Sunday, July 14, 2019

Creating Your Classroom: Where to Splurge and When to Save

I remember last summer when I was preparing for my first year teaching in my first ever classroom and being so excited. I had taken over the classroom of a retired teacher, so by the time I had cleared away the old, worn out, and out-of-date items, I was left with basically a blank slate.  I looked at Pinterest for hours scoping out exactly the theme I was going to use to decorate and what resources I just HAD to have. Honestly, it was overwhelming. And being a first-year teacher, I had no idea what I was actually going to need.

Throughout the year, I realized what was totally worth the money, where I could have saved a few extra bucks, and what I could have done without. Hopefully, I can share a little bit from my experience and help you know where to splurge and when to save.

1. Classroom Library- SAVE

Mrs. Cessac fills her shelves with second-hand books.
I know, I know. You walk into Barnes & Noble, and all the pretty books are looking at you with their shiny covers, and you can't help yourself. I know this because I'm the same way. I have the hardest time going to a book store and leaving empty handed. But trust me when I say that a classroom library is one of the best areas in which you can SAVE your money. There are a few different ways to do this. Kelli Cessac (@mrscessac5th) fills her classroom library with books purchased from second-hand stores like Goodwill.  She states, "[Books from Goodwill] are usually a dollar each! And with the teacher discount, they're even cheaper." Other locations to score deals on books are Craigslist and yard sales.

Another option is reaching out to your friends and family and asking if anyone has any old books they'd mind to donate to your classroom. When I was stocking mine, I posted a status on Facebook asking folks, and within an hour, I had soooo many offers from people. I got laundry baskets and cardboard boxes full of chapter and picture books. Most everyone was excited to give their old books new life and let other children fall in love with them all over again. Some were just excited to clear off a shelf in their house 😆 Either way, I had dozens of books to choose from without having to spend a dime. Erin Castillo (@makingastatementinsped) did the same thing for her high school classroom library. She says, "My classroom library pretty much got 75% built from members of my church!"

Mrs. Castillo's classroom library is mostly made up from donations from members of her church.
So if you're able to save money on your classroom library, where should you spend it?

2. A Personal Laminator -SPLURGE

I originally considered not getting a personal laminator. My school library has a big one that is free to use (thanks to our amazing librarian), so I figured that would be good enough.

I cannot begin to tell you how wrong I was.

Aside from oxygen, my personal laminator is the thing I used most in my classroom last year. I use it for flash cards, worksheets (so I can use them with dry erase markers), and classroom decor that I don't want ruined from it falling off the walls.

I used my classroom laminator nearly every day last year. Literally. Nearly every day. Since I'm a special education resource teacher teaching across four grade levels, I had a ton of material to prep. And since the students' needs changed quickly as they would gain new knowledge and need to increase the complexity of what they were working on, the ability to create and prepare my own resources was a life saver! And I'm not alone in my thinking.  I took a poll on Instagram, and 75% of teachers who responded said that they have a personal laminator either at home or in their classrooms.  I actually have one for both places because I got tired of carrying it back and forth to work on things at home. This is the one I have. You can click my affiliate link below to find it on Amazon. It has worked perfectly for me, and it even comes with a starter pack of laminating pouches included.

So like I said, I used my laminator all the time last year, and it was definitely worth splurging on. Something else worth the splurge? High-quality school supplies.

3. School Supplies- SPLURGE

Teaching resource, I don't get to send home a school supply list. That falls to the classroom teachers. That also means I get stuck buying the crayons, pencils, markers, glue, etc. that my students will use in my classroom. On top of that, I have to buy my daughter's school supplies that she needs for her class. It can be so tempting to go to a dollar store or bargain store and buy the packs of off-brand everything for a dollar each. But y'all... you get what you pay for. I might only pay a dollar for those crayons, markers, and pencils, but I'll be paying another dollar when they break, another dollar when they dry out super quickly, and another dollar when the lead only sharpens on one side. Not only is that more money, but it's also more time spent going to the store or waiting on the mail to arrive. Trust me, you (and your child's teacher if you have one) will be so much happier if you pay the dollar or so extra and get the good stuff. The colors are brighter, the ink lasts longer, the lead is thicker, and the real wood won't clog and break your pencil sharpener the way the plastic-coated ones can.

