Grant to Support Animals in the Classroom

The Pet Care Trust is sponsoring a grant to support pets in the classroom. Awards are for $50, $100 or $150 dollars (k-6 classrooms). It it is a simple on line form to fill out. (Takes about 5 minutes.) Good Luck! (click here to apply)

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Posted in Grants | 1 Comment

The Cost of Becoming a Teacher

The Debt

Sarah spent big money to become a teacher. Just the bare bones cost of her tuition would support a middle class Bombay household for years. Despite living frugally, she’s tens of thousands of dollars in debt as she starts her career.

She’s a thrifty young woman, went to state college and followed up her four-year degree with her teaching credential. She lived frugally in an apartment with roommates and worked while she went to school. The money she spent was on the lower end of cost for an American teacher’s education.

The Damage

  1. Undergraduate Tuition, California State University–$20,000.
  2. Post baccalaureate Teacher Preparation Tuition–$5,000.
  3. Books and other supplies–$5,000

More than thirty thousand dollars in debt she launched her career. She was lucky to land a job, which started at $39,586 a year. However, saddled with this monster debt, she’ll be in her late 20s before she pays it off.

As time goes on Sarah will be offered yearly raises on a salary schedule, but she will not make significant salary gains unless she continues her education. The average unit of continuing education costs $100, and that doesn’t include books and materials.

If Sarah decides to train for administration, it could cost between $6,000 and $10,000.

Good Luck Tough Luck

I am an extremely lucky person. My parents helped me pay for my education. And my free, public school education at Sacramento High School was of a good quality.

But what about bright, young people who don’t start out with the advantages I had–foster kids, poverty level students, children of immigrants, children of the working poor, and these days the children of the hard working middle class? This is a pool of promise we don’t want to ignore. These are the shapers and leaders of tomorrow. It is wrong to burden our future with debt from education.

Solution Offered

We must consider free state university education for students who can meet a tough academic criterion. Those who don’t make it right out of high school can improve and qualify through the community college system.

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Posted in Opinion, Teacher Finances | 3 Comments

No Fur No Feathers

An absolute no fur no feathers policy in public schools is rare. Just this May I met Doris the puppy a Seeing Eye in training and watched Elvis stroll with his math teacher Momma on the quad lawn.

My Dog: Buttercup

Through the years I’ve managed to kill about 20 gold fish, and two rather stinky rats. (I actually saw one of the rats die– head suddenly raised, keeling over, twitching and then nothing–all in about 10 seconds.)

If you do decide to bring your pet to school here are some guidelines. I’m sure you won’t kill your dog at school, or watch as your rabbit brutally attacks your students, but just in case make sure you’ve got these covered.

1.  Get permission first. This is not one of those “ask for forgiveness” moments. You want to make sure that administration is on board.

2.  Demonstrate that you can control your animal, and that the creature is kid friendly. If you have any doubts, don’t bring it.

3.  Pick up the poop and put it in an outside trashcan.

4.  If a student or faculty member seems uncomfortable stay clear. Don’t insist on “introducing” your animal. Respect people’s space.

5.  Understand that YOU are the responsible party and that YOU can be sued. Be aware that if you don’t have umbrella insurance an injured party can go after your assets for compensation–including your house.

6.  Be mindful of your animal. Prepare a quiet space and make sure plenty of water and potty breaks are available.

There’s always the surprise ending. You may go to school dogless and come home with one, like I did. Mike the custodian found little Buttercup poking around the drink machine. No one claimed her so I took her home on a trial bases. That was three years ago.

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Posted in Teaching Tips | 1 Comment

Hippocratic Oath for Teachers

My friend Rhonda likes to quote the Japanese proverb:

Fall down seven times… get up eight.

Believe me, I have rolled down spiral staircases professionally, but yet, it’s best to get up and try again. I’m also the type of person who loves structure and I don’t have a lot of internal perseverance. So, with a giant nod to Hippocrates, here is a tool that helps me get up when I fall–The Teachers Oath. I wrote it knowing how much I fall short. And I wrote it thinking about my wonderful, inspirational colleagues.

The Teachers Oath

(With A Humble Nod to the Hippocratic Oath)

I swear to fulfill to the best of my ability the following professional pledges.

I pledge to respect the hard-won knowledge of those teachers who have taught before me and pass on the very best practices to others.

I pledge to posses subject matter mastery of the courses I teach either through a college degree of academic rigor or supplemental education. I pledge to pