Tips for Keeping Students Healthy

HealthyAs teachers, we all know that we tend to be so much more than curriculum delivery people.  We are nurses, counselors, food distributors, cheerleaders, disciplinarians, parental figures, and so much more.  As a collective, we know that effective teaching and learning can only happen when the classroom is a safe and healthy environment.  Today, let’s talk about ways to help our students stay healthy.  Of course, we will not irradiate the common cold before our next Chaucer lecture, but we can take some steps toward healthier students without taking too much time out of our already packed agendas.  Below are a few tips that I’ve put together.  Feel free to add your tips in the comment section!

1. Clean the room. I like to stock up on the disinfecting wipes from costco or target when I see them on sale.  Then, I set a routine to clean at intervals.  Some years I have required detention students to wipe down my room and other years I have given myself the task for Friday mornings when I am less motivated by piles of paper and so a little grunt work and mental reflection time does me well.  Areas to be sure to clean:

  • Desks
  • Pencil sharpeners/Staplers
  • Door knobs/Railings
  • Phones/iPads/etc (If you have a class set of devices, it is a very good idea to clean them regularly- I read somewhere that our phones are usually dirtier than a public toilet!  I also encourage students to clean their own devices, especially when the cold and flu season hits.  Be sure that whatever you are using to clean is approved for use on electronics.)

2. Encourage good habits. We are busy with teaching, testing, and other daily classroom chores, but teachers can make it a habit to encourage healthy behavior through a quick announcement routine, poster, or a tip of the day on the board.  Some tips to include for high school students include:

  • Washing hands: This is not just a rule for the preschoolers!
  • Drinking water: Consider allowing and encouraging students to drink water in class.
  • Eating right/Exercising: Teens probably hear this from their parents all the time, but we can be another voice in their heads working for good.
  • Getting enough sleep: Staying up all night is main stay of teenage life whether they are texting, gaming, studying, or doing anything else.  Help reinforce the value of a good night’s sleep.  Some of them may hear you.
  • Coughing/Sneezing ettiquette: In my son’s preschool class, the students are well trained to avoid coughing and sneezing on each other or on their own hands.  In my high school class, not so much.  I think overall high schoolers just need a gentle reminder here and there.

3. Be mindful of stressors. We see in study after study that stress has a negative effect on health.  We cannot eliminate all stress from teenage life, but we can be mindful of the things in our control that may exacerbate the problem.

  • Homework: I saw this CNN article recently that looked at the issue of homework and sickness in students. Homework is inevitable in most secondary classrooms, but as teachers we can still be mindful of the quantity and timelines of assignments.  I do my best to give students a schedule of homework with advance notice so that they can plan their schedules accordingly.
  • Missing class: When students need to miss class for illness, sports, clubs, or other reasons, it can be very stressful to catch up on all 6 subjects while staying up on current work.  For these students, communication is key to keeping them on track.  Posting assignments on a calendar/website/social media account or answering emails in a timely fashion can keep students from falling too far behind and then falling into the cycle of stress and sickness.
  • Big projects: Some students make themselves sick with worry over big projects.  Ramping up to a major presentation or giving small steps for a larger research paper can help students manage the stress.

What do you do to help students stay healthy?   We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!

Fall Back in Love with Teaching This Valentine’s Day!

V day

By third quarter, the pencils are wearing down, the pens are running out of ink, the students are getting antsy for spring break, and the teachers are starting to burn out.  It is the perfect time to  remember why we do the job we do!  Here are some tips to fall back in love with teaching this Valentine’s Day!

1. Remember what teachers make. Most teachers have seen this viral video or read some version of it, but I think that February is an ideal time to hear it again!

2. Have patience. Remember that teaching is not usually a game of instant gratification.  We must trust that we are helping students build skills and we are making a major difference in their lives.  Sometimes they don’t realize our impact for many years to come.  To  maintain patience in difficult times, I keep a file of student notes and emails from over the years, which sometimes come months or years after graduation.  When students tell me that my work impacted their lives, I cherish those documents and pull them out when I need a little pick me up.

3. Take some risks. Have you always wanted to try socratic seminar, debateliterature circles, flipping the classroom, new technologies, or any other classroom strategy? Just do it.  Switch things up and have fun!

