Yearly Goals as a Teacher

Do you set yearly goals as a teacher? I know we all strive to be a bit better every day than we were the last, but if you’re not setting real tangible goals I hope that this blog post can encourage you to start!

I’ve been fortunate enough to be sticking with the same content for the past… MANY years, so for me goal setting is getting to be quite refined. Of course I’m always up for a new book on classroom management, and I’m more than willing to try a couple new teaching techniques when I learn them. I don’t really keep track of those small tweaks. Instead, for the past 2 years I’ve kept a list called “Things I’m Doing Different This Year.”

Let’s look back to last school year.

As you can see by the cheeky note left by my coworker, this list was displayed prominently at my desk for the entire year. Let me recap my efforts:

  • Student Jobs: FAIL. I didn’t know who to give them to at the start of the year as I didn’t know the kids very well. So immediately it showed that my choices weren’t great. Later in the year, when an errand needed to be run, I still just grabbed the closest kid.
    Possible refinement: Don’t choose students for their jobs until much later. I assigned them within the first week.
  • Vocabulary Quilt: Partial success. Through Teachers Pay Teachers I purchased several sets of fun vocabulary doodles which were conveniently square shaped. I started this two years ago, and saw the potential, so last year I made the kids cut out their square and we added it to a huge growing “quilt.” The biggest problem was that once I had about 130 pieces of small paper hanging in my room in a Middle Eastern climate, there was a never ending need for corners to be retaped.
    Possible refinement: student jobs?? (Lol)
  • Interactive notebooks: Success! For my first year of implantation, I think these went quite well! Although we didn’t use them every day, I stuck with it all year!
    Warning: Be REALLY aware of the mess this makes and how much glue you’ll need for the year (a lot).
  • Keep all summatives: Partial success. Ok I did keep them. But it was in a massive, terrifying pile on my desks. When parents came in, I still had absolutely no good way of referencing their students’ work. *sigh of disappointment*
    Possible refinement: STUDENT PORTFOLIOS! Read on. I’m planning to do this this year!
  • Hand signals: FAIL. I had a dream that I could train my students to signal to me when they needed to use the bathroom, and I even created cute signs to put up with what the signals were. In reality, though, I was consistent in enforcing it and “can I go to the bathroom” still ended up being a phrase that echoed through my dreams.
    Possible refinement: Consistency.
  • Detention Forms: Partial success. We assign and supervise lunch detentions within my team, so I created a reflection form that the students would be responsible for completing in their time. When the stack ran out, no one made any more copies.
    Possible refinement: This year we’re doing after school detentions as an entire department, and someone has edited my reflection form to be even more comprehensive. Hopefully we’ll see it through this time!
  • Weekly Grade 7 newsletter: Partial success. Similar to the others listed above, we abandoned this one as a team about half way through the year. Parents who wanted close contact were pretty much already in close contact with us.
    Possible refinement: I will probably drop this in the future.

So all those fails is a bit frustrating, but how else can we know that we tried than to reflect? Not everything is going to work. I have that list taped into my diary so that even years from now I can look back on how I’ve grown professionally.

Which brings me to this year! This humble note will proudly hanging in my face at my desk for the entirety of this year!

Alright so here’s a rundown of my goals for the 19-20 school year!

  • Provide more optional supplemental material so that my students can take ownership of their own learning and studying. Allow them to practice more with informational text, but still hold their hand by guiding them in the right direction.
  • Make the portfolios with summatives!!! Students deserve to have a record of their growth, and I’m going to help them create that this year.
  • Presentations. I’ve heard there’s some fun websites that can make presentations more interactive than just uploading the PPT onto Google classroom. Slides like internal summaries that the students must fill in and quick checks for understanding can be interacted with by the students as the class moves through the learning. I wish I knew what these sites were, but as I move into content I’ll ask around and try them
  • Agendas. We’re supposed to sign their agendas to let the students go to the bathroom, but I was always too lazy. Going to work on that! We really need a record of who lives in the bathroom and this would help tremendously.

So there’s my super casual goal setting process. Do you keep track of yearly goals in any way? How?

The Best Weekly Planner for Teachers

I can assure you that I have THE best weekly planner for teacher. Do not @ me about this.

I know this may not be well received considering it’s a fad now to spend loads on an adorably overpriced planner. Spending more for cute color schemes and loopy fonts does NOT mean you’re actually going to get organized this year, Becky. Real life doesn’t always look like a well curated Instagram.

For me, planning my week needs to be fast and easy. And I mean SUPER easy because I have about 5 minutes and 13,473 things to do between classes and that’s if I don’t need to use the toilet. (Seriously, who actually goes to the bathroom???)

With my apologies in advance for lack of unrealistic perfectionism, here’s how I do it.

Weekly Planning as a Teacher

(My class periods are a bit odd. Scroll to the bottom of this post for an explanation if you’d really like to know.***)

When I’m living my best life I plan using sticky notes (as seen above). That’s fabulous for when inevitably end up having to move things around or scrap an idea altogether. After the class, I remove the sticky note and write down exactly what we did do in pen.

When things are less tight, I end up just planning pencil and writing over it in pen. Ideally, I’ll erase the pencil marks later, but as you can see in this photo that sometimes doesn’t happen. Which is fine.

I make all kinds of notes about page numbers and behavior in the boxes. Each square represents a period and each row (or column if you’d rather) represents a day. In the space beyond our 4 ninety minute periods I make rough notes of what I’ll do in my evening.

Additionally, in the boxes that represent my plan periods I like to make my to do lists. Sometimes I put an item in a plan box a few days ahead if it’s not too critical and can be delegated to a more distant future Laney to deal with.

***Ok so I teach 4 different classes. I see each class 7 times during a 10 day period, but the daily schedule is never the same for any two of those 10. Needless to say, knowing where I am with each group is a literal nightmare and a well organized planner is the Key to Success in my chaotic life.

