Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Fun Elementary Lessons - Use Surprises and Silliness to Motivate the Student

A fun way to motivate a student is to pack your lessons full of surprises and silliness. Positive emotions enhance learning and motivation. Your boys will have strong and lasting memories if they are experiencing strong emotions while they are learning.

If you can make something fun, exciting, happy, loving, or perhaps even a bit frightening, students will learn more readily and the learning will last much longer. Emotions can be created by classroom attitudes, by doing something unexpected or outrageous, by praise, and by many other means. Surprises and silliness make lessons so much more memorable for your boys!

Fun elementary lessons could begin with you teaching the class in period costume, acting like a mad scientist when you are doing a science experiment, or having everyone sing their answers. Don't be afraid to embarrass yourself to make a memorable point.

Try motivating your students by using these surprises and silliness techniques:

  • Be Energetic - Being energetic in your teaching is a motivating factor in itself; adding energy to the ideas you want to convey will further enhance learning and commitment to the ideas.
  • Catch! - Throw soft candy, like circus peanuts, into your students' mouths if they get the answer right.
  • Crafts - Let your kids have time to make a fun and unusual craft. This is good for their imagination as well as giving them a break from their traditional book work.
  • Dancing - Jump up and start dancing during a lesson. Your boys will jump up and join you - it's a great way to get the wiggles out as well as to get the blood pumping when the boys are acting lethargic.
  • Enthusiasm - If you become bored or apathetic, students will too. Typically, an instructor's enthusiasm comes from confidence, excitement about the content, and genuine pleasure in teaching. If you find yourself uninterested in the material, challenge yourself to devise the most exciting way to present the lesson.
  • Humor - Allow your boys to express humor in appropriate ways and at appropriate times. Acknowledge your son's skill at being humorous. Sometimes, you just have to have a sense of humor about a boy's sense of humor. Don't allow yourself to become annoyed at their antics - be in the right frame of mind and they will brighten up your day.
  • Mud - Let your sons put on bathing suits and roll around in a bunch of mud if they do their schoolwork well that day. And let them run through the sprinkler to get cleaned up again.
  • Music - Sing their lessons to them. You can also accompany yourself on a musical instrument that you have at home - whether you know how to play the instrument or not. Have your boys join you in singing the lessons as well.
  • Outside - Move their desks or table outside without them realizing you've done so and have them do their lessons outdoors for the day. This is a great spring or fall surprise!
  • Pies- Let students throw a pie in your face if they get 100% on a test.
  • Play Dead - Have a guest come in a play dead and let your sons solve a murder mystery. This will help to strengthen their reading and logic skills.
  • Strange Voices - Use strange voices when you are teaching the lesson. Or, allow your boys to use silly voices when they give their answers.
  • Stunts - This is a great way for Dad to get involved with homeschooling. Have him offer to have his head shaved or to run a marathon if they achieve a certain level of work.
  • Visual aids - Use silly pictures or cartoons to get across the point of the lesson.

Different approaches will motivate students differently. Use your imagination to continue to try new ideas out on your boys, until you discover which methods work best for them. Fun elementary lessons motivate students and help them to remember the information longer as well. Add surprises and silliness to your lessons and bring the fun back into your boys' learning.

Michelle Caskey has been homeschooling her sons for five years. Michelle graduated from the Western Michigan University with a degree in English and Computer Science. Read more of her homeschooling articles at

Tiered Activities - Give Students Choices

Give students a choice of literacy-related activities that each one can meet at his or her own level. To insure that you ask all students to think at high levels, invite students who choose projects that feature art, movement, or drama to make a class presentation and link their project to some of the big ideas you want students to understand. What follows is a list of choice projects my middle school students enjoy.

POSTERS. Students can design posters to advertise a completed book and its author. Have them include bulleted reasons why the book is a terrific read or why they disliked it.

GRAPHIC TEXT. Invite students to turn a scene from their book into a cartoon putting all the dialogue into speech bubbles. During their presentations, students explain why they selected this scene, and how it related to the genre, issues, or themes their class has been discussing.

ADVERTISEMENT. With students study ads for books in magazines such as The Horn Book and School Library Journal. Next, have students create an advertisement for a book you've enjoyed and share it with classmates.

BOOK TALKS. Each month you can ask students to choose a book they've completed and present a book talk. Book talks can focus on explaining a genre, showing changes in a character, making personal connections to a character, or explaining the importance of the information in a nonfiction text. Keep book talks short and focus--2 to 3 minutes.

TIMELINES. Have students select four to six key events in their book. They can focus on a specific character, several settings, or key plot events. In addition to illustrating the timeline, students can also write captions for each illustration. As part of their presentation, students can explain how their timeline showcases a theme or big idea they found in their book.

STUDENT-LED BOOK DISCUSSIONS. Organize students into small groups, giving each student a chance to talk about his or her independent reading book. Instead of having students retell the plot, ask them to choose an open-ended question such as: What did your book teach you about the issue we've been discussion? Did the book change your mind about the issue? How is the information in this book important to your life? To your community? To the world? Did a character in this book connect you to your own experiences? Explain. Explain how the main character solved a major problem? Would you have done this differently? Explain.

