Wednesday, February 7, 2018

My St. Valentine’s Day Nightmare
by  Ryan Crawley

St. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. This holiday is much more than a way to make single people hate their lives. With it comes memories from my own childhood and past years of teaching. One rule I do have in all my classrooms is there is absolutely no glitter allowed. It gets on everything, and it never comes off. Next thing you know you are grocery shopping and the cashier asks if you realize that you have glitter all over your face. Anyway… you never know what will happen in elementary school classrooms, especially on this holiday. Once Cupid and hearts get involved, anything is possible.

I remember when I was in 3rd or 4th grade and I was all about cutting corners. I wanted to spend the least amount of time possible with the mundane things. One thing I hated taking time to do was filling out Valentines for my classmates. I would start with a bunch of random Valentine cards. Then I would have to sign my name on the actual Valentines, place it in an envelope, lick it close, and then write down the student’s name it was going to on the front of the envelope. I figured I could at least eliminate one step in this process. I chose to not write down any of my classmates’ names on the envelope. I was freestyling this Valentine’s Day.

As all my classmates started handing out their Valentines the next morning at school, I was still patting myself on the back from my great idea the night before. I walked around the classroom throwing out envelopes on desks like I was delivering newspapers. I was able to sit back down in my seat a full couple minutes earlier than everyone else. That is when I quickly noticed my plan was extremely flawed.

As other kids started opening their Valentines, I started getting questionable glances from around the room. I felt like all eyes were on me. Then one of my girl classmates approached me smiling in an evil sort of way. She was holding up one of my Valentines. “Ryan,” she said with no mercy, “I didn’t know that you loved me so much.” The Valentine’s card that I sent her unknowingly declared on the front that I would love her forever. I unwittingly played Valentine’s Day Russian roulette by handing out my cards without any clue of which ones went to which people.

As I slowly sunk deeper and deeper into my chair, a couple other girls came up to me giggling. Then a couple of the boys in the class were wondering what I meant exactly with the cards they had received. It was not one of my best days in school. By the time I climbed on to the bus at the end of the day, I had three new possible girlfriends and a few other classmates that didn’t want to speak to me. As a nine-year-old kid, these were all things I never wanted.

Imparting My Wisdom
Once I started teaching elementary school, ironically 3rd through 5th grades, I started sharing that story with my students a couple days before each Valentine’s Day. Since they were my target audience for this story, they really enjoyed it. They could definitely identify with it. It was sort of a Scared Straight program (without the use of prison inmates) for little kids about the possible outcome of cutting corners in life. Every year we joked around a lot after I told the story, and then later I would receive funny Valentines from most of them in return. Many of them covered in glitter. Those kids…

Thursday, January 4, 2018

How to Get Back in the Swing of Things 
After Winter Break
by Ryan Crawley

Have you ever heard the phrase “it’s like trying to herd cats” when speaking about the difficulty of some task? This saying definitely relates to trying to get school children back on track after a winter break. It’s as if those last two weeks were spent erasing memories from the first half of the school year. Students enter the classroom trying to find their desk even though the seating arrangement has not been changed for the last couple months. Almost all of them forget about doing their lunch count activity so the teacher does not know who is eating hot or cold lunch. To say it can be frustrating is an understatement.

It’s hard enough for us teachers to get back on track after those two weeks off. We finally were able to get caught up on some of our shows we have been saving on our DVR for the last few months. We’ve been going to bed later, and in turn, have been waking up later as well. Also, our nights are free because we didn’t have papers to score and grades to enter. But after years of experience in education, we can snap back to our school schedule rather rapidly. Our students and their families, not so much. Expect a few days of students arriving late, forgotten lunches, and students showing up at school without winter coats even though it is ten degrees outside.

There Are Options

Of course, to get the students back on track quickly, you can shout out instructions to them over and over again like a military drill sergeant. But I’d rather not leave school with a sore throat on the very first day back. We could all use cattle prods to get them from one activity to the other, but parents tend to frown on their kids being zapped. So what can teachers do to get the students back in the swing of things after winter break?