4. Send positivity. After progress reports, parent conferences, and intervention sessions, parents and students have heard your suggestions for improvement.  This month, try to send a few notes or emails to let parents or students know that you have noticed their hard work or success.  Your LMS may allow you to make email templates to easily send emails to praise a great test score or note improvements.  It will feel great for all parties involved!

5. Do some spring cleaning. Okay, so technically it is still winter, but it is considered the spring semester so spend a little time cleaning, organizing, or creating a new bulletin board.  Of course, pinterest is a great place for inspiration.  I also love this blog post from Sam and Scout and of course my blog post about some American lit inspired decor.

6. Treat yourself. Maybe it is time for that pretty new iPad case you have had your eye on.  Maybe a new outfit is in order (check out this tumblr for ideas on great teacher fashion!).  Whether you need a good massage or a little retail therapy, you’ve made it through the 20+ weeks of teaching this year, you deserve it!

7. Keep learning. Sign up for a workshop, read some blogs, get around to opening that teacher book that has been sitting on your desk for months! Learning a new teacher trick or finding new ways to think about your classroom philosophy will help productively push you past the third quarter blues!

What do you do to fall back in love with teaching?  We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!

6 Tips for Teaching Presentation Skills

PresentationsAs English teachers, much of our focus tends to be on teaching students to be effective readers and writers, but we can’t forget about the importance of teaching students to be confident and compelling speakers.  As they go into the world, they need the skills to collaborate with others, seek information, and present ideas with clarity. That being said, I often hear students groan at the introduction of a presentation project and I hear teachers in in the faculty lounge bemoan the lack of presentation skills found in many of their students.  In the spirit of helping us all feel a little more comfortable with presentations, today I want to share 6 tips for teaching presentation skills:

1. Work up to a major presentation. Instead of having one or two major presentations during the year, consider giving short, practice presentations early on in the school year, which can lead up to more substantial projects.  They don’t have to take up much time in your curriculum either; students could present for one minute about some aspect of the summer reading assignment or 30 seconds about correct usage of a vocabulary word.  Giving students low-stakes practice can help them to feel more comfortable in front of the class and can give you an idea about presentation strengths and weaknesses to address before the big show.

2. Directly teach students to use visual aids effectively.  It seems obvious to most teachers, but students don’t always think about how a visual will play in a presentation.  They need to be explicitly instructed on how to reference images without turning their back on the audience, how to structure the font and word count of a powerpoint slide, and how to handle any needed audio-visual equipment. These things don’t come naturally to many students.

3. Harness the power of technology. There are so many applications, websites, and devices that can help students practice and manage their presentation.  For example:

  • Prezi.com can create dynamic visuals with easily embedded videos and pictures.  It also has a voice-over option for students who are unable to present for some acceptable reason.  Click here or here for my prezi tutorial posts.
  • Timer apps can give students cues to manage time.
  • Google hangouts can be used for students to practice their presentation with peers in a way that can be done from the connivence of their own homes and can be monitored/graded by a teacher.

4. Create an encouraging and supportive environment.  One of the main reasons that students are so anxious to present is that they are afraid of facing the class in this very formal way.  Teach students how to be a good audience and enforce those standards!

5. Give students a rubric for success. We have to spell out exactly how students can find success so that the hesitant ones don’t give up before they have even started.  You can google class presentation rubrics, use rubistar, or create your own rubric.  Here are some things to consider adding to the criteria:

  • Eye contact, body language, and poise
  • Enthusiasm and elocution
  • Subject knowledge, organization, and mechanics
  • Use of visual aids
  • Supportive listening (I give a grade for being a good audience during other presentations after I discuss what that looks like.)

6. Model a student assignment.  We present in front of our students all the time, but in ways that differ from the requirements for a formal presentation.  I think it is very helpful for students for the teacher to break the ice doing a similar presentation to the one students are working with.  The teacher presentation should probably be a little longer so there is time to stop and point out what the teacher is doing and why.  For example, pointing out the clear size and font of a powerpoint slide or the difference between reading to the audience and glancing down at notes.

Do your students like to present?  What tips do you have for our teacher community?  Share in the comment section below!

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