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Teachers Under Attack

I promise this blog isn’t going to be all about the politics of teaching.  I know this post will make two in a row, but I had to share an article from The Examiner that was circulating this morning.  I would sincerely love to teach in a society where politics and the outside pressure of people who haven’t set foot in a classroom since their days as a student didn’t come into play.  However, education is under fire in America right now.  Most of us are confronted by it daily. This article is over a year old, but I find it sad that so many of the things he discusses are still relevant. 

Yes, there are ineffective teachers out there.  Yes, there are failing schools.  Yes, there are things all of us could do to improve.  There are also quality teachers, schools committed to success for all of their students, and districts open to change when it isn’t structured as top-down by those who have no idea what we’re dealing with every day. 

I’m finding that when it comes to schools and teachers, people either love us or hate us.  I get, “Oh, you’re a teacher. Bless your heart. That’s one of the hardest jobs.  It takes a special person to teach.”  Then you read the comments section of the newspapers or listen to politicians and their supporters.  We might as well be overpaid, under-worked babysitters who are out to eat little children, one at a time, with pleasure.  I wish they’d come to our classroom for just one day.  I agree.  It’s time for a change!

Without further rambling, here’s David Reber’s article.  What do you think?


Let’s Talk Assessment Pressure

The state of Indiana has passed a new law to go along with our mandatory standardized tests.  Third graders who fail a specific reading portion of the test are required to be retained in third grade.  The only exceptions are students who have previously been retained twice and students with IEPs (students with identified learning disabilities).  The law only applies to third graders, so if you squeak by in third grade but fail later in the future, it doesn’t impact you.  It puts a lot of additional pressure on teachers, who are often expected to control factors that are honestly out of our hands.  It puts additional pressure on some students, who of course don’t want to be retained.  It also puts additional pressure on those parents who are involved in education.  It doesn’t, however, put pressure on the uninvolved or unconcerned (who probably need the pressure most!!).

I get that reading is important.  I get that in many ways education beyond third grade doesn’t really teach students the foundations of learning to read.  I’m not even sure third grade really does that, to be honest.  We operate on the basic assumption that our students have a solid bank of sight words and are pretty good at decoding the rest.  Students who can’t do that are lost in our classrooms as we explore more complicated aspects of reading and comprehension. Of course we give them additional support to help them be successful, but they’re still behind.  Some are really, really behind. If this is going to be the law (like it or not), third grade may be too late.  Would it be more “fair” to hold them back in first or
second grade instead?  Most of the students we’re talking about have
already been identified in first and second grades as students targeted
for Reading Recovery/additional reading instruction because they
aren’t learning at the same rate as their peers.  Unfortunately, they
haven’t caught up by third grade.  On the other hand, some students are late bloomers and the reading portion of their brains mature later. 

So how do we catch these students up?  We’re reading 90 minutes or more a day.  We’re using our classroom assistants for reading instruction and one-on-one help.  We’re using a grade level remediation aide who is a licensed teacher for pull-outs.  We’re using a computer program called SuccessMaker.  We’re working, working, working.  But will they all be ready?  No.  

Is another year in third grade the answer?


T-Shirt Pillow Tutorial for Classroom Library

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At our school, the students in third-sixth grades design t-shirts each May as part of a t-shirt/school theme contest.  The office staff narrows the designs down to about twelve and then the entire school gets to vote on a winner.  The winning t-shirt becomes our school’s slogan for the next year.  Students and staff get the free t-shirt on the first day of school the following year. After teaching several years, I had a stack of old shirts.  I thought about making a blanket or quilt out of them someday, but then decided I had a more immediate use… pillows for our library!

The students love using them for reading workshop, and they’re cheaper than the fancy store bought pillows.  As a bonus, the shirts are easy to slip on/off and can be machine washed.  I just run the shirts through the sewing machine in three places, add snaps, and stuff away.  I used old bed pillows for the body and a little polyfill for the sleeves.  If you don’t have any old bed pillows, I purchased a few at Wal-Mart for $3 each.  Can’t beat that!  

Here’s How:

  • Turn the t-shirt inside out.
  • Sew each sleeve shut straight across the hem.  Remember to back-stitch at both ends to reinforce the seam.
  • Sew the bottom of the shirt closed along the hem. Again, remember to back-stitch.
  • Turn the t-shirt right-side out again.


    • Add three snaps along the collar to keep the pillow closed.  The snaps are perfect because they keep the t-shirt in place during use, but also allow it to be removed for washing.  I purchased no-sew snaps at Hobby Lobby and was able to attach them with a pair of my husband’s pliers. I found similar ones on Amazon if you aren’t sure what I’m talking about.
    • Slide a fluffy bed pillow into the t-shirt.
    • Use polyfill to stuff the sleeve area of the shirt.  This makes the sleeves stand out nicely.  
    • Close your snaps.  Tada!

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    Looking for other pillow ideas?  I had a couple older t-shirts that coworkers had given me from before I started teaching.  They were pretty worn out, but I was able to save the design portion and turn them into square pillows.  I also used cheap bandanas from Hobby Lobby to make large square pillows.  Now I have enough for each student to have something to use during reading workshop independent reading time.  No more fighting or rotating schedules AND I didn’t break the bank in the process.  Love that! 

