Category Archives: Heart of a Teacher

January Rearrangement: Resetting Your Classroom for the 2nd Half of the School Year

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

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January is a great time of the year for teachers, school administrators and parents. It is a time to go back to the drawing board and reevaluate what has worked and what needs to be revised to move the students closer to proficiency.   For starters, the teachers have just come out of a two week holiday break, a much needed vacation that rejuvenated our faith in making a difference in our students’ lives. Let’s be honest. By mid November, our exhaustion made us question why we chose such a tiring profession.  However, the holiday break does a great job reminding us that we love being in the classroom.  Here are my top five tips on how to rearrange your classroom for the second half of the school year.

#1 Time to reorganize

Although we are in the middle of the winter season and the idea of spring cleaning seems like a lifetime away (especially for my fellow Michiganders), but it is time to clean the classroom. Let us rearrange the glue bins, take down old posters, and get rid of all of the extra scrap paper that we know our students are not going to use by June.  Allocate classroom jobs that give the students the opportunity to help keep the place spick and span from organizing the bookshelves to throwing out broken crayons.  Also, this might be a good time to rearrange the students’ teams based on updated test scores and putting down new name tags since the ones you used to label desks and cubbies back in August are probably all torn. You would be amazed on how excited students get by seeing their names on new nametags. Remember, a dirty classroom is not a kid problem-it is an adult problem so teach the students to keep their learning environment clean.

#2 Update classroom supply list

Send out an updated supply list to all the parents and guardians in your classroom. This is a great time to send out a classroom newsletter, notifying all of the parents and guardians on what type of supplies their child will need for the remainder of the school year. Encourage students to save their old notebooks and to use them as their personal reference material when completing homework and studying.

#3 Reevaluate parent communication outlets

While you are sending the updated classroom supply list, you need to also think about what method of communication has worked with this year’s parents.  Every classroom is different so the same communication that worked last year might not necessarily be the best way to send out important notices to parents this year.  Whether it is by email, notes home, voicemail, or newsletter, keep track of what has worked and what has not so that you are being efficient and effective. Also, if you have not already done so, make sure you keep track of all the communication you have with the parents in your parent communication log.

#4 Update class data

By now, you have a great idea of where each student is performing and chances are, your school is probably going to participate in some type of a midyear assessment. Use the updated data to drive your instruction.  Dig deep in the scores and figure out exactly where most of your students are struggling academically.  For example, look at your math data. If your students scored low in measurement, then figure out exactly what part of measurement do most of them not understand. Are they having a hard time telling time? Or possibly, they are struggling with converting units from ounces to gallons or feet to inches?  The more you understand their deficiencies, the more you will be able to help them grow because you will teach them what they have yet to master.

#5 Time to have those serious conversations

Reviewing the data will give you the opportunity to differentiate instruction so that everything you teach is intentional. However, if you have a couple of students that continue to struggle despite all interventions, then you need to have some serious conversations with the parents and perhaps the RTI team. Sometimes, a pair of eye glasses is the missing key to solving a student’s academic needs since they are not able to see the board clearly. Perhaps, they are staying up late watching too much television without their parents’ permission and that is why they keep falling asleep in class. Or maybe, they are having a hard time staying focused and regardless of who is sitting next to them, they continue to be distracting and repeatedly blurt out during instruction. Whatever the case may be, you need to have these important conversations with their parents especially if it retaining to retention. It is never too early to have these important conversations with parents and the more updated they are about their child’s education, the more supportive they will be in the long run.

In August, we get so excited about putting up new bulletin boards, sending the first supply list and contacting our students for the first time. However, by November, teachers, like everyone else, become overwhelmed with their personal lives preparing for the holiday season that we get burned out. Take this time to reenergize your spirits about closing the achievement gap and remember that regardless of how stressful it may be at times, your work in the classroom is appreciated.

About Zemen Marrugi

Zemen Marrugi is the Founder/President of Those Who Can, Teach! and an experienced teacher and national presenter.  Marrugi has worked as a classroom teacher and has presented workshops on topics like differentiated instruction and the writing process.  In addition to working with elementary/middle school teachers, Marrugi has also presented workshops for college activities personnel at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education’s Association for Student Advancement and the National Association for Campus Activities.  Click here for more information on Zemen Marrugi.

