Are You a Hot Mess Teacher?

Let’s be honest, at some point/s in the year we are all a hot mess. Usually it’s around report card time… or, right before a break.

However, there are also those teachers that are hot messes all year long… either you know who I am talking about, or you’re the hot mess.

hot mess teacher learning wholeheartedly.jpg

All of these examples are based on my life… (not currently…it’s summer… but at some point, all of these things have been true for me).

I just want to go on the record and say… if you are not, or never was, a hot mess teacher — you’re a unicorn!!

As a fourth year teacher, I’ve finally eliminated a couple of these phenomenon from my teacher life (not permanently, every once in a while they sneak up on me…but I’m doing better).

I’ve gotten into a routine with writing objectives in my planner… but my biggest accomplishment this past year, was to minimize (I won’t say eliminate) paperwork and keep on top of grading.

Grading Expiration Dates

If you haven’t graded something within 2 days of the students working on it, unless it’s a summative assessment – toss it. The feedback a grade will provide is useless after 2 days… students can no longer make the necessary adjustments to their learning/thinking.

Even better – don’t assign meaningless work that you don’t have time to grade. Assign performance tasks or use technology to formatively assess students – cutting back on manual grading.

Weekly Copies

Develop a system for organizing copies that requires cleaning out every week.

I have a drawer in my filing cabinet that has 5 sections (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…) and each section has a divider for every subject. I also have dividers for ‘to copy’ for master copies.

I have to clear out the folders every week – otherwise I have nowhere to put new copies for the week.

Master Copies

Have binders, folders, a filing cabinet…something – where you can put resources that you want to keep for next year.

I have another drawer in my filing cabinet for math and reading standards, there are also dividers for writing, science, and social studies. I put master copies of new resources in these folders – so as I am given a resource or as I find one… I have somewhere to put it. If it’s too complicated to put these masters away immediately – make a folder/divider for “to file”… and file masters away weekly.

That’s about it… it’s not rocket science, but it definitely took me some time to find a system that works for me. This may not be your system… but the key is to have a home for every type of paper that may be bestowed upon you, by students, parents, administrators, and coworkers. And…. throw things out!!! At the end of every day I make sure that all loose papers have been put away… it takes all of 2-3 minutes and saves my sanity! 

Were you a hot mess teacher last year? Are you currently a hot mess teacher? Or a recovering hot mess teacher like me? 

How do you keep organized with paperwork? Let us know in the comments – heaven knows we can use all the tips and advice we can get!! 

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One Thing You Can Do Today To Instill Independence In Your Students

There is one thing, as a fourth grade teacher, that frustrates me more than most things.

I’m sure I’m not the only one…please tell me I’m not the only one….

I try to be patient… I really do….

The one thing that frustrates me the most is students’ inability to read & then follow directions.

It’s not the challenge of actually reading/comprehending the directions… although I do know that sometimes that’s what the issue is… as well as language barriers…. but in general… when the directions are right there…. and they still ask those silly questions….  you know the ones…

Anyway… reading deficiencies and language barriers aside, here is something I implement in my classroom to help instill and reinforce both students’ direction reading and independence.

My Morning Routine:

  • Before students arrive I put on music, turn on the SMARTboard, open up my morning SMARTboard, and turn my lamps on…
  • Students walk in and I greet them (I greet every single student – sometimes I take grading with me to the door, but for the first few months I am always standing at the door ready to greet each student)
  • They unpack & check the SMARTboard (you could use an easel/whiteboard)
    • On the SMARTboard I put a welcome message, directions for everything they need to do during breakfast, and any important announcements for the day
    • I use student friendly vocabulary, for primary grades or ELL students, you could include pictures
    • I try not to include too many steps – to ensure the type is large enough for students to see & read
  • They follow the directions until announcements begin
  • I reinforce the behavior with class dojo points
  • If students ask me what to do – I refer them to the board… if a student is not following the directions, I remind them to check the board

I have an expectation that this routine is done in silence… of course I allow quiet greetings, but overall – students know that they are to come in calmly and get ready for the day. I’ve found that if I allow talking, it very quickly gets out of control and that calm environment is lost.

As I mentioned in my dismissal routine post, many of my students live in chaotic situations, neighborhoods, or homes – I want them to know that our classroom is a calm and orderly place where they know what to expect (most of the time…).

After the first couple of months, it is like a well oiled machine. I leave the SMARTboard for substitutes to use too and have received comments about how smoothly the morning routine has gone, because the students know exactly what to do. I’ve also noticed that students who struggle with focusing and organization, and anxious students really benefit and appreciate the list.

Here is an example of what I might have posted on my SMARTboard:

Morning routine learning wholeheartedly

If you teach primary grades, you could use pictures, just be sure to explicitly teach what each picture represents and what students should do when they see that picture.

It would be pretty easy to print off your morning list for students who would benefit from a physical check list on their desks too.