DRAMATIC MONOLOGUES. Have students choose a character and imagine what it is like to be him or her. Ask students to write about two important events in the character's life, including the character's thoughts and feelings, using the first person. Students can then perform their monologues for the entire class. Monologues are a great segway to whole class discussions for the student-audience can share their observations and and ask questions of the presenter.

INTERVIEW. This works well if both students have read the same book. Partners create interview questions based on the plot, characters, conflicts, decisions, and take turns being the interviewer and person being interviewed.

MOVIEMAKING. Have a small group of students choose a scene that they can act out and film with a video camera. Students get to know their characters as they translate them from the book to the camera and screen Groups share their videos with the class. Individuals can make movies of a favorite scene in a book by drawing movie frames on shelving paper. The presenter unrolls the scroll, frame by frame and discusses the event.

POWERPOINT PRESENTATIONS. Ask students to choose four to five important events in a character's life and create a PowerPoint presentation to share with the class. Students can include both images and text. Allow time for presenters to field questions from classmates.

TEXT MESSAGING BETWEEN CHARACTERS. Invite students to choose two characters from their book or two people from a biography who interacted a lot. Using their cell phone, students can create a series of text messages that these characters or people might have exchanged based on the events the characters or people lived through. Ask students to explain how they determined what these characters or people would text about. Have students create a hard copy of these text messages.

CREATE A BLOG. Set up a blog with a character's name and write responses to questions classmates ask using all the knowledge you have about that character. Or you can react to a book and/or author that peers have also read and invite them to start and continue a dialogue about the book or author.

Laura Robb is the author of "Differentiating Reading Instruction: How to Teach Reading to Meet the Needs of Each Student". Published in January 2008, it is the natural "next-steps" book to Robb's best-selling Teaching Reading in Middle School, published in 2000, which received rave reviews and continues to sell in large numbers. This new book reflects and offers ways to deal with the fact that middle school classes include students reading at a diverse range of instructional levels.

To learn more about Robb's books, classroom libraries, books that Robb Recommends, teaching and parent tips, to view her speaking calendar, and to contact her visit her web site at

Resourceful Teacher - How To Reuse Worksheets For New Do Now Activities

Did you ever think about using those worksheets for Do Now Activities in the morning?

Those used worksheets can be utilized all week to teach or reinforce learned material or review. They can be used for different activities such as writing, reading comprehension, vocabulary building and more.

As teachers we have a tendency to copy lots of worksheets that are use only once. As I wrote in a previous article we know that Do Now Activities are very important in setting the tone of your class and establishing your class as one where students come to work and not waste time and goof off.

By utilizing used worksheets more then once it eliminates a lot of extra copy work and in turn saves trees. When teachers utilize used worksheets it enables us to show our class that even this small activity can impact the ecology by:

  • saving valuable budget money for paper
  • saving energy by not running the copy machine
  • saving money on repairs of the copy machine
  • saving money by not buying toner
  • setting an example to students on conserving resources
  • most important we are saving a very important natural resource trees

One of the easiest ways to start being a resourceful teacher in the area of reusing worksheets is to start using them for vocabulary building. Once a worksheet is used have the students make lists of nouns, adjectives, verbs or any other form of vocabulary lists from the worksheet. Once these lists are made you can do the following activities:

  • using a list of nouns have them divide the list into common nouns by person, place or thing. Using the same list have them divide them in proper nouns and give you the common noun that goes with the proper noun.
  • Using the list of adjectives have them partner the adjective with a noun to describe it.
  • using adjectives have them write synonyms, and antonyms for each one
  • using a list of verbs have them write the verb in different grammar tense then us in a sentence.

Even if you are teaching a foreign language these activities can be used:

  • if you teach Spanish have them use these lists for translation activities
  • then have them use the words in sentences
  • have them convert those sentences into the past tense or future test.
  • if you are using verbs have them write those verbs in the form of the eight pronoun for example hacer; yo hago, tu haces, el hace, ud. hace and so on.
  • if you are using a list of nouns have them divide the list into common nouns by person, place or thing.
  • Using the same list have them divide them into proper nouns and give you the common noun that goes with the proper noun.

Using the list of adjectives have them partner the adjective with a noun to describe it.

These are just a few activities to get you started there will be more to come. Just wetting your teacher whistle. Happy teaching.

Written by a veteran teacher of 32 years who hopes to give new teachers tried and true strategies that work. Come join me at and look for the educationfiary.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Amusements in Mathematics - A Timeless Classic of Math Puzzles

Henry Ernest Dudeney, English author and mathematician, became a legend with his math puzzle creations. He specialized in logic puzzles and math games. One of his greatest and most noted achievements, however, is his book, Amusements in Mathematics.