Alisha Peare, @bubblyblondeteacher, stocks up on Crayola brand markers and crayons for her classroom.

4. Centers/Stations- SAVE

Last summer, while on vacation in Tampa, my husband accidentally drove passed a very popular teacher supply store. In the midst of my shrieking for him to TURN AROUND, he safely backtracked and soon I had entered what I can only imagine "Teacher Heaven" must look like.  Anything and everything you could ever want for your classroom was contained within those four walls. I stuck to my budget (which we'd agreed upon in the car before I had even gone inside), but it was SO HARD. I could easily have dropped hundreds of dollars in there buying ELA activities and games for math centers. However, I am glad I didn't. While their products are amazing, I was able to save a ton of money by making my own centers, games, task cards, and other resources. A used (and washed out) Parmesan cheese container and some pipe cleaners became a great activity for building motor skills. Old Mega Blocks and a sharpie became my students' favorite way to practice "building" sight words. Mini erasers from Target became... well anything and everything: math manipulatives, sorting activities, game pieces, Bingo markers... The point is, I was able to have a FULLY STOCKED classroom full of activities that my kids LOVE without having to blow my entire paycheck to do so. Look at Pinterest for even more low cost activities!

By writing words and letters on my daughter's old Mega Blocks, I was able to create this sight word center for free!
Speaking of Pinterest, that leaves me to my final area of the classroom...

5. Classroom Decor- SAVE

My blank slate
I inherited my classroom from the most kind teacher in the world. He was retiring, and I was thrilled to have the chance to talk with him before he left, and he even went so far as to leave behind many things I would need for my classroom. A few things I wanted to do, however, was clean it out, reorganize it, and decorate it!  A blank slate can be so refreshing, but also overwhelming when trying to figure out how to set it up and make it work for you and your students. I had so many Pinterest boards dedicated to different themes I was considering. I finally decided on the theme "Learning in a Journey." Globes, paper airplanes, maps... The ideas kept on coming! But I had to figure out a way to make my grand ideas work on a next-to-nothing budget. I asked friends to keep an eye out for old globes and ended up having several donated to my classroom. I drew decorations and designed some on I looked at Teachers Pay Teachers for other decor I wanted but didn't have time to make. I got bins and organizational items from bargain stores like Five Below and The Dollar Tree. Probably my favorite things from my classroom were the decorations I made from maps I picked up from rest areas on the way to and from vacation destinations. With those maps, I folded paper airplanes to hang from the ceiling (thank you YouTube for the tutorials!). I cut them down to 8.5x11 and printed letters on them in an outline font to make bulletin board letters. I used them as matting to display student work and my number line around the classroom. And they were free! I have more plans for them this summer as I'm updating my classroom decor. I've been slowly redoing bits and pieces and uploading them to my own Teachers Pay Teachers store. If you like to craft and design, creating your own classroom decor can be a great way to save.

Bulletin board letters, name tags, posters, and an alphabet line are only a few of the products I've made this summer to decorate my classroom. Click here to check them out!

So as you're preparing your classroom this year, if you are a new teacher or changing rooms/grades/schools, remember that while some classroom items are definitely worth the splurge, there are several more areas where you can save! How do you save on items for the classroom? Any other splurges you think I should know about? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 14, 2019

Self-Care Myths and How to Beat Them- Part Three

This is it, y'all! We have made it to part three- the final part in this three part series about Self-Care myths and how to beat them. If you missed the first two you can find them here and here

Before we get to the third part of this series. I have two things to say. First is THANK YOU for the support I have received about my blog so far. Second is that I am PROUD of you for realizing that your mental health and practicing self-care is so important. Today's post is all about the third myth that many people have about self-care: that somehow self-care is selfISH. 

The first two myths were all about establishing self-care routines when you have a tight budget or a tight schedule. I provided three options to combat each myth, but for this post, I'm taking a slightly different approach. I'm not going to tell you HOW to beat this myth, but WHY you should. 

I know we have all heard this quote before. But have you really listened to it? 

Imagine with me if you will... you are given a plastic cup with many holes poked in the bottom. You are to use this cup to transfer water from one bowl on one side of a room to another bowl on the other side of the room. Your goal is to fill the second bowl with water. 

