Sunday, October 19, 2014

How your TONE impacts your classroom.

I was volunteering in my daughter's first grade classroom today and ended up being left alone in the room for a while when the class went to the computer lab. In the silence of their classroom, I could hear the teacher next door through the wall. I kid you not when I say that EVERY.SINGLE.WORD that came out of her mouth sounded irritated / mean / nasty / rude.

It really made me think about how big of an impact our tone has when it comes to our classroom. This woman's tone had to have been impacting her students in a negative way. I felt terrible and I was through a wall! I couldn't tell you what her classroom (or she) looked like, but I can tell you that there is no way her students can enjoy school. This is a first grade classroom too, which really broke my heart.

Let me give you an example of something I heard today and how it could have come across a lot differently. This teacher was passing out papers to her class (I could seriously hear everything through the wall) and didn't want them to mark on them yet. The first words out of her mouth were, "DO NOT.... DO NOT.... I REPEAT DO NOT MARK ON THIS. DO NOT MARK ON THIS!" in quite the irritated tone. I should add that this was at 9:15 in the morning - less than a half hour after the school day started.

I volunteer in my daughter's class once a week. There are 28 students in her class. I totally understand that teaching elementary school is stressful and almost 30 six year olds can make you want to cry. BUT, that doesn't mean they don't deserve to be talked to in a respectful tone. Instead of her demanding, negative tone, she could have possibly said, "Please leave your pencils on your desk so you don't accidentally mark on your papers yet. I want to be sure you all hear the directions before we start. Thank you for following my directions!" Or something along those lines....

I think teachers often forget about how much control they have. They have control over almost every single thing in their room. As a teacher, you control the way your classroom looks, smells (ok sometimes the kids control that one), feels. You control the way your student see you and the way they feel about your class/subject/grade level. If you bring a positive, caring attitude to your classroom each and every day, your students are going to respond to that. If you bring a negative, "I hate the world" attitude to class every day, your student are going to respond to that too.

ALL children, regardless of their age, have the desire to please. They want to make you happy. They want you to like them. They want you to see how smart they are. If you are constantly approaching their classmates with negativity, you are going to slowly kill that desire. Your students are going to resent you and eventually, resent school.

When my daughter's class returned to their room, her teacher pulled a small group for reading. One little boy started to cry each time he was frustrated with a word. The teacher could have done many things, including yell at him (which the teacher next door did when a child cried), argued with him, or supported him. I'm so happy my daughter has this teacher, because she opted to support him. She asked him why he was crying and explained to him multiple times exactly WHY she needed him to try. She told him she couldn't help him if she wasn't able to hear his mistakes. She asked him what was the absolute WORST thing that would happen if he said a word wrong? Would she "turn into a hairy blue monster and jump up on the desks and dance around" or just ask him to sound out the word more carefully? She made him not only aware of his choices, but what HER choice would be when he had a problem. She was calm, caring and sincere.

So today, I want you to pay special attention to your tone in your classroom. Observe the way you speak to your best behaved student and the worst behaved. How do you speak to other teachers? To parents? While yes, it is absolutely necessary to be stern and strong, it is never necessary to be nasty. You never know who is listening through the wall.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Teacher Burn Out – Your Stories

When I really started to look deeper into the stressors on teachers, I didn’t really know what I was in for. I reached out to other teacher-authors to get their experiences with teacher burn out. I expected a few responses, but nothing really crazy.

I was shocked to see how quickly the thread took off and just how many people are feeling the same way. I think the thread brought comfort to those who are feeling a bit overwhelmed because they are not alone. For me, it brought me stress and sadness. Most teachers enter the profession because they have the desire to help children. They probably had great educational experiences themselves and want to be able to give that to others. To see teachers who have such kind hearts deal with the thing they’re dealing with, well it just breaks my heart.

teacher burn out reasons

Here are some of your experiences : (I’m keeping everyone’s identity private in order to protect those who are still working).

