Focus. And Refocus.

So let me know if this sounds familiar to you.

Class has begun. Kids are getting their materials ready, but one student, Susie, has not taken out any of her materials, and is talking to the person next to her.

Teacher: “Susie, please stop talking and take out your math supplies.”

Susie: “I wasn’t talking.”

Teacher: “Susie, I just saw you talking. I need you to stop, and take out your math supplies.”

Susie: “I wasn’t talking!”

Teacher: sighing “Fine. Please take out your math supplies, Susie.”

Susie: “What supplies?”

Teacher: exasperated “Your math supplies. Book, notebook, pencil…”

Susie: “I don’t have those.” turns around and resumes talking to neighbor.

Teacher: “Susie, I just asked you to stop talking! Where are your math things? Do you have any supplies for today?”

Susie: shrugs “I don’t know.”

I’m gonna stop here. Because we’ve all seen this. Susie gets upset about being called out in front of the class. The teacher is frustrated. The kids are watching all this unfold. No work is happening. The teacher seriously wants to pull one of these…

I really need you to stop talking.

The time-to-teach program and the idea of Refocus aims to reframe the way we as teachers think about classroom disruptions and change the way we respond to them. I’ve been working in a school that uses this program for the past few years, and it’s awesome. I seen a huge reduction in classroom interruptions. The few disruptions I do have don’t derail my class. Most students don’t even realize they are happening!

I won’t go into details, but the general idea is this. At the beginning of the year you teach your class the expected procedures and behaviors. When a student is not following these behaviors, like Susie, you don’t call them out on it. Instead, you use proximity and positive directions to remind the student what he or she should be doing. So it would look something like this.

Class has begun. Kids are getting their materials ready, but one student, Susie, has not taken out any of her materials, and is talking to the person next to her.

Teacher: approaches Susie “Susie, you seem to be having some trouble getting started today. Do you need anything?”

Susie: “I don’t have a pencil.”

Teacher: “Okay, no problem. Grab one from the student table. Remember, we want to respect others right to work. If you need anything, you can ask me.”

Susie begins whispering to her neighbor.

Teacher: “Susie, I need you to Refocus to room 209. You need to remember to respect others right to work.”

Susie takes a refocus sheet and leaves. She quietly enters the buddy room and fills out her refocus form, and raises her hand when she’s finished. The buddy teacher checks and signs the form. Susie reenters her class, sits down, and begins to work without distraction.

Yea I know it sounds crazy, but it really does happen that way. The positive, non-confrontational approach reminds students of what they should be doing. When they don’t do it, you simply ask them to refocus and they do. It’s awesome. You get to continue working with your class, the kid gets a break and has an opportunity to reflect on why they were asked to leave, but no one has to worry about saving face.

Sure, it takes a decent amount of practice and modeling. Sure, the whole team, school, grade, whatever has to be on-board. Sure, you occasionally have the student who still gets angry and refuses to refocus. But 99% of the time, this is seriously how it goes down. It’s fantastic.

If you are looking for more information on Time-to-Teach or Refocusing, a quick Google or Pinterest search yields a ton of results. You can also check out the Time to Teach website. Or not. I mean, I love pushing things off my desk as much as the next person. I really do. But trust me, using Refocus will result in way fewer headaches. But if arguing with teens is your thing, that’s cool, too. Not judging.

Hypothetical Inferno, Hypothetical Escape

I used to have a real clutter problem. I think most teachers do. We suffer from this pervasive idea that we can use this <insert random thing here> later. I blame Pinterest. And the fact that most teachers buy their own supplies, so we become glue-gunning magpies, collecting all sorts of shiny things to use later. Out of necessity, I got a little better at decrapification when I moved from Pennsylvania to Florida, but stuff still piles up. For no reason. At all. Except that I don’t throw it away. Because I might use it later. Oh wait, there is a reason…

So when prompted to decide what 5 items I’d take with me if my apartment caught fire, and everyone I love was out and safe, I was at a loss to come up with anything. I have a lot of stuff. Like a lot. But in the end, I don’t particularly need any of it. It’s stuff. That can be replaced. But probably shouldn’t be. Because it’s non-essential crap. So, yeah, I guess I’d leave everything behind.

We don’t need no water, let the m*f*r burn.


I have enough insurance to cover my laptop and a small professional wardrobe, so I can continue to do my job. All the important documents are in a fire safe, so leave those to do their thing. I mean, this is the existential purpose of a fire safe, right? So I wouldn’t deny its moment in the sun (blaze?). Everything else is non-essential. (See previous post re: boxes of spray paint and general state of simply having too much stuff.) Sure, I’d mourn the loss of my books, pictures, memory foam pillow, etc. But in the end, it’s just stuff. And most of it is crap anyway. So let it burn.

world burn

Wait. I lied. I’d take my cell phone. My mom would drive to Florida and kick my butt if she didn’t have a way to get in touch with me. And I don’t actually know anybody’s phone number. So yeah. Cell phone, then flee the inferno.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Burning Down the House.”