Year at a Glance

So if you’re like me and you start counting down til summer before the leaves even change colors, then you’re definitely going to want to take advantage of the year at a glance feature. Here’s mine from this year. Doesn’t look too bad when you see it all mapped out does it?

Final Thoughts: Why This Actually is the Best Planner for Teachers

In a rare act of sentimentality, I do lovingly preserve all my planners from previous years. This doubles as an incredibly helpful tool when planning the new year if you’re lucky enough to have the same content. Here’s a before and after created using my brand new shiny planner for this year, and my last year’s planner.

As you can see this baby weathers the abuse of 180 days better than most of us teachers!

If you’re reading this and it’s not the end of the year or the very start of a new one and thinking, “Man, I really should try that next year…” then I urge you to NOT wait! It’s never too late to get organized with the absolute best weekly planner for teachers!!! Start today! Your next year self will thank you!

If you choose to buy through my link I may make about $0.13. As a fellow educator I know you know how much that would mean to me. If you’re ready to start getting organized now, click this link to shop my favorite planner for under 10 bucks!If you choose to buy through my link I may make about $0.13. As a fellow educator I know you know how much that would mean to me. If you’re ready to start getting organized now, click the image below to shop my favorite planner for under 10 bucks!

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First Day of School Ideas for Middle School Science

Are you looking for some ideas for your first day of school in middle school science? According to my instagram poll, going over the syllabus is a modern teacher’s worst nightmare. I think my sarcasm was lost on most of the respondents. (What else is new?)

Regardless, I took it upon myself to gather some ideas from some of the respected educators on Instagram and Twitter which I will list here for your and my later reference:

1. Play A Game

As long as all your students have access to the internet, I love the idea of using competitive games like Kahoot or (my new personal favorite) Quizizz to allow students to guess on topics ranging from About the Teacher or Classroom Procedures. If your students are extra competitive, I’d recommend setting the questions to 0 points to ease the tension.

If you aren’t familiar already, you can use these fun websites to actually introduce and teach in a “guess, check, and learn” style. Here is a helpful guide on how to make an educational quiz more officially called a “Blind Kahoot.”

Another great internet-free game to play that can help your students get to know you or one another is four corners. I’d advise creating a Power Point or Google Slide presentation with all the questions and answers labeled by corner. That way when you get to class you can just stick an A, B, C, and D sign in each corner and you’re ready to play.

I’ve done 4 corners with about the teacher (Go to corner A if you think Ms. Hill is 28, corner B if you think she’s 29, etc.) or about the students (Go to corner A if your favorite sport is basketball, corner B if it’s football, etc.). Get creative with it!

2. Do a STEM Challenge

Why bother with boring rules that never change when you could actually get your hands dirty with a fun tower building activity. I used to do this activity with spaghetti and marshmallows, but I’ve since switched to using aluminum foil and tape because it’s easier. I’ve also seen it done with index cards (folding is allowed).

Here is a link to my worksheet and teacher directions if you’d like some help connecting the activity to the Engineering Design Process. A couple other fun STEM challenges I’ve been seeing lately include the Pringle Ring Challenge and the Zip Lock Water Pencil Challenge (sorry I totally just made that title up!). I’m looking forward to trying both of those, but the aluminum foil tower takes the lead in my book as it is by far the easiest to set up and clean up.

3. Make Way for Team Building!

Day 1 in our middle school science class means nothing if it doesn’t put us on the path to becoming Robin Williams in Freedom Writers and we’ll never get that kind of community without TEAM BUILDING!

My personal favorite team building exercise is the whale band-aid. Students have to figure out how to flip a 1 meter x 1 meter piece of fabric (any old bulletin board fabric will do) without speaking or stepping off. I like to group the class so the waiting groups can giggle and learn from the earlier teams’ mistakes. This is the worksheet I use with that activity.

Another fun brain teaser and easy to set up activity I have done in the past is the Dog Goose and Bag of Corn. I think this one works better in smaller groups though and is a great activity to bring up the concept of persistence in problem solving. An area in which we could all use a little work!

4. Get creative!

In my office they like to make fun of me by saying that I don’t teach science I teach art. Well that’s just fine by me!!!!!! Nothing soothes me like a little bit of coloring. And nothing makes me laugh like watching my kids attempt to use their fine motor skills to cut and paste anything slightly intricate. Doing artistic activities gives me a chance to circulate the room and chat with my students, and more importantly it’s an equalizing assignment. Everyone can do it! If everyone can do it, they WILL do it!

Making decorative name tents, designing the covers to your interactive notebooks, or anything else creative and fun will give you the opportunity to teach procedures for picking up and passing back materials, cleaning the room, and expected noise levels during individual work.

5. Stations

I have to admit I kind of loathe stations, but it was suggested to me multiple times on social media as a great way to start the year so I’m going to include it here for those of you that have the space or patience for stations. I think moving around the room would be a great way to get kids moving a bit, as well as being broken into smaller, less anxiety inducing groups. One idea would be to have posters (the sticky ones pictured here, I have no clue what they’re called) hung around the room and ask that the students add their thoughts about each topic to the page. A great way to include student voice to your rules and procedures! Maybe someone can teach me how to better implement stations in the future!

Pro tip: Giving students different marker colors provides that extra piece of accountability that we all need!

6. Scavenger Hunt

I’m a big fan of scavenger hunts because our school has a huge outdoor courtyard that’s completely self contained. At my old school, though, we used to do them in the hallways too. It’s a great opportunity to teach kids the expectations for traveling together outside the classroom as well as appropriate noise levels in the hallways.

You could set your scavenger hunt up in all different ways, and of course you can do it within your own room too! One idea would be to simply hide questions related to procedures and the syllabus and let the kids search for and answer them.

To take it up a notch, @JohnstonChemistry suggested that she actually encourages the kids to search her Instagram for clues about her as a teacher! I know my students would absolutely go nuts over this idea as they seem to quite enjoy Googling their teachers.

I hope you’re able to take away some ideas here for your own first day of school in middle school science! I’d like to include some credits to those who helped me compile this fabulous list of ideas:

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss anything about the information you’ve read here. Find me on Instagram (@stemstrength). 

