Posted in Elementary Education Preparation, Secondary Education Preparation

Little Mavis

Little Mavis is an imaginary student invented by my principal. She’s pretend. Any resemblance of Little Mavis to a real student is merely coincidental. Nevertheless, Mavis was fundamental to my development as a teacher. She would randomly appear in conversations like this:

New Teacher: Do I really have to take my third period class to the high school Show Choir assembly? My third period is already behind all my other classes, and this will just put them further behind. (Side note to new teachers—this is probably not a good question to ask at faculty meeting.)

Principal: If Little Mavis has a brother in the Show Choir, she will go home broken-hearted that she didn’t get to see him perform. After school, her mother will call and be upset with both of us. So yes, you do need to go to the assembly. (Side note—this applied to every assembly, not just Show Choir. Little Mavis would be equally devastated if she didn’t get to see Birds of Prey or Secrets of a Mad Scientist.)

At our middle school of a thousand 6th and 7th graders, Mavis was the student we talked about most in faculty meeting. It was important that Little Mavis went home happy, healthy, and looking relatively the same as she did when she left in the morning. We were instructed to be vigilant and proactive during hall, bus, and lunch duty because it was important that Mavis felt safe, physically and emotionally. We were cautioned to be particularly sensitive to the sixth-grade version of Little Mavis because this was her first time away from the nurturing environment of her elementary school. Help her open her locker. Give her a pencil. Excuse tardies for the first week or two. Don’t tease her about the small stuffed animal attached to her backpack. (Side note—sixth graders cry easier than seventh graders.)

Mavis emerged in our English Department meetings too. We English teachers can sometimes be a snobby bunch, but even though she was a fictional character, we always treated Little Mavis with sensitivity and respect. I remember during my second year suggesting an idea that I thought would save us time and effort as teachers. My wise department chair taught me a lesson I will never forget. She simply stated, “That would be easier for us, but would it best for the students?”

You see, by keeping Little Mavis continually in our consciousness, our principal established an unwritten culture in our school: Our focus is on the students. This was before No Child Left Behind and Professional Learning Communities. Intuitively, we developed own versions of Differentiated Instruction, Engaging All Learners, and Teaching for Diversity because we cared about Little Mavis. As new initiatives were introduced over the years, they resonated with me because they validated my inner belief that every student matters.

Our school never had an actual student named Mavis during my tenure, but I’ve come to realize that she is every student. One whose grandparents settled our small community as pioneers and one who only knows only two words of English. One whose mom who chases her from soccer practice to piano lessons after school and one who takes care of her siblings every night while mom is out with her boyfriend. One who is writing a novel and one who still plays with Barbies. One who often tells you that you’re her favorite teacher and one who rolls her eyes every time you ask the class to take out paper and a pencil. And we all know male versions of Mavis; I called him Bubba.

Little Mavis blessed my life, for she taught me many things about teaching as the Savior taught. Get to know your students. Ask questions. Listen. And most of all, love and care about each as an individual. Mavis and Bubba inspire all of us to be better teachers.

 

Written by: Annette

Posted in Elementary Education Preparation, Lesson Plans

Be Prepared

If I have learned anything from the past while of teaching, it is to be prepared. A lot can happen in a school day and you need to be prepared to handle it all. The inspiration for this blog post is this past school week. All in the past week, three unexpected events happened, none of which I was prepared for. So let this be a warning, think about these things BEFORE the school year.

Event #1: Sick Student

It was early Tuesday morning and I had just finished my “Class, it is flu season” speech on leaving the room if they were going to throw up. I looked over to see one of my students quickly cover his mouth and then barf all over the rug. Keep in mind he was surrounded by 30 other students. I went into panic mode. Where could I even start? After this event, I have a few simple steps to successfully handle this situation.

Step 1: Move the class away from the area with a task to do (like silent reading at their desks).

Step 2: Comfort the sick child. It doesn’t really matter that you get them the trash can, at this point the custodian will have to come anyways. Let them finish.

Step 3: Grab the trash can and escort the sick student down to the office. Alert them of the spill and have the custodian paged. Also have the sick child call home.

Step 4: Take your students’ minds off of it. I sent my students down for a bathroom/ drink break. Just removing them from the situation helps them not to get sick thinking about it.

Step 5: Move on as if nothing has happened and be aware that the custodian will interrupt class to clean things up.

 

Event #2: Emergency Substitute Plans

In the event of all of my students getting sick, I realized I had no “emergency substitute plans” for the times when I might need them. Make them generic, easy to follow, and have them in an accessible spot. This will alleviate SO much stress if you have to leave early or can’t come one day. Just tell your team where your plans are and rest easy.