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Filed under Bulletin Board, Classroom Curriculum, Classroom Resources, Classroom Teachers, Curriculum, Education, Elementary, Heart of a Teacher, Middle School, New Teachers, Parental Partnership, Parents, Teacher, Teaching, Uncategorized

10 Tips for New Teachers

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

Being a successful classroom teacher is more than just being textbook ready.  Unlike other professions, graduating top of your class will not necessarily prepare you for a great career in the field of education. Here are ten tips I have prepared for anyone that is starting their first year as a classroom teachers.

Tip #1: Be open to constructive criticism

It is easy for us to say that we are open to feedback, but do we actually take it when it is given to us? My advice to you is to be open to criticism, regardless of how you may feel about the messenger and how prideful you may be. Feedback can help you grow because there is always room for improvement, no matter how talented you think you are as a teacher.   Remember that the only way you will grow as an educator is if you allow yourself to learn from those that are successful in the field and if you are willing to acknowledge your areas of needed improvement.

Tip #2: Be prepared!

Do not assume that you can just come to class, wing it and expect your students to have record breaking results by the end of the year. Whether you have a self-contained classroom where you teach all of the core subjects or a one subject classroom, you still have to begin each day well prepared. Take the TE home and study the subject on a daily basis. Do the assignments at home and look up related information so that you are prepared for the questions the students may ask you.   Also, you will have to commit the same amount of “learning phase” if you are moving to another grade level or another subject. I taught fourth grade for five years and then moved to teaching sixth grade last year. The curriculum, as you can imagine, was different than what I was used to so I had to commit a lot of time to learning the new content. Just because I was a veteran teacher did not mean that I was going to succeed in the new grade level so I had to commit time to learning the new material.

Tip #3: Behavior Management!  Behavior Management!  Behavior Management!

In real estate, it is all about location, location, location. Well, in the field of education, we know that in order to have a successful classroom, it is all about the behavior management.  From day one, new teachers need to understand on how big of a role their behavior management skills will play in their students’ academic success.  If you find yourself struggling, I strongly recommend you observe a teacher in the building that has good behavior management in their classroom. Also, ask an administrator to model some techniques on how to redirect students that are off tasks.  I will share some behavior management techniques on a later blog.

zemen marrugi teacher tips

Tip #4: Get Creative

Do not be afraid to get creative when delivering the material to the students. Get in costume! Use props! Bring out all the stops and make learning fun. I am a big advocate for teachers that step out of the box and bring the curriculum to life, which is why I love to use music, costumes and lots of creativity in my teaching. How are the students expected to get excited about the material if we sound bored with what we are teaching? Our enthusiasm rubs off on them, which is why we need to teach with all of our heart. Great way to get creative would be to plan your day in advance, which is why Tip #2 is so important.

Tip # 5: Analyze the Data

Familiarize yourself with the school’s data, especially that of your incoming students. You need to be aware of where they are, academically, and where they need to be by the end of the year. If you are not familiar on how to translate the data, seek assistance from your administrative team. Also, read articles on the different assessments that your students will be taking throughout the year. Check out my later blog on different test taking strategies to use with your students.

Tip #6: Don’t burn yourself out

Do not join ten different committees to show how dedicated you are to your job. It is all about quality, not quantity that will make you stand out. There are so many teachers that burn themselves out by working harder, not smarter. These teachers eventually leave the profession within the first five years because they did not use their time wisely. Remember to get some rest on a daily basis and to dedicate time to your personal life.  However, I still strongly believe that you need to put a hundred percent effort into your job. You will eventually get what you put in so although I am telling you not to burn yourself out, I still want you to understand that you will work very hard the first few years to build a strong career.

Tip #7: Become a lifelong learner

Understand that you will continue to learn new ideas, new curriculum and new techniques on a regular basis to improve your craft as an educator.  As a lifelong learner, your education will not stop with a Bachelors degree. Most teachers pursue a higher degree and receive additional endorsements, certifications and eventually get a Masters degree. Always keep in mind that the additional education is meant to improve your skills as an educator. Over the years, you will narrow down exactly what part of education you are mostly interested in, from curriculum to educational leadership to administration.