So you are filling your holey cup and frantically maneuvering back and forth from bowl to bowl- water spilling and dripping everywhere. The little water you are managing to carry to the second bowl is minimal, and you grow increasingly frustrated, trying to go faster and faster, trying to beat the water dripping from the holes. 

Are you able to fill the bowl? Or is there more water on the floor?

Now imagine you are given something that blocks those holes. You place a bit of something in each hole. It still leaks a little, but not as much. You are able to carry significantly more water to the bowl, filling it much more quickly and with much less mess.

In this exercise, the holes in the cup are everything that drains you- these are not necessarily bad things, just things that require you to put yourself on a back burner while you tend to them- responsibilities, volunteer opportunities, family obligations, your job, even going to a party... not bad things, just.... things. 

What blocks the holes are the things that you do for yourself: reading for pleasure, getting a pedicure, going window shopping, laughing with your family or friends, watching a movie, drinking a hot cup of coffee. They are the things you do just for you. These are the things that allow you to carry on, accomplish your goals, fulfill your obligations, and meet your responsibilities. You would never expect a hole-filled cup to hold water; how can you expect yourself to serve your purpose without being filled, yourself?

Self-care is not selfish. It is the thing by which we can ensure we are able to meet our fullest potential. 

So no, you cannot pour from an empty cup. You cannot pour from a hole-riddled cup. But you can fill the holes and fill yourself and see exactly how much you can do and accomplish. You are your biggest investment in your future. So take care of yourself! You deserve it.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Self-Care Myths and How to Beat Them- Part Two

Last week, I shared my top three budget-friendly ideas for establishing a self-care routine to beat the myth that self-care is too expensive. Hopefully I showed you that self-care routines don't have to be extravagant and can be done effectively at any budget.  Today's myth we are going to talk about is that we don't have the time to take care of ourselves.

I can remember being in school working on my degrees and spending HOURS on the computer working on research or typing a paper. Suddenly, I'd look down and it would be 9pm, and I'd have missed dinner. My stomach wouldn't have even growled while I was writing because I was so focused, but then I'd stop and realize I was starving, I had a headache, and I was EXHAUSTED. Those years of being in school, I really neglected myself. When I wasn't working on an assignment, I was taking care of my family and working full-time. I gained weight. I ate junk. I stayed on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I emptied myself without filling back up because "I didn't have time."

Looking back, I can see how taking care of my self a little more was totally feasible. Granted, I didn't have entire days to spend at the spa or weekends to "get away." And as a wife, mom, and teacher, I still don't (though a splurge every now and then is nice). But I have come up with my top three ways to practice self-care that fit into my busy schedule.

Self-Care Habit #1: Podcasts and audio books
Supplies Needed: smart device or cd
Time: Your daily commute

When my daughter was in preschool, I drove 20 minutes the opposite direction of my school and 20 minutes back to drop her off. In the afternoons, I had the same routine. For the 20 minutes that I was alone in the car, I listened to audiobooks through the Overdrive app on my phone or by checking out books on cds from my local library. I would also listen to podcasts about faith, family, and motherhood. For 40 minutes each day, I tuned out the world and turned down my thoughts. 

My commute is much shorter this year since my daughter rides to kindergarten with my husband, but I still take my commute to listen to short, five-minute podcasts. My favorite is Happiness Spells. It is so relaxing to listen to and gets me in a happy mood to start or continue my day. 

Image result for happiness spells
Happiness Spells: 5 Minute Lists of Happy Things for Increasing Gratitude, Reducing Stress, Sleep, Meditation, and Anti-Anxiety

What I love about these is that they can be done in their entirety while I'm driving in my car. I know when I get to school, my day will be hectic. I know when I get home, family responsibilities will be top priority. But for those few moments in my car, I can just listen and recharge without having to try to squeeze it into my schedule. 

Self-Care Habit #2: Drinking a cup of your favorite hot beverage
Supplies Needed: Your favorite mug and your favorite tea, coffee, or cocoa
Time: 15 minutes

Picture this: you wake up in the morning. The sun is just starting to peek above the horizon. You walk to the kitchen and make your morning beverage. Sitting in your favorite seat, you sip and savor the warm liquid as it fills you and wakes you.  I must admit, that was not the scene at my house last year. Instead it was much more frantic as we scrambled to get all three of us ready for school and out the door ("Where are my shoes? Did you sign her binder? Drink your milk. Did you brush your teeth?"). Often, I would either take my coffee in the car, chugging it on my way to work or wait until I got to work where I would have cooled to a room temperature that was neither pleasant nor did it do anything for the flavor. In my effort to get just a few more minutes of sleep, I kept my morning routine to a minimum, but that left me feeling frantic. 

