Let's get real - being in charge of students in a classroom day in and day out can be stressful at times, tiring, wear your patience thin, make you second guess your career choice, and ... wait ... where was I going with this? Oh, yeah - building relationships with students. If you're like me, you got into teaching because you wanted to help kids and give them a good experience in school with the time you have with them.
Whether you're just starting out as a teacher or you're a veteran teacher, the relationships you build with students are what you're going to remember most about the day, the year, or your career. So this blog post is going to provide you with 5 different ways that are simple, free, and can make managing your classroom much, much easier for you.
1. GREET THEM AT THE DOOR
Think about how much money Wal-Mart spends each year paying the greeters they have at the front of their stores so the first interaction customers have inside their business is one that is positive.
You can give your students that same feeling of a positive interaction by greeting them outside of your classroom as they are entering. A simple, "Good morning, Sam." and a smile can go a long way with that student. Especially if Sam has been having a rough go of things lately. You might have the "Sam" who doesn't respond or even acknowledge your greeting, but you keep making positive deposits into Sam's account knowing that you're welcoming that student into your room.
Also, you may be having a rough day, but you might be that positive adult role model in one student's life who looks forward to seeing you and getting that welcome every day.
This one is just kind of a silly one I'll do when I know a student is going through a bit of a tough time whether that be with friends, school, or family.
During work time I might call them up to my desk and say something like, "Hey, I know things haven't been going all that great for you lately and we all need a little pick-me-up during our days. So, if you're ever feeling down you can just read this, ok?" That's when I hand them a folded notecard that only says, "THIS" on the inside.
When they open it they'll look at me confused and say, "THIS?" I'll say, "Yes, just read "THIS" if you need a boost. Don't dismiss "THIS" because "THIS" has done a lot of good for a lot of people so make sure you keep "THIS." You'll be guaranteed at least a smile, and then you know you just made a little connection with a student in a fun way.
It's super cheesy, I know, but give it a try. It works.
4. INVITE THEM TO SHOOT BASKETS IN THE GYM DURING YOUR PREP OR LUNCH
Last year one of my students kept telling me how good he was at basketball and that I was way too old to keep up with him. So finally one day I said, "Alright, tomorrow. Lunch. You and I. Gym C." He got the biggest smile on his face and the next day we played.
We shot around for a while, I found out about his family, what he likes to do outside of school, and then we played one-on-one. My lungs felt like they were on fire after about five minutes, but it was a great connecting moment and one that I don't think either of us will forget.
Not every student likes basketball, so find out the thing that is their interest and invite them to show that off in a way. For example, if you have a student telling you they have a karate test this coming weekend, ask them to show you a move they'll be tested on that was the most challenging for them to learn. Just little things like that will show them that you care about their interests as well as their education in school.
5. Tic-Tac-Toe on Test Day
This has been my go-to on test days for two decades now. I'll walk around the room while students are completing their exams, and if I can tell that a student is a little stressed out, I'll draw a Tic-Tac-Toe board on their test, draw an "X" in a box and then motion to them that it is their turn. When they realize what is happening, a smile never fails to emerge. Sometimes I'll screw up on purpose (without it being obvious) so they can get the win, which might just be the boost they need.
These are just some things that have worked for me over 20 years teaching middle school students. I guarantee I'll use all five of these this year as well. The main point is to do things that mesh with your style and personality that will show your students that they matter to you. There's that old saying in education that the student who is the hardest to love is the student who needs it the most. Maybe one of these five ideas will work with that student. Even it is just for the moment.
Best of luck this school year!
Matt @ Surviving Social Studies
One of my favorite things about being a teacher is when students are engaged, talking, creating, and enjoying the moments of the day. I've always been a doodler and enjoyed making little drawings or sketches in my notebooks when I was in school (usually when I probably should have been listening). This Revolutionary War caricature activity is one where even my most reluctant students would take part in. Why? Because you don't have to be a skilled artist because all you have to do is trace the body, eyes, ears, mouth, nose, hat, etc... I also think they participate because it's fun to see the caricature start to appear!
Sometimes I'll start the first day of school having students create a caricature that will be displayed in the hallway. That way at each student I teach will have something that is displayed, which makes it so they start out the year with something they've created being part of the school they go to. Might seem silly, but when there's 150 caricatures up on the wall students want to show their friends which one they made. You'll be guaranteed to hear students giving compliments to one another, which is the trick to get them talking to one another - especially to those who they normally don't interact with.