Halfway There!

First off, keep your sanity. The great thing about winter break is that it is more or less the halfway mark for the school year. Hopefully, you only have about 18 more weeks to go before the year is over. Every school year starts with a lot of excitement as kids find out who their teacher is and teachers find out which students are going to lead them to an early grave. It is time to reinvigorate the students’ enthusiasm for the second half!

Change Things Up

Changing things up to get back in the swing of things seem counterproductive. But it works! The first half of the school year involved the students all learning certain schedules and routines. They know what is expected of them day in and day out. Now you can start adding things to it.

To add a kick to the classroom, step back and allow the students more responsibility. Let them straighten up the classroom, erase the boards, and basically organize the place. The first half you were getting to know the students, so you might have had less group work just because you weren’t sure which students could be working together without having meltdowns. By this time, you have a good read on all your students. It’s time to do some experimenting.


Allowing students to work collaboratively is helping to prepare them for real life situations where they have to learn to work together. It’s not always easy to listen to other opinions, just by going on social media you can notice adults that have yet to master that skill. So teaching young students to cooperate now can save everyone several headaches later on.

Very few things get students as excited as using new technology. Well, other than holiday room parties with free soda and candy. Change your classroom into a new learning environment. One that loves the internet, projectors, and computers. Change all your assignments so they include the use of some kind of technology. Book reports can now be done through Google Docs, Google Slides, or even some video app. Allow students to present more of their projects to the rest of the class by using the projector or Smartboard.

New Beginning

In essence, the best way to get the students back into the swing of things in the classroom is by adding a bit of change from the norm. Most of the uncomfortable things are over with for the school year already. Parent conferences have been completed and nobody tried to flip over your desk. The students’ winter concert is over and done and no one fainted or vomited. Most of the room parties are finished and the students didn’t take advantage of too many of the parents’ lack of classroom skills. It’s now time to concentrate on learning and preparing the students for not just the next grade level, but for the ever-changing world around them. Use cooperative learning, technology, creativity, and the students’ enthusiasm for the betterment of everyone involved!

Tech It Up!

Incorporating technology into everything is preparing the students for a 21st century education, and it enables them to take ownership of their work. If your students are like mine, this will promote such enthusiasm that they will be working on their projects at home with their parents just so they can show you and the rest of the class what they can come up with.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Christmas Classics to Watch Over Winter Break

By Ryan Crawley

Now that we are arriving towards our winter break, us teachers finally have a bit of time on our hands. Of course, we will use most of this time for holiday matters and catching up on things we have been putting off lately. 

Still, there are certain traditions we all have around the holidays. We put up the tree a day after Thanksgiving and hang up all the lights around the house. Perhaps we do all of our shopping on a certain weekend. Possibly we all meet at the same relative’s house on Christmas Eve. These are things we do every year, year in and year out.

For quite a few of us, watching movies about Christmas has become part of that tradition. Every year I lie down and absorb these films into my soul. These holiday classics are as big a part of Christmas tradition now as opening gifts and seeing family. At the end of the article, I would love to hear about some of the holiday films that hold a special place in your heart as well.

White Christmas
I’ll watch Bing Crosby sing, act, or even brush his teeth. He was an entertaining fellow. Even though he died in 1977, he was the best selling recording artist of the 20th century. He was cool hanging out with the Rat Pack, playing singing neighbors with David Bowie, and narrating the spooky The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In fact, his song White Christmas is the best selling single of all time.

Without ruining much of the film (incase you have not seen it), the movie White Christmas is about Bing and a buddy (Danny Kaye) doing a good deed for someone they are fond of. At the same time, Bing falls in love with a girl (Rosemary Clooney) that is young enough to be his daughter. One of my favorite scenes is when they sing Snow while they are on the train. Interestingly enough, quite a bit of White Christmas was improvised on the spot.