Who doesn't love a good cup of room-temp coffee??

I started getting up just fifteen minutes earlier than normal. And that scene we pictured in the last paragraph? That became my new morning routine. I sat on one of the upholstered dining chairs and looked out the sliding patio doors into the backyard, watching the sun creep over the fence and illuminate the trees. Having a few moments in the morning to center myself before the world awakened got me ready for the events of the day in a way that I never had been before. And guess what? The coffee stayed hot until I finished it. Something I wasn't used to and had missed in my previous mornings.

Self-Care Habit #3: Write down your daily goals
Supplies Needed: a fun notebook or journal and pens
Time: 10 minutes

Re-read what this habit is called: write down your DAILY GOALS- not your daily to-do list. This is not the list where you write down that you need to take the car in for a tune up or go by the grocery store on your way home. This is the list where you write down what you want to accomplish. Your goals can be as big or as small as you want to make them. They can be just for you or they can be about other people. I've found that this practice (that I typically do the night before) helps me focus on what's most important about the next day. What do I want to do? Maybe your goal is to be more kind to a difficult co-worker. Maybe you want to wake up early and go for a run. Maybe you want to eat more veggies or drink eight glasses of water. Whatever your goals are for the day, take a few minutes to write them down. Seeing them in print and knowing that you have the potential to meet them and mark them as complete will make them more "real" rather than just ideas, and you will be much more likely to attain them. 

What are your favorite ways to practice self-care when you don't have a lot of time? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Self-Care Myths and How to Beat Them- Part One

Over on my Instagram a few weeks ago, I posted a little bit about my self-care routine and asked others to share theirs (if they had one). I was looking forward to getting some extra inspiration and fun new ideas I could try. However, that wasn't what happened.

62% of people polled said they didn't have anything they do consistently to take care of themselves.

What? Nothing? I was surprised. But the more I really thought about it, I can see why that number could be so high. There are a number of factors that play into why self-care routines aren't something that most people do. The top three that I found are that people think it's too expensive, people think they don't have time, and people don't want to appear selfish by engaging in self-care. Over the next few posts, I will be sharing ways to combat all of these myths to make self-care accessible for all!

I get it. I pinch pennies more tightly than Ebeneezer Scrooge. My budget is pretty strict, and a majority of my funds go to household expenses and taking care of my family. But that doesn't mean that self-care has to be cut out. There are dozens of ways to have a self-care routine that takes little to no money out of the budget. Here are my personal top three...

Self-Care Habit #1: At-home Pedicure
Supplies Needed: exfoliating scrub, lotion, nail polish
Price Range: Free to $15

I LOVE getting my toes done. Especially during the summer. I enjoy picking a fun, bright color to show off when I wear my flip-flops. But pedicures can range from $30-$60, and that's more money than I can spend each month. I can get the same results at home for a fraction of the cost. A foot scrub, lotion, and polish can all be purchased for around $15, and that's if you don't already have them on hand! I scrub, lotion, and polish while taking about thirty minutes just for myself after my daughter goes to bed or sometimes we'll do it together on a Saturday. It's a great way to just relax and feel pampered without spending a dime!

Self-Care Habit #2: YouTube Yoga
Supplies Needed: iPad/tablet/laptop, yoga mat (optional)
Cost: Free to $10
Ok, don't stress out over seeing the word YOGA. I'm probably the least flexible person you'll meet. But I love doing yoga. The focus of yoga is breathing and self-reflection- not trying to create the perfect "instagram-worthy" pose. It centers me and relaxes me, and that's EXACTLY what self-care should do. But there are no yoga studios close to my house, and even if there were, classes can get expensive. Luckily, there are some amazing Yoga Instruction videos on YouTube. My favorite by far is Yoga with Adriene. She has videos for beginners through more advanced. There are also videos specifically for focus and stress relief. I do these videos in the comfort of my own home without any special equipment and without spending any money.
Self-Care Habit #3: Curl up with a Good Book
Supplies Needed: Your current read- cup of coffee (or glass of wine) and snuggley blanket optional
Cost: Free (if you have your library card!)
Reading is such a relaxing experience for me. The smell of the pages, the sound they make as I turn them, getting lost in a good story... One of the first things I did when we moved to our current location was get my library card so I could start checking books out of our local library. It costs nothing, I can keep a book for two weeks and then take it back and get another one. I love reading books I can hold in my hand, but if digital or audio books are your jam, you can still get those for free with your library card using the Overdrive app. You sign up with your library card and instantly gain access to thousands of books, audio books, and videos. Either way you want to, you can read any book you choose for free and escape into the pages of a story at the end of a stressful day.

