July 10, 2017

Monday Made It

Happy Monday! Life has been super busy lately, so I'll share a little bit about what I've been up to, and then, I'll let you in on some of the projects I've been working on.

First, do you notice anything different? MY BLOG!! My updated blog is up and running, and I am absolutely loving it! Not sure how the gals at Blogs Fit for a Queen knew my style so well, but they definitely hit it out of the park.

We just returned from a week in western Pennsylvania, visiting my husband's family. We did a lot of four-wheeling, critter hunting, sleeping, and reading.

Princess A and Deedle spent a lot of time, hunting for salamanders and crayfish in the "crick," and I had the chance to catch up some reading. I usually gravitate toward contemporary fiction, but when I took the kiddos to the library a few weeks ago, I picked up an historical fiction book on a whim.

I devoured this book, and as soon as I finished it, I downloaded another book by the same author about Benjamin Franklin. I'm halfway through it, and I'm loving it!

The night that we returned from Pennsylvania, we had to get ready for the flooring company to come the following morning to replace the floors in our family room and kitchen {this is a long overdue project that we've been putting off for awhile}. An hour into the job, we found out that we had a pretty significant leak under our house, so the flooring project had to be put on hold, and a plumber had to be called to repair the problem. We have had to wait an additional four days for a carpenter to come out to repair the damaged sub-flooring. In the meantime, my house looks like this:

I can't even. My refrigerator is in my dining room, and I can't find a doggone thing.

Thankfully, the floors will be finished tomorrow. I don't think I've ever been so excited about anything in my life.

The only thing that has kept me sane {and I use that term very loosely} while my house has been in upheaval has been creating things for my classroom and TPT store. Let me show you what I've been up to!

Click on the picture above to head over to 4th Grade Frolics!

Now that my blog is updated and looking adorable, I decided to dress up my TPT store. So yesterday. while my husband was diligently working on building our chicken coop {don't ask...that's another long overdue project}, I created a new banner for my store.

Then, I watched Christi's fantastic tutorial for customizing your TPT store. I struggled, I'm not going to lie. Playing around with HTML code is not for the faint of heart! I love how it turned out, though!

I also finished a product that I started while we were in Pennsylvania: my Back to School Pack!

The pack is fully editable, and this is what it looks like after it's been customized to meet your needs. It's black and white, but I like to copy it on Astrobrights paper to match my classroom colors.

I used to type out all of the Common Core Standards to send home to my students. What was I thinking??? I decided to create QR codes that link directly to the Common Core Standards website. {You can find my favorite QR code site here.}

I also decided to create transportation tags for my students to wear on their backpacks during the first weeks of school. They really help to alleviate some of the anxiety we feel during those first few days!

The tags come in a few different colors, and they are completely editable, as well.

That's it for me! Head on over to 4th Grade Frolics and check out what other teachers have been hard at work on this summer!

June 18, 2017

7 Organizational Tips for Teachers

I've had this blog post in the back of my mind for a long time, so I decided to finally do something about it!

How many times has a new teacher asked you how you "do it all?" {Frankly, I think it's laughable to think that any teacher successfully "does it all." Something always has to give.} I always suggest two things. First, do what works for you. What works for the teacher down the hall may not work for you, and the sooner you realize and accept that, the less crazed and overwhelmed you'll be! Second, get and stay organized. Again, find a way to keep things organized that works for you. I've found a few ways that I stay organized, and I want to share them with you.

At the end of this post, I'd love for you to comment with some of your most helpful organization tips!

A good, sturdy teacher bag is an absolute must. And trust me, I'm pretty sure that I've tried them all! I've used Vera Bradley bags and Thirty-One bags, but my favorite, by far, is the Scout bag.

This is the Original Deano in Chalk the Line {love the name of the color}. I bought mine at a local boutique, but Amazon carries them in every shade you can imagine. The best part? It's only $39, you can wipe it clean, and it's ENORMOUS {I can fit my personal laminator, purse, laptop, lunch bag, and papers that need graded in it.} I also bought a cosmetic bag to keep all of my pens, Post-Its, and clips in. 

OK, I know that this probably seems like a no-brainer. But, seriously: find a planner that works for you. I had a really hard time finding one that was right for me, so a few years ago, I started making my own.

This is the binder that I used for about three years. I loved being able to edit it to fit my needs!
{Click on the picture above to find this and other Teacher Binders in my TPT store.} 

This past April, I was in an inservice with other first grade teachers in my district, and I sat next to a colleague with whom I used to work before I transferred to my current school. She is a perfectionist and loves to be organized as much as I do, and she showed me her Erin Condren planner. I had resisted buying one for so long, but having the opportunity to flip through hers and see all of its benefits up close {it didn't hurt that my teammate gave me a 10% off coupon, either!} convinced me that it was time to purchase my own.
Mine obviously says "Mrs. Shafer," not "Ms. Clark." I LOVE IT!!

I also nabbed these adorable stickers from Amazon to customize my planner. They were only $15, and there are 1,733 stickers in the pack! Michaels carries this set, too, but since the closest Michaels store is an hour away, I let Amazon do the work for me.

You already knew this, right? I don't know where I'd be without binder clips, Post-It notes, clothespins, and good pens. 

I had a set like these from Really Good Stuff that I LOVED! But as I was creating my new classroom decor set, I decided to make my own!
I just laminated and hot glued these little tags on clothespins. Game changer!

I honestly don't know how I lived before Google Keep came into my life. {Wait. That's not true. I do know. I used boring old Sticky Notes on my desktop.}  My husband introduced me to it, and it has transformed the way I keep myself organized, both personally and professionally. Never heard of it? Just Google "Google Keep" and check it out for yourself!

This is just a glimpse of the lists I keep on Google Keep. You can color code, add images, and insert links. Oh, and of course, there's an app, so you can access it on all of your devices!

This is another no-brainer. I've been buying baskets at Dollar Tree for years. My baskets have baskets. It's out of control. I use them for everything. I especially love the knock-off Gladware containers for storing all of my math manipulatives. And hey, guess what?? I have labels for them in my new decor set! {Shameless plug, I know.}

Just laminate the little buggers and hot glue them to the front of the containers. I've had mine for three years, and I've only had to replace one in all those years.

I saw Teacher Toolboxes all over Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest a few summers ago, and I knew I needed to make myself one.

This is what my old one looked like. Not the cutest, but it kept all of my supplies handy!

I made a new set of Teacher Toolbox labels to match my new classroom decor, PLUS I spray painted the container black {in case you're wondering, vegetable oil gets spray paint off your hands}. I wish I had taken a picture of the final product, but I was able to get it finished before the end of the school year, so it's in my closet at school.

I made two different options, and they're fully editable, so you can change them to meet your needs.

And finally...

When I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING. I label everything that isn't nailed down in my classroom: cabinets, drawers, baskets, containers. You name it, I've labeled it. I started doing this about ten years ago when I was preparing to go on maternity leave with Princess A, and I wanted to be sure that my substitute could find what she needed while I was out.

 Labels for Daily Five baskets.
 Labels for Fun Friday baskets.
 Labels for community school supplies.

Number labels {in every size you can imagine}.

Phew! So, there you have it. I realized as I was writing this post that I mentioned my new classroom decor set so much, I may as well give one away! Comment below AND head over to my Instagram page to be entered to win this HUGE 140 page pack!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Enjoy what's left of your weekend!

June 12, 2017

Monday Made It

IT'S SUMMER!!!!!! Sorry. I had to get that out of my system. School officially ended for me last Friday, and I'm super excited to be home with my kiddos for almost three full months!

But, even as this school year was ending, I was already thinking about next year. I couldn't help myself!  First, a little backstory. A month or so ago, I decided to have my blog custom designed by the lovely ladies over at Blogs Fit for a Queen. It was time for a change. I've had the same blog design since 2013 (!!!!), and I was ready for an update. They've sent me some AMAZING ideas, and we're still making some adjustments to the final design. But I can say for sure that it will be a black and white polka dot theme with pops of bright blue, pink, and lime green. Squeeeeeee!!

So, I decided to create a classroom decor set to match my new blog design! And that's where my Monday Made It comes in.

This pack is LOADED with tons of resources (140+ pages) to help keep your classroom brightly decorated and organized. Let me show you a few of my favorite!

I am positively in love with the set of classroom rules that I made to coordinate with this set. I printed them as 8x10s, and I framed them in plastic frames from Dollar Tree. I'm planning to display them above my cabinets where my students can always see and refer to them.

I'm planning to create a set of matching motivational quotes that will match this set, too. Maybe for next week's Monday Made It?

Have you tried your hand at giant bulletin board letters? I've watched a few tutorials, and I've seen some adorable examples on Instagram and Facebook, so I decided to give it a go.

I'm not going to lie to you: that "o" gave me a major headache. Thank goodness for a cutting board and an Exacto tool! I have three more sets to print, laminate, and cut out some time this summer. 

If you like what you see, my entire pack is 20% off in my TPT store until Wednesday. It's HUGE and it's a true labor of love.