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Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I may make a commission if you make a purchase after clicking on a link. 

What it’s Like to Teach in the Middle East

I’m constantly asked this question, and the truth of the matter is that teaching in the Middle East isn’t that different than teaching in America or wherever you are. Of course cultural differences, but at the end of the day people are people and kids are kids. I’m going to do my best to cover the main points as far as my experience in UAE goes. If you’re reading this from another Middle Eastern country, I’d love to hear how your experience is similar or dissimilar!

1. SPED is totally different

Culturally, SPED hasn’t reached the acceptance level in the Middle East that it has in the West. The reasons behind that are complex and I won’t go into it here, but I’ll fill you in on what you need to know as a teacher. First of all, none of the legal side of things is present in the middle east like it is in the United States. That being said, some of the private schools are developing independent programs and supports for students with various disabilities. I’ve seen a few schools specifically marketed for autistic children.

In the course of the three years I’ve been in the Middle East, my school has been expanding it’s learning support and in the secondary school we do now have a little bit of co-teaching in math and language classes. There’s more support in the elementary classes, including ESL support (obviously a continuous need).

2. Most families elect to send their kids to private schools.

In the middle east, or at least where I am, there are public schools. That being said, most relatively affluent families choose to send their kids to private schools. In private schools, there first choice you need to make is what kind of curriculum would you like your kids to learn? The two main choices are American and British. After you’ve made that decision, there will likely be a decently large selection of schools to choose from, at various price points.

3. Islamic Social Studies and Arabic Classes

At least in my country, all students are required to take Arabic classes. There is Arabic as a first language (for natives) and Arabic as a second language (for expats). Unlike English, Arabic has a formal version and a spoken version (and the spoken version is quite different country to country). Children require formal schooling in order to learn the formal Arabic which is the Arabic you’ll find in the Quran. Expat children are also taught formal Arabic, which is next to useless for everyday conversation. They’ll pick that up in the hallways. 😉

Additionally, there’s another required class called Islamic Social Studies which is where Muslim students learn the historical stories of the Islamic Religion. This class is not required

4. Arabic as a spoken language

As with living in any other foreign country, get used to hearing Arabic spoken around you. Students speak it in the halls, and yes they will attempt to get away with cussing and cheating in Arabic. If you’re working in a private school, though, it’s unlikely that you’ll have many students who don’t already know English. Where I’m living, I rarely meet anyone without at least a basic working knowledge of English, but we have occasionally had translators sit in on parent conferences.

Arabic is a very difficult language to learn, but after three years I’m fully fluent in reading and writing and quite adept at listening for understanding. With several of the sounds being outside of the English speaker’s pallet of tones and the grammar differences, though, speaking has remained a struggle for me. That being said, I’m one of the only people I know who puts any effort into learning Arabic at all. A shame, but it does highlight how accessible everything is to an English speaker.

5. Your Students

Depending on the kind of school you choose, your student demographic could look lots of different ways. There are private schools marketed toward any majority expat denomination: American, British, Indian, etc. The public schools will be majority local students, but in private schools you could have a variety of combinations. I teach at a private American school and my students are about 30% local Emirati, 40% from other Arab countries, and 30% international expats. If we get a student whose family is new to the country, we occasionally have a completely ESL child. Most of my students, however, have grown up in the school and with English speaking media(Youtube, etc.) and speak English with an almost perfect American accent.

6. Cultural Differences and Classroom Management

My school is unique in that we’re one of the only private schools that does gender segregation. Our building is designed as two perfectly mirrored halves: a boy’s side and a girl’s side. I teach on both sides throughout the day, and teaching only one gender in a class certainly has it’s management challenges. Most public schools are boys only are girls only, so if you work in one of them you’ll likely have only one gender all year.

I have learned a lot in my three years in the Middle East about culturally different ways of handling and addressing conflict. It’s important to be sensitive to how different things may be taken offensively in a different culture, and to learn the best ways to work within that new framework. If you’re seriously considering making a move, please feel free to reach out and contact me for more on this topic. There’s a link to a contact form at the top or bottom of the page.

7. How You Should Dress

Abayas are comfy and convenient!

As a woman, if you work in a public school in the Middle East you may be asked to dress quite conservatively. You may be asked to wear an abaya which is the traditional local dress for women. This is actually great for you, because you can wear comfy clothes underneath and take off the abaya with very little effort to transition after your workday! That’s not every school though. Mine just requires that we dress modestly: aka nothing above the knee, no sleeveless, etc.

Outside of school, on the other hand, you’ll learn to play it by ear. Most of the time if I’m going to be in public I wear long pants and usually a shirt that has at least some sleeve. When I go to dinner and wear a cute dress, I just cover up with a sweater or a scarf as I walk from the house to the taxi and the taxi to the restaurant. I’ve seen a lot of people who don’t do this at all, though! With every passing year I see the cultural expectations for modest dress in my country loosen up bit by bit.

8.. Teaching Requirements

Depending on what kind of school you’re looking at working in, there may be a variety of different requirements. Some schools may require that you have up to 3 or 4 years of experience in your home country before they’ll consider hiring you. Another unique requirement my school had was that my degree must be “in person” so no online certifications. On top of that, you’ll most likely have to obtain a variety of attested (certified as real) documents such as a background check, copy of your transcript and/or diplomas, and teaching license.

Believe me, all of this is confusing, expensive, and time consuming for EVERYONE! The Facebook groups I was in during my transition all strongly urged me to just pay one of the many companies who handle the attestation process to complete my documents for me. (Of course you’ll have to assemble them yourself.) This cost me about $700 which is nothing to sneeze at especially on top of all the other stuff you’ll be dealing with as you consider moving abroad. That being said, I think it’s worth it for your peace of mind and to know that the job is done correctly the first time.

