buckets for play stations. Bins for books. Inboxes and outboxes. Almost every small item in your classroom needs to be containerized. There are stacking bins, nesting bins, regular bins, plastic bins, cardboard bins, decorative bins.... You just can't go wrong with bins at the dollar store.

Next, office supplies. Oh. My. Goodness. I just love the school supply aisle at my dollar store. It is so hard to resist all of the neat things there. Now for a dollar, you can get one really cool pencil, several nice pencils, or a LOT of regular pencils; it depends what you want to do with them. All the different notepads, and composition books. They even have teacher and student planners! I love getting binder clips too. My dollar store has binder clips in pastel colours and various sizes, those 1/2" ones are so cute!

I find the dollar store is a great place if you have some kind of reward system in your class. You can stock up on some fun rewards for your students without breaking the bank!

One word of caution: Please be careful when selecting items from the dollar store. There is a reason they are able to sell some of these items for such a low price. If you see something in your dollar store that you would normally pay $10-20 for, there is probably a big quality difference. I don't buy electronic goods from the dollar store except for name brand batteries and headphones, I'm not saying that their electronics are bad, but I'm being cautious here.

For everyday items the dollar store is the perfect place to stock up! Enjoy!!

Please comment or send your questions to me at organizingteacher@hotmail.com

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Dreaded Subject

Dum, dum, dum.... it's MATH! (Or had you guessed?)

When I was in teacher's college (not that we call it that...) a lot of my fellow student teachers were almost afraid of teaching math. They talked to me a lot about it since I was one of only two people taking the math teachable on our year, and the only one in my section.

Now, setting aside the fact that I am the 'math person' teaching math is not all that difficult. I think that many of the textbook companies realize that teaching math is not looked upon very fondly and have helped greatly to ease the pain. I mean, seriously, you don't even really need to plan math too much, the teacher's resource for the textbook practically hands you the lesson on a silver platter!

Now as I said in Don't Re-invent the Wheel, once the lesson plan is ready, you have the freedom to be creative. Following this train of thought, math class has the potential to be MORE fun than your other subjects, because you have to spend so little time planning the lesson, you have a lot more time to be inventive and make it fun!

Please comment or send your questions to me at organizingteacher@hotmail.com

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

October Routine Revamp

Well, I can't believe it's October already. A lot of us have had almost a whole month of school. Now is the time for a major reflection. Think about the routines and systems in your classroom both for your students and for you.

  • Is homework coming in to the designated place you've assigned (inbox) or is that place not working because of location or lack of routine?
  • Do students have time twice daily for you to check their agendas?
  • Do you have time to keep on top of planning and marking?
  • Are the resources that you have for you and for your students in logical places that are easily accessible?
  • Are your daily and weekly routines working out?
Now is a great time to tweak your routines, organization, placement of items, and systems.

Please comment or send your questions to me at organizingteacher@hotmail.com

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Don't Re-invent the Wheel

This is a very old saying, but it still applies to us today. There is no real reason for a teacher to have to write every single lesson plan from scratch. There are tons of resources available to you.

First of all, there is the Internet. Now, of course, anyone can put anything on the Internet, so you have to sift through a lot of junk to get to the good stuff, but a lot of it is free. Start with major websites of your local ministry of education. The Ontario government had a unit planning software created called OCUP (that I'm not the hugest fan of) and on their website they have complete unit plans for the new curriculum in pdf form based on their software, so that's a great place to start. You might not have to come up with anything that way. Look around, there are a lot of good teacher sites on the Internet.

Secondly, there are other teachers. Colleagues are a fantastic resource to you. Why not find another teacher in your board or school that teaches the same grade as you and swap lessons? They plan math for October, and you plan science... Or get a group together. You don't have to have long meetings, you could just email each other your lesson plans, if you want. Also, some retiring teachers and teachers that are changing grades and/or classes will be more than happy to give you their old lessons.

Now, I know that this can sound a little too cookie-cutter, where everyone is doing exactly the same thing, but once you get a lesson plan, there is no law that says you must implement it as is. Play with the ideas in it, tweak it for your teaching style, and have fun with it! Once the major part is done, you have the freedom to be creative.

