Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Budget Time and Reduce Stress

Teachers are usually very organized. They have to be in order to do the job. At home, they may budget their finances, but frequently fail to budget their time. They allow their teaching workload to fill all waking hours. There is no work life balance. In order to keep this from happening to me, I learned a simple way to budget my time.

Each year, I purchased a lesson plan book from a teacher supply store. I then laid out a plan for the year. I didn’t go into detail, but did organize the work I needed to cover in the months allotted. I wrote in holidays and state or district mandated testing. I also recorded the dates I intended to give major unit tests throughout the year.

Each Thursday during the school year, I created my detailed lesson plans for the coming week. I did this for each subject I taught (being a foreign language teacher, there were often several). Once technology and the school district where I worked gave us a website to use as a tool, I also began listing homework assignments on my website on Thursday. 

This allowed students the flexibility to do homework according to their busy schedules. It also removed the excuse of “forgetting” to write it down. The amount and quality of homework being completed increased. This reduced stress for all of us.

Doing my planning on Thursdays, not only helped my students, but freed up time for me on the weekend. The only thing I took home Fridays was essays. I graded them Sunday, in the early evening. The rest of the weekend was mine. Budget time wisely to avoid burn out.

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Photo Credit: Google Images

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Why is College Tuition so High?

The general public and politicians may believe colleges are flush with cash, but this is not the case. Although the cost of tuition is almost five times as high as it was thirty years ago, college professors are paid far less than they were in the past (when adjusted for inflation). So why is tuition so high?

The answer is simple. Public universities are now receiving far less money from state governments. State funding had dropped over 37% in the last two decades. Although colleges now receive more money from the federal government than the state, the overall amount is much less than in the past. Much of the federal money is in the form of grants to students. It passes from the federal treasury to state institutions and then back to the college through student grants.

We all know every time money changes hands, some of it is used moving it from place to place (employees, computers, building, etc.). Wouldn’t it make more sense if public education covered students from Pre-K through College or Trade Schools? It would be a more efficient way to educate our young, release more cash for actually educating students and unburden families. It would also put more cash into the nation’s economy.

Since this doesn’t look like it’s going to happen in the next decade, families need to find another way to pay for educating children after high school. Scholarships and grants are the only solutions until politicians start thinking long term. 

After realizing all my students were not only going to college, but also receiving scholarships and/or grants, I did a study to learn which strategies worked best. My new book, Free College Awareness, explains what parents and grandparents can do to help their children become ideal college scholarship and grant applicants. No one should be in debt for the rest of their lives in order to earn a college degree. Although I don’t have the authority to make college tuition free, by writing my book, I hope to help students graduate from college debt free.

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lower Stress, Higher Grades = More Scholarship $, Pt. 3

Stress is really tough on learning and memory. If students are able to reduce stress, they may end up with higher grades and more scholarship money for college. There are three simple things which students can do to reduce stress in their lives.

The third activity which helps is laughter. We’ve all heard proverbs and sayings about the benefits of laughing. They’re all true. It is the best medicine, and it does soothe the savage beast. Best of all, it not only reduces stress, it’s fun.

There are several places to find laughter. My favorite author is Janet Evanovich. I love her books, but I can’t read them in public. I laugh out loud and people look at me funny. My favorite comedian is Robin Williams (miss him desperately). An example of his comic genius is when he appeared on Inside the Actor’s Studio.

I also used Whose Line is it Anyway as an anecdote to work related stress. I recorded all of their episodes and watched them whenever I experienced a tough day. On the worst days, I watched three in a row, laughed out loud and relieved my stress.

A student introduced me to RĂ©mi Gaillard’s YouTube videos. He's a comic genius of a different sort. Watch “The Spider” with a friend and be prepared to laugh so hard your sides hurt.

These are mine. Find yours. Use them to relieve stress, improve grades and receive more free cash for college.

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Photo Credit: Google Images

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Stop. Don’t Be a Bag Lady

I often see ads for large tote bags. Some of them are quite pretty and well made. Earlier this school year, I even saw an article entitled, “Best Totes for Teachers”. What they ignore, however, is the damage that can be done by repeatedly carrying heavy bags. They are often full of papers to grade, and other necessary “stuff”. The bags may not seem heavy or create a problem the first year or two of schlepping them from classroom to home and back. Over time, however, real damage can be done.

There are smarter products on the market. Rolling carts, crates or even small rolling suitcases provide the same function without the effort or danger of injury. Their prices vary, just like with the totes. The totes I saw in an article ran from $35 to $119.99. The carts I saw online cost between $22 and $76.99. In either case, I’m sure you get what you pay for. A durable bag may last years, but could cause physical problems in the future. A durable cart will also work for years, but will protect the user from muscle, tendon or bone issues later in life.

It took me years of pain to learn this lesson. Even so, I didn’t learn it by myself. I was scolded by a doctor who sternly ordered, “Don’t carry anything!” Okay, doc. I used a pull cart from Staples the last ten years of my teaching career. I should have bought one years earlier. 