9. Salary

I think it’s pretty safe to say that in most cases you will earn a higher salary if you decide to teach in the Middle East. There’s plenty of sites you can look those kinds of things up on. The most important thing to remember is that at least with U.S. tax law, you don’t pay any tax on earnings outside the country under $100,000. Additionally, most Middle Eastern schools will further sweeten your deal with housing allowances and paid flights home. For parents, most private schools will offer to cover one or more children’s incomes. The Middle East is developing, and they’re putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to education, which is something I deeply respect.

Thanks for reading! Moving 3 years ago to UAE was one of the best decisions I’ve made for my personal and professional growth. In the years since I made that transition, I’ve learned a new language and traveled the world all while finishing student loans. If you’re considering making this move, please feel free to contact me with any further questions. I’d be happy to provide more information. Email me at laneyleehill@gmail.com.

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How Teaching in a Private School Differs from Public

This is a question I get a lot from both teachers and non-teachers. It’s a little hard to compare my experience teaching in the Middle East to my experience teaching in America for several obvious reasons, but a big one is that I also went from a public American school (4 classroom years) to a private Middle Eastern school (3 classroom years, at the time of writing this). That being said, my experience may not be the same as someone who isn’t also shifting countries, but I still want to share with you as honestly as I can in hopes that this information reaches someone who needs it.

1. More direct access to the people who actually make decisions about my class sizes, salary, and curriculum.

I’m listing this first because I think it may be one of the most important ones. In American public schools, sometimes your only access to real change is through the election ballot. The people who make the decisions which affect you are influenced by a myriad of factors. Their bottom line may or may not be what’s best for students. Your administration may do all they can to soften the blows that come down the line for their teachers, but at the end of the day, they too are relatively powerless against bureaucracy.

This is completely different than what I’ve experienced in my private school. My chain of command is HOD (Head of Department) –> Principal –> Director –> Owner. And that’s where it ends. The owner ultimately makes all the financial decisions for the school, and let me be clear: his bottom line may or may not be what’s best for students either. Just like in the public education system. (However he is heavily influenced by his customers aka the parents. And their bottom line is definitely what’s best for their kids.) But one thing is for sure: I can be heard. In my private school I can make a stink even as one, little teacher and get things changed.

I’m not advocating bad behavior here, but there’s definitely something to be said for being in the same actual building as the people who sign your paycheck. If I think the decisions that are being made are bad for kids, I can appeal to someone within the same working day. (Just remember: going over heads will never get you far. Always follow the prescribed chain of command no matter what environment you’re working in.)

2. More freedom to teach what and how I want.

In my public school, I was a part of a district with 14 middle schools (and we competed against one another). I was also held accountable by end of the year state mandated testing. Bottom line, I didn’t have very much freedom with my curriculum. Sometimes there’s a current event that you’d like to work in. The pacing guide has no room for it and God forbid you spend more than 5 minutes on something that doesn’t directly contribute to test scores. So you forget about it. Coloring? Is that high quality instruction? I think not! Games? Let me remind you: bell to bell instruction! I felt a bit stifled to say the least.

In my private school, we of course have a curriculum (NGSS). However, the main stakeholder when it comes to what happens in my classroom is the parents of my students. I’m in close contact with my families, and when they have a question about what I’m doing with the curriculum, they ask me directly. From there we begin a dialogue about what’s actually best for the kids. If we don’t finish the entire curriculum, then oh well! I can speak directly with the teachers in the grades above and below and we can adjust our scope and sequences to make sure all the content is covered over the course of the three middle school years. There’s no high stakes testing deadline hovering over us causing anxiety. Neither is there any ambiguous government entity passing down random legislation.

Now, I take time in my classes to color. I think it’s good for the kids’ mental health and it gives us time to chat and build relationships. We play games. We talk about non-curricular topics like fairness, ethics, and science in the news. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to hear praise from my parents and believe it, as opposed to nervously waiting for a computer to crunch my students into a mysterious algorithm and assign a score to our year together. A single number 1-5 to define my “effectiveness” as a teacher that I’ll carry forever with either inflated pride or (in my case) confused shame.

Disclaimer: Curriculum alignment and teacher collaboration are always best for students. I am in no way advocating “going rogue” with your curriculum here.

3. My students come from families who put their money where their mouth is.

The families of my students in our private school all have one thing in common: they value education so much that they’re willing to pay for it. Honestly, this makes a world of difference when it comes to support. When I ask for materials, they come. When I contact parents, they (usually) respond and I see a (usually small, but still) difference in the child.

The negative flipside to this “involved parents” kind of school that you usually hear about is that they’re totally up your butt and emailing you 24/7 about the tiniest assignments. I’ve honestly had very few issues with that. That being said, though, I must admit that I do give out my personal cell phone number to parents and I do answer calls and texts at basically all hours of the day. I genuinely don’t mind it, and have never felt that the privilege was being abused. I consider it a part of my relationship with my families.

4. Class Size, Behavior, and Salary

I think it’s generally accepted that most of the time private schools have smaller class sizes than public schools as this can be one of their main selling points. In my school, though, we’ve been experiencing growing class sizes which has been considered by most a financial choice as opposed to being in the students’ best interest.

Again, this will most likely be extremely case by case. For me, behavior has not been much better in a private school as compared to public. Our school is relatively hesitant to kick students out due to government regulations as well as financial reasons. Perhaps in an extremely prestigious school with a wait list the pressure would be different and students would tighten up, but my experience has been that kids are kids wherever you go.

Finally, the question we all want answered is what about salary?? If you’re considering making a move, this information should be available online for your researching pleasure. In my case (bachelor’s degree, 4 years experience at the time), making the shift from public to private was an improvement.

With all of this said, I will admit that as a teacher I’m definitely happier in my new school. As a scientist, I’m also fully aware that there’s lots of variables at play here. I should add that I am fully pro public schools. I do believe that everyone deserves a free education! In the course of my career however, I’ve really had to grapple with this question: where do the rights of others end and my freedoms begin? How does my right to a healthy working environment mesh with the right of all children to receive a quality education. These questions are difficult to answer, but I do know there’s a lot of educators out there busting their butts for the kids with little governmental support or acknowledgement. I see you and I thank you.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss anything about the information you’ve read here. Find me on Instagram (@stemstrength). 