Please comment or send your questions to me at organizingteacher@hotmail.com

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

!backwards Think

When planning a unit, it is important to think backwards. Begin with the end in mind.

The first thing you do when planning a unit (after looking at the curriculum) is the pick your culminating activity and/or decide what skills will be tested on the final test.

Once the end is ready, you work backwards to figure out how you will get your students to the point where they'll be able to successfully complete the culminating activity.

Next, when you have decided what skills need to be taught, you can put your lessons together, planning how many classes the unit will take, and keep your year-long plan in perspective.

This is a simple, way to get a cohesive unit plan instead of a bunch of lesson plans on a similar topic.

Please comment or send your questions to me at organizingteacher@hotmail.com

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Prep your Prep!

OK, this should help *everyone*, but it is ESSENTIAL for new teachers and teachers who have just changed grades.

Prep your prep... hunh?!?! Yes! This is a basic outline about how to be more productive during your prep time.

Now, in my neck of the woods, high school teachers get one out of four periods off for prep and elementary teachers get some odd combination of time when their class is in music, French, and/or the library.

No matter how much time you have, whether it is all at one time per day or only three or four days a week, being prepared for your prep time will help you be efficient (which translates into less time spent on work at home).

There are a ton of things to do during prep: photocopy, get the next lesson ready, mark papers, write tests, email, socialize, find resources, unit plans,... the list never really ends. How can we efficiently fit all of these tasks into a small prep period?

The answer is to get ahead. And have a plan.

Let's say, you're a brand new teacher, and you have to 'come up with' every single lesson for the entire year. Right now, you're treading water and have today's lessons done, tomorrow's lessons started, and you haven't even thought about the lessons for the day after. You're completely overwhelmed, and stressed to the max (this is reminding me of my placement days).

If you are that new teacher, how do you get to a place where you can actually relax every once in a while without sacrificing the week after you relax? It's easier than you think.

I say you need to plan two things at a time: plan your week, and plan your year. Start where you are and try to get ahead.

For your lessons, this weekend, you can plan Monday to Wednesday's lessons (yes, I know that's a lot of work, but we'll be able to ease off later). Then, Monday you can plan Thursday's lessons, and Tuesday you can plan Friday's (this part is after-hours, while you are maintaining your classroom life during prep).

Did you notice that it is Tuesday, and you've got the week's lessons done? Now you have time to get even further ahead with less stress. Also, by being ahead by a week, you can now plan your lessons as whole units, instead of individual lessons (more about this later).

Wednesday you're going to make your weekly plan for your prep time. I already mentioned what typically needs to get done during prep. You can more efficiently do your tasks if they are grouped together. For example, you can get your photocopying done in less time if you do all of it at once, instead of one to three times per day.

Your weekly plan could be:
  • Monday - Photocopy for the week, unit plan (class projects always due on Mondays)
  • Tuesday - Mark projects, unit plan
  • Wednesday - *Career related* email, online search for resources, unit plan
  • Thursday - Unit plan (entire prep period)
  • Friday - Errands (consult with teachers, meet with principal, gather resources from storage), unit plan (class tests and/or quizzes on Fridays, mark over the weekend)
Now, notice that you are unit planning everyday. Choose an amount of time to spend on the other task(s), about 15-20 minutes. Use a timer, and when it goes off, for the rest of your prep, work on your unit plans. By working on unit plans everyday, you'll be able to finish one or two a week. Then you'll really be ahead of the game. For the first couple of weeks, you'll still be planning the individual lessons for the next week on the weekends, but after a while, you'll have all of your units ready.

Please note that this is an example, I hope you will glean some ideas from this post that will help you be less stressed in your classroom.

Please comment or send your questions to me at organizingteacher@hotmail.com

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Make time by being efficient

In my favourite blog today, Monica Ricci talks about being able to take time out for herself and watch some TV with no remorse because she is 'focused and productive'.

Working well/hard, focusing on what needs to be done NOW, can free up your schedule for some downtime to relax and rejuvenate yourself.

