May 20, 2018

Tips for Successful Technology Sub Plans

Tips for Successful Technology Sub Plans when you have to be absent

**This post was written by Science in the City, and previously posted on www.technologytoolsforteachers.com. However, that site has been discontinued, and so my content will gradually be posted here **

Tips for Successful Technology Sub Plans

We’ve all been there – you have to be out for a day, but its nerve-wracking. What to leave for a sub? How to make sure it goes smoothly? You don’t want to waste a day of class, and you don’t want to come back to chaos the next day. Especially at this time of year, there seem to be more field trips, family events, and reasons to be absent.

Here are my suggestions (granted I have mostly taught secondary, but I think these suggestions would work even with upper elementary as well).

You can’t always guarantee who you will get as a sub, or how your students will react, so here are a few suggestions to minimize the stress.

LEAVE THE DIRECTIONS DIRECTLY FOR YOUR STUDENTS

Students are used to receiving direction from you. They are more likely to give a sub a hard time, or the have confusion. Give the directions to the kids. If you use a learning management system such as Google Classroom, Schoology, Edmodo etc this is very easy. they are already used to logging in, and can look for their work there.

If not, I have left the kids a very quick and simple set of directions of what they are to do for the class period, and what is to be handed in at the end of class. I sometimes leave the kids direction in the form of an official looking ‘memo’ with the assignment for the day, when it is due, and what to do if they have extra time. I photocopy either for each student (even a half sheet is plenty), either as a separate handout, or as a cover page with today’s work that explains their directions for the day.

This leaves the sub free to either tell students to login and read the directions, or the pass out directions, as well as take attendance, monitor behavior, and deal with questions and problems, rather than try to teach/lead a lesson that he or she may not be comfortable with. It also takes out the middle man. I don’t know about you, but I have heard some strange stories such as “the sub told us not to hand that in” or the “sub never passed that out, etc”

LEAVE THE SUB PREPARED

Make sure the sub is prepared to do the things that you really need him or her to do. Here are some tips:
  • leave attendance rosters
  • leave a class schedule
  • leave a seating chart, if you use one
  • leave directions and contact information for another teacher to ask in case of questions
  • leave directions or a phone number to call for the main office/security in case of a problem
  • clear directions of what work should be handed in
  • leave some type of feedback form, this helps ensure that you will get feedback on how the day way. There are numerous free versions available by searching for substitute feedback form. Here is a good resource from the National Substitute Teachers Alliance.

HAVE A BACK UP PLAN

As has already been mentioned in many other places, it is important to have a back up plan.

My go to backup plan is either a news article summary or a vocabulary activity. I keep vocabulary lists, and a vocabulary menu of choice activities for students to practice key vocabulary. I also keep a bunch of news articles printed out, with a generic news article response template (I just use the first page). Even if you don’t keep articles, you may be able to get a few copies of the newspaper or of magazines from the school library. Again, there are numerous current events summaries available with a quick search, so I would recommend that you find one appropriate to your students.

These are assignments that students can do for extra credit or early finisher activities but they are also great for emergency sub plans, or if the technology isn’t working. Sometimes there is a sub who isn’t comfortable with the technology or has an issue getting kids logged in. These are a perfect temporary solution.

Tips for Successful Technology Sub Plans when you have to be absent

May 6, 2018

A Financial Secret to Benefit You, Teachers

A Financial Secret to Benefit You, Teachers

As we are just finishing up taxes and tax time, I wanted to share a tax saving or financial tip for teachers that you may not be aware of. I have only become aware in the last few months of a certain type of investment or saving account that is open to teachers and some other public employees. This type of account is called a 457 investment account.

I am not going to claim to be an expert, but I will give you a quick synopsis, and a few more sources of information.

A financial option open to teachers that you may not be aware of
 

I learned about a 457 first on the Choose FI podcast episode entitled The Unfair (FI) Advantage Of Teachers | 457b. Another good source of information is the Millionaire Educator blog, specifically the post “7 Reasons to Love your 457 Plan.”

Definition and Advantages of a 457

A few bullet points about what a 457 is, and what the advantages are:
  • A 457 is pre-tax savings or investment, similar to a 401k (usually in business) or a 403b (often teachers have this as well). That means your money is going in before it's taxed so you are able to put more in and you're able to reduce your taxable income (lower your tax bracket)
  • The rules or a 457 state that you can withdraw when you leave your teaching position, or at age 59.5. This means, if you leave your teaching position, you can withdraw from your 457. 
However, you may need to do some research and work with your HR department. My district did not really seem to publicize the 457 well. I had to do some digging to find out about it. I have heard the same from others as well. However it may be worth the work as it may be a good alternative for you to improve your tax situation and your savings for later.