    Like this how-to?  Stay tuned for my crate seat tutorial.

    freebies, literacy, reading

    Classroom Library Organization

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    The library is one of the most important parts of our classroom.  When I first started teaching, I inherited a handful of used books from the teacher who retired the year before.  I sorted the books into four small tubs of picture books and one spinning rack of chapter books, roughly organized by genre and topic.  It was sad.  Fortunately, I was able to check out two crates of books from our school library and I rotated the selections frequently.  I knew right from the start that providing students with interesting choices inside our classroom was key to getting them to read.  

    I purchased more books slowly over the next two years.  Books are expensive and new teachers (and experienced ones for the matter!) don’t make much money.  Instead of going to the mall for shopping sprees, I started hitting up the used book stores.  Scholastic Book Clubs also helped.  I usually purchased $20 of books each month from their Lucky catalog and a few titles from SeeSaw and Arrow as well.  This $20 minimum was the magic number to unlock free books and bonus points each month.  If a student ordered on top of that, I was thrilled. Gradually, my library grew.  It was time to reorganize.

    First, I needed more storage.  I picked up used bookshelves on CraigsList, plastic tubs from the Dollar Tree, and book pockets to hold check out index cards from a local teacher store.  Then I purchased a large carpet remnant on sale and cheap pillows to keep it cozy.  I also made t-shirt pillows from our school shirts. I wanted the library to feel inviting so students would want to curl up with their books and stay a while.

    It was time to get organized.  I sorted my books by topic, genre, and series.  Each tub was clearly labeled to help students browse.  I initially used color-coded dots on the back of the books to make returning books easier for the students.  However, as my library grew I ran out of options.  Now I stick small return address labels on the back corner of each book.  Students simply match the sticker to a basket’s label.  I know in Utopia students are expected to return books without the stickers as part of the learning process, but in the real world it was just easier to sticker the books than constantly have to clean and sort the library.  I say pick your battles.

    The final thing that has helped keep my library organized and relevant to my students’ needs is cataloging my books. I keep an excel sheet of every book in the library.  It was a pain to initially log my library, but now I just update the list as I purchase new books.  I can easily sort my books by genre, theme, series, author, etc. This makes pulling books for units fast and efficient.  It’s also been useful to have this list while trying to fill the gaps in my offerings.  For example, I realized I didn’t have nearly enough biographies after I sorted my books by genre.  Using the list, I’m able to spend money wisely and purchase books that will make our classroom library more well-rounded. 

    Setting up a classroom library is a lot of work, but maintaining it is easy once you have a system in place.  You can do it!

    Book Labels I use orange for fiction, yellow for nonfiction, and pink for poetry and jokes.  Students can easily browse the library by genre this way.

    Excel Book List Template I include title, guided reading level, AR level, genre, author, series, basket, theme, teacher, and number of copies.  I have sorted by all of these fields as I’m looking for books for a specific unit, child, etc. The teacher field is useful if you’re sharing and trading books with different classrooms.

    T-shirt Pillow Tutorial Learn to sew quick and easy pillows for your classroom library.  They’re inexpensive too!

    See other classroom libraries through linky parties at The Sweet Life of Third Grade and Literacy and Laughter.


    Teachers Steal

    “Ms. Fultz, teachers steal!” cried one of my third graders as he rushed into our room from math class.  My first instinct was that he must have had some small toy or coveted possession confiscated by his math teacher.  However, that was not the case.  Further investigation proved that he hadn’t been too far from the truth.  We do steal!  Except we don’t steal from our students, we steal from each other.  Let’s follow his thinking.

    I make a cute mathematical penguin with my math group each year.  After seeing them in the hallway, my coteachers decided it was a great idea.  So what did they do?  They made them too.  They STOLE my idea.  But guess what?  I stole it from a student teacher I mentored a few years earlier.  Shh… don’t tell.

    I pass out Friday Folder papers each week using a “work rainbow” so that students can easily help me assemble the folders.  This process takes just a couple minutes right before lunch compared to the half hour I previously spent doing it alone in the evening.  It worked so well (and saved valuable time) that other teachers gave it a try.  They STOLE my idea!  But guess what?  I stole it from a coteacher at my previous school.  We’re guilty as charged and there are countless other examples.

    What my little guy saw as stealing was actually sharing. I believe it’s the trademark of a great teacher and an exceptional school.  I’ve been in a lot of different buildings through my college experiences and have worked in two schools myself.  By far, the best buildings are ones where teachers collaborate and share their ideas.  Not only does it lessen the burden of constantly reinventing the wheel, but it’s just good practice too.  No one should be expected to do it all alone.

    With the ever-growing resources for teachers online, stealing sharing has become even easier.  Even if you work in a building where teachers shut their doors, there are countless other teachers via the internet who are more than happy to share their ideas and resources with you.  There are websites (and businesses) dedicated to this very exchange. 

    I’ve started this blog as another way to connect with my fellow educational superheros and share my ideas.  So what have you stolen lately?