Category Archives: Students

A Simple Request

Image result for sub lesson plans template

Today, I took a job at a school for a 4th grade class – no big deal.

However, when I got to the classroom, I didn’t see any plans for the day. Looked on the desk, the reading table, etc., and not a guideline or directive in sight. By then, the class arrived, and after settling in, I buzzed the office, asking for emergency plans. The reply was that there weren’t any. Okaaaay……no plans in the room, no emergency plans, no posted schedule, no colleague teacher support.  Quickly going through my mental file cabinet, I came up with something creative that got us through the day, but here’s my open letter:

Dear  Teachers:
1. PLEASE PLEASE prepare for any possible absences by having emergency plans available. Make sure that they’re not just time-wasters of word searches, and quick fill in the blanks. I’ve known many administrators to require a week’s worth of resources , just in case.

2. If  you don’t have that ready, be willing to e-mail and/or fax the school something that will ensure a productive day(s), keeping with your original plans.  Once, I had  a teacher  e-mail his plan for that day, plus he sent worksheet and activity attachments to be copied.

3. Supply clear instructions, along with what students to rely on, and whom to be aware of questionable behavior. If allowed, phone numbers are welcome, too. Don’t hesitate to share the reward and discipline procedures.

4. You may know your routine in your head, but I don’t. Please post it somewhere handy. It’s easier to get through the day, especially when a 1st grader doesn’t know when it’s actually time for lunch or washroom break. 

Sure, it’s common sense, but sometimes in the wake of unplanned absences, this aspect gets lost in the shuffle. As a guest teacher, it’s my job to maintain your routine as closely as possible, not create more upset. Seeing a different face is stressful enough for the kids, but adding in no plans is a downward spiral.

The next worst thing – NO scheduled prep, too!


Works For Me….

As a long-time guest teacher, I’ve developed a huge collection of tips and hacks for a smoother running classroom when the regular teacher is away. Feel free to copy and use the above image as an incentive when all scheduled classwork is completed [and you’ve checked, too]. I let the kids work in partners, and you can set a timer if you like. This activity works best for me with grades 2 – 6.

Endangered species?

cursive writing

This is a re-post, as I believe in the power of cursive……..

The above image of the alphabet is something I hardly see taught anymore—writing in cursive style. The kids that I work with  daily overwhelmingly do not posses the handwriting skills that had been drilled into me as an elementary student. Taking this practice away because of keyboards is like taking away math computation because of calculators. Therefore, the over-emphasis on electronics and social make writing by hand seem obsolete.

But the good news is—it’s NOT. Being equipped with this skills helps the kids have a better handle on written expression, and critical thinking, skills which extend beyond the classroom.

I’m told that we “don’t have time” because the focus of the day is on literacy and math primarily, and something like cursive handwriting skills are considered hardly necessary.

I’m making the case for families to help out more at home by:
investing ust 10-15 minutes a day to help your child in proper letter
formation, and the best posture for comfortable, more legible handwriting.

It doesn’t have to be  Palmer Method perfect, but with consistent practice, patience, and gentle praise along the way, there can be a difference made.

English Language Arts–Urban Classroom

Today, I covered a 2nd grade classroom during their language arts time. Now, these kids know me , so we’re past the “getting acquainted” stage. The teacher left their activity on using new words in original, oral  sentences.

Our first word was “police”. One student said, without missing a beat—“I saw that ‘police’ shoot somebody.”  Just like that. An 8 year old knows about shooting just like watching Niktoons everyday. Similar sentences followed from two other students. We finally decided on something a bit more Officer Friendly-type.

The next example used the word “life.”  Several hands went up, and the one student I picked said forlornly, “I have a bad ‘life’.” I felt compelled to ask her why. She responded matter-of-fact, “That’s because somebody’s always shooting and fighting by my house, and I don’t sleep.”

Sad, sad commentary, isn’t it? Where is the lightheartedness of early childhood? Of course, nothing is TV perfect, but when a violence lifestyle is accepted as norm in our yung, what does the future hold?


Spel It Rite


I recently had the opportunity to attend  an upper elementary spelling bee at the school where I’m currently at, and was totally surprised at the word skills that came out.

Not everyone has spelling as a prime skill, that is true. But this comes from not just memorization of words, but gaining a handle on the meaning and usage, and being comfortable with the whole idea of vocabulary.

The top 3 spellers in each grade, from 5th through 8th were selected. It was going to be an exciting time for twelve students and their supporters of classmates, teachers, and a few family members.

I was sure we had a good 40-45 minutes for this program. So I sat back, and waited for the event to begin. One of the students was in the room I was covering that day.

After explaining the rules, all 12 students got their first shot. However, of those twelve, NINE got knocked out after the first words!  That’s right—75% of the contestants were eliminated within five minutes.

The increase of text-ease, and Spell-Check have pushed correct spelling and word usage to a lowered tier. They just aren’t priorities like they used to be.  With Common Core standards in place, these areas don’t have prior emphasis.

With three students left, it might be a close race. After all, the words were getting more difficult, and these guys had prepped, right?

Sad to say, the remaining eighth-grader eliminated the other two in about four minutes, making it the fastest spelling bee I’ve ever seen.

Teachers and administrators were dumbfounded at what was happening, and they scrambled to keep things going. To put a spin on this, the last eliminated student faced the actual champion in a type of run-off spell-la-thon. That lasted another ten minutes, but the champion held his own, going on to the district events later on next month.

Here are some of the words that got the kids out of the running. The correct way is shown first, and the misspellings beside the

brilliant – brialliant            soften – sofin
tongue – toung                      nectarine – necktarine
tussle –  tussel                         widget – whichid
fluency – fluencie                hoodwink – hudwing
pixel – pickel                          charity –   charoity
ardor – ardoor                       journey – jurnty

Are Manners Dead?

These six points shown above  are what I’d love to see more of in the classes that I encounter. I’ve noticed a growing, serious lack of these “little things” in contributing to a pleasant learning environment. It’s more than just doing the classwork; it’s also learning to be a humane, kindness-centered individual.  These are the people skills that can lead to greater success in life.

Politeness and respect OPEN more doors to experiences that can enhance student life. Why can’t we take a few minutes every day to reinforce this?

Yes, Virginia, There Is………..


That famous line about whether or not there is a Santa Claus is just how I felt when I’ve spent the last few weeks as a guest teacher where there are no:

  • food fights
  • physical fighting in the classroom
  • paper-ball throwing  and/or balling up black sheets just for the heck of it
  • blurting out impulsively
  • being called a profane name
  • cross-talking above the teacher’s voice 95% of the time

Yes, there is now at least ONE school in my bag of gigs where I actually use my “teaching skills”—that is, engaging students in discussions, facilitating independent work, and allowing the class to be proactive, with decent results.

Have I been dreaming?

It seems that this school has always kept a very heavy home/family involvement, and anything negative behavior-wise was just not accepted. With such high expectations in place, the kids know how far they can push the envelope, and it’s rare when one does.

There are those glitches, of course, like any school. But the biggest “problem” I’ve encountered overall is talking above a Level 2—which is a conversational tone. Can you imagine?

So, I’m very grateful to have experienced several weeks of relative educational sanity. It will be a welcome mental respite when I have to go back to the “Real Classrooms” of my city……☺