The Big Bag Bother

Today I learned… that my shoulder really freaking hurts.

I once posted about how I don’t carry a teacher bag.  I don’t lug stuff home, I don’t have a giant organizer bag, nothing.  Yeah… this morning I realized that while that may be true… I have a big bother of another bag.  I don’t when I sold my soul to the big bag gods, but at some point I started filling up my purse with random stuff.  Seriously.  It’s weird.  It’s like I subconsciously thought “well it’ll fit, so I’ll just toss it in for now and put it away later.”  Somewhere along the way, I turned my purse into a giant bag of holding (if you don’t know, ask someone in a comic book shop).

Here’s what is inside my bag. I dumped it out and organized it just for you.  Printed copy of student grades?  Check. First aid kit? Check.  Three lip glosses?  Check, check, check.  Lighter, even though I don’t smoke?  Velcro for a bulletin board at school that I absolutely did not have to put in my purse and bring home?  Even trial contacts and contact solution that, again, did NOT have to be in that bag.

ImageThen I weighed it. 6 pounds. 6 pounds of crap I really don’t need. It’s got an undetectable extension charm.  It’s bigger on the inside. Whatever.  It’s over.  I’m done.  I’m breaking up with the giant bag.

Again, those of you carrying around a giant purse, messenger bag, or teacher bag, take note. Big bags are okay, as long as you aren’t packing them full of random things.  That weight is murder on your shoulders, neck, and lower back.  Just ask Oprah.  Take inventory of what you really need on a day to day basis, and get rid of the rest.  Can you keep it at school?  In the car?  Do you absolutely need to carry it around with you?  If not, take it out of the bag.  Your shoulders will thank you.  I really like this article with tips for how to STOP bringing everything home with you.  Teacher burnout isn’t pretty.  Neither is a chiropractic bill.  Ditch the bag.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go empty my TARDIS purse.

IDK. My BFF Rose.

Several years ago, I was part of a school that used 4-Sight testing in Math and Reading classes.  The 4-Sight was a standardized test that we used  several times a year to predict how our students would do on the state test measure student growth.  It was standard math multiple choice questions and open ended response questions.

The Math teachers had to grade the students’ open ended responses.  I was alarmed at the amount of my students who just wrote IDK in the response area.  Really???  You wrote IDK on a test???  You couldn’t at least write “I don’t know”?

I don't know....
I don’t know….

Since I had nice, long 90 minute classes, I was able to spend the beginning of each period (bellringer, ATB, Do Now, Warm up, whatever) doing an open ended response question.  I taught my students how to pick apart these questions and how to create a response.  I taught them how to write something for an open response, even if it’s wrong.  Even if it’s just restating the given information. Any response is better than “IDK” written across the page.

So this brings me to today.  I just read an article from Edudemic on different ways to say “I don’t know”. Huzzah!  Someone else out there feels my pain!  The author provides different ways for a student to say they are confused in a manner that doesn’t immediately shut down the dialogue.  Check it out here. Also included is a nice poster to steal use for inspiration.

P.S. – In case you were wondering, the best ever response from a student was as follows.  The question was: “Juan wants to measure the flagpole.  Given the information he has, how can Juan solve this problem?”  One of my students (grumble) wrote “Juan needs to learn to solve his own problems.”


Sigh.  Can’t win them all, I suppose.

pencil. pen·cil. pensəl.

I hate pen.  I love colorful inks, and grading with pretty gel pens.  But those are for me.  When kids do math homework in pen, my eye twitches and my neck cramps and I suffer from small micro-seizures.  Such is life.

So I made a definitive decision this year.  Pencil only in math class.  No exceptions.  First day of school, open house, welcome back letter… everything said pencil only.  Even still, I had this actual conversation on the first day of school with a class.

Them: “Is pen okay?”

Me: “Is it a pencil?”

Them: “No.”

Me: “Well then.  No.”

Them: “What about erasable pen?”

Me: “Is it a pencil?”

Them: “No.  It’s an erasable pen.”

Me: “Well then. No.”


I hate pen.


Part of me wants to laugh maniacally when a student does a worksheet in pen and it’s all wrong.  But I don’t.  I just give them a new worksheet.

What I’m puzzled over is WHY DO THEY STILL ASK ME IF A PEN IS OKAY?  Every conversation has the same response.  “Is it a pencil?  Then no.”