Amusements in Mathematics is one of the largest collections of puzzles with 430 brainteasers. All of the puzzles contained within the book are based on algebra, arithmetic, permutations, probability, plane figure dissection, properties of numbers and other mind bending math puzzles and math brain teasers. Critics hail it as "intriguing" and "witty." Amusements in Mathematics is said to be a "paradoxical production of one of the world's foremost creators of puzzles." It includes the puzzles as well as complete solutions.

Dudeney always had a passion for mathematics. He voiced his views very liberally. "A good puzzle should demand the exercise of our best wit and ingenuity," He said, "and although a knowledge of mathematics and of logic are often of great service in the solution of these things, yet it sometimes happens that a kind of natural cunning and sagacity is of considerable value."

When Dudeney wrote the preface to Amusements in Mathematics, he expressed his own views and opinions on puzzles in general. He also made several comments about puzzles that were in the book.

The difficulty of the math puzzles, according to Dudeney, were quite varied. Some math puzzles, particularly the ones that fell into the arithmetical and algebraically categories were very easy. He did warn his readers, though, that they should not overlook or dismiss puzzles that appeared on the surface to be very simple. He alluded to some of the math brain teasers as having traps or sublet pitfalls that could add a twist to the puzzle, giving it a degree of complexity and difficulty.

Dudeney also warned his readers to read the wording of the puzzles very carefully. He indicated that it would be in the reader's best interest to be prudent and wary when reading over the exact wording of the puzzles. He believed that this was a good exercise and a very good habit to cultivate. His beliefs were that it teaches exactitude and caution. Thus he added some twists and turns to the wording of his math puzzles to give his readers a little extra challenge.

The difficult math puzzles, according to Dudeney, could be quite challenging and some of the problems were, in his words, "very hard nuts indeed." His more challenging math puzzles, he explained, were advanced enough to warrant the attention of even expert mathematicians. And in some cases, even these expert mathematicians were left scratching their heads over some of Dudeney's math brain teasers.

Dudeney left his readers a vast selection of math puzzles so that there was something for everyone. He wanted readers to select puzzles in the book according to their individual taste. This resulted in a well rounded book that has math puzzles that are appropriate for nearly every member of the family. There are the simple problems for the youngsters and exceptionally challenging ones for the older more advanced family members.

Amusements in Mathematics by Henry Ernest Dudeney is a timeless classic. It is appropriate for family night, in the classroom or in a meeting of college professors. There is something to appeal to every taste and mathematical level. What's more, it is an entertaining, educational book that reminds us, even today, that math is fun.

Rowan Shead

Amusements in Mathematics

Amusing Math Puzzles of Henry Dudeney will have you Pulling your Hair Out

4 Qualities You Need Have If You Want To Be A Great Teacher

Teaching is a difficult job and becoming a great teacher is almost a thousand times harder.

That is the simple reason why we can remember great teachers - they are as valuable and as rare as pink diamonds.

Overworked but underpaid, these great teachers view their calling as an opportunity - not as an obligation. They believe that to associate with young people is a rare privilege, to teach them is an inspiration and to lead them into a better future is a joy of the profession.

If you want to be one of those great teacher, here are the 4 most fundamental qualities you must have.

Have Sympathy

To have sympathy for your students is to have the ability to live, at least momentarily, in their life. A great teacher can re-live the memory his own childhood or has the power of imagination to see things through the eyes of his pupils.

A great teacher also take a matter of concern in the affairs of his students. To succeed as amazing teachers, we must have a strong passion to to help them. And that sometimes involves the actual doing of something by way of service.

Be Sincere

People say children and dogs are the great judges of sincerity. Guess what? They are absolutely correct. A great teacher is sincere in his work, believes in what he teaches and will do his best effort to the task in hand.

His class is his greatest concern, he meet his students because he loves teaching them and will always be available for counsel at any time. Because he is sincere in his work - he teaches with enthusiasm.

Be Optimistic

Optimism is contagious.

Look for the good things in your students. Even the weakest or the naughtiest one have some admirable qualities in them.

Be friendly, do not be so serious in your job that you forget to be human. Yes, too much friendliness can be used by the students as a license for mischief. However, great teachers know when to exert order and when to apply cheer.

Remember, cheerfulness is the best key to the human heart.

Have Vitality

The days where a stern teacher is respected has been long gone. Not having enough role models, young kids nowadays demand a teacher or leader who is energetic and enthusiastic . A great teacher fills in the role perfectly.

He knows that children like to have a teacher who the have a certain vigor of attack that appears to go directly to the point, putting at rest all other things and making discipline simply unnecessary.

That is what 20th century students seem to like.

There are many other contributing factors that make a great teacher. However the above four steps are believed to be the key or fundamental to be one. Follow the steps, acquire the abilities and one day you will also be a teacher that your students may remember for their entire life.

If you need some inspiration to be a better teacher, try some inspirational quotes for teachers . For your students try some inspirational quotes for students

You can get all these at the inspirational and motivational quotation site - the

Teaching Patriotism in Elementary Schools

Patriotism is a growing concern in our nation today. One of the ways to teach children patriotism is to have them be in an informative play or program. Many schools and teachers are looking for programs to fit this description that are easy to put on and take very little practice time to present. With all the teaching and testing that teachers are required to do for the “No Child Left Behind” idea. It has left them with little time to do the creative programs for their students. Even though these are the activities that children will remember they are the ones that are being eliminated from schools.