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Are you teaching in a toxic environment?

As teachers, and perhaps especially new teachers, we’re always expected to be willing to go “above and beyond” in a way that’s not asked of many other jobs. We’re meant to be in this field because of our limitless passion, not simply as a “job” just to make ends meet. Similar to a toxic relationship, when we find ourselves giving, giving to a point of mental exhaustion and burnout with little to no reward or recognition, it may be time to ask a very important question: is this environment healthy for me?

Here’s some signs that you may be in a toxic school environment:

1. You feel like you have to hide your struggles.

Do you stiffen when you hear the door handle turn in the middle of a lesson, only to sigh with relief when it’s a student not an administrator? Do you feel anxious when you get a hint that a student may have talked to another teacher about what happens in your classroom? Feeling this way isn’t normal. If you’re in constant fear of judgement you may be in a toxic work environment. If you feel unsafe to share your struggles with admin or colleagues, how can you grow? And if you’re not growing, what are you doing?

2. Asking for help feels like a weakness.

This one cuts deep. Particularly in the areas of classroom management, new or transitioning teachers can sometimes come to some stuck points. Have you heard the advice “never send a kid to the office, because it will make admin think you can’t manage your classroom” and agreed with it? If you feel like asking for help would lead to judgement or somehow hurt your reputation with admin or colleagues, you may be in a toxic environment.

3. Sharing isn’t happening.

One tactic used by manipulative leaders is to pit teachers against each other. If the teachers in your team are fueled by a spirit of competition, then it’s likely they won’t be eager to share their materials or tips for success. The mentality is this: success is a finite resource and the achievements of others take away from mine. I taught in a school where state testing scores were so competitive, that other teachers refused to share any of their resources with me. How sad! A rising tide raises all ships! If teachers in your school are hesitant to share or support others due to a spirit of competition, you may be in a toxic environment.

4. You’re often made to feel like you aren’t doing enough.

Is there a culture of shame in your school from admin or other teachers about leaving right at the end of contract time? Do you feel pressured to not use your sick days? Do you feel like you should be spending a lot of your own money to design a Pinterest perfect classroom? Are you spending nights and weekends, your personal time, on school work and still feeling inadequate? Are you slightly embarrassed to admit that school isn’t the most important thing in your life? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be in a toxic environment.

5. Children or parents are treating you abusively and administration is not supporting you.

I’m not talking about the behavior of typical children where rules and boundaries must be tested. I’m not talking about the behavior of typical parents who fiercely fight for what’s best for their child. I’m talking about extremely inappropriate behavior that’s meant to make you feel small as a person. Words and actions that cross a line. You’re not meant to just take it. Tell an administrator as soon as possible if you feel violated and if they don’t support you, then you may be in a toxic environment.

6. You wake up in the morning and your first emotion is dread.

Here’s the real kicker for me. By the end of my fourth year in a toxic school environment, I was convinced I was the worst teacher in the world. I was so closed off from any support that I never discussed the way I felt with anyone. I woke up every morning with a sick feeling in my stomach, dreading the day ahead. I trudged through my day in survival mode, the opposite of growth mode. I was unmotivated to make changes because I had accepted that this is the way it is. If you relate to what I’m saying, you may be in a toxic environment.

If you are reading this and you feel strongly that you are in a toxic environment, you are not alone. I have personally been where you are, and I empathize strongly. Beginning my career I had unfortunately been so groomed for misery with the constant reminder that “your first few years will be HARD!” that I never stopped to realize that although starting out in this field is difficult, you should be supported! You should feel safe sharing your struggles, and there should be at least a few other teachers around you who enthusiastically support and encourage you. If the school you’re in leaves you feeling icky at the end of the day, trust your gut. If you’re pretty sure you’re not growing, you’re probably not wrong. This isn’t the end, and you can always make a change! Start job hunting or connect with more helpful teachers through social media. I’ve found the community of teachers on Reddit to be one of the most honest places online to discuss the realities of this career. You’re not alone in the way you feel, and you most certainly shouldn’t have to hide it!

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my Instagram (@stemstrength).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

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Cell Cycle Bundle – Teacher’s Guide

Welcome! This post has been written with the intention of helping you teach the Cell Cycle effectively to your middle school science class. If you’re arriving to this page from somewhere other than the Teachers Pay Teachers site, this is the product that this guide was written for. Here’s how I teach using these resources:

Note: Items are listed in the order in which they would be used. Lessons are not broken into specific “days” as many of us have vastly different timings per class period. 

Topic 1: Mitosis

  1. Mitosis Posters
    If you can, try to put these posters up a few days or even a week or two before you begin this unit. Put them somewhere students naturally look. They can be a hook that gets students to ask questions before you even begin to teach!
  2. Cell Cycle Presentation
    Mitosis is a complex but beautiful process! I think taking the time to engage the class with a whole group lesson and notes is very important. Try to help your students wonder about the beauty of these cellular processes. They’re so intelligent yet also governed only by set laws. Biology is incredible.
  3. Cell Cycle Foldable
  4. Cell Cycle Webquest
    If you like a flipped classroom approach, I wouldn’t discourage giving this webquest before you do any kind of whole group instruction covering the cell cycle. I think it’s important that our students learn to read for comprehension, especially when it comes to informational text. This webquest could be an intro or use it later on as homework or for a sub day.
  5. Onion Root Identification
    I love this practice worksheet! One side contains a review of the key points of each of the stages of the cell cycle, and the other a snapshot of a growing onion root. I normally project an image of the root on the board and, after giving private think time, ask students to come up to identify a cell in the specified phase. It’s always a riot as students inevitably miss a few, and the class goes crazy.
  6. Cell Cycle Self Checking Practice
    I designed this practice to ensure that students practice with correct information. The self checking style prevents students from sticking with incorrect answers for too long, so this assignment can easily be completed without teacher assistance. Assign this one for homework 🙂

