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

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

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

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

I am a new teacher with lots of ideas.

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