Patriotic programs also need to teach and educate students in a creative way about their country. The programs or plays show them just what a priceless gift freedom is for them to celebrate and embrace. Teaching them about respect for their flag, country and other patriotic symbols such as the Statue of Liberty, The Liberty Bell, The Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial is important for patriotism to take root in young children.

There are many holidays that students could participate in patriotic programs. Just a few are Constitution Day in September, Veterans Day in November, Election Day, in November, Pearl Harbor Day in December, Columbus Day in October, Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, Presidents Day in February, Memorial Day in May, and of course July 4th in July. All of these times are special events that call for some patriotic program and it helps us appreciate our freedom more. Another more recent day is 9/11 in September to remember those people who serve our country

Nothing instills patriotism more than a good patriotic song. There are so many on the market today that it is not hard to find something to fit any patriotic program. Another must for a patriotic program is a good power point presentation showing our flag, or maybe even all the flags that have flown over the United States. A good power point can make students feel how important that flag really is to them. One of the things that I like in programs to teach patriotism is to always start the program with the scouts posting the Colors of the United States of America. One years we had taps played and the students really enjoyed that, also.

To summarize some of the most important parts for a patriotic program is:

Take the time to do a patriotic program at least one a year

Talk about the symbols that represent our country

Choose an appropriate day to celebrate

Include patriotic music

Include pictures

Post the Colors and Retrieve the Colors of the United States of America

Saturday, March 1, 2008


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Friday, February 22, 2008

Teaching Preschool - Patience, Expectations, and Fun

"Not While I'm Wearing the Hat"

Teaching preschool is never a walk in the park. One moment you're trying to sooth a crying child while tearing apart two others who are fighting over the last black pipe cleaner for their art project. For this reason, teaching preschool requires a never-ending supply of patience balanced with enough authority to get the kids to listen.

One great way to keep from being interrupted when teaching preschool is to use a visual focal point to remind the children not to speak, such as a hat. Unless children are bleeding, they cannot speak while the teacher is wearing the hat, even to ask a question.

This helps to teach restraint and patience, as well as the value of listening to others. The hat could even coincide with the theme of the month, such as a Santa hat around the holidays and a baseball cap in the spring.

Great Expectations... but not too great

When teaching preschool, remember to develop expectations specific to each child as opposed to the notion of where they should be developmentally. Some children are able to wait five minutes for something whereas others can only sustain one minute of waiting before their attention wanders. Similarly, some children are out like a light during nap time while others simply will be unable to fall asleep, especially at the beginning of the school year.

When a child succeeds in meeting or exceeding their own set of expectations, always make sure to reward them with positive reinforcement, which is the key to both behavior guidance and the prevention of negative behaviors. And positive reinforcement doesn't just have to be kind words either.

For example, the child could be rewarded by being allowed to sit at the teacher's desk for the remainder of the class. Or they could be permitted to bring their favorite classroom toy or game home for the night. This teaches the child a sense of responsibility in remembering to bring the toy back the next day.

Another great reward for good behavior can be that the child gets to choose which story is read during story time, or what craft everyone gets to do after lunch. By being allowed to make choices for the entire grow, the child is endowed with a sense of group responsibility.

Finally, another great reward for positive behavior is to phone the child's parents, preferably in front of the child just to let them know what a great kid they have. This will make the child feel special since the teacher is taking time from their busy day just to deliver a compliment to the person which most children are trying hardest to impress.

The Golden Rule: Have Fun!

Speaking of delivering compliments, make sure not to forget about supporting the other members of the teaching staff and parental volunteers. A little thank you now and then will go a long way. And at the end of the day, the most important thing to remember when teaching preschool is to have fun. When the children can sense that the teacher is having fun, they too will share in this sense of amusement.

Mary Robinson has been teaching preschool for well over a decade. You can get instant access to her preschool activities, crafts, and lesson plans by visiting her website:

For a limited time, all visitors to Mary's site will also get a free copy of her special report: "The 7 Biggest Mistakes Preschool Teachers and Parents Make". Go get your free copy today!

Orlando Schools Sue Parent for Blog Postings

Orlando schools have been a victim of the information age. In a recent news item, it was revealed that the New School of Orlando is suing a parent for comments posted on the parent's blog about her daughter's treatment while attending kindergarten there. The school is alleging that the parent's statements caused enrollment to drop and that the school should be compensated for damage to its reputation. This one case raises the questions of how personal opinions on the Orlando schools can and should be shared.

Can One Person's Blog Make a Difference at Orlando Schools?

If enrollment at this school dropped because of statements made by this parent, how can the school prove it? Or how could any Orlando schools if it happened to them? It's almost impossible to track how and why parents choose to enroll or pull their children from various Orlando schools. But the pressing question is really whether parents should be prohibited from sharing opinions of Orlando schools online.