Any more ideas for ways to beat the myth that self-care is too expensive? Drop them in the comments! Click here to find ways to beat the second myth about self-care.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 3, 2019


Reading, writing, and arithmetic... isn't that how the old saying goes? I remember when I was in grade school, that was certainly the focus. But a lot has changed since then, and it's time the classroom environment caught up.

Recently, my sweet friend Erin has gained national recognition thanks to her Mental Health Check In poster that went viral on Instagram and Facebook. The concept is fairly simple, but the impact is profound. Students select from a range of options such as "I'm great" or "I'm meh" or "I'm in a really dark place and could use a check in." They write their names on the back of a sticky note and mark which area best fits where they are emotionally and mentally. This allows the teacher to know who needs a little extra love and support that day.

Erin's idea has been shared hundreds of thousands of time across social media and news outlets.

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive for the poster with thousands of teachers implementing this check-in system in their classrooms. Finally, a light is being shone on the importance of mental health. And it's about time. Recent reports state that child and adolescent mental health disorders are the most common illnesses that children will experience under the age of 18. It is believed that one in five children have a diagnosable mental health disorder. However, only 20% of these children are diagnosed and receiving treatment. With our students in crisis, we as teachers must do everything we can to help. Enter the campaign #iteachmentalhealth.

Teachers across the nation are embracing mental health awareness and
highlighting ways they make it a priority in their classrooms.
#iteachmentalhealth is a campaign that started on Instagram as a way for teachers to show the different ways they teach mental health in their classrooms. Posts from teachers of various grade levels and demographics highlight how they make mental health issues a priority. For me, I teach mental health by teaching my students that it is okay to need and to take a break.
I teach lower elementary special education, and even my littlest learners feel BIG things. And being so young and possibly dealing with a developmental delay or processing issue, they don't always know how to handle those feelings. Teachers will often see negative behaviors stemming from their lack of ability to self-regulate. In reality, those behaviors are often that student's way of communicating that something bigger is going on (which is a blog post for another day).

So what can a teacher do when a student is struggling, frustrated, and "on the verge?" Well, what do teachers do when WE are struggling, frustrated, or "on the verge?" We take a break. We walk away for a moment. We make a cup of coffee. We talk to a friend. Taking a break is not giving up.
It is doing what you need to do for yourself to get your emotions under control and get ready to get back to it. I struggle with feelings of being overwhelmed. My anxiety makes me feel like nothing I do is good enough... like I'm not good enough. When those feelings creep in, I lash out at my family. I withdraw from my friends. Neither of those things make my situation any better. I've had to learn to take a break when I start feeling that familiar sense of negativity sneaking up on me. I reach out. I do something just for me to help me regroup. I work through those feelings, and I keep going.

It can be the same for students. No, I'm not saying give your students a cup of coffee. What I am saying is that we need to teach our students to recognize their big feelings and to identify that when those feelings arise, taking a break is okay. Taking a break can look like a lot of things for students. It can be as simple as counting to ten or as extensive as needing to talk to the school counselor or another trusted adult in the school environment. The important thing is to teach the student the appropriate way to request that break. I have a couple of resources that I'm implementing in my classroom that can carry over into the students' general education classrooms, as well. The first is a "Take a Break Menu."
Available for free download here
Teachers recognize when a particular student is being to go downhill emotionally and behaviorally. Having already discussed the menu with the student prior to the start of the hard feelings is important. Remember- crisis mode is survival mode; NOT learning mode. When the teacher sees the student's behavior first start, bring out the menu. Help the student choose an appropriate break to take. A smaller feeling could be solved with a smaller break- counting to ten, taking some deep breaths. Bigger feelings might require a bigger solution. At first, the teacher will need to help the student navigate the menu, but the ultimate goal is that the student will eventually be able to request an appropriate break independently. Which leads me to my next resource.