 

Event #3: Inside Recess

Growing up in Utah, you would have thought I would have a plan for this but today came, and I wasn’t ready. One of my team members gave me the idea to just put a movie on. This helps with so many aspects. I wasn’t a fan of having the students play games in the classroom, nor did I want to have to entertain them during my lunch break, so this was the perfect alternative. One of the recess aides popped into to check on my class during lunch, and he turned to me and said “Smart teacher. You’ve got this figured out!” My advice is this: Have a 45-60 min. movie ready for inside recesses. This way you can start it one recess, and if the other recess is inside as well, you can watch the rest then. This way you can get your much needed break and the kids aren’t running around unsupervised.

 

All this has caused me to think back to what a veteran teacher said to me when I first started teaching. He stopped me in the faculty room and asked if I was ready for the first day. I told him I didn’t think I’d ever be ready. He smiled and said, “If there’s anything I’ve learned in 30 years of teaching, it is that no matter how long you teach, you will never feel ready.”

Truer words have never been said.

Posted in Elementary Education Preparation, Miscellaneous

Three Tips That Have Bettered My Teaching Experience

I’m not very experienced as a teacher (as I constantly am reminded), but I have found that there are a few things that have helped me a lot more. Here is a list of three things that I have found to make my teaching experience a better one for all involved:

  1. Don’t forget that YOU still exist outside of being a teacher.

My husband teases me constantly on this one. He always will refer to me as “Mrs. Lyon” and just roll his eyes. I didn’t get what he was saying until a week or so ago. I really had lost myself in teaching; I didn’t do anything but prepare to teach and teach! Being a teacher is exhausting in itself, so make sure you take time for yourself. A few things I’ve done to remember to take care of myself are:

  • Set a time frame to get to school and come home. For example: I’ve decided I would like to be at the school by 7:30 a.m. and leave the school no later than 5:00 p.m.. Obviously there are (many) exceptions, but it helps me to not lose myself.
  • Find a hobby and do it. Mine consist of word searches, Dr. Phil, crossword puzzles, and cooking. I’ve recently tried yoga as well. I feel like I’ve had to get to know myself a lot better in order to have the energy to keep going.
  • Go to bed early. I NEVER went to bed before 11 p.m. before I became a teacher. Now if I’m not in bed before around 10 p.m., I’m exhausted the next day.
  • Eat healthy. Be healthy. Realize that your kids are counting on you to stay healthy so you can be there every day!
  1. Lucky Lunch Friend

This was my genius idea last week and my kids have LOVED it so far. I pick one person each day to eat lunch with me. The kids love the one-on-one time with the teacher, I get to know my students better, and I don’t have to eat alone. It’s a win on all sides!! A lot of my students struggle with some tough home situations, so this is my way of giving them attention that they may not get at home. I’ve also heard that even giving 2 minutes of attention to a child with a behavior issue will increase their positive behavior. I’ve noticed that in my classroom. Kids respond to a teacher they personally know.

*Keep in mind that it is important to be a PROFESSIONAL, not just a friend 😉

  1. The Clean Up Games

The Clean Up Games in my classroom take about 10 minutes, make our classroom neat and tidy for me, and let students have fun by helping! The Clean Up Games currently has four rounds. Every round has a winner who earns tickets (our reward system). I usually give the kids 2-3 minutes for each round. In order to win the round, you have to be sitting quietly in your desk when I count down to zero.

Round 1: Straightest Desks

I have a student in my class to whom I have given the job of desk monitor. He makes sure that all the desks are straight and cleared off at the end of the day. My kids’ desks slide like CRAZY throughout the day, so getting them back into place once a day helps a lot. I’ve also noticed that this game encourages students to self-monitor during the day.

Round 2: Secret Scrap

I choose a piece (or three or ten) of trash and award tickets to the students who pick them up. But let’s be honest, I pick the kids that are working the hardest to clean up and then tell them they found the scrap.

Round 3: What’s Bugging Mrs. Lyon?

I find something in the room that is “bugging me” like how messy the library is, or that some crayons tipped over on the floor, or that there is a lot of trash that didn’t quite make it into the trash can, and then ask the kids to find it and fix it. The winner earns tickets.

Round 4: Magic Number

The students that won Round 3 and 4 go out in the hallway and pick a number between 1-28 (the number of students that I have minus themselves). When they come back in, I randomly number my students off to get ready to go home for the day. Say the number is 16. My two winners get to watch the magic number person (the child who was given number 16) to make sure they get their backpack, coat, lunchbox, stack their chair, and sit quietly on the rug in order to win. Once everyone is on the rug, my two watchers (previous winners) get to award tickets to the person with the magic number. The best part is they don’t know if they are being “watched” or not until the end, so all my kids don’t forget things any more!! Then they are all sitting quietly and I can do a read aloud before it is time to go.