By its very nature, a blog is someone's personal observations and opinions posted on a website. Please note that I said "personal." I have no way of knowing if what this parent posted on her blog was true or not. But she believed it. I would hope that no child attending the Orlando schools would be treated with a lack of respect, as was stated on the blog in question. I also hope that no person working at the Orlando schools would think it was appropriate in any way to threaten a parent who had something to say about the school that officials didn't agree with. But reality is that when you have as many families in an area as there are in Orlando schools, someone's going to be unhappy.

Freedom of Speech and Orlando Schools

One idea is that students at Orlando schools (and elsewhere) have the freedom of speech to express their opinions. They should also be discussing the concept of censorship and at what point it is appropriate to tell someone that they can't express their opinion, or if this is ever appropriate.

If what this parent wrote in her blog is not simply giving her opinion about her child's treatment at this Orlando school and her allegations are true, then shouldn't the public be informed of these facts? The institution involved in this case was a private school not part of the public Orlando schools. Yet whether she is or not, her opinion may be helpful to other parents, and my even force Orlando schools to improve.

I don't know whether this blog simply listed this parent's experience with the school or whether she actively discouraged other parents from enrolling their children at this particular school. Maybe she lambasted Orlando schools in general. No matter what, she has a right to her opinion. And as an Orlando schools parent, I want to know what other parents have to say.

Other parents may send their children to this same Orlando school and be quite happy with how the place is run. This woman has the right to express her opinion about any topic she chooses, whether online or elsewhere. Anything else is censorship and has no place in a democracy.

Patricia Hawke is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U.S. public and private K-12 schools. For more information please visit Orange County Florida Public Schools

Public School Teachers - A Lesson in Mediocrity

If the American Public School system were a corporation it would be sued, and then closed for bankruptcy. Its product is crap, its bureaucracy is bloated, and its rank and file is more concerned about their benefits, seniority and pension than excelling. The teachers make the average united auto worker of the eighties look like employee of the year. And while the UAW worker is now paying for their lackadaisical attitude the teacher can go on, thanks in no large part to their own union, indefinitely. But that is not surprising when you look at the make up of your average public school teacher. As a student they went through school with the lone talent of being able to regurgitate the teacher's lesson, never a creative thought in their head. Their idea of human achievement was earning the perfect attendance record for the semester so they could hang it on their wall. They were ignored by their fellow students who enjoyed pranks, challenging authority, dreaming of leaving school, and pursuing careers with passion and dedication. When looking for careers, future teachers had to look no farther then those under achieving adults that patted them on the head like a faithful dog, thier current teachers. Where else could such mediocre clods have power over thirty individuals at once? Certainly not in a boardroom, or leading a seminar, that would be facing adults that have achieved things in their life. Instead these poster children of mediocity discover rather early in life they have nothing to offer their classmates, in fact their fellow man. They do not possess original ideas, they do not posses an ability to make life long friends, and they do not posses the ability to be a constructive teammate. So they seek out others who are lacking in these areas that make people human, public school teachers. Many times forming improper but usually relationships.

The public school teacher is a sanctuary for the mediocre. It does not require any effort, it does not require any talent, it does not require any vision. The requirements are to stay one page ahead of the students, most of whom have no interest in the subject being taught because it in no way relates to anything in their life. And it requires them to reward the kids that fit neatly inside the bell curve of average. Kids that learn differently, have different interests, act out, are to be identified, isolated, and labeled. In short any kid that demonstrates abilities that might become future leaders, are to be ostracized, and/or medicated. If you are bored or disruptive sitting in class, then there will be meetings, diagnostic exams, and you will be classified with A.D.D. or some other disorder. It is never a requirement of the school to change their direction. They are stamping out Model T's only.

For the mediocre these youngsters are a challenge to their authority, and that will not be tolerated. They are the same kids that taunted them back when they were in school, made fun of their joy when receiving that gold star, that pat on the head, for making the teacher smile.

There are a few teachers that do have something to offer. Generally these folks went out to achieve something in the adult world, and then returned to share their knowledge with the kids. They themselves have learned something in their life, and want to share this knowledge, and inspire today's youth. Their efforts while just a drop in the bucket should be commended. It is a decent and proper thing to do, and it shows today's youth well rounded adults do exist.

The mediocre teacher left high school, straight for an under achieving state college, that offers education as a major, and then quickly returns back to high school, this time at the front of the class. What do these people have to teach? What do they have to offer high school students? Nothing? They have no life experience, they have not challenged themselves. They have nothing, except one page ahead in the book.

And the only students they relate to? Those just like them, oh the joy of that perfect attendance record. You know who you are you pathetic dolts.

Mac McMann writes from the male point of view at

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Teacher Next Door Program

Good Neighbor Next Door Program or the Teacher Next Door Program is a unique federal government sponsored home loan program applicable to state-certified classroom teachers in grade K-12. The teacher should be a full-time employee at a public school, private school or a federal, state, county or city educational agency.