More information

Here are a few 457 links with some more information
Definitely do your research, they won’t be for everyone, but this has potential to be important enough that I wanted to pass it along. I have been teaching for 12 years, and thought I was relatively on top of my finances, but I had never heard of a 457, and didn’t know it was available. As such, I’m assuming I’m not the only one. This could be a huge advantage if you are teaching but plan to leave your job and stay home with young kids for a while, go back to school, or simply leave the teaching field and pursue a different line of work, but maybe you need some money to tide you over after you leave the position. There is no early withdrawal penalty. You still pay taxes on the money that you withdraw but you don't pay a penalty like you would from any other retirement accounts.

I'd love to hear your comments below. 

Apr 22, 2018

Behind the Scenes at TpT Flock


5 Takeaways from the TpT Flock Regional Conference

I was lucky enough to go to the Teachers Pay Teachers Conference, or Northeast Regional Meet Up called TPT Flock last weekend. It was an inspirational event with many educators who are really changing the face of education and having a huge impact on students, not only in their classroom, but on so many other classrooms in the US and around the world. 

Many of my biggest takeaways apply not only to TPT but also to the classroom of a regular teacher outside of the classroom. I wanted to share some of those takeaways with you.

Details matter, but everything doesn’t have to be perfect

Of course we don't want to make materials for our classroom, or to share professionally, that are full of errors or look messy. However, I think often we try too hard to make something perfect. As we use it it will grow and develop. It's more important sometimes to get something of good quality out (either to our students, or our colleagues) and start using it than it is to keep it on our computer, or in our heads, until it's a hundred percent perfect. Details do matter, but “strive for progress, not perfection.” - Unknown

Don’t try to do it all

This is the biggest thing that I felt like I kept hearing all day: don't try to do it all! This also applies to your classroom! Everybody has their strengths. Maybe you're really good at games and making class fun, or having a sense of humor. Maybe you're really good at connecting with students, or have really innovative and fast ways to grade and assess. Perhaps you are good at building in teachable moments or differentiation, or reading strategies. Maybe you are really good at read alouds and doing demonstrations. There are countless pieces of being a good teacher. No one is good at all of them! Focus on your strengths and build on those! Focus on one thing at a time that you want to learn and improve on, but realize that you do not have to do it all. If you spread yourself too thin you probably won't be successful. Instead, maybe take one unit to try something new, or try one new method at a time.

Collaborate, and reach out for Support

Teaching is often a solitary endeavor, even though we are constantly around people. No one is really in our classroom with us, and we may or may not be in the situation where we plan as a team and really collaborate with other teachers. In my teaching experience there are many times when we're really working alone in our classroom with our students. This is why it's so important to reach out. It could be within your school to to your administrator, to other teachers in your school, or to Facebook groups or discussion boards. Realize that you're not alone! You have things to offer to other people and they may be able to offer you simple solutions in an area that you're struggling

Learning happens when you connect with other people, and with what you already know

Sometimes we think that we're going to learn a bunch of new information on our own by going to a training, reading a book, or seeing something online. In reality there are many times that the best learning happens when we build on what we already know and discuss it with other people! We may see someone doing something just a little bit different than what we're doing, or add on one new twist that makes a big difference. As educators we know that students need a foundation for what they are learning and that they learn best when building on what they know. We often forget this ourselves. It applies to us too! Take what you're doing, talk about it with other people and go just one step further than what you are doing. You might be amazed at the results.

Remember your why

Remember why you became a teacher, and began this journey. Teaching can be a rocky road, and often a draining job. You may have to deal with difficult parents or behavior problems. Think about why you got into this and what were your goals. Maybe you wanted to help students understand the world around them, get them excited about science, help them see that they can be successful or help them grow as young adults. I'm sure you have your own reasons. Take a couple minutes and think about what those reasons are. There have been several times throughout my career when I got to the point where I didn't think that I was wanted to teach anymore. Just as I thought I couldn't take it anymore a something really positive happened. A student had a breakthrough learning moment or came to thank me for something or some other small action happened during the day that made me remember why I come to work every day.

I was lucky enough to go to the conference and meet up with some fantastic teachers from many different states and even Canada I felt honored to be part of that group. However we work with many great educators everyday and we need to remember that and be thankful for each other and for our students.
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