Tip #8: Be flexible

If there is one thing I have learned about the field of education is that change is inevitable.  The more flexible you are with these constant changes; the better teacher you will be because new studies are always made available to teachers about assessment, curriculum and how to successfully reach out to our students. Always keep in mind Tip #1 about accepting constructive criticism. A big part of being flexible is about responding well to feedback when given to you.  If you just keep in mind the overall goal of educating children, then you will be much more accepting of these changes because they are meant to help you grow and improve your skills as an educator.

Tip #9: Build your resources

As a first year teacher, I spent a lot of time hopping from one yard sale to another, collecting different items from children’s books, baskets, kids’ movies for recess and random household furniture like side tables for my listening station and yard furniture for my reading garden. I also purchased a lot of books shelves and organizing bins from businesses that were closing shop. One man’s trash is another teacher’s treasure because I was able to make use of all of these items.  Also, teachers these days have Pinterest, a phenomenal resource that is full of DIY projects.

Tip #10: Parental Partnership

A vital part in any child’s life is the role his or her parents plays in their everyday life.  Regardless of what district or city you teach in, a one hundred percent parental participation can be reached if you put in the work it will take to get the parents involved in the classroom. I have been teaching in inner city Detroit for the past seven years and I always aim at getting all of the parents in my classroom involved. Keep in mind that not every parent will get involve the same way.  Some parents are able to donate items from your classroom’s wish list, while others are able to volunteer a couple hours a month in the class. Use a variety of methods to update the families with information regarding what is happening in the classroom and encourage all parents to play a role in the classroom. Check out my later blog on creative parental partnership ideas.

I have shared these tips with you because I know that it takes more than just one skill, one technique and one secret to become a strong teacher. A successful classroom is not made of just one method and you cannot rely on one tip to help you make it through your career as an educator. Just like our students’ diverse learning abilities, you will need to utilize a variety of different teaching styles in your classroom.  To have a productive teaching career, you will need to take it all in from constructive criticism to being well prepared before every class. You will need to constantly work on improving your behavior management skills so that you have a controlled classroom, full of rigorous and differentiated instruction that creatively challenges each child. You also need to constantly be aware of the data and know where your students are performing and allow the data to drive your instruction.  Do not get overwhelmed or intimidated by the amount of work it takes to run a successful classroom.  Keep your enthusiasm about the field of education alive by keeping up with new research and staying flexible with the changes that will come about.  Just like any other career, your commitment and dedication will determine your success. Good luck and welcome to the profession that makes all of the other professions possible.

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Filed under Classroom Resources, Classroom Teachers, Education, Heart of a Teacher, Middle School, New Teachers, Teaching

The Heart of a Teacher

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

That moment will forever hold a special place in my heart because it had made me proud of reaching my goal and having my name outside my first classroom made it all surreal. I had finally made it! I was now Ms. Marrugi, Homeroom Teacher.

Since that August morning in 2007, the enthusiasm about preparing my classroom has continued to grow and I still find joy in decorating themed bulletin boards every month and making positive phone calls home, reminding parents of the special potential that exists within their child.

Over the years, I have been blessed with countless amounts of homemade cards, teacher paraphernalia, and gifts, big and small, from my students, their parents and family members. They have surprised me with delicious red apples on my desk, a slice of cake from their siblings’ birthday parties from the weekend before and have gone out of their way to collect the most random purple items for me since they know it is my favorite color.

A precious letter and apple I received from my students a few months ago.

A precious letter and apple I received from my students a few months ago.

I stayed after hours, preparing the perfect lesson and came up with the most imaginative way to introduce a topic that most people would describe as dry and tiresome. From fractions to Ancient Rome, economics and learning how to make inferences-all lessons were important and I treated them as such. To this day, my students do not know if I have a least favorite subject because when I present a topic, regardless of my personal feelings towards the subject or how intimidated I might feel about teaching the material, I always present the curriculum with excitement. I use colorful and weird props because I know that the students will find them amusing.