Under this program, HUD-acquired single-family homes are offered to teachers at half the purchase price. Homes offered under this program are located in HUD-designated Revitalization Areas and are typically in low and moderate-income neighborhoods. Single-family detached homes, condominiums and townhouses are also included under this program. The loan amount should be utilized for purchasing a home located in these revitalization areas. A teacher should purchase one that is located around the school in the same district or jurisdiction in which he/she is employed.

Revitalization areas contain many vacant homes that were previously insured through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and then foreclosed due to the inability of borrowers to make mortgage payments. In most cases, these are the homes that are offered to customers under the Teacher Next Door Program. These houses come at a discounted price and require a minimal down payment equivalent to $100. Interest rates on the mortgage loans are low and repayment terms are flexible. HUD contains a list of such houses. Hence, there is no need for real estate brokers and agents.

However, there are certain restrictions under this home loan program. The applicants must be citizens of the US and should be the primary resident in the purchased home for at least 3 years. Till that period, the teacher must be employed in the same school. Once the 3-year period is complete, the teacher has the option of selling the property and keeping the profit after clearing the loan.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What Schools Look for in a Teacher

When a school searches for a new teacher, they already have an image of the teacher they want. Every school has certain qualities they feel a teacher must have to be successful. Those qualities can be many things depending on the needs and location of the school. While the qualities that each school considers important may vary, there are usually shared qualities that all schools would consider important.

The experience or background of a teacher is the most important quality a school looks for so your resume should highlight the qualities they are looking for. If they are looking for an ESL teacher for kindergarten students, it may be best to highlight activities that you have initiated and prepared at your previous positions. In addition, if you are looking at a position for a content subject such as science, highlight your knowledge and education in that area. This is especially important if you are a new teacher with little or no experience. Regardless, you should also have all academic qualifications available for the school to preview before you go for an interview. Most schools want to review the qualifications while considering applicants and will sometimes pass on teachers who don’t submit these items for review when applying. Each school is unique so the best thing would be to have a cover letter that speaks to that school and the position they are looking to fill. Don’t just have a blanket letter and resume that you mass mail to any potential school in the hopes of gaining employment. It may be beneficial to have a list of professional highlights that you can copy and paste into a cover letter based on the requirements of the position.

Another important consideration for schools is the personal qualities of a teacher. Most schools are looking for a long term commitment from a teacher so they want to make sure that teacher will fit within their school. The obvious qualities that come to mind are personable, positive and flexible/patient because these qualities will carry over into the classroom with your future students. In addition, the school will look at a teacher’s qualities with regards to their professionalism because there is much that is required outside of the classroom. In other words, they will want a teacher that is organized and committed. If they feel that the teacher can’t be depended on, they may not consider them a viable candidate. One of the things that may highlight a teacher’s lack of commitment is a resume that shows numerous teaching positions over a short period of time. Remember that you will not be judged strictly by your qualifications but on the sum of who you are as an individual.

The factors that go into a school’s decision to accept a teacher are varied and many so it is impossible to cover them all. Regardless, cover the basics looked for in any teacher and identify the unique characteristics or qualifications of a particular position. Remember that looking for a teaching job, like many other employment searches, is about selling yourself and the best way to do this is by identifying what the employer wants.

The following is an abbreviated list of characteristics posted by a teacher in response to a UNICEF request to “What makes a Good Teacher?”:

Positive - Thinks positively and enthusiastically about people and what they are capable of becoming. Sees the good in any situation and can move forward to make the most of difficult situations when confronted with obstacles. Encourages others to also be positive.

Communicative - Shares with others in a manner that encourages effective two-way communication. Communicates personal thoughts and feelings on a wide spectrum of issues and can listen to students in an empathetic manner, assuring each that conversations will be held in confidence.

Dependable - Honest and authentic in working with others. Consistently lives up to commitments to students and others. Works with them in an open, honest, and forthright manner.

Organized - Makes efficient use of time and moves in a planned and systematic direction. Knows where he or she is heading and is able to help students in their own organization and planning. Can think in terms of how organization can be beneficial to those served.

Committed - Demonstrates commitment to students and the profession and is self-confident, poised and personally in control of situations. Has a healthy self-image. Encourages students to look at themselves in a positive manner, careful to honor the self-respect of the students, while encouraging them to develop a positive self-concept.

Motivational - Enthusiastic with standards and expectations for students and self. Understands the intrinsic motivations of individuals, and knows what it is that motivates students. Takes action in constructive ways.

Compassionate - Caring, empathetic and able to respond to people at a feeling level. Open with personal thoughts and feelings, encouraging others to do likewise. Knows and understands the feelings of students.

Flexible - Willing to alter plans and directions in a manner which assists people in moving toward their goals. Seeks to reason out situations with students and staff in a manner that allows all people to move forward in a positive direction.

Knowledgeable - Is in a constant quest for knowledge. Keeps up in his or her specialty areas, and has the insight to integrate new knowledge. Takes knowledge and translates it to students in a way which is comprehensible to them, yet retains its originality.

Creative - Versatile, innovative, and open to new ideas. Strives to incorporate techniques and activities that enable students to have unique and meaningful new growth experiences.