I'll be back next Monday with some more fun stuff that I've made. Hope you head over to 4th Grade Frolics and link up!

December 17, 2016

You Make a Difference!

As a teacher, I don't always know the impact that I have had on my students. True, I've heard the occasional heart-warming story about an especially remarkable teacher who inspired her students to go on to do remarkable things. I sometimes receive kind, thoughtful notes of thanks from the parents of my students. And once in awhile, I even have former students come back to visit me, just to give me a hug or to say "Hello." These are all wonderful experiences, and they remind me why I became a teacher in the first place. It is not every day, however, that a former student seeks me out to tell me that is she considering becoming a first grade teacher because of the experience she had in my class ten years ago. What this beautiful, poised, articulate, sixteen year-old doesn't know, though, is that the year that she was in my first grade class was one of the most difficult years I've ever had, both personally and professionally.  Most mornings, her sweet face was what motivated me to get out of bed and go to work. I'm not usually one to share personal details on my blog, but this story bears telling.

Ten years ago, I was teaching first grade for the first time after having taught Kindergarten and Pre-K for five years. I had a new administrator, our school's population was booming, and I was teaching in a former teachers' lounge (it was tiny). I tried to maximize the space I had, but we were still cramped, and I felt claustrophobic. The silver lining was that I had a wonderful class. I was especially excited to have a little girl, named Faith, in my class. Her mother worked with my close friend, so I had had the opportunity to meet Faith on several occasions, and she was an absolute joy: she had a sweet, gap-toothed smile that lit up the room, and she was incredibly enthusiastic about school. In short, she was the student that we all dream about!

In October, I found out that I was pregnant with our first baby. I was equal parts thrilled and terrified, and I couldn't wait to share the news with my students (in retrospect, I should have). I read them the book, Our Teacher's Having a Baby, by Eve Bunting, and the students' reactions were priceless. The week before my husband and I prepared to travel to Western Pennsylvania to visit his family for Thanksgiving, I started to sense that something wasn't right with the pregnancy. I called my midwife in a panic, and she assured me that everything was fine and that it was safe to travel. On Thanksgiving night, though, I knew for certain that I was starting to lose the baby. By the time we arrived at the emergency room in Maryland, it was too late. I lost the pregnancy at nine weeks, and I stayed home for a week to process what had happened and to physically recover.  An understanding colleague was kind enough to find an age-appropriate way to explain to my students what had happened, but their innocent questions still threw me for a serious loop when I returned to work.

I only worked for a week and a half before it was time for Winter Break, and the week we returned to school, I had a run-in with my administrator. Between leftover pregnancy hormones and the discomfort that I felt professionally, I really started to struggle. Looking back, I'm ashamed of my behavior that year: I was short-tempered, I snapped at my students, and I didn't have any patience for poor performance and bad behavior. My students and their families deserved more from me.

Through it all, though, it was Faith's smile that I saw in the morning as I lay in bed, trying to muster up the motivation and the enthusiasm to face my twenty-two little first graders. I just couldn't bear to let her down. I made it through the remainder of the school year, and in March, I found out I was expecting sweet Princess A. I waited to read Our Teacher's Having a Baby until my second trimester this time, and my students were thrilled to find out that I was expecting again.

At the end of the school year, I had the opportunity to transfer to another school in my county, and I taught third grade there for three years. The year that I was expecting Deedle, I had Faith in my third grade class. What an unexpected treat to be able to be her teacher twice!

Now, Faith is sixteen years old, and she is debating a career in either teaching (YAY!!) or nursing. She reached out to me on Facebook, and she asked me for some advice and how I decided to become a teacher. Now, that's a tough one! Here's the response I sent her:

Hi Faith! It's so great to hear from you! I love being able to keep up with you via Facebook...looks like things are going really well for you! Hard to believe you're starting to look at colleges..sure makes me feel old! Trying to decide between nursing and teaching is a tough choice; both are challenging, yet incredibly rewarding careers. I always knew that I wanted to work with children (my mom ran an in-home daycare when I was growing up, so I was always helping her), but it wasn't until after I spent a year teaching music and preschool (yep, both!) at a private school right after college that I knew I wanted to make teaching my career. I had to go back to school to get a second degree and my certification, but it was well worth the hard work. I've been teaching now for fifteen years, and there are so many things I love about my job. First, it has never felt like a job; every day is different, and every day, something new, fun, or exciting happens. I genuinely look forward to going to work every day. But more than that, I love my job because there is nothing that compares to the moment that a child figures out the "reading code" and reads independently and with confidence for the first time; I still get goosebumps when it happens! I won't lie to you: teaching is time-consuming, heart-wrenching, and exhausting, but in my opinion, it is the best career out there. Regardless of what path you choose, Faith, I know without a doubt that you will be successful; you were, and always will be a remarkable young woman, and I know that you will go far! Please let me know if I can do anything to help as you work toward making a decision; you're always welcome to come spend some time in my classroom if you'd like to get a better feel for the profession. Best of luck!