We are a Title I school – so we have breakfast available to all students in the classroom… so we have 20 minutes. If you get your day started as soon as all students are seated… you could still use something similar if you have seat work waiting for them, a warm up, or even if students come in and sit to get ready for a morning meeting. I’m sure most of us have at least 5 – 10 minutes where we are waiting for all our students to arrive and be ready to begin the day.

Bonus: Sometimes I sneak in something completely random, to see which students are actually reading every single step. Those students receive some sort of reward.

What do you do to ensure the morning starts off calmly? 

Have you noticed that your students also struggle with following written (or verbal) directions? How do you strengthen this skill throughout the day?

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Avoiding the chaos of dismissal time

The bell rings for dismissal.

It becomes a free for all – students rushing to pack up – the teacher yelling last minute reminders, trying to get a handle on the chaos – the first bus is called – Carlos runs out without his permission slip…

Finally the room is silent and void of students. As the teacher catches her breath amidst the war zone (well, it might as well be). The next ten minutes are spent stacking forgotten chairs, throwing away questionable tissues, and wrangling AWOL pencils.

What if I told you that this is not the only way. There is another way, and it’s pretty simple to implement. It simply requires consistency and clear expectations.

After my first year teaching, I was FED UP with dismissal and ending my day frazzled and relieved to have my students gone. That’s not the teacher I wanted to be, and it’s not the type of environment I wanted for my students. Also, our students often live in chaotic homes – I wanted dismissal to be one last moment of calm for them, before they had to go home.

dismissal routine learning wholeheartedly.jpg



My students last year could not handle going to the carpet… here is my variation on the above mentioned routine… it may also be a better option for you?

dismissal routine2 learning wholeheartedly.jpg

3 Essential Things to Remember

  • This process takes some time at first – so make sure to begin dismissal early for the first few weeks
  • Be consistent – make sure students understand your expectations – if a student talks – send them back…
  • They should become more efficient every day — you could start timing them and see if they can beat their “best time”
  • The reason why dismissal is so crazy is because we feel like we have a time limit and if the students don’t leave as they’re called…off with her headThat being said – DO NOT PANIC!! Send students back to their seats if they talk… what’s the worst thing that can happen? You have to call to have a bus held for a student? Do it! Students will know if you feel powerless during dismissal and they’ll take advantage of it. Just remember to leave enough time for this process as students are learning who is boss…I mean, as they are learning the new routine. But in all seriousness, dismissal habits can be difficult to break, but it’s possible and oh so worth it! 
  • If the process is going a little slow… you can always have 2 students packing up at a time… maybe a boy and a girl.
  • The last step should be a goodbye ritual between you and your students – I always offer my students a handshake, high five, or hug… this year I may throw in a fun “secret” handshake! The students know that they cannot walk out my door until they say goodbye to me. 


How do you handle dismissal in your classroom? I’m always looking for new ideas and as we all know, what may have worked this year, with this group of students, may not work with my next group of students! PLEASE share your ideas/procedure in the comments below!  


If you try one of these procedures, please let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear feedback! 🙂 

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How to Keep Your Custodians Happy

I don’t know about your custodians, but we have the best custodians around. We are in a 60 year old building (give or take a couple years)…so needless to say, there are many challenges that our custodians have to tackle on a daily basis.

Considering that the custodians have to sweep and clean every classroom floor – the least we can do is make sure that the floor is picked up (that is the strangest American saying in my opinion) and chairs are stacked – so that sweeping is as simple as sweeping should be.

That being said…

Teachers have SO much on their plates too – the least important of which is picking up the floor (I really can’t get the image of someone literally trying to pick up a floor out of my head).

Enter….. Mystery Trash.

Mystery Trash game

Sometimes I have to play a second round, because the mystery item is not cleaned up and time ran out. Sometimes we keep going until the room is spotless. There are no steadfast rules – I’ve known teachers who don’t even pick a piece of trash until the room is almost clean… I can’t live on the edge like that. Although, sometimes I miss my item being cleaned up and my students get an opportunity to demonstrate trustworthiness.

I generally play this game during dismissal, but you could do a 20 second round of Mystery Trash as a transition between lessons, before lunch, or after a particularly messy activity. The possibilities are endless.

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing students put ANYTHING and EVERYTHING away…they straighten… they tidy…. it’s AAHHHMAAAZING!!

Have you ever played Mystery Trash or a version of it? 

If so, does it work for you? If not, do you have a different way to get students to help clean up?

Disclaimer: I’d love to say that we don’t have to play this game… that my students take such pride and ownership in our classroom that the extrinsic reward is never necessary… but let’s be real…. that’s still a work in progress, and if I ever get that buy in to the same degree as “Mystery Trash” … I’ll be sure to share how I did it. If you’ve done it…please feel free to share!!! 

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Are you at risk of becoming a teacher burn out statistic?

This article says that about half a million teachers move or leave the profession every year. If you work at a high poverty school you’re 50% more likely to decide to leave the school, or teaching.

Teaching is an extremely stressful job. There are many factors that can make it even more stressful. 