  • “For me, it was rarely being recognized for doing my job well.  It doesn't matter if you're the first one in the parking lot and the last one out.  It doesn't matter (in fact, it's almost worse) if you have such skill with class management that the office never sees a student who's been sent out of your room, or no parent ever goes over your head to complain to your principal about a situation.  The better you are, the fewer fires the principal has to put out because of you, the less likely it is that you'll ever enter his/her consciousness, and the less likely you'll ever be thanked for a job done well. Everyone likes a pat on the back now and then, and really good teachers rarely get them.  No matter what we do, it's never good enough to warrant a simple "Thank you.  I appreciate how good you are at your job."  Being completely ignored does terrible things to a person's state of mind.”
  • “I, like all (most) of us teach because of the children, to make a difference, etc.  The last 5 or so years, it has changed for me.  I am on my 20th year and this may be my year to leave.  Why?  More and more coming at us and nothing being taken away.  New curriculum standards, but no materials to go with it (we find/do it ourselves).  So teach the rigorous standards, but find what you need, prepare it on your own time  and pay for it with your own money.  We are not just teachers.  Our job goes way beyond. “
  • “This is my 15th year in the classroom and I have been burnt out for the last 3 years.  Personally, I am an overachiever, but I feel the job has gotten to the point where I consistently underachieve - not because I am not working hard enough, but because we have reached the tipping point.  Teaching, in many places, has become a job that is not impossible to do, but is impossible to do well.  As laws and mandates have been created by others and placed on our shoulders, we have somehow been expected to overcome the basic rule of quantity vs quality.  The quantity of rules, regulations, testing, paperwork, legalities, responsibilities, hours, and so on and so forth have continued to go up.  At the same time, the resources available to teachers has gone down - namely, less state funding, less professional development, failed levy's, stagnant salaries.  Yet, somehow, through all of this, we are expected to provide a higher quality education to students than we did 10 years ago or even yesterday. “
  • “At one point, I was getting sick a lot.  I had three different doctors tell me to leave my job for health reasons.  That really speaks volumes.  These 3 doctors didn't know about the each others advice.  I couldn't take their advice cause I make the most money for my family.  My husband salary is equivalent to a teacher assistant.  But I will be job hunting in the future.”


Tangstar Science gave some of the best advice I’ve seen on how to avoid getting burned out! Her tips are below.

1)  Say No!  Sometimes we increase our own stress by saying yes to this or thatBlogBadgeLogo300pxby300pxforPhotobucket_zpsd77edb9a responsibility/supervision/committee/initiative, even though we know we are working hard enough.  Sometimes teachers have a hero complex and think that "If I don't do it.  Who will? or Who will do it the RIGHT way?"  Then we complain that we are near the breaking point with our responsibilities.

2)  I decided to focus more of my extracurricular energies on my colleagues instead of the students.  For example.  Instead of coaching the cross country team, like I had done for the past five years, I decided to decline last year and help lead the staff workout club in the mornings.  This has been incredibly rewarding.  It allows me to invest something in myself and my colleagues in the mornings before I and my colleagues give everything away to the students.  Giving it all away and leaving nothing for yourself is not healthy or sustainable.  Other teachers in my school are doing the same.  One teacher has started a yoga club after school and another does a staff step class after school.   It has increased the collegiality amongst the staff, and some have said that the staff workouts are keeping them sane (as well as fit).  In addition, there are also a group of teachers that have started a monthly book club.  Read the book, get together once a month at someone's house with some wine, your book and relax, talk and laugh.  I can't stress how connecting with my colleagues has greatly decreased my stress.

3) If possible....mark less.  (I'm saying this as a high school teacher.)  It won't kill the students to have less assessments and it will definitely improve your life.  You can always make assessments formative instead of summative.  Let them self-assess, peer mark, learn from the process, but you don't have to record everything.

4)  Have at least one meaningful interaction with one student a day.  Take the time to engage them and ask them about their life and how they are doing.  This may seem like an extra task to add to your to do list, but for some reason it seems to help ground me and make me realize that my job isn't always about testing and teaching, it's about the real people in front of me and making connections with them.