She decided that she would like to come spend some time in my classroom, so yesterday, she spent the afternoon with my hopped-up, Christmas-crazy little first graders. She was amazing with them, and they all adored her. They can't wait for her to come back!

While she was in my classroom, we had the opportunity to chat, and I was completely floored when she shared some of the memories she has of the year I taught her in first grade. While I thought our classroom was cramped and claustrophobic, she happily recalled sitting in our cubby area, playing game after game of "Sparkle." She didn't mention remembering my first pregnancy or how short-tempered I was that year, but she did mention how excited she was when I told them that I was pregnant with Princess A. And the best part? When she looks back on all of her school experiences, she considers first grade to be her best one. She is leaning toward going to school to work toward a degree in elementary education, and ideally, she would like to teach first grade.

So, see? We never really know the impact that we have on our students.

As it turns out, I needed Faith that year as much as she needed me. And for that, I will always be grateful to her.

November 26, 2016

Time to be Thankful {and a GIVEAWAY!}

I'm a blogging slacker. But I promise, I've been really active on both Instagram and Facebook! It's just my poor little blog that's been taking a hit.

So, what have I been up to these past few months? LOTS!! Stick with me as I fill you in on what has been happening in my little world, and there will be a fun giveaway at the end of the post!

The beginning of the school year was hectic, which is to be expected. But it only took a month or so to get routines and expectations established, and I quickly discovered that I have been blessed (again!) with a group of fun, hard-working, special little firsties.

This picture was taken by our superintendent during the first week of school. Smiles and raised hands make my heart happy!

During the first few weeks of school, I realized that my classroom really needed some flexible seating options during our Daily Five rotations. So, I attempted my first Donors Choose project, and I was incredibly fortunate to have my project fully funded in less than a week!

We are now the proud owners of four fuzzy rugs, two bean bag chairs, two yoga ball chairs, and four bounce cushions. These new seating options have completely transformed my rotations, and I'm so grateful!

It's not all about the kiddos (well, it is). But I also decided to use some of my TPT earnings to make my own work space a little more "me."

"Hamilton" quotes behind my desk make me happy!

My favorite casual Friday shirt. Do you sense a theme (or an obsession)?

In an effort to keep both my students and myself better organized this year, I did some revamping of old systems.

My old filing system is on the left. It worked for awhile, but now that we're using Engage NY for math, there are TONS more papers to file! So I am now using 3-drawer storage to keep my weekly files organized. I'm loving it!

My kiddos are becoming more organized, too! Every Monday morning, they are given time to get their desks straight for the week. The Desk Fairy and Desk Police (Princess A) visit on Thursday after school. It's been super motivating for my students!

Over the summer, a good friend and teaching colleague pressured convinced me to work toward earning my Administrative Certificate. I took my first course over the summer, and this coming week, I'll finish up my second class. I've always loved school (obviously!), so I don't mind the class time or work that's involved, but it does make life a bit more hectic than it already was.

I'm not a huge fan of reading from textbooks, but the class that I'm currently taking is really interesting!

So now that you've been kind enough to stick with me through this meandering blog post. it's time for a GIVEAWAY! I just posted a new product in my TPT store, and I'd love to give you the chance to win it. It's my High Frequency Word Fluency and Fun Pack! The description is below:

Are you looking for a fun, interactive way for your students to practice their sight words daily? I created this file to help my little ones practice and reinforce their quarterly sight words. They must read each sight word out loud as a class, and then, the students do a simple exercise (run in place, push-ups, jumping jacks, etc.) for about ten seconds. You can either move the slides manually (I use my remote pointer as I walk around the classroom), OR you can set your own timing in the PowerPoint file so that the slides move automatically.

These words are the high frequency words that my district assesses each quarter, so they may be different than yours, but this file is FULLY EDITABLE! You can edit it to meet your needs! Each quarter is a different color to help you stay organized.

All you have to do to enter is leave a blog post comment, telling me what you are thankful for this holiday season, and head on over to my Facebook page (I'd love it if you'd "like" my page, but it isn't mandatory). The giveaway begins today, and it will end on Princess A's ninth birthday, December 2nd.

Stay tuned for a fun Maryland Instagram hop that's coming soon!