Watch the video below to see how easy it is to make one:
I've also made caricature packets to make Civil War Caricatures and one that honors the branches of the United States military. I've used the latter as an option for students when Veterans Day or Memorial Day was approaching. Some of my students have asked if they could make one for a family member who is currently serving.
I've never had another bulletin board that allowed me to make connections with students when they're walking into class more than this one. This is the first thing students see on the very first day of school and it never fails that I'll have a number of students stop on their way in and say something like, "Wait...what's this for?" (pointing to the large ruler taped on the wall). They'll measure themselves and then stop and look at who is on the board that is closest to their height. Before I even introduce myself to them or their class I'll have a little conversations about if they ever heard of any of the people on the board, how tall they would like to be when they're done growing, or if they could imagine being as tall as Robert Pershing Wadlow who was 8' 11"! Just like that I've connected with 10 or so students before they've even set foot in my classroom.
This fun bulletin board has been my go-to bulletin board for students on the first day of school for quite a few years. There are even blank cards that are editable so you could put your own picture and height on one, the picture and height of your principal, fellow teachers, or anyone else that you think your students would enjoy seeing.
Students love seeing how tall Robert Wadlow Pershing was when they stand at the ruler and look up!
The ruler goes up to 9' and is accurate, but you'll have to do some measuring on your own as you put it up to make sure you're on the money.
Here's how I put this history bulletin board together.
You can find this bulletin board in my Teachers Pay Teachers store by clicking HERE
There isn't too much scarier as a new teacher than the first time you have to make a phone call home regarding one of your students. Even as a veteran teacher you still never know what type of parent you are going to get on the other end of the line. Whether you're calling about grades, behavior, an incident that happened, or just calling to inform them on what you've been seeing in class - you're entering an unknown,, and that's why I put together this free resource on tips for calling parents for you to use.
The main thing to remember as the phone is ringing on the other end is that one specific child you're calling about is the best child that parent has to offer you.
If this is the first parent phone call of your career don't be afraid to ask a veteran teacher that you trust if they would do a mock phone call with you. They'll be able to give you feedback and pointers on what to say or how to say what it is you are trying to get across. You could even ask them to sit in the room with you when you make the call.
Also remember, parents are busy, and this might not be the best time for them to have this conversation. When the parent picks up, be clear and confident. For example:
"Hello. Am I speaking with Nancy Johnson?"
"Yes, who is calling?"
"Hi Ms. Johnson, My name is Jason Smith, and I am Madysen's Reading teacher here at Lincoln Middle School. Is this a good time for us to have a conversation about Madysen's reading scores? It would just be 5-10 minutes of your time."
"I'm actually at work right now, but I'm done at 4:00."
[This is where things can get tricky. You might still be teaching a class at 4:00. You might be coaching at 4:00. So then what? This all depends on you at this point. If 4:00 doesn't work for you for a variety of reasons (teaching schedule, coaching, picking up your own kids from school, etc.) then be honest, but offer options.]
"I unfortunately am not available at 4:00, but it is important to me that you and I are able to have this conversation because we both want Madysen to do well so here are some times that would work on my end...
[If you feel comfortable giving out your home number or cell phone number you could do so and make contact during the evening]
The main point is that you're showing the parent that you care about their child and are trying to keep them informed and involved in their child's academic life. Think about how you are phrasing your words. Some simple phrases can keep a phone call home less threatening for the parent receiving the call. Instead of "talk to you about..." try "have a conversation with you about..."
I've put together a set of 20 tips that you can download free in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Just click the image below (and don't forget to subscribe to my mailing list for free resources and updates! Also be sure to check out the great information and resources available on www.classtag.com
A few years ago I could just sense the restlessness in the room as our year was coming to a close. We had 8 actual days of school left and two of those days were going to be taken up with final exams.
We needed a little friendly competition while I tricked them into reviewing important concepts we covered throughout the year. Then this idea for an American history end of the year activity came to me; The American History Tournament of Champions was born!!
This has been a hit in my classes because it is something that every student is able to do. There is public speaking involved, organization, argumentative writing, persuasion, teamwork, and logic involved. Everything you would want in an American history end of the year activity that doesn't involve you just lecturing on those last days.
Here's how it works. My 5 classes usually consist of 30 students. I have 100 different images and terms taped up in the hallway for my classes to look through based on topics/people/events we've covered. Before we go out to look, I tell the students that they have the option to present on their own, or they work with up to one other person.