5)  Smile in the hallway and say hello.  If you're not naturally like this...well, sometimes you have to fake it to make it.  You'll be surprised by how many more people will respond positively to your smiling face as opposed to your frowning, earnest or scowling face.

6) Treat day Fridays.  In our department (of 9 teachers) we all take turns bringing in a treat (we encourage healthy treats when possible e.g. veggie sticks, fruits, dark chocolate etc.) every Friday.  This is a small thing, but it increases collegiality and it's a delight to see a spread of snacks waiting for you when you enter the office on Friday.
There are other solutions, but they all revolve around sustainability of self (saying no and managing your responsibilities, giving to yourself), connection with your colleagues (staff treats, workouts, bookclubs) and facing the day with something positive (either a smile or a connection with a student). Etc.

When none of this works.  Take leave. 


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Teacher Burn Out - My Story

Recently I’ve heard more and more teachers share stories of stress, anxiety, depression and just plain exhaustion. I know for me, I became burnt out during my first year in the classroom. MY FIRST YEAR! I switched from elementary teaching to middle school, hoping it would relieve some of the stress. While the extra planning time and fewer preps were nice, I still couldn’t shake the overwhelming weight that was sitting on my shoulders.

Some Causes of Teacher Burnout


I did a bunch of things to try to relieve the stress. I made a promise to myself to never bring work home. A great idea in theory, but when your planning time gets eaten up by parent phone calls, meetings, co-workers, the work will pile up and requires attention after school hours. I tried to not focus on content rather than test scores. But, with every unit there was a pre assessment and post assessment. There were benchmarks and of course, standardized testing. Every single assessment was analyzed. Class scores were reported and ranked. Every single student was looked at to see if they grew or dropped. If they dropped, it was (or I was made to feel like it was) my fault.

I don’t feel like I was a good mother when I was in the classroom. Or a good wife. I came home from work every single day stressed and overwhelmed. I remember crying when my husband made mashed potatoes for dinner instead of baked potatoes because he didn’t hear me ask for baked. I felt like I was “ignored” by my students all day long and coming home to a husband who innocently didn’t hear one thing was too much for me to handle. Students of course, misbehaved. When I came home and my own child would be naughty, it elevated my stress. I expected her to be “perfect” because I didn’t want to deal with more bad behavior.

I practically ran out of school on Fridays and spent all day Sunday anxious about the week ahead. The one day a week {Saturday} I had to enjoy life, just didn’t seem like enough. I tried everything I could to get myself on a different career path. I earned my Real Estate license, started a photography business, sold Mary Kay and Pampered Chef all at some point during my years in the classroom. I didn’t see myself retiring as a teacher, so I was constantly working towards something else.

Some Effects of Teacher Burnout


It broke my heart to know that my dream of being a teacher had shaped up into somewhat of a nightmare. My degree was, in my opinion, a waste. Luckily for me, I found a job I adore. I work MANY more hours now than I did when I was in the classroom, but these hours fulfill me. I feel like I’m making a difference and am doing something that really makes my heart happy.

There are so many teachers out there though, who are still in the classroom. They are tired, stressed and trying to find new ways to manage everything on their plate. My next post will include real stories from other teachers in which they share IF/WHY they are burned out and how they are pushing through.

**I 100% know that there are many, many teachers who LOVE their job. They have great administration, tons of curriculum and parent support, and overall great working environments. This post, and the one following it, are for those of you who might think you’re the only one who feels the way you do. I’m here to let you know that you’re not alone!**


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ideas for Helping Your Inclusion Students–And Yourself!

When I was in the classroom, I had Special Education Inclusion students in just about every class. Sometimes I felt a little overwhelmed trying to meet the needs of these students as well as the general education students. When Susan reached out to me to do a guest blog post about working with inclusion students, I jumped at the chance to have her here!