Topic 2: Meiosis 

  1. Meiosis Webquest
    Branch off of mitosis with this introductory webquest. Mitosis and meiosis have a lot of similarities and differences, and it’s going to be difficult for your students to differentiate the specifics. Give your students a chance to filter through the information at their own pace with this webquest.
  2. Meiosis Presentation
    Next, take the center stage and guide your students through some notes. This is your chance to answer questions and clear up any misconceptions developed during the webquest. I like to take a few minutes during this presentation to quickly review sexual and asexual reproduction. It’s important to stress that the chromosome reduction produced by meiosis is crucial to sexual reproduction.
  3. Meiosis vs. Mitosis Compare and Contrast Activity
    Help your students slowly work though the required content with this fun cut and paste activity. I normally ask my students to check with me before they glue anything, but there’s always a few hilarious mess ups. Great to use with interactive notebooks!
  4. Meiosis vs. Mitosis Color By Number
    Keep with the artsy theme with this color by number review! I love to use this activity as a follow up to a difficult classroom management day. Sometimes we just need a day off of the fight! I’ve never seen a kid that refuses to color (if they have all the materials they need).
  5. Meisosis vs. Mitosis Quiz
    Whenever you feel your students are ready, feel free to hit them with this formative assessment! Great for providing feedback.
  6. Meiosis and Mitosis Study Guide and Test
    Lastly, finish the unit with a summative test. This one has all kinds of question types in all levels in order to provide as clear a picture as possible of your students’ capabilities.

This product is designed to be affordable and useful to teachers in middle school science. Help me serve you and others through this bundle (or the creation of new resources) by leaving feedback. My work is meaningful when it takes some of the stress off of YOU.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my instagram (@laney.leee).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

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Photosynthesis & Respiration Bundle – Teacher’s Guide

Welcome! This post has been written with the intention of helping you plan an engaging and comprehensive Photosynthesis & Respiration mini unit for your middle school science class. If you’re arriving to this page from somewhere other than the Teachers Pay Teachers site, this is the product that this guide was written for. Here’s how I teach using these resources:

Note: Items are listed in the order in which they would be used. Lessons are not broken into specific “days” as many of us have vastly different timings per class period. 

  1. Video Introduction
    I like to start this section with a little flipped classroom style activity. The students are assigned to watch two videos on photosynthesis and respiration and answer the questions included on the worksheet. By doing this, they’ve got a little bit of prior knowledge that they can draw on when we start our whole group lessons. Assign this for homework or classwork.
  2. Guided Reading 
    More and more I’ve been putting the onus on my students to read and learn on their own. With this assignment, students are guided through the reactions and important points. Great for a homework or extension or even reteaching. 
  3. Presentation and Student Notes
    This PPT presentation covers all the basics in both photosynthesis and respiration for your students’ note taking benefit! I’ve especially focused on the concepts of chemical reactions and the Law of Conservation of Mass as my own students come in with shockingly little chemistry knowledge.
  4. Graphic Organizer
    This graphic organizer is a quick way to check for understanding as well as to help students focus in on the highlights of their learning.
  5. Photosynthesis Simulation Lab & Respiration Simulation Lab
    I designed these labs because my students just needed to see how the atoms and molecules in these reactions actually rearrange themselves. Unfortunately, with their chemistry knowledge so lacking, the students have quite a hard time grasping the conservation of matter as it pertains to these important reactions. For more advanced students, I’d suggest a little more inquiry driven work. Don’t tell the students how many carbon dioxides can be formed from a glucose molecule. If you have some lower groups, perhaps clue them in in advance.
  6. Homework Sheet
    A quick one page practice to review again the key learning.
  7. Self Checking Practice
    I’ve become a fan of self checking practices as they prevent students from studying incorrect information. The riddles also give a clue to struggling students for answers they may not be sure about. Use this activity as a final review before assessing your students.
  8. NGSS Aligned Assessment
    I designed this assessment based on the NGSS standards. In this curriculum, students are often asked to write and defend their ideas, so this assessment follows that pattern. Mark it as summative or formative, based on where you think your class is in the learning process.

This product is designed to be affordable and useful to teachers in middle school science. Help me serve you and others through this bundle (or the creation of new resources) by leaving feedback. My work is meaningful when it takes some of the stress off of YOU.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my instagram (@laney.leee).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

Subscribe for freebies!

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Cells Unit Bundle – Teacher’s Guide

Welcome! This post has been written with the intention of helping you plan an engaging and comprehensive Cells Unit for your middle school science class. If you’re arriving to this page from somewhere other than the Teachers Pay Teachers site, this is the product that this guide was written for. Here’s how I teach using these resources:

Note: Items are listed in the order in which they would be used. Lessons are not broken into specific “days” as many of us have vastly different timings per class period. 

  1. Cells Pretest (FREE)
    I like to begin my unit with a multiple choice pretest. I ask my students to focus on what they’re reading. Underline words they’re unsure of, and make guesses. I remind them that the first time you’re exposed to new information is always a confusing experience, and encourage them to experience that confusion. Sometimes we go over the answers to the pretest, sometimes I just post them for students to review later when they study for the test.

    Topic 1: Cell Theory 
    Generally, I teach my students about the discovery of the cell theory using a variety of videos (This one is great.) and text resources that I have at my disposal. While it’s difficult for students to envision the world before science was the norm, I think scientific history is a fascinating and fun part of the curriculum we teach.

    I like to use lots of examples of at-the-time mind boggling scientific discoveries to remind students that the Scientific Revolution is still a relatively recent part of our human past. For example, the existence of separate elements or the discovery of plate tectonics. If you focus on the drama between scientists, students will undoubtedly find the stories of scientific progress entertaining. This is also a great time to stress the interdependence of science and engineering.

    Additionally, I always like to have the students create timelines in their interactive notebooks (something I relatively recently picked up, so please send me all your tips for effective usage). I print off little 2D busts of the scientists heads and let the students independently research what they’re famous for and create their timeline. The silly hair always draws a nice laugh.