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Photo Credit: Google Images

Monday, March 6, 2017

Pre-Spring Break Classroom Management Activity

The day before a holiday, Thanksgiving, Christmas Break, Easter Break, even a pseudo-holiday like Halloween, is usually just this side of insane. Students don’t want to work. There’s candy everywhere. Gifts are being given. Focus is lost. Just keeping the lid on seems overwhelming. Unless you have an educationally sound, kid-approved lesson that keeps them interested, occupied and engaged. Decades ago I created such a lesson. Kids loved it. I loved it. It‘s easy, academic and fun! The bonus of this lesson, it helped with student retention in foreign language classes.

Here are the steps to follow:
1. Completely erase the entire white board. You will want the space.

2. Number the entire board from 1 to 35. Place holiday appropriate symbols, like pumpkins or bunnies, around each number.

3. Put a large assortment of dry erase pens at the front of the room. The more color variety the better.

4. After school, the day before a holiday, have each student in your most advanced class go to the board and draw a culturally appropriate picture next to a number. If your class is smaller than 35, they will need to draw more than one. Be sure to explain to the class the night before they need to come up with three or four ideas for their drawings. Most students are eager, although the shy need some encouragement. After this has become a tradition in your classes, you will overhear students commenting they look forward to being in the class that gets to draw the pictures. Never let an underclassman participate in putting the pictures on the board.

5. Check each picture as they finish drawing. A few may need a little help so their drawings are clear, and some can be too obscure. You may need to edit, as students can be a bit gross at time. One Thanksgiving students drew a very vivid picture of a turkey being beheaded. I erased that one. Remember, all day students are going to see these pictures. You want to understand them, so you can give hints if necessary. My favorite was The Twilight Zone Marathon. It became a tradition in my program which was passed down each year from class to class.

6. Before the first class arrives the next morning, place a stack of German (French, Spanish, Chinese)/English dictionaries on the first desk of each row. I always had enough dictionaries that students could work in groups of two. Three does not work. Working alone is tough.

7. Students should look up what they see on the board, and write the German (French, etc.) on their own papers. Don’t let them put two student names on one paper. This never works. Trust me on this.

8. They must write the definite article and the noun. If there is an adjective, like in a drawing of black cat, they must include the adjective, with the correct ending. This allows you to preview grammar not yet taught. Students are very receptive to this, and ask for help. It’s a contest. They want to win.

 9. Buy a small bag of individually wrapped candy and give a piece to each member of the first team finished. Be sure to check the work. Sometimes they make errors, of course. Don’t be too picky. Perfection is not the goal.

 10. After the first group finishes, and as each group finishes, they will help their classmates. You’ll find they don’t give them the answers, but give them hints instead, especially in grammar.  

11. Collect work as it’s finished and the rest at the end of the period. Grading is subjective. First year classes typically have a few students who finish by the end of the class period. Most, however, finish about half of the pictures. Second year will complete more. The majority complete about two-thirds of the pictures. Most third year students finish them all, as do AP/IB/fourth year students.

12. There are several goals in this lesson. Students learn the correct way to use the dictionary. They learn the symbols and abbreviations. It removes the mind-numbing boredom a dictionary lesson will create, and replaces it with fun. Students learn vocabulary that’s both meaningful, and is usually more advanced than where they are in the curriculum. This they do without complaint. You are able to foreshadow grammar, so when it arrives later in the school year, you’re able to point back to what they discovered at Halloween or Thanksgiving. 

Finally, it keeps students focused, doing an academic lesson without arguing at a time where students are going nuts in other classes. I had four decades of happy “day before’s” while colleagues were losing their minds.

If you don’t teach a foreign language class, adapt this lesson to your curriculum. Remember to keep it fun and entertaining, but academic. 

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

The Truth about Perseverance

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Lower Stress, Higher Grades = More Scholarship $, Pt. 2

Stress trashes learning and memory. If stress is reduced, students may end up with higher grades and more scholarship money for college. There are three simple things which students can do to reduce the stress in their lives.

This is the second tip. Students can exercise at least thirty minutes every day. According to experts, the easiest and best way to exercise is to walk. It’s silly that we have to be told to walk. It’s a natural thing to do, but with all the modern conveniences we enjoy, walking isn’t as necessary as it used to be.

In order to reduce stress and improve grades (and increase the possibility of more free cash for college), students should build walking into their daily routines. When I was teaching, I still found time (scratch that…I made time) to walk. I decided to start my commute early and walk the halls for ten minutes every morning before class started.

Students can accomplish the same thing by walking to school. If this isn’t feasible, they can be dropped off ten minutes away from campus, and walk the remainder of the route. During my lunch break, I walked the halls another ten minutes. Students can get exercise by taking a P.E. class instead (or they too could walk during the lunch break).

After school, students can walk the entire route home, be dropped off ten minutes away from home, or take a ten minute walk before or after dinner. Adding this to walking before and during school hours, this will add up to walking thirty minutes each day.

If students are not enrolled in P.E., or do not participate in sports or dance, they can pick up an inexpensive pair of free weights or ankle weights and work out for twenty minutes or so three times each week. Weight training in addition to cardio (walking) is great for stress reduction and health.

Physical activity is a simple way for students to reduce stress, increase their GPA and increase the chance of earning more free cash for college.

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Photo Credit: Elizabeth Wallace