How to Help Inclusion Students in Your-2

{From Susan} In an effort to provide the least restrictive learning environment for students with special needs, and to provide them with access to the grade level curriculum and to their typically developing peers, more and more of these students are spending at least some of their days in general education classes.

As these students move from grade to grade, the demands upon them increase exponentially from year to year. The language of the classrooms changes dramatically from the beginning to the end of elementary school, and again significantly between elementary and middle schools. The amount of time and support teachers can give to each individual student decreases as classes become larger and the work products being evaluated become more complex. The need for students to work independently at more complex tasks - all of these factors can create stress in our special needs students.

So, what can a general education teacher do to help support these students while they are in your classroom? Here are just a few tips that can help:

1. Use visuals. Many students with special needs - particularly those with autism and language-based disabilities have stronger visual processing sills than auditory. Use of visual representations to illustrate vocabulary words is one of the known strategies for learning and reinforcing new vocabulary. Use of visual cues for steps of a task, sequences of actions, listing of story elements are just a few of the possibilities for incorporating visuals into classroom activities. It is legal to make a copy of a book that has been purchased for a student who has difficulty with accessing print. Copying illustrations, timelines, scientific cycles for student to refer to during discussions or to use on their own can be helpful.

2. Provide word banks. Recalling words that they “know” can be difficult, especially under time constraints during classroom activities or tests. By providing word banks from which students find the needed word to answer the question, match to the definition, or complete a writing task, we alleviate that struggle to retrieve the word, and allow them to demonstrate knowledge by recognizing it and using it appropriately.

3. Provide listening guides. Students can be unable to process what they are hearing while simultaneously determining what is key and writing those key words down. For students with any type of language processing difficulty - not to mention those with attentional disorders - this juggling act is overwhelming. By providing a copy of your outline or notes, they can following along with your lecture or discussion without the added burden of trying to sort and write. You may find these students participating more often.

4. Offer alternatives to taking tests or writing reports. If demonstrating that they have learned the material is the issues - not whether they can write syntactically correct sentences or work in a time allotment - allow students to answer questions verbally, dictate their responses, record their report, or draw it. Look for other creative ways for students to demonstrate what they’ve learned that takes the pressure off of their weaknesses and allows them to demonstrate their strengths. I’ve had students with autism who have had a specific are of interest, about which they were focused almost to the exclusion of everything else, who were able to use that special interest area to demonstrate research and/or writing skills much more fully than if they had been made to write about any other topic. Think about what the purpose of the activity is - what are your learning objectives - and see if you can find a way for your student to demonstrate their learning in a unique way.

Susan Berkowitz, Speech-Language Pathologist

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fall Math Resources!

It’s fall – whoo hoo! Hopefully the weather is cooling off where you are and you’re starting to see the end of the summer craziness. If you search TPT for Fall Resources, you get a TON of great products. I took a look around myself and found these great resources!
When I first started creating products, many of them were holiday themed. One of my first bundles was my Thanksgiving, Fall and Halloween Middle School Math Activities resource.
fall bundle picture


Monday, September 29, 2014

Meet and Teach e-Books!

Brain Waves Instruction, Literary Sherri, and Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy have compiled 3 FREE Meet and Teach e-books profiling SECONDARY teacher-authors and sharing print-and-teach resources from 25 TpT stores in each e-book.  The e-books center around ELA, Math & Science, and Humanities (Social Studies, Art, Foreign Language, and more ELA). 

Here's a peek who you can find in the Math & Science e-Book!


In each book you'll find a 'meet' page completed by each seller that includes responses to 5 prompts.  You'll get to learn a bit about each seller like their favorite book or things that make them happy.  Then, each seller provided you with a 1-page resource that you can use in your classroom tomorrow.  These e-books are filled with awesome teachers, little insights into each sellers' life, and resources that are easy to implement in your classroom.  They're pretty amazing. 