Patient - Is deliberate in coming to conclusions. Strives to look at all aspects of the situation and remains highly fair and objective under most difficult circumstances. Believes that problems can be resolved if enough input and attention is given by people who are affected.

You can also practice answers to typical teacher interview questions like the ones on the following sites:

Virginia Polytechnic Institute

Michael G. Hines is the founder of, a free resource helping the ESL/EFL community for jobs, resumes, schools, resources, yellow pages, classifieds, information and lessons. There are even free user blogs and chat!

SAT Essay - 8 Ways To Write A Great Introduction

You can't afford to have writer's block since you only have 25 minutes to write your SAT Essay. So to help my students put pen to paper faster I created these 8 techniques for creating a compelling introduction quickly. Try them and they'll help you too.

1. Understand the prompt first

The number one thing you must do to write a great introduction is to make sure you know what you are writing about first. The biggest mistake I've seen in scoring SAT Essays is that many students misread the prompt. To avoid this I have my students underline or circle important words and phrases to make sure they have truly digested the prompt. I suggest you do the same.

2. Use an analogy or metaphor

Analogies require creativity. A trait that SAT Essay graders love to reward. For an essay in which the prompt was "Is it true that to make progress people must make sacrifices?" A student created the following analogy,

"To climb a mountain a person must struggle and strain. And this is the case with any worthwhile goal..."

3. Tell a brief anecdote

You can create an engaging introduction by telling a brief (1-2 sentence anecdote) such as the following.

When I trained for my first marathon it was difficult and often painful. But I wanted to have the accomplishment of running 26.2 miles so I did it anyway. To make progress in life requires sacrifice.

4. Use a quote that was not used in the prompt

It is useful to memorize quotes that you love. You never know when they can come in handy on the test. For example for the essay topic "Do mistakes lead to growth?" one of my students wrote

Someone once asked Edison, "how can you feel good about your work, having failed nine-hundred and ninety-nine times to make a light bulb?" To this Edison replied, "I have not failed so many times, I have merely learned nine-hundred and ninety-nine ways not to make a light bulb. Why did Edison react this way? Because he knew that mistakes are always experiences that lead to learning and growth."

This was a great quote to begin his essay with and would definitely impress SAT Essay graders.

5. Mention a topic in the news

SAT Essay Experts will often say to stay away from news in the body of your essay. And they are right. However, in the introduction it can be very useful IF you have the facts straight AND it's even better if it is a news story that isn't well covered. If you use this idea make sure it clearly fits the topic.

6. Make up an anecdote using very specific details

I don't recommend this as you don't need a creative introduction badly enough to take the trouble to make one up. I had a student insist on trying this and his were so bad at first anyone could guess they were fictional. Finally, however he started to put details that were so specific that I couldn't tell if it was real or not. So you can fool graders if you want to but I don't recommend it.

7. Use a cliche in an inventive way

Most books and articles on writing say to stay away from cliches however, it's a secret of professional writers that if you change a cliche it captures people's attention.

One student used the following cliche to make a great introduction for the topic "Which is a better indicator of a person's true character, their actions or their words?"

"A picture tells a thousand words" is a saying that applies to the newspaper industry but which also applies to people. The picture created by a person's actions tells us a thousand words about him or her and goes much farther than words do in telling us about a person's true thoughts and feelings. Several examples from literature and history demonstrate this point.

Using the cliche "A picture tells a thousand words" to make the point that actions speak louder than words is very unique and very powerful.

8. When all else fails just do a quick summary of what you will cover in your essay

Make sure you clearly state your thesis and state which categories of information your examples are from

For example, "Examples from history, literature and science will prove that people care far too much about what others think of them."

Most of all remember, you do not need to write an impressive introduction so badly that you sacrifice the rest of your essay. In fact I taught my students to write great body paragraphs first as these are just as important. Then when they could write them quickly I taught them how to write great introductions and powerful conclusions.

Rodney Daut is a former public school teacher, SAT instructor and author. Did you find these tips writing the SAT Essay useful? You can learn a lot more about how to write well for the SAT Essay by visiting SAT Essay.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Classroom Management - How to Handle Minor Classroom Management Problems

As a full-time middle school teacher as well as a part-time adjunct education professor, I know quite well how important it is to have strong classroom management skills.

Personally, I am a big proponent of the using a "proactive" approach to classroom management. My goal is to stop classroom management problems BEFORE they start. I do this by using teaching strategies that increase student motivation, increase class participation and basically keep my students involved throughout the entire lesson.

However, regardless of how effective a teacher uses proactive classroom management strategies, minor disruptions will still occur in the classroom. Before we go any further let me make one thing perfectly clear here...this article is about stopping MINOR classroom management problems such as talking while the teacher is talking, writing or passing notes, and minor roughhousing.

There are two common ways in which teachers usually deal with these nagging classroom management issues...

In order to avoid being the known as the tough disciplinarian, some teachers choose to simply ignore minor misbehaviors altogether. The problem with this approach is that the misbehavior will most likely NOT go away. In fact, the misbehavior will most likely escalate and the teacher will be forced to deal with it anyway. Therefore, ignoring the misbehavior is just too risky.