Let's try to focus on work during work hours, so that there will be some time left over for us. A social life should not be a foreign idea for teachers.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Prevent Stress Now!!

One of the most stressful times for a teacher is right around report cards. Save yourself from a LOT of stress, and start a routine to keep up with your marking and inputting.

Start now. It is never too early. It will get to be too late. And who among us really enjoys spending all of their "spare time" the week before report cards on nothing but report cards? Wouldn't it be nice, when report card time rolls around, if you could still have a social life?

Find a schedule that works for you, but at the minimum, you should be entering your marks into either the report card software or another compatible software every two weeks. Preferably every week. Entering marks in 10 or 15 minute chunks, every week will save you hours in front of that screen with a deadline and a lot of stress.

It all comes back to the old adage: 'How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.'

It may be easy to put off entering your marks for another couple of weeks, but that turns into a month or two, or even three very quickly. Remind yourself that you want to relax during report card season. Try it once. You'll never switch back.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Free Organizing Tools!

Nowadays it is commonplace for a teacher to spend a lot of their own money on items for their classroom. Today, let's brainstorm some ideas of how to get many things that you need for FREE!!

First of all, most schools get a TON of paper for the new year. Why not go into the photocopy room, and take a couple (or 20) of the paper boxes for your own use? Just put the paper either where it goes or where the box was and take the box. These boxes can come in very handy and are quite sturdy.

The same goes for other standard size boxes that come with your school supply orders. You could even save your book order boxes, since they only come in about three different sizes.

OK, you get the idea about different boxes. What else can we find for free?

Well, you've probably already realized how many free worksheets, ideas, lesson plans, and other free resources are available online, so that's a given.

Try finding out what your students' parents do for a living and see if there would be some kind of organizing tool they might be able to send in that they don't need.

Have your students bring in old coffee cups that their families really don't need (those things do multiply like rabbits). Coffee cups can be used to store pens, pencils, paintbrushes, glue sticks, scrap paper, scissors.... They can also be used during craft time to hold water for cleaning paintbrushes or even the paint itself. Be creative!

ALWAYS check the recycle bin by the photocopier and in the staff room for helpful resources. Lots of teachers will recycle something just because it wasn't centred or they were blowing it up on the photocopier. Crop and save!

Many libraries have a discard section of books they are getting rid of. Sometimes you can pick up these books for free or for less than a dollar. I run a library in my church and I have about 10 boxes of books that I want to give away to the Christian school. Most of those books are duplicates, and there is nothing wrong with them.

Calenders. I know they aren't always free, but after you use them, they're either sitting around or recycled. Why not keep them and use the pictures as a resource. Animal pictures for biology, train pictures for transportation units...

Other teachers. I know you can't 'take' another teacher, but talk with them and see what works in their classroom. A lot of their ideas can be adapted for your situation. Also, they might have extra supplies to give to you.

Do you have more ideas to share? Please post them in the comments or email me at OrganizingTeacher at hotmail dot com.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

10 minutes a day

I know that a teacher's day is BUSY!!

However, teachers can steal 10 minutes here and 5 minutes there to stay on top of things. And even if your task cannot be completed in 10 minutes, you can still put a dent in the task.

Here are some things to do in 10 minutes or less:
  • hand back some marked papers
  • mark one question on everyone's quiz
  • sort your 'to be marked' pile by assignment
  • tidy your desk
  • update your mark book
  • reflect on your last lesson
  • make anecdotal notes on one to three students
  • run to the photocopier
  • pull out the papers and supplies for your next lesson
  • erase the blackboard and write the next note or instructions on it
  • update the class' agenda, calender, and homework board
Please send in your 10 minute tasks.


Welcome to the Organizing Teacher blog!

Here, I will discuss ideas related to teaching and organizing and try not to go off on too many tangents.

I am a long-time moderator on the organizing paper, files, and computers forum for Maria Gracia's getorganizednow.com

I am a new teacher with lots of ideas.

Please email me with any questions you may have at organizingteacher at hotmail dot com.