  2. Cell Theory Guided Reading
    Flip your classroom! Expect students to come to class with a little prior knowledge by assigning this reading first. Can also be used as reteaching.
  3. Cell Theory Self Checking Practice
    Once your students are relatively well versed in the scientists who made the discoveries leading to the development of the Cell Theory, you can give them this practice as classwork or homework. It’s self checking, so they won’t study something that’s actually incorrect!
  4. Scientists of the Cell Theory
    Finally, a formative quiz should wrap up your study of the Cell Theory and its contributors. This can also be used as homework.

    Topic 2: Prokaryotic vs. Eukaryotic
    With your introduction to the Cell Theory, students will already have some concept of the different kinds of cells from the language of “animalcules” and Schlieden and Schwann’s discoveries of plant and animal cells.

    Teaching the differences in cell types is a good introduction to types of reproduction and DNA. It’s also important that students wonder at the amazing variety of microscopic life which surrounds us, came before us, and will most likely outlast us!
  5. Guided Reading
    Empower students to explore the differences in these two major cell types on their own with this guided reading! Great for homework or reteaching.
  6. Prokaryotic vs. Eukaryotic Presentation
    This presentation gives a good introduction to the two types of cells, and will allow students to get some notes down about the primary differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, and then students will delve deeper into the jobs performed by bacteria around us. They do much more than make us sick!
  7. Human Microbiome Webquest
    This 4 page webquest uses 2 videos and a infographic to introduce students to the world within themselves. Make prokaryotic cells real by allowing students to work through this explorational webquest. Even take a day off as this makes an excellent sub plan!
  8. Antibiotic Resistance Reading
    I like to take the chance during this point in the unit to do a day on antibiotic resistance. This is one of many opportunities where, as science teachers, we have an opportunity to influence the future! It’s important that students not only connect their learning to the real world, but also develop the scientific literacy which will enable them to make smart choices in their practical lives.
  9. Prokaryotic vs. Eukaryotic Self Checking Practice
    Assign this practice for homework or classwork. The self checking style ensures that students practice correct information rather than mindlessly filling in blanks!

    Topic 3: Going Deeper into Eukaryotic Cells
    Eukaryotic cells are amazing! How crazy is it that we’re made up of trillions of semi-independent life forms all working together in a hive mind. We are them and they are us! The complexity of a eukaryotic cell is incredible. It’s shocking how closely a eukaryotic cell mirrors our own macrobiology and even the parts of an even larger societal structure.

    All that being said, I have the HARDEST time teaching this. Kids find it… dull. The curriculum is often a mile wide and an inch deep, and I can’t quite find a way to hold students accountable for knowing all the organelles and their functions without reducing it to pathetic flash card flipping. I always ask other teachers how they do it, so if you’ve got some tips send them my way!

  10. Organelles Reading Activity
    One way I like to start organelles is with a reading activity. It’s very important that we help develop our students’ informational reading skills. As 21st century citizens, they need to be able to read and comprehend scientific information. And that includes suffering the relative boredom. Don’t forget that your class doesn’t have to constantly be a 21 minute tv show with flashing lights and bright colors all 180 days of the year. Teach your students to sit and focus on a text. This product is a best seller of mine, and recently has been fully updated and revised!
  11. Organelles Foldable
    A foldable is a fun way for students to practice the information they’ve just acquired. You can also incorporate this into interactive notebooks if you use them.
  12. Organelles Practice Worksheet
    Another quick review. As my students in America were subjected to gruelling state testing, it’s became very important to me that they be exposed to a variety of cell models and become adept at identifying organelles by name or in a diagram. I made this practice to work on that.
  13. Cell Organelles – Color by Number
    Make practice a little more light hearted and decorate your room with this fun color by number! I love to give students things that they can do and they normally respond with excitement. Take this chance to praise your difficult students for a job well done! Hang their work front and center. Help them develop the confidence to continue trying even when the work is a bit more challenging.
  14. Cells Vocabulary Self Checking Practice
    This self checker helps your students study their essential vocabulary. Math doesn’t get to take all the credit with their self checking assignments! Our students also deserve immediate feedback. Give it to them with this fun practice.
  15. Organelle Crossword
    A FREE download! A quick homework or extension. Students match the organelles with the clues that describe them.
  16. Cell Model Project
    A classic project where students design 3D cell models. This final assignment should fully solidify students’ knowledge of eukaryotic cells and their organelles. I always mark this activity as a summative. Check out this blog post for ideas on how you could switch up the boring cell project to require higher order thinking.
  17. Cells Unit Test and Study Guide
    Finally, the summative test with study guide! Be sure to make the study guide available to your students with plenty of time!

This product is designed to be affordable and useful to teachers in middle school science. Help me serve you and others through this bundle (or the creation of new resources) by leaving feedback. My work is meaningful when it takes some of the stress off of YOU.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my instagram (@laney.leee).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

Subscribe for freebies!

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DNA Unit – Teacher’s Guide

Welcome! This post has been written with the intention of helping you plan an engaging and comprehensive DNA Unit for your middle school science class. If you’re arriving to this page from somewhere other than the Teachers Pay Teachers site, this is the product that this guide was written for. This is one of my favorite units to teach, and one of the best products that I sell. Here’s how I teach using these resources:

Note: Items are listed in the order in which they would be used. Lessons are not broken into specific “days” as many of us have vastly different timings per class period. 