12 Dates of Christmas
Yes, I am a guy. But I still enjoy watching this Family Channel-like movie with Amy Smart and Mark Paul Gosselaar. Of course, Gosselaar is famous for his time spent as Zack on Saved by the Bell. It’s a simple film that borrows a bit from Groundhog Day. It is available on Netflix if you are interested in checking it out.

Home Alone
Home Alone stars Macaulay Culkin as a young boy accidentally being left behind at his house on Christmas as his large family cluelessly does not notice until a couple days later. I think I enjoy this film because my large family would often leave me behind in various places as well. Either that or they were just trying to get rid of me.

It’s a Wonderful Life
Jimmy Stewart just never made a bad movie. He was the everyman that most of us could identify with. It’s a Wonderful Life has become the ultimate Christmas classic, and they couldn’t have chosen a better actor to star in it than Stewart.

All of us at one point or another think that everyone would be much better off if we were never born. As teachers, we often consider if we are actually shaping anyone’s life at all. George Bailey, the main character, gets to see what exactly would happen if he was not around. It’s extremely interesting that although this film is considered the go-to Christmas classic, it struggled when it first came out in theaters on December 20, 1946. It didn’t make much money and was initially considered a failure.

Yogi’s First Christmas
Yogi’s First Christmas is hardly ever shown around the holidays anymore. It came out in 1980 and is a who’s who of the characters created by Hanna-Barbera. I remember as a kid watching it every time it was on. It was finally released in 2009 on DVD. I had to go on Amazon and order myself a copy just so I could continue my tradition of watching it every year. The film is definitely one of my favorites!

A Very Brady Christmas
I believe A Very Brady Christmas should be recognized with the other holiday classics like White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life. It should be shown every day on television between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I could be a bit bias, though, since I loved the Brady Bunch growing up.

Much of the premise of the movie is a bit preposterous, much like the old Brady Bunch episodes themselves, but it is nice to catch up with all the characters. Spoiler alert, Bobby is now a college dropout and a secret racecar driver. Alice and Sam finally got married, then separated, and Alice came back to work for the Bradys at 97 years old to be a maid again. And Mike and Carol Brady, for some reason, redesigned their house using the worst colors possible. Still, whenever I hear O Come, All Ye Faithful whether in church or on the street, I expect to see Mike Brady emerging from a collapsed building.

A Christmas Story
I think every kid can identify with the main character Ralphie. He wants something for Christmas that he feels he just never will have regardless of how many hints he leaves behind for his mom, dad, and teacher. As a teacher, I think it is quite funny that his teacher wrote a warning on his essay about why he shouldn’t get that BB gun for Christmas. It is definitely something a lot of us have probably done without thinking. But to him, it is heartbreaking.

Holiday Inn

Holiday Inn is another Bing Crosby film centered around Christmas. In fact, Holiday Inn came out before the film White Christmas. In addition, Bing sings the song White Christmas in the film. This time he is joined by Fred Astaire, so you know there is going to be some fancy dancing routines involved. Plus, Bing’s character is pursuing a lady 15 years older than him this time. She might be just a bit too old for him. Once again, Bing Crosby and the holidays are a perfect match!

Ryan Crawley is a writer/educator from Illinois. Born into a family of eleven, he spent most of his childhood watching old reruns of Three's Company and Happy Days. He has his Masters in Reading and Literacy, and is a certified Reading Specialist. He spends his free time writing, working out, and hanging with his two dogs Flair and Smoosh Face. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

3 Ways Traveling With Your Students Makes You Crazy 

(and a better Educator)

By Diana Eastman

You’ll learn a lot about your students the first time you travel with them. Even the students you’ve made strong connections with throughout the years will surprise you with their obnoxious snoring, questionable table manners or intense fear of small spaces. You’ll see your students in a whole new light when you all leave the classroom and venture to a new place together. Traveling in general can make people tired and grumpy, but traveling with people who you’ve never seen tired or grumpy, and who have probably never seen how you get when you really have to go to the bathroom or how anxious you get when you think you’re going to be late, can add a whole new level of crazy to your travel experience. But you signed up to experience a new place with your students because you’re passionate about their education, about their life experiences, and because you’re pretty certain you can handle it. Here are 3 ways traveling with your students may drive you nuts, but will also make you a better educator in the long run.