I created these "Take 5" cards for students to place on their desks when they need to request a break.
Available for free download here
This works well for more mature students as it can be little more discreet than the menu. Another option is for a teacher to identify that a student is "on the verge" and place a card on his or her desk as a teachable moment. This shows the student that what they are feeling is big and taking a break will help. That will help the student learn that when those feelings start is the time to request that break. The key for either of these resources is never to invalidate the students' feelings. When I am sad or frustrated, the worst thing is to have someone tell me I shouldn't be feeling that way or that I am wrong for having those feelings. Empathy and support is always best, and for children, it is vitally important.

It is time that the stigma around mental health issues was dropped. The more it is discussed and the more emphasis is put on teaching self-regulation skills, the better off our students, classrooms, and schools will become. So take a break if you need it, and encourage your students to do the same.

If you have any questions about either of these resources or if you have any suggestions of your own, please feel free to reach out in the comments. Want to get involved in the campaign? Download the template and join us!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Advice for a First Year Teacher

Some how I blinked, and 12 months have gone by. This time last year, I was finishing up my last assignments to complete my MASTERS degree in special education. I had just been hired for my first ever teaching assignment. I was equal parts excited and terrified. 
Being a first year teacher has been everything I thought it would be and so much more. Going in, I thought I knew what I was getting into, but oh boy. It was a whirlwind of information and trying new things and questioning everything I ever learned in college. 
After starting my teacher Instagram account last summer, I reached out asking for advice for a first year teacher. I originally compiled them in a blog post back in July, but now after a year of teaching, I wanted to re-share them and add my two-sense as to how the advice held up after a year in the classroom. 
So here are the top 5 pieces of advice for first year teachers (in no particular order):

  1. It’s okay to take a mental health day.
Teaching is supposedly a more stressful job than being a brain surgeon. I was never good at science, and I don’t like blood, so I’ll never know for sure, but I can see how it could be. We are responsible for future generations, y’all! Think about it: One of us has taught the future president of the United States. We may have even told him or her to “flush the potty!” But no pressure, guys!
We have to be teachers, planners, organizers, counselors, parents, nurses, technology experts, coaches, judges, police officers… the list doesn’t end. It will be overwhelming at times. That’s why self-care is SO important. You can’t pour from an empty bucket. Need a mental health day? Take a mental health day.  Need a mental health five minute break? Take a mental health five minute break. Do what you need to do for yourself to make sure you’re given your best self to your class.
Post first-year thoughts: SO. MUCH. YES. I didn't fully realize exactly just how stressed out I would be. Just how much thoughts of my students would overtake my brain. I wish I could say I handled it all with grace, but.....  However, I definitely did take this advice. My lunch period was exactly that. I turned on music and ate my lunch, regrouping for the rest of the day. And I did take some personal days. That's what they're there for! 
My husband and I took a personal day in September to attend my cousin's wedding in Asheville, North Carolina.

2. It’s okay to turn off your teacher brain at least one day a week.
This ties into #1, but it’s a little different. The teacher who recommended this says she takes every Saturday to turn off her teacher brain. This might look like unplugging from your cell phone and emails. It might look like letting that paper work sit a little while longer in your teacher bag. It might look lots of different ways. But it SHOULD look like you being you for a day. For me, that means I will focus on my family. I will watch a movie. I will go for a walk or do yoga. I will take that time for myself and know that “teacher mode” will be ready and waiting when I am ready to return.
Post first-year thoughts: This was so much more difficult than I imagined it would be. I'm some what of a work-a-holic. I get ideas and run with them and want them done and perfect ASAP! Turning off my teacher brain was a conscious decision I had to make. I had to CHOOSE to leave things at work. I had to CHOOSE to leave my phone in another room, or at the very least turn off notifications. And sometimes, it wasn't for a whole day. But it could at least be after my daughter went to bed or after we'd had some quality family time. I need to work on this some more next year. 
I went home after this and wrote an IEP. But that was the last thing on my mind when this picture was taken.
Family first. Always.