On the other hand, some teachers use the strict approach and react to every minor disturbance regardless of the severity of the misbehavior.

The problem with this approach is that it presents the teacher as a negative role model, and it may lead to an overall negative feeling in the classroom and towards learning and school in general. Furthermore, the teacher's response may actual cause greater disruption to the lesson than the student's original misbehavior.

The problem is if the teacher stops the lesson to discipline 1 or 2 students for some minor misbehavior then the class went from 1 or 2 students being off task to 20 or 30 students being off task. While, the teacher may not have caused the original minor disruption, the teacher can certainly be blamed for the other 20 to 30 kids being off task.

So what's a teacher to do?

The key to handling these minor classroom management problems is to make sure the lesson itself does not stop.

Many experts call this the "Law of Least Intervention".

The basic concept is simple...the teacher uses a series of steps that require the least amount of teacher time and the least amount of disruption to the lesson. The teacher starts with the first step requiring the very least intervention and if that doesn't work quickly moves up the ladder to the next step which requires slightly more intervention and so on.

By using this approach the teacher can maintain a positive learning environment while at the same time maximize time on task. And, as I have stated time and time again, when students are on task they are much less likely to disrupt the class.

Remember, the intervention should take the least amount of time...the least amount of teacher effort...create the least unpleasant feeling for both teacher and student...and have the least disruption to the lesson.

Download your FREE report that shows you step-by-step how to handle minor classroom management problems:

How To Deal with an Oppositional and Defiant Student

We all know the type of kid; he or she may be your biggest headache. They are hostile to you and their peers, they don't seem to listen, and don't do what they are told. Its almost like they want to upset you. It seems like the more you try to manage them the more they resist....

Sound Familiar?

Students with oppositional and defiant behavior tend to have a pattern of negative and abrasive interactions with others (including you) in the classroom.

These guys are special and must be carefully approached...but don't give up! That willfulness can be channeled in good ways. But the trick is to take the focus off of them and carefully monitor your responses to them. You must become a Jedi must master yourself!

So you find yourself in a power struggle. Take a minute and reflect on the last one you were in. How did you try to control the situation? What happened? What was the outcome?

The Trap of the Power Struggle

Things you may do to make it worse:

  • Lose your temper (yelling or using sarcasm tend to escalate oppositional kids)
  • Engage in the interaction in front other students
  • Try to persuade the student or worse...bribe the student
  • Threaten the student
  • Adding more and more consequences
  • Trying to embarrass the student or put them down
  • Not following through with consequences or being inconsistent
  • Letting the struggle go on way too long
  • Crowd the student
  • Get annoyed at every little thing they do wrong...always focus on the big battle.
Things you can do to make it better:
  • Use a calm neutral voice no matter what
  • Give clear directions to the student
  • Discuss things briefly and in private to remove the audience
  • Making sure to listen to the student and consider what they are saying
  • Have clear boundaries and predetermined consequences for problem behavior
  • Remove yourself from the interaction if you cannot keep it together
  • If you have a teacher's aid, have a plan for who will take over the class when a defiant student must be spoken with.
  • Analyze the power struggles you have been hooked into...what hooked you?
  • Creating Change

Monitoring your tone

With negative and defiant students you may become triggered to be negative too. This is a mistake. Use your Jedi powers to keep your tone neutral when the child is negative, and be positive when the child is neutral or positive.


Oppositional and defiant behavior is often driven by the student's resistance to being under someone else's control or authority. Therefore, reward systems may not always work, especially if the child smells your desire to tame them or manipulate them.

Reinforcement that may prove more successful includes:

  • Giving praise briefly and discreetly as you walk around; or a quick whisper in the student's ear when they are on task (do not draw attention).
  • Write some good comments on a note and leave it on their desk.
  • Reward them with a leadership role.

What else can I do???

Make your oppositional student a helper and a leader. Because oppositional children have a strong need for control, helping them find pro-social ways to channel that need can be a great strategy to help them gain a sense of self-worth and community. Of course, make sure that your student is appropriately prepared, trained, and supervised in the activity. If the student's academic skills are below grade level, you may consider creating opportunities for leadership or mentorship with younger children.

Great roles for oppositional students are:

  • Leader of a small group, or co-leader of a small group with an adult.
  • Caretaker of the class pet.
  • Tutor or read-aloud buddy for peers or younger children.
  • Buddy, lunch pal, assistant, or mentor to a younger or new student.
  • Conflict mediator to help others solve a problem.
  • Have them help create and/or lead a community service project.
  • Have them construct something for the whole class to use.

Most important, take care of yourself outside the classroom, this is not an easy job! Set realistic expectations. Set the bar low enough so that your student can definitely clear the jump. Build slowly from there! Good Luck!

Read related "How To" teaching articles on

Classroom Discipline Tips: Dealing With Difficult Students and Parents

Or Check out TheApple's Lesson Plans for all Age Groups.

Katherine Richert Ph.D.


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