You Get To Know Your Students. Really Get To Know Them.
It is always interesting/scary to get to know what your students are like when they aren’t being your students. You feel like you’ve got a pretty good idea of their personalities; you know which ones are shy, which ones are more extroverted, the consistently late ones, the know-it-alls, the jokesters. But traveling with them gives you a peek into who they really are. You’ll learn quickly who some of the students are when they don't get enough sleep, or which students don’t know how to read a map or are obsessed with taking selfies. The preconceived ideas you had about them based on your interactions in the classroom will probably go out the window after a few days of traveling with them. Sometimes, the informal environment will allow you to see incredible qualities in students that didn’t come out in class, while other times you may find out things you can’t ever “un-know.” The bright side: traveling with your students helps you to get a better understanding of who they are, which may help how you relate to them in the classroom.

You Share A Lot Of Small Spaces
Whether you are in front of a typical size classroom or giant lecture hall, it’s safe to assume that you are able to maintain a comfortable distance from your students on a daily basis. They have their bubble, you have yours, and they typically don’t cross. Well, that goes out the window when you travel together. Planes, trains, taxis and rental cars aren't built with personal space in mind, so you’re going to get close, real close, to your students. You’ll be sharing a lot of things with your students that you don’t normally share (like bathrooms and armrests), but it just comes with traveling. Although sometimes it may feel like you’re getting too close for comfort, sharing this intimate space with your students opens up opportunities for intentional conversation, teachable moments, and interpersonal connection; things that you may not get to do a lot of in a larger environment.

You’re Still “On”
Unlike traveling with your spouse or best friend where you can completely unwind and relax, traveling with students means you still have to maintain a level of professionalism even if you’re out of the classroom. Although you’re in a new place and enjoying a more relaxed learning environment, you’re still the mentor and the professional, and you never get to really turn that off. It’s important to strike a balance between leading them as an educator and enjoying yourself as a tourist. You don’t want to do anything that could cause them to see you in a questionable light (shots on the bar is a no-go), so you’re still “on stage” even though your “stage” is miles and miles away. The good news: you have the unique ability to further their education and connect with them on a more personal level while demonstrating maturity and professionalism.

From the moment you decided to venture outside of the classroom and take your students on an educational adventure, you knew there were going to be facets of the trip that would be less than comfortable. You know that traveling can bring out the best and worst in people, but you signed up anyway because a trip with this crazy group is worth it.

They may catch you drooling on a red eye flight, or you may quickly learn who uses too much perfume or not enough deodorant, but these things all help you connect with your students. This personal connection makes you a stronger and more connected educator that can touch their lives in unique and memorable ways.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

6 Fun, Festive and Educational Activities for Winter Break

By Ryan Crawley

As a teacher, I’ve heard countless students proudly inform me that during winter break they did not bother to pick up a book. They usually do this with a smile on their face as if they are gleefully confessing to some sort of crime that only affects me. While their lack of learning concerns me, and it takes awhile to catch them back up on the whole learning thing, their parents should be more concerned about the quick drop off of their skills that can happen in a mere two weeks.

Below is a list of activities for winter break that will help educate your children even while they are out of school. The best thing is that they may not even know they are learning, so they won’t put up a fight against you! Much of it is based around the holidays, and it will hopefully put them in the Christmas mood!

The 12 Books of Christmas
This book reading activity is a direct rip-off of the 12 Days of Christmas, except instead the children will have a reading list of 12 books that they must read during winter break. These books should be chosen together as a family and each one should incorporate some sort of holiday theme. Maybe a book can be about helping others, kindness, or be centered around the holidays. In any case, it has to contain at least a little bit of the holiday spirit!