3. It’s okay to not know everything.
Be vulnerable. Ask for help. This is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign that you want to learn and grow in your profession. When I interviewed, the teacher helping in the conference room told me, “We don’t expect you to know everything. We don’t expect everything to go perfectly. What we DO expect is that when you don’t know something, and things aren’t going right, that you ask for help. That’s what we’re here for.” One person wrote to me, “I was so scared to ask questions my first year; I thought I was going to look unprofessional or unprepared, but I ended up looking worse for not asking questions.”
We’d like to believe that we are going to enter our classrooms like Mary Poppins descending from a cloud. I’m imagining it’s going to be more like when Dumbo loses that “magic feather” and starts careening toward the ground. But Dumbo does learn to fly, with the help of his friend. Use those teacher friends to help you your first year. They won’t mind.
Post first-year thoughts: I think I might have asked more questions of my fellow teachers than my students asked of my. I kind of took this advice to heart. And you know what, it totally paid off. I learned enough to now be able to explain it to others. My brain hurts from all the info, but it's so amazing to realize how much I have grown as a teacher in just a year.
When an interesting Professional Development opportunity came my way, I asked my principal if I could attend. I'll be giving a turn-around training to my co-workers next month!

4. It’s okay not to be Pinterest-perfect.
We’ve all seen them. The gorgeous rainbow rooms filled with flexible seating and classroom libraries to die for. We think, “Oh, if I had THAT room…” Wanna know a secret? The teachers in “that” room know it doesn’t look like that in real life. One of my favorite accounts posted an IG vs. Real Life picture of her classroom. The IG post was swoon-worthy. The real life post was relatable. It was her classroom library, previously organized and labeled, currently strewn all over the classroom with the bookshelf turned to face the wall because one of the students tried to climb it and hide inside the top shelf. Classrooms are for the students; not for “likes.” Does that mean we shouldn’t spend time decorating? Of course not! My classroom is my happy place; I want it to be inviting for my students. I WANT to decorate it. But I WON’T use it to compare myself as unworthy to others.
Post first-year thoughts: Be real. That's what builds relationships. No one is perfect, and people like to know they're not alone in their struggles, their messes, their imperfections. So embrace the mess and focus on the wonderful.
My room last summer while I was getting it ready. I have rearranged. Added and removed items.
It's covered in student art and paperwork and real life. I like it so much more now!

5. It’s okay if nothing goes according to plan.
Student needs come first. Always prioritize your students’ needs above your lesson plan. I can have the most well-written lesson plan that has ever been written. But if my students are not learning, then I have failed. Don’t be so stuck in following a plan that you miss out on an opportunity to teach. It might be that you need to reteach an idea or concept. It might be that you can skip ahead. As long as the students’ needs are being met, everything else will fall into place. Another person said, “Live in the moment. Every lesson will not go perfectly. You will make mistakes. As teachers, we never stop learning.”
Post first-year thoughts: Here's a hint. Virtually nothing will go according to plan. And if it's looking like it might, brace yourself. There's probably about to be a fire drill. But that's ok! The biggest part of my job has been learning to adapt. And that's not just a special education term. Changing activities on the fly because that's what's best for the students is TOTALLY FINE. So many times, my carefully planned activity turned out not at all like I imagined, but the kids still learned! So it was still a success.
By throwing the plan out the window, these precious children had the opportunity to work together to help their friend with her addition. One kept her hand as a divider between the two addend groups. The other helped count with one-to-one correspondence to make sure she got the right answer. It took a while, and we weren't able to get everything finished, but what happened was so much more important than what I had planned.

Here’s one more piece of advice. A bonus, if you will. One that really stuck out to me.
Find teachers who share your passion and fire for teaching. They will be the teachers who help hold you up on hard days and help you become better educators.
A negative attitude can be toxic. Don’t allow yourself to be brought down. If you can’t find a passionate teacher, BE a passionate teacher. Stay positive. Stay in love with the teaching field. Be that light that draws people in, students and teachers alike. Remember why you became a teacher. Remember how excited you are to begin this journey. And remember…
It’s okay!

Creating Your Classroom: Where to Splurge and When to Save

I remember last summer when I was preparing for my first year teaching in my first ever classroom and being so excited. I had taken over the...