Ask Angela Anything: June Edition

June 20, 2012

in your questions answered

Ask Angela AnythingWelcome to the latest edition of the monthly post series in which I answer readers’ frequently-asked questions. Although I do respond personally to every email, with this series, you can submit any teaching-related question anonymously to maintain your privacy and student confidentiality. I’ve called the series “Ask Angela Anything” because I share what has worked for me in my own classroom and in the rooms of the teachers I coach. My personal philosophy is that there’s no one “right” solution that works for every child in every classroom: I encourage you to adapt the ideas I share for your own situation.

Though the content of the post is completely mine, the series is sponsored by companies and organizations that are committed to providing high-quality resources for educators,  This month’s post is brought to you by Marygrove College’s Master in the Art of Teaching, an online degree program designed to empower teachers by focusing on the knowledge and skills required to deliver effective instruction to diverse learners from preschool through high school, including those with special needs.

This month, there were a few questions submitted that I won’t be addressing in this post:

  • One question submitted was about the lottery system for charter school seats and the priority that is given to teachers’ children. I’m sorry that I don’t have any information on that. Every charter school has its own unique system and rules. The best course of action for our anonymous submitter is to ask directly or talk to people in the community about it. I’m sorry!
  • Rebecca asked about team teaching with a colleague whose behavior management style is very different from her own. I’m in the process of developing an entire page with this information (including a guest post from a teacher who was in that exact situation), so I’ll elaborate more on that soon–before the new school year starts in the fall.
  • JJ wrote in about the very relatable feeling of terror and panic that comes with moving from 1st grade to 5th grade. That’s another question a lot of teachers asked, and I had already started a separate page to talk about team teaching. So, JJ (anyone else in this situation), check out the new Changing Grade Levels page for some tips!

OK, on to the questions that ARE actually answered in this blog post:

I need help organizing highly disorganized children, especially when they’re up against disorganization at home as well. What can I do in the classroom for that child? I use separate folders for things, clean their desks for them sometimes, with them sometimes, yet somehow, things are always everywhere but where they should be and everything ends up a mess for them. I probably should be working more closely with their parents on this matter, but this year we’ve departmentalized the third grade and it’s been a tough year. Thank you for any advice you can give!
-Kim

Hi, Kim! I’d advise you to create very simple systems and teach them well. Model, practice, and reinforce A LOT. I explain my entire system in The Cornerstone book, but you can also check out the Routines and Procedures section of my website for lots of tips. Teach kids what a clean desk looks like point by point so they understand what to do: even the messiest child can be successful when the expectations are really clearly spelled out.

For children who really struggle with personal organization, I have them keep an empty desk and store all their materials in a large bin near my teaching area or desk. I emphasize that this is not a punishment, but an extra support to help the child stay organized, and I check it each day before lunch or dismissal to help the child evaluate whether the materials are organized according to the guidelines we created. In the image above, you can see where I gave one child her own cart with clearly labeled sections for each type of materials: this was easier for her to organize than a bin or tub. (The big baskets of books on top were part of our classroom library, where this cart was located, and not related to this student’s materials.) You could also consider switching from desks to tables to eliminate the amount of clutter and materials that students have in front of them.

I have had three very bad teaching experiences in our new town. The last I resigned immediately after being asked to cheat on the state test and to pass a child and change his grades. I am so disheartened about the classroom and education, but want to work in my field somehow. What would be other areas where I could be in education and make a difference?
-Anonymous

Hi, there, Anon, I’m really sorry to hear you had that experience. There are a lot of other opportunities in education to make a difference for kids, though. Many of them will allow you to work remotely and/or entirely online, so it’s okay if you’re in a small town. There are curriculum writing jobs, grant writing positions, educational sales positions (great if you pick a product you really believe in), tutoring, instructional coaching, after school programs, early childhood programs, and more. You might also look into social work, nannying, and other related professions that allow you to help children without having to work within the confines of a school-based environment.

Think outside the box! Right now, I am doing work that I didn’t even know existed a few years ago. There are all kinds of opportunities being created every day. Check out my Becoming an Educational Consultant page with tips on how to check the various job posting sites. The Job Interview Tips for Teachers page and the How to Find a Teaching Job page might also help. All the best to you in the next step of your career!

The demands on teachers seem unlimited and unrealistic. We prioritize the best we can. Can you suggest a maximum # of hours per week after which we can say “no” to further demands on our time?
-Exhibit A

Hey, there, Exhibit A! Good to see you around these parts again. :-) I think it’s helpful to create “office hours” for yourself and stick to them. Plan to either arrive one hour early, stay one hour late, or work for 1-2 hours at home, and don’t extend yourself beyond that. Whatever doesn’t get done, doesn’t get done. My personal limit as a teacher was 45 hours: contractually, I had to work 38, so that was just over one hour extra each day. I didn’t count things like looking for activities online, reading Facebook posts by education-related pages, and other stuff that was really fun for me, but I still set limits on that: nothing school related after 10 pm. Recently I started taking a day of rest for myself: from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, I won’t event think about anything to do with education or work. That has made a huge difference for me in terms of feeling rested and having the mental energy to handle whatever the week brings.

To make these kinds of boundaries work, you’ve got to have good time management and prioritization skills. Get the most important stuff like lesson planning done first, and if you have time, you can do less important stuff like change the bulletin board displays. Distinguish carefully between tasks you HAVE to do and tasks you WANT to do. Admin’s demands aren’t necessarily the most fun, but get them done first so you don’t have anyone on your back. Remind yourself that you can’t possibly do everything you want to right now, but there’s always next year.

Have a question you’d like to see answered in a future “Ask Angela Anything” post?
Submit it here!

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so ask ANYTHING you’ve ever wanted to know about teaching but were afraid to ask.

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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Check out the free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

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1 shanda June 20, 2012 at 6:40 pm

How do you deal with the educator-parent who doesn’t seem to see that their child has challenges and a large part of the challenge is the child is more afraid of failing the parent than the class. Statement made by parent, “I don’t need you to teach my child, they’ll get that from me…I need you to nurture.” are the retorts I receive during conferences. It’s extremely hard to have conversations concerning the child when it comes to this parent. Any suggestions??

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