  1. DNA Pretest (FREE)
    When I start a unit with a pretest I like to ask my students to focus on what they’re reading. Underline words they’re unsure of, and make guesses. I remind them that the first time you’re exposed to new information is always a confusing experience, and encourage them to experience that confusion. Sometimes we go over the answers to the pretest, sometimes I just post them for students to review later when they study for the test.
  2. What is DNA? Presentation
    I use this presentation to introduce DNA to my students. There’s a lot of fun facts included like how long would your DNA be if you stretched each strand from each of your cells. And how many books would you DNA fill? How many letter codes is it? Sometimes it’s hard for students to connect to microbiology, and if you can get them excited and fired up at the start, then the rest of your DNA unit should be filled with wonder and amazement! (I love this unit!)
  3. Matching Base Pairs Exit Ticket
  4. It’s imperative that student fully master the task of matching C’s to G’s and A’s to T’s. This practice will serve as a great exit ticket for your introductory DNA lesson. Everyone can succeed with this assignment, so it’s a great chance to build confidence before entering into more challenging assignments. Be sure to pile on the praise and encouragement!
  5. DNA Webquest 
    You could assigns this webquest for homework or use it for a sub plan. It’s a best seller in my store and covers 4 main topics: nucleic acids, DNA, amino acids, and enzymes. The questions closely follow the online reading, so this assignment should be easily completed by all.
  6. DNA Model Project
    This is a fun project to emphasize the shape and structure of the DNA molecule. In every middle school science class I’ve taught, students come to me with an abysmal lack of chemistry knowledge. I’ve tried everything to supplement that while simultaneously sticking to my (usually state mandated) primary curriculum. If we’re to  effectively teach DNA, we must somehow help our students connect with the unseen world of the microscopic. This project is one way we can help them see the unseen.

    If you do complete this project in your class, please send me photos of your completed student work at stemstrengthtpt@gmail.com. My own students have historically had the most difficulty in creating a model that doesn’t flop over as soon as they take their hands off it 🙈

  7. DNA Replication Presentation
    The wonder of DNA only begins with its miraculous structure! Somehow, DNA has managed to replicate itself, making life as we know it possible. DNA replication is an important introduction to understanding the unzipping required for protein synthesis as well as the possibility of mutations. I usually try to stress the vocabulary word “semiconservative” as I explain the process of replication.
  8. Protein Functions Comprehension Reading
    Again, macromolecules tend to baffle my middle schoolers. Hopefully, if you completed the DNA Webquest your students will at least have an idea forming in their minds about amino acids and protein assembly. However, if you ask them what a protein (or most adults for that matter) all they’re going to be able to give you is a comment about muscles. Proteins are infinitely more important than in just muscle function! DNA itself does nothing but contain the code for the creation of proteins, so whatever we are must be more closely related to protein than even DNA. At this point, it’s likely that both proteins and DNA remain somewhat abstract in the minds of your students, but I wrote this article to help your students expand their opinion about proteins and begin to see them for the fascinating molecules that they are!
  9. Protein Synthesis Presentation
    I like to start with this video to extend the concept of proteins in minds of my students. I love the way he describes the ability of proteins to do work. I’ve never heard the concept explained so simply. Start the video at about 10 minutes and watch for the next 10 minutes.

    Now that your students hopefully have an idea of what proteins are important they can begin to study how they’re made.

    With the help of several YouTube videos I use this presentation to introduce the concepts of transcription and translation. I’m partial to this one. I just mute it and talk while it plays. Don’t forget you can change the video speed on Youtube as well!

  10. Protein Synthesis Guided Practice
    This practice is designed for your struggling learners or as a recap. You could use the presentation as an “I do” and then this assignment as your “we do” and then the final practice as the “you do.” I’d perhaps do this one in segments, stopping to check answers every 5-10 minutes.
  11. Protein Synthesis Practice
    Similar to the previous practice, but this time without the explanatory descriptions. Could be homework or do in class.
  12. DNA Quiz
    Quiz your students over transcription, translation, and replication. Hopefully this formative assessment will be an experience where your students can feel quite confident! I find we rarely get to do fun science units like this one in the middle school, where memorization is not the focus but rather students get to solve fun “problems.”
  13. Mutations and Genetic Disorders Presentation
    If your students are like mine they’ve already been drawing a lot of their own conclusions about mutations throughout this unit. Well, let’s finally show them what it’s all about.

    Hopefully if you’ve already covered mitosis/meiosis your students will not have too much trouble grasping chromosome mutations. I’ve included a Cell Cycle Review (#19 in this list) in this bundle to review that info just in case your students are a bit rusty. Maybe you want to do that one before this presentation.

  14. Mutations Practice
    After you’ve introduced mutations, it’s time for students to try and decipher them on their own. This is a difficult skill. A lot of my students really struggle at this point, but the quick learners find it absolutely enthralling.
  15. Cancer Webquest
    A natural next step with mutations is cancer. Almost every child in your class will likely have some personal experience with cancer, so this DNA unit is an important chance to answer the questions that children naturally have. This can be a tricky one, with a lot of misinformation as well as some students still dealing with grief. As science teachers, this is our job! Don’t miss this opportunity to connect the classroom to your students’ personal lives. I usually take this opportunity to encourage my students to one day be the person who finds the cure! Making me the happiest science teacher in the world!
  16. Mutations Quiz
    Follow up your mutations lessons with this formative quiz.
  17. Genetic Disorders Project
    A wonderful project that I’ve done nearly every year I’ve taught middle school science. I always have my students prepare presentations and get up in front of the class to teach us about their disorder. It helps that my companion English teacher actually teaches presentation skills, so I mark the students with both that rubric and the science content rubric. Don’t forget to keep your audience engaged with feedback forms or some other kind of accountability.
  18. DNA Self Checking Practice
    A fun homework or time filling vocabulary review. Great for the days leading up to the test
  19. DNA and Cell Cycle Review
    This review should remind your students of the information they already know about the cell cycle. I think it’s important in the DNA unit to bring in cell division at least briefly, since this is when many genetic mutations occur.
  20. DNA Unit Test and Study Guide
    Finally, the summative test with study guide! Be sure to make the study guide available to your students with plenty of time!

This product is designed to be affordable and useful to teachers in middle school science. Help me serve you and others through this bundle (or the creation of new resources) by leaving feedback. My work is meaningful when it takes some of the stress off of YOU.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my instagram (@laney.leee).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

Subscribe for freebies!

* indicates required