I know I’m prejudiced.  I acknowledge and accept that.  Hi, my name is Stephanie, and I am prejudiced against erasable pen.  Seriously.  Erasable pen just irritates me.  I don’t have a reason.  It just ticks me off.  More so than regular pen.  They write like garbage.  The ink smudges.  It’s suffering from a major identity crisis.  Darn it, pen, love yourself for who you are!  Stop trying to be like pencil.  If you can’t love yourself, pen, nobody else ever will!

Well… time to go grade 100 tests done in pen.



Today I Learned… The Teacher Bag is Totally Pointless.

So for many years I had a teacher bag.  It was orange and I got it for free from Staples at one of their teacher appreciation days.  And it was orange.  Bright orange.  I loved it.  Did I mention it was orange?  It was my teacher bag, and I faithfully carried all my stuff to and from school in it.  Teacher guides, tests, worksheets, whatever.

In addition to my orange teacher bag, I often had my lunchbox, my purse, coffee, and a muffin from Dunkin’ Donuts.  I tell you, I would have *killed* Mary Poppins for that bag of hers.  I never truly understood the meaning of the word schlep until I started carrying all that crap around with me.  To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure I understand schlep now.

Seriously.  Multiple teacher editions, tests, worksheets, workbooks, parent contact forms, student data tracking forms… I crammed it all in that stupid orange bag.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  My only consolation is that I knew I wasn’t alone.  Almost every teacher I know carries some form of a teacher bag.  One very seasoned veteran I carpooled with had a fanny pack *and* a briefcase.  He was dedicated.  But we all do the same thing.  We schlep everything home because we will so definitely do ALL OF IT while we watch Netflix.  Or… instead… we won’t.  We’ll cook dinner.  Or drink a glass of wine.  Or clean the house.  Or drink a bottle of wine.  Or spend time with our friends and family.  Or workout.  Or drink a glass of wine.

Yea.  I almost never opened that damn orange bag.  I brought it home, and either left it by the door or left it in the car.  If I did work on stuff from the bag, I never finished all of it.  Never.

So this year, I finally gave up the ghost of the teacher bag.  I don’t take it home unless I absolutely have to because grades are due or I have a conference or whatever.  I don’t bring stuff home.

Don’t get me wrong, I still plan from home.  I create Smart Notebooks and presentations, worksheets, tests, and plan.  But it’s all digital or online.  I don’t physically carry stuff around with me.  Schlep-free for me!

(Mostly schlep-free.  Grades are due tonight, so as I write this I’m looking at a pile of tests that I did bring home to finish.  What can I say?  I write first and retract later.)

What’s my point?  I have no idea.  I guess I’m trying to convince others to give up the teacher bag.  It doesn’t make you a horrible teacher if you don’t bring everything home.  Odds are you aren’t even doing it all every night anyway.  Because life happens.  And it should happen.  I somewhat regret the amount of my early 20s that I wasted on grading parties and data binder nights (more on that another day).  I loved teaching, and I wanted to do it the best I could, but I made myself unnecessarily stressed… all in the name of doing extra work at home that I didn’t need to do.

So now the teacher bag holds something far more important.

Beach clothes.

Just Keep Swimming…


So I recently started my new job teaching 6th Grade Math.  And I love it.  After a year of unemployment, I’m grateful to have it, and I’d love it regardless.  But it’s an added bonus that I actually love my job, the content I’m teaching, and the lovely school I’ve ended up at.

That being said… I had the *worst* first day.  Honestly, it wouldn’t have been that bad, except I started the day by spilling tea on my blouse.  My white lace blouse.  That I love.  Oh, and I spilled the tea all over the first day paperwork I had to pass out to my students.  So… yeah.  It was down hill from there.  All those little things that normally wouldn’t have bothered me became mountains instead of mole hills. (Who has ever seen a mole hill, really?  They could be huge for all I know.)

So I got through my day and went home.  Pouty and miserable, my darling boyfriend suggested we go to the pool in our apartment complex.  Once there, he suggests I cannonball into the pool.

Cannonballs into a pool fixes everything.  In case you were wondering.

Since then, I have gone to the pool nearly every day for at least a few minutes.  After 9 years of teaching, I am finally mastering the art of floating, not swimming.  It was only last year I finally gave up the ghost of “Oh-but-I’ll-do-this-while-I-watch-TV-at-home”.  No you won’t.  It’ll sit in your teaching bag right by the door all night, and you’ll just take it back to school in the morning.  Now, thanks to my darling boyfriend and super-cool apartment complex, I can actually unwind each day.

Moral of the story?  Sometimes you need to stop swimming and just soak up the sun. 🙂