Over time, some of my peers have shared my passion about the floor decorating contest and the reading month festivities and they, too, joined me in wearing silly costumes and made a fool of themselves-all in the name of teaching. Others were not be as encouraging as comments about me being an “over-achiever” tried to discourage my sense of joy about my job as a teacher.

When I decided to begin teaching Middle School, I heard various comments about the pre-teens not being as interested in the “creative stuff,” but that could not be any further from the truth. My sixth graders enjoyed glitter just as much as my fourth graders did. Beginning the lesson with a silly anticipatory set or using incentives like having lunch with the teacher and greeting them with a smile and a handshake every morning were not just things appreciated by elementary students. Moving to sixth grade also reminded me that every student, regardless of age and grade level, may still be in need of drastic academic intervention.

The life of a teacher is a daily rollercoaster filled with the good, the bad and the ugly memories. During the summer, I wait with anticipation, imaging how the year would play out by the following June. I welcomed new students in September and by November, I knew so much about each student’s family and academic history that you would think I had been in their lives for years. I have laughed my heart out as they shared funny stories about family members and cried my eyes out when I heard of tragedies connected to one of the angels in my class that had mistakenly called me mom on numerous occasions.

One of the hardest moments of my life was when I was reminded of how cruel life can be and no amount of tissue or comfort could ease the pain in my heart as I saw one of my precious angels lying peacefully in a casket. When I started my teaching career, I knew I wanted to make a difference in the lives of the students in my classroom, but I did not realize on how much they were truly going to impact my life. The compassion that my students have demonstrated have restored my faith in humanity and when I think of all the baggage they carry as they face another school day, the definition of perseverance becomes a little more clear to me.

Thoughts of how to improve a lesson for next year’s students are always on my mind as I add new concepts to my personal collection of perfect lesson plans. Whether on vacation or surfing Pinterest, I save, pin, like and share random ideas that I know my students can benefit from in my classroom. Snapshots of decorated doors, workshop stations and class agendas fill my phone’s storage capacity because I know that in spite of how successful this year’s students were, my next class will need just as much care, if not even more.

To my fellow educators, I encourage you to keep the following three things in mind every morning as you walk into your classroom:

1) All students have the ability to learn and with proper academic assistance, differentiated instruction and rigorous assessment, each and every one of them will achieve academic success. Stop blaming it on the lack of parental participation, stop blaming it on the lack of supplies and resources and stop blaming it on the politicians that have no idea what you go through on a daily basis. You decided to become a teacher because you knew they needed you and although the decision did not come with a warning label, you still need to be your students’ biggest supporter and the driving force that will make the difference in their lives.

2) Every lesson can be interesting if the teacher takes the time to make it so. Sometimes, all it takes is a hat or a silly change of accent to get the students engaged in a lesson. Get creative! Get creative! Get creative! Most importantly, you have to let students think that you enjoy teaching every subject, every lesson, and every topic that is on the lesson plan, even if that is not the case because your sense of respect and enthusiasm towards the curriculum will rub off on them.

3) Learning is fundament, even for teacher! From first year teachers that are fresh out of college to the veteran professionals that have been in the field for decades, learning is always going to take place in the classroom for the students and their instructor. The more accepting you are of construction criticism, the better the teacher you will become for your students. Put all pride aside and know that even the most skilled craftsmen are always ready to improve their techniques.

For my parting words of wisdom, I just want every reader to remember that these words are not just my own, but they lay keep in every teacher’s heart. We selected this profession because we want to play a small, yet vital role in reshaping the future. From coast to coast, in classrooms of five to five hundred, from pre-kindergarten to college level courses, we commit our lives to being a positive reminder to students of all ages that regardless of where they come from and what they may have experienced in their lives, all things are possible if they just work a little harder at excelling academically.

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Filed under Classroom Curriculum, Classroom Resources, Classroom Teachers, Curriculum, Education, Elementary, Heart of a Teacher, Middle School, Parental Partnership, Parents, Teacher, Teaching