These tips have only come to me after many trials and many more errors. It’s taken me a long time to figure these out, so hopefully these will help you in managing your own classroom!

Posted in Elementary Education Preparation

Well…. It depends.

Dedicated to the BYU Professors and mentors who have shaped me into the teacher I am.

As I near the end of my BYU experience, I have taken a lot of time to reflect on what I’ve learned. It is incredible how unprepared I was for my own classroom, even after three years of schooling. Now with that being said, that doesn’t mean I didn’t richly benefit from my education here at BYU. Looking back, I wish I would have engaged more in my classes and realized my professors actually knew what they were talking about. 😉

Over and over in class after class at BYU, one of my classmates or I would present a situation and our teacher would always respond with a sort of “heh” sounding chuckle, a slight smile, and say, “Well… it depends.” How could it depend?! Why couldn’t they just tell me “If [fill in the blank] happens in your classroom, you should [fill in the blank]”? But it NEVER happened. My cohort (group of students that attend the same classes) used to joke that we should make t-shirts that said “Well… it depends.” I couldn’t begin to count how many times I heard that phrase. I thought once I started teaching I would be able to fill in those blanks for my fellow teacher candidates. And here I am saying that the answer to everything in the classroom is… “Well… it depends.”

How could any of my professors have prepared me for the twenty-eight unique children that walked through my doorway on the first day of school? They couldn’t have. No one could have. Each child not only had successes and struggles prior to coming into my classroom, but also had a story behind it all.

How could my professors have prepped me for a child that walks in with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that receives Special Education services but is also a ward of the state with no home support and is struggling to learn English? You’re right, they couldn’t have.

Back in my classes at BYU I would ask, “What is the best way to deal with misbehavior in the classroom?” Time after time I’d hear, “Well… it depends.” My teachers taught me that misbehavior in the classroom is never because the child is inherently bad. It always has a reason. In my five weeks of teaching, here are some experiences I’ve had with misbehavior.

One student was throwing pencils at another student. When I asked the poor child that was being attacked by a barrage of pencils to come talk to me, he became belligerent and argumentative. The perpetrator had no problem coming to talk to me. Why? After many tears and much confusion and frustration, I figured out it was all because the student who was being attacked thought I was going to get upset and punish him. His misbehavior was an attempt to avoid punishment. Not very logical, but to a 3rd grader, it was the best option he thought he had. So he misbehaved.

The other day, a little girl in my class told me to straight out “stop it” and started to yell at me when I took her out in the hallway to sort out an issue. Why in the world would she think that was appropriate? Turns out she figured out in prior classes or through home life that when she argues with an adult, she gets attention. Negative attention mind you—but attention nonetheless. In her mind, misbehaving is her way of fulfilling her need for attention.

A boy in my class called out constantly, refused to take his reading test, and continually argued with me. I could not figure it out, so I called him out in the hallway. As I talked with him, I felt prompted to ask him if he had been called a “bad student” in the past. The big, tough, tackle-football-playing third grader teared up and nodded. He could barely get his words out. He was acting up because he was already labeled as a trouble maker. Simple as that.

Now what do all these experiences have in common? All the students were argumentative and didn’t listen to me. Imagine if my professors had said “When a student gets argumentative, you need to…” and gave me a formula for stopping the behavior. In three similar situations, one I simply had to take the student aside and explain I wasn’t mad. Another one I needed to ignore her until she behaved, then give her attention and praise once she complied. My last one is still a work in progress, but he just needs a reminder to behave and be given constant positive reinforcement.

The best advice I ever received was from Jerrie Reader, a first grade teacher (my first mentor teacher) at Westridge Elementary. One day she turned to me and said, “You know, as a teacher you never really get there. As soon as you stop learning as a teacher, it is time to retire.” I’m here to tell you, NOTHING stays the same in my classroom every day. Nothing. Not even me. And that is how it should be. So when it comes to anything in my classroom, “well… it depends.”

I have learned so much the past few weeks. But with that being said, my BYU experience has completely shaped my responses to all that happens in my classroom. When a student misbehaves, I can hear Sister Jill Shumway (my classroom management professor) calmly saying, “Now why is this behavior happening?”

How grateful I am that they told me in my classes that when it comes to all things in the classroom, “well… it depends.” Because truly. It does. I am glad they challenged my thinking and forced me to answer my own questions. That has made me the teacher I am today.

So to my fellow BYU students, don’t tune out, don’t disengage, and from the wise words of one of my 3rd graders: when you get bored in class, remember “boredom is a mental thing. You can make yourself not bored.”