  • Financial instability (we all know teachers don’t go into the profession expecting to make a lot of money, however, the reality can sometimes be a hard pill to swallow).
  • School district expectations (there are always new initiatives coming down the pipeline, putting pressure on schools – especially low performing or high poverty schools).
  • Unsupportive administration (when a teacher does not feel supported by his/her principal – they will be miserable, and sometimes they are even bullied by administration, which can make their job almost unbearable).
  • Negative coworkers (put a group of overly stressed out, tired, sometimes bitter teachers together – and you’re asking for a negative atomic bomb – negativity is like a cloud of toxic gas…it spreads and makes more and more people negative).
  • Difficult parents (parents who second guess your decisions constantly can cause a lot of stress for a teacher)

But – for each of these factors, there are easy solutions to help keep your spirits up, stoke your passion, and keep your love of teaching at the forefront of your mind! Especially right now, when you’ve already been stressed out for almost 3 marking periods… this last stretch is always the hardest. 

8 Things You Can Do To Avoid Being A Statistic

1.Find a mantra that reminds you to go into each day with a positive attitude – determined to make it special, no matter what! Here is my personal mantra…

Birthday Quote for instagram

You know how you refuse to let anything small ruin your birthday – you’re determined it’s going to be a good day. (At least, that’s what I do on my birthday, I’m really hoping I’m not the only one!) Why not approach everyday with that same determination to be happy?

If you subscribe to my newsletter – you should have received a mobile background image of this mantra. I hope it brings you the same focus & joy it’s started to bring me. If you haven’t signed up yet – to make sure you don’t miss any other exclusive freebies – sign up here.

2. Any chance you get – put on music that you LOVE and sing and dance! It can be in the car on your way to work, or when you get into your classroom in the morning, or even during transitions with your kids! You can’t be in a bad mood when you’re dancing, singing, and laughing! You may need to step out of your comfort zone a little for this one – but you won’t regret it. I know this is a favorite among some of my teacher friends… 🙂

3.You can’t control everything – so why stress about the things you have no control over? Your administrator wants you to complete one hundred papers, and report back on the math data, and don’t forget to find time to change your bulletin boards! Do your best to do what is required – you have to prioritize… you know your admin well enough to know what the nonnegotiable things are. Don’t let the things you cannot change or control stress you out.

4. Testing? Sure it’s important (kinda) but it’s not the be all and end all. You’re a great teacher- so you know that those standardized tests are not an accurate measure of how far your students have come this year. So, make them as fun as you can for your students – but take the pressure off of them, and yourself.

5.Stay away from negative teachers – avoid the teachers lounge. Make a commitment to yourself to not participate in any griping or venting. Delegate one close friend to be the person you can reach out to when you really just need to get some frustrations off your chest – but there is no need to share every bad moment with 10 other teachers – it’s only going to bring them down too.

6. Bring fun into your classroom – plan FUN lessons… it may take some extra effort on your part, but it’s not just for your kids (and we all know that students are more successful when they’re having fun and actively engaged in the lessons) but it’s also for you! Think about your favorite teaching moment…were you having fun? Were your kids having fun? It’s TOTALLY worth it! If you can’t control the lessons being taught (maybe your school uses a scripted program, or you’re a resource teacher) – bring holidays into the classroom. The Whimsical Teacher shared this idea on periscope, and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time – it can be as simple as a note on the board and one aspect of a lesson themed to the holiday, or the music you play during writing could relate to the holiday… anything to make each day unique and fun.

7. Find positive teachers who inspire you and help keep you focused on your passion for teaching! There is a whole community of amazingly talented and passionate teachers out there!! They can help give you ideas for fun lessons, and bringing the fun into your classroom. They can also help remind you each day of what’s important and why we do what we do. You can connect with teachers like this in Teach Happy Membership – it’s an awesome community of teachers dedicated to supporting one another. Sheila Jane is the founder of this community and her life mission is to help prevent teacher burnout — so it’s definitely a treasure trove of resources and happiness for teachers! If you don’t want to join membership – do yourself a favor and at least sign up for her newsletter!

8. The most important thing you can do to help prevent burn out, is to remember why you started teaching. Focus on the students – no matter what is happening in your building or district, you get to spend the whole day with kids who want nothing more than to feel loved and respected. Have fun with them – get to know them… close your door and focus on having a great day in your classroom.

All of that being said… if you have tried some of these things and you’re still truly unhappy… you may need to find a school that is a better fit for you, or if you’ve tried that and you still can’t beat the burnout … it might be time to soul search and determine if being a teacher is your true passion. It’s definitely not for everyone, and it takes a lot of courage to truly reflect on your career choice and decide it’s not for you. However, if that is a painful thought — before you give up on teaching altogether – try some related positions that may be less stressful for you… don’t give up entirely without exploring all of your options.

At the end of the day you have to do what is best for you. Don’t worry about what other people will think, or how your decisions reflect on you. Your happiness should be your primary concern – it affects you, your family, your students… #beyou and own it!

I’d love to hear from you. Have you found your zen in teaching yet? Did you use any of these strategies? Are you struggling and at risk of burning out? If you try any of these, I’d love your feedback!

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