I then release students to the hallways for them to look through all of the topics and tell them they should choose 5-10 that they think had the greatest impact on American history. Not that they were necessarily a good thing (example: slavery), but that the impact cannot be ignored. I tell them 5-10 because they will be choosing their topic on a lottery system.
Once all students are back in the room I have students come up to my desk and select a folded up piece of paper in a hat. Each piece of paper has a number between 1-15. Once everyone has their number, I start with number 1 and ask, "What is the topic you will be fighting for to be the champion?" Then I move my way down the line.
I will put the topics on the screen in the tournament bracket in a way that seems like there could be a good argument made either way. Example: George Washington vs. Thomas Jefferson, Cotton vs. Tobacco, The Civil War vs the American Revolution, etc.
Once students see how the bracket board has been laid out, they now not only know who they are competing against, but who the two possibilities are that they would be competing against if they advance to the next round. They end up using their time to divide and conquer, and here's the miracle that came out of this - every student in the room was excited, engaged, and talking about history! I sat back in awe that I was able to make this happen.
How I ran this in my classroom was I set the topics up in a way that would combine students who were stronger speakers with stronger topics with each other. Once both sides shared their informative/persuasive speech, I had students write the name of the topic that they felt had the strongest defense. I know its hard in middle school, but I really emphasized maturity and that they weren't voting for a person, but for the information given.
I set up my tournament so a coin toss determines who speaks first. One side speaks for up to 90 seconds, then the other side speaks for 90 seconds. Then the other side can speak for 60 seconds, and the other side gets to speak for 60 seconds. Then the class applauds for both, I take the ballots, and count up the votes.
At the end of the hour I let the class know who will be moving on in the next round and who they will be competing against. The thoughts these kids have, the discipline they exhibit, and the fun we have talking about history makes this American history end of the year activity a sure-fire way for those kids to come back in the future and see if their topic won again!
You can find this in my Teachers Pay Teachers store as well as one for:
Famous Scientists in History
Have a great end to your year!
Matt @ Surviving Social Studies
So, my first year as a public school teacher I made $26k and change. Seeing my first paycheck as a working professional back then I though I had seriously hit the jackpot! Something you should know is that I didn't grow up in a house with a lot of money. I was a trailer park kid and lived in only one house for a few years that wasn't a rental.
Keep in mind, my parents were good parents, and took care of my sister, and I. However, my Dad's parents suffered very serious health issues early on in the 50's and my Dad's money went to help them the best they could. There were never conversations about retirement, investing, planning for the expenses of college - nothing like that. The one phrase I kept hearing my whole life growing up was, "Matthew, you need to learn a trade skill." That meaning, become a plumber, and electrician, a carpenter - something with benefits and a union. I knew what none of that meant, but it always felt like it was deterring me from going to college. That may be one of the main reasons I went. Typical teenager mentality, right?
Once I made it through college I had $18,000 of student loan debt, got my first job making a teacher salary of $26,000+, and had no idea what to do with my money from my first paycheck. I thought, I should just pay off my student loan, but then realizing I wasn't really getting $26,000+ in pay. There were taxes taken out, and I also had rent, gas, insurance, car repairs, an electric bill, a phone bill, and that pesky nuisance...food. All of this was coming out of that paycheck I thought was a winning lottery ticket.
There was a lot of growing pains over those first few years financially. I needed a plan, and the internet wasn't quite what it is now so I had to ask questions to actual people and figure out a plan. That's when everything started to click for me. I knew that this was just math, that there were variables that could change, and all I needed was a financial road map to follow.
So I made one, and now it is available for you to use!
There is a paper version for those of you who like to calculate your own numbers, and there is also a version available via Google Drive that does the calculations for you.
I've used this with dozens of student teachers over the years and this resource will ALWAYS be free in my TpT store so the newer generation of teachers will always have a resource to use to get them on a path of financial success.
There are also links for a student loan calculator, a retirement calculator, and a first-year teacher salary average by the NEA. Everything they need to get a better grasp on their finances early on in their careers.
From the simplest things like a morning coffee at Starbucks to how much they could have for retirement. It's all included!
I'd like to thank my friends at www.classtag.com for helping me promote this resource for the betterment of our newer teachers coming into the field. This resource also works great if you're not a newer teacher, a teacher at all, or are simply someone who has ever budgeted their money.
A history class has sooooo much vocabulary. A way that I show my students a visual of the vocabulary that is part of the unit we are studying is with word walls.
One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received with my word walls was from an ELL teacher who told me how much my word wall bulletin board helped her ELL students.