Download each free e-book and you'll get a chance to meet and teach resources from these teacher-authors: 


Using Manipulatives for Equations {Hands On Equations}

Hello Everyone, 

My name's Melanie LiCausi, and I am visiting from Mrs. L's Leveled Learning. I had the pleasure of meeting Lindsay in person at TpT's conference in Las Vegas this past July. What an experience! She was so sincere and personable, I would've had no idea she was such a super TpT seller if I hadn't been following her for a few months already. I'm honored to be a guest blogger today.

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Today I wanted to tell you about some AMAZING resources called "Hands-On Equations." I used this product with my 3rd-5th grade gifted and advanced students, but I also model-taught the basics to  regular 3rd-5th grade classroom teachers from my two elementary schools. Your students do not have to be gifted to use it, and the program itself is developed with many levels, which I will illustrate below, so the exact same resources can be used from grades 3-8, and the students just work up to their own capacity.

Hands-On Equations Mat & Materials

Hands-On Equations, the official program, can be found at Please visit the homepage and browse through some of the research and examples. I love this program so much, because as a visual-spatial learner, I always had trouble remembering the rules of equation transformation and equality. I was always taught Algebra as if it were just a big "to do" list of rules. The rules were hard for me to remember because I didn't have a concrete understanding of why we had to do it this way.  Consequently, I failed Algebra two different semesters, in 8th grade and in 10th grade. My mom hired a tutor and I started getting As again. My tutor didn't know about this program, but she did know how to explain concepts with concrete images instead of just rules.

The image above will give you an idea of how the materials needed, you will basically use the manipulatives to set up any problem involving a variable (missing number). I used the blocks in class, but also created SMARTboard models that we could work on the computer. The actual materials are very simple to create yourself using blocks, markers, or digital images, but the instructional progression of skills and problems for teachers and students come with the program. The examples below will show how the manipulatives can be used at various grade levels. 

There are a few basic rules to using Hands-On Equations that come form the Properties of Operations. The first and most important one being, "Whatever you do to change the problem on one side, you must do to the other side." The second one is that you want to use inverse operations to simplify your equations! Subtraction should be used first, to get rid of extra values and simplify the equation, and then multiplication or division of values can be applied if necessary. Addition really doesn't enter in until the negative values are present; then students are adding values to both sides to make zeros, which are easier to work with. 

The blocks are used to set up the equation or story problem. Green blocks represent positive integers. Blue markers represent positive variables. Red blocks represent negative numbers. White markers represent negative variables. The negatives become useful in the middle school standards. The red lines mean that values are being changed. If you use actual blocks, then you'd simply trade them for whatever you need next.

2.OA.1: 2 is subtracted from both sides.


3.OA.4: Divide by 3 on both sides.


4.OA.3: Subtract 22 on each side. Divide by 3 on both sides.


5.OA.1: Add 15 to both sides. Divide by 3 on both sides.


6.EE.3: Subtract 6 on both sides. Divide by 3 on both sides.


7.NS.3: Add 7 to both sides. Divide by 12 on both sides.


8.EE.2: Take the cubed root of both sides. Add 10 to both sides.


I have chosen a few examples based on the Common Core Standards for each grade level, but the complete program includes 26 different levels of increasing difficulty. It's a fantastic resource for differentiation or small group work with your higher students! Again, if buying a new program is not a possibility for you right now, you can definitely create your own materials and use it with your regular grade-level problems.

The materials you will need per student or pair are:

  • workman or model of a balance
  • 2 dice with digits 0-5 (2 of each color)
  • 2 dice with digits 5-9 (2 of each color)
  • 8-10 colored markers (for each color)

(The actual colors are not important, as long as you have equal numbers of both.)

I hope you found this helpful and will take a chance on trying these materials out. They do amazing things for your kids who still think very concretely or visually. I am also a math blogger and TpT seller. I would love to get some feedback from you on any post or projects I have going. You can visit my blog through the link above, or visit my store on  My products are focused on integrating learning goals with scales into your math class routines.  Thanks for being my audience for the day!


Melanie LiCausi 

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