Each Child Creates a Top 5 List of Favorite Holiday Shows
Every child enjoys creating a list of top favorite things in their lives. Ask a child to make a top three list of their best friends and they will put a lot of thought into the subject. They will start to rationalize just why certain friends do not make the cut. This is what the top five list of favorite Holiday shows will do as well. They will use their critical thinking skills and not even realize it. Plus, the more holiday shows they watch, the more they might have to go back and revise the list. This will be a very carefully thought out list when it is all said and done. If you would like them to add even more to it, they can write brief summaries on the show or movie also. Writing skills are essential in every subject area and every career field, so why not create opportunities for your children to improve on theirs?

Create a Video Christmas List for Santa
Even young kids can now put together an impressive video using iMovie or any number of the similar video apps out there. By putting them in charge of making their own Christmas list video on what they would like for Christmas, you are allowing them to use their creativity and voice through technology. Plus, each of the videos is going to be quite the keepsake to look back on as the kids become older. It will be a family treasure to share in the years to come.

Write a Thank You Letter to Santa and Others
Every child can learn to improve their manners. By writing a thank you note to Santa and others for the gifts they receive, this is teaching them to always be thankful and show gratitude. In addition, it will be teaching them to show gratitude for perhaps gifts they were not all that excited about receiving. Manners are something that need to be taught and learned early and often in life, otherwise by the time they are adults, it might just be too late.

Neighborhood Map Predicting Santa’s Arrival
Map skills can be difficult for children to learn. However, if you provide them something important enough to use their map skills on, they will become very active learners. Have your child draw a map of the neighborhood. Ask them to determine the path that Santa might take when traveling from house to house. Of course, they will have to label the map with a compass rose and other important details as well. This is done all in an effort to figure out when Santa might actually be arriving at their house.

Baking With the Parents
Parents that fail to teach their children basic kitchen skills early on will only have themselves to blame later when the kids can’t even make a bowl of cereal on their own. By asking for their help with the Christmas baking, you are not only starting a family tradition, but you are giving them confidence in the kitchen. If you don’t ask for their assistance, you may just be cooking for them for the rest of their lives. Nothing worse than a 40-year-old who can’t make a pot of boiling water or figure out how to operate the toaster.

Ryan Crawley is a writer/educator from Illinois. Born into a family of eleven, he spent most of his childhood watching old reruns of Three's Company and Happy Days. He has his Masters in Reading and Literacy, and is a certified Reading Specialist. He spends his free time writing, working out, and hanging with his two dogs Flair and Smoosh Face. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

6 Ways To Teach Diversity In The Classroom

By Diana Eastman

The only way to create a world of tolerance, acceptance, and respect is to teach it to the youth of our generation. As teachers, we have a giant responsibility to foster a global perspective in our students and show them how to respect others’ differences and live peacefully amongst people who aren’t exactly like them. Or similar to them. Or like them at all.

There are many ways to teach diversity in the classroom, but here are the six most important will help create a classroom of acceptance. By teaching students at an early age to embrace the different cultures around them instead of fearing them, you will begin to build a generation of “includers”; of students who have no tolerance for racism, sexism, or prejudices.

Have Students Do The Teaching
Most teachers will agree that the best indicator of a student truly grasping and understanding a concept is the ability to teach someone else. Having students research different cultures and present it to the class is a great way to get everyone involved in the learning. Students can share their own cultural traditions, holidays, recipes, music and dress with the class, or pick a culture they want to learn more about. Hearing the information come from a fellow student helps the rest of the class pay attention and absorb the content.

Bring In A Guest
If you know someone personally who comes from a different country, invite them in to speak with the class. Students love having guest speakers, and it makes the lesson much more personal. If possible, have the guest bring something to pass around the classroom that represents their heritage, or ask them to wear something native to their culture.

Provide Plenty of Examples
Remember to give students a broad range of examples when discussing famous people from a particular culture. If Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X are the only role models students learn about when talking about African American heritage, they may get the wrong idea that there aren't thousands of other African Americans who have made history. Make sure you mention people of both genders when discussing famous people from any culture, and teach students about both historical and current figures from the particular culture you are studying.

Incorporate Inclusive Curriculum
Every teacher, even those not responsible for cultural studies, has the responsibility to create an inclusive classroom for all students. Ensure the textbooks and materials you are using portray all different types of examples of diversity. Older textbooks may have photos that are seen as stereotypical, so make sure you’re using curriculum that embraces diversity. If you are creating the curriculum (tests, homework, etc.) word your examples in a way that is inclusive of all genders and cultures.

Be Aware Of Language Barriers
Students who don’t speak English as their first language can easily feel lost in a classroom of mostly English speakers. Although most schools offer special programs for non-English speakers, be intentional about ensuring every student has the opportunity to share their opinions, ask questions, and understand what is being taught regardless of what language they speak.

Share Your Experiences
Your personal experiences with other cultures can be a fascinating teaching tool to use in your classroom. Share your family background with your students, or share pictures of your travels to other countries. Hearing about your first-hand experience with different cultures will make tolerance and acceptance much more relatable. Your students look up to you, so if they witness you being respectful of others and eager to learn about their differences, they will follow suit.

The future of our country, and our world, is based on whether we can learn not just to tolerate, but embrace those who are different from us. We can’t just slap a motivational quote about diversity on our walls and leave it at that. We must continuously be intentional about not just telling our students, but showing them how beautiful our world is because of the millions of different people who live here.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

4 Ways to Incorporate Your Travels Into The Classroom

By Diana Eastman

One of the benefits of being a teacher is getting a few months off during the summer to rest and recharge. Teachers use this (unpaid) time to work part-time jobs, focus on hobbies, rest, and travel. Teachers have a hard time switching off their “teacher brains” even over the summer, which means as they explore new places they still have their future students in mind. Even on trips made for rest, a little part of their brain is always jotting down notes and trying to figure out how they can incorporate their travels into the classroom.

The next time you plan a trip, keep these four strategies in mind to bring back to your classroom. Your travel experience can prove invaluable to young, eager minds. Your adventures can foster a love for culture and travel in your students, and open up windows for engaging class discussions and learning opportunities.

Food For Thought
It’s safe to say that one of the best parts about traveling is trying the local cuisine. From famous cheesesteaks in Philly to Margherita pizza in Italy, indulging in foods from different places will not only satisfy your appetite but can serve as a learning tool in the classroom. Trying new foods and discovering new recipes is a great way to expose your students to new cultures, and a little in class taste-testing is a great way to keep students engaged when learning about new places.

A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words
If you travel to a place that you plan on studying during the school year, take pictures of you in front of famous landmarks to show your class. They can see photos of The Liberty Bell, The White House, or Niagara Falls in textbooks any day, but seeing it from a more personal perspective, and seeing you in these actual places makes them seem more real to students.

Save The Souvenirs

Some people collect postcards, coffee mugs, t-shirts or magnets to document their travels, and these souvenirs can be a fun way to show your students where you have been. When you travel internationally, bring back children’s books for your students to read. Even if they can’t understand the language, it serves as a fantastic hands-on activity that promotes language & reading and expands their global perspective.

Music As A Teacher's Tool
Many teachers find incorporating music into their lessons results in a more focused and engaged classroom. Sharing the music from your trip with your students is an easy way to introduce them to different styles of music and instruments. Playing music during study times has been proven to help with retention, and playing music during transitional times can help the class move from one thing to the next smoothly. Introducing your students to bagpipes after a trip to Scotland or country music after a visit to the Deep South will help them make deeper connections to the places they are learning about.

Traveling allows teachers to take off their “teacher hat” and blend into the world as a “normal” person for a little while. But for many teachers, it also provides excellent recourses and ideas to incorporate into next year’s classroom. Using your travels as a way to encourage learning and pursue the wanderlust of your students is a win-win. You get away and get a chance to see the world, and your students get a well-traveled teacher with adventures, stories, and lessons to share.