Each of my history vocabulary word walls consist of 100 vocabulary terms with definitions and an accompanying image to represent the term.
User-friendly printing instructions are included so you can just print the terms you want.
I’ve used my word walls as bulletin boards, handouts to tell part of a story, and as mini-flipbooks on key rings for our ELL teacher as a handy resource for our students.
I’ve got word walls in bundles (big money saver for you), and available for purchase individually.
My word walls that are currently available are:
Every year, I ask my 8th grade students, "What is the Electoral College?" By this point of their lives they've heard something about it, but when I ask them if anyone can explain it, rarely does an answer emerge. I'll hear things like, "I know there is an electoral college map," or, "I know there are electoral votes," which is good knowing that they've got some background knowledge floating around.
This Electoral College activity for middle school Social Studies is a hit! Even my most reluctant learners who rarely want to participate in anything take part in the activity. In fact, in 20 years of teaching, I’ve never had a student NOT participate! Click HERE to go directly to this resource in my TpT store.
I have recently updated this Electoral College activity to include a 46-slide PowerPoint that details the Electoral College.
Included in the PPT is information regarding what would happen if there were a tie, how Congress could get involved, fun facts about the Electoral College, and a look at the results of the 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016 elections.
There is also a fully-editable student notes sheet that goes along with the PPT available in color or black and white as seen below.
The absolute best part of all of this is the activity that follows! Students are paired up to compete for the presidency using dice, an Electoral College map, colored pencils, and good old-fashioned luck to win the Popular Votes to get the Electoral Votes. My favorite part of this Electoral College activity is that my middle school students are having fun and learning at the same time!
This PowerPoint, notes, and Electoral College activity take about 90 minutes if you want your students to go through every state and then add up their results to see if one candidate won the Popular Vote, but lost the Electoral Vote. Or, you can just have them call the election once one candidate reaches 270 Electoral Votes.
I’ve never experienced a tie yet, but that would be so much fun to have the class become Congress!!
You can have a lot of fun with this as the teacher during the activity by announcing when it is time to roll for California, Texas, Florida, or any other states with larger amounts of Electoral Votes.
Or, as an example, a few minutes after New York has been rolled for, you can announce, “Candidates, we just got word that there are 10 faithless electors from New York who have announced they will be casting their votes for the candidate who just lost New York’s Popular Vote. You’ll need to make an adjustment to your tally sheet.”
The cheers of delight and moans of disappointment will fill your classroom!!
I wrap up the Electoral College activity by taking photos of the victors holding the Presidential Seal (included in the resource), and the defeated posing with disappointment to make a bulletin board outside of my classroom.
Then, students write a reflection based on whether or not the Electoral College is a system we should still be using to elect a Commander in Chief (see below).
This has been one of my all-time favorite activities to do with my middle school students so I hope you experience the same excitement in your classroom, too.
Matt @ Surviving Social Studies
When Alex from ClassTag contacted me back in December asking if I wanted to be featured on their blog - I had two questions:
1 - What is ClassTag?
2 - What’s the catch?
I found out that ClassTag is a free app that allows teachers to communicate directly with parents. By being featured on their blog, thousands of teachers and/or parents can look at the cover page of your resource and investigate further by clicking the link to your TpT store.
Imagine now that they purchase your resource and use it in their classroom. They might then mention it on their Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter accounts. They’ll also share information via ClassTag where other parents and teachers view your work causing hundreds of new sets of eyes looking at your TpT store.
All of a sudden the chances of a snowball effect for your business go up exponentially!
“Ok, that sounds great. So what’s the catch?”
My innate ability to be suspicious first was on full-alert, and my first thought was, “...and for you to be featured it’ll only cost $49.99.” Right?
It it didn’t cost a penny. Nothing is every really free though, is it? Here’s what this cost me. ClassTag asked if I could help them for helping me by doing two of four things:
Post twice a month on social media with @ClassTag in my post.
Record a video (could be a screen capture) reviewing ClassTag or sharing ClassTag tips and share with your followers on social media.
Mention ClassTag in a blog article to help make teachers aware of ClassTag
Recruit fellow teachers to join ClassTag and offer support to their community of teachers.
I didn’t think that was too much to ask. The two options I chose were to write this blog and mention ClassTag. I’m also going to contact some of my fellow TpT sellers to join ClassTag so they might be able to be featured as well.
Two quarters into my first year of teaching I experienced a parent phone call that I'm thankful only happened to me once. I'm still baffled by it to this day.
Let me set the stage for you. I was born and raised in northern Wisconsin and spent my adolescent years in a town of just over 2,000 people. The kind of town where it was a HUGE deal when the second set of traffic lights went in. No joke. The kind of town where if you met an old-timer from town for the first time he might say, "Oh, you're Bill's kid, eh? I traded your dad's cousin a boat motor to rebuild my deck 20 years ago!"
Yes, it was that kind of small town. Everyone kind of knew everyone. One grocery store, one hometown pharmacy, 19 bars, and not a single name-brand store to be found. The two main dinner-type of restaurants were restaurant/bars. We saw our teachers enjoying a fish fry and a Brandy Old Fashioned on Friday nights, and that's just the way it was, and that's the way I was used to things being.
The city I now live in has just about 70,000 residents, which is roughly 35 times the size of the town I grew up in. It's the same city where I went to college. The school I work at is the same school where I completed my student-teaching and have remained my entire career.
Let's get to the phone call. I was coaching 8th grade boys basketball with my old cooperating teacher, Jim, and practice ran from 4:30 - 6:00 each evening except on Wednesdays. One Tuesday after practice, Jim said to me, "Hey Matt, you want to run down to The Horseshoe for a burger? The Horshoe is a restaurant/bar like I grew up with. While we were there, a guy in his mid-40s approached Jim and said he hated to interrupt, but that the owner told him that Jim was the guy in charge of the volleyball league forming in the spring, which he was. The guy said, "I'm so sorry to bother you guys eating your dinner." Jim said, "No problem. Here's my number to call when you get a team together. By the way, my name is Jim, and this is Matt, he teaches 7th grade at the same school with me around the corner." The guy said, "Oh, is that right? You might have my son, Andy _______ in class because he's a 7th grader." I said, "I sure do. Great kid you've got there!" And that was pretty much it. Harmless, pleasant encounter with one of the first parents I had met outside of the school.
The next day as I was greeting students walking into class, I said to Andy (who was a pretty shy kid), "Hey Andy! I met your Dad yesterday after practice. What a nice guy!" Andy said, "Where'd you meet him?" I said, "Mr. M and I went to The Horseshoe after practice to grab dinner and your Dad came up and talked to us for a bit." Andy just half-smiled awkwardly and that was it. I thought, "Well, at least I sort of connected with Andy today." The rest of Wednesday went off without a hitch.
Then Thursday morning arrived. It was two minutes before the first class of the day was about to start. I was greeting students outside my classroom as always, and the kids inside were yelling for me that my classroom phone was ringing. I picked up the phone and said, "Good morning, this is Mr. K." The voice on the other end said, "Oh, yes...um...Hi, Mr. K. This is Andy's dad - we met the other night at The Horseshoe." I said, "Oh yeah, Hi! What can I help you with?" He said, trying to find the right words, "Yeah, well, you see...oh, man, this is awkward. I wasn't supposed to be at The Horseshoe on Tuesday. I feel bad asking you this, but could you please lie to Andy and tell him somehow that you were mistaken and didn't see me? I hate to ask you this, but I really need to." Idon't think I ever swallowed that hard in my life. I said, "Uh...ok. I gotta go because class is starting." He thanked me, and that was the last I ever heard from him again.
A few classes later when I was greeting Andy's class entering the room, I all of a sudden saw Andy. I didn't know what to say, but here's how it went.
"Hey, Andy. You know, it's got to be pretty exciting for you knowing you're probably going to be REALLY tall someday."
"Huh? Why would I be tall someday?"
"Well the other night when I met your Dad, geez, that's guy's got to be 6'9, right?"
Andy looked totally confused.
"My Dad's like 5'9."
[Yeah, I knew that].
"Wait, your dad isn't 6'9?? This guy had kind of a flat-top buzz cut with one of those cool handlebar mustaches. That's not your dad??"
Andy kind of chuckled.
"No. Not at all."
"Oh, man. I'm sorry...I could've sworn he said his son was Andy. It was kind of loud in there. My bad."
I hated everything about that exchange.
I don't know why Andy's dad wasn't supposed to be there, and I don't really care to know. I never saw or heard from him again.
That was a long time ago, but from that day on, if I ever saw parents in public I never said a thing to their child unless their child brought it up first, and even then, I would tread lightly.
Everybody doesn't know everybody here like we did in my hometown, and times like this one would have been better kept that way.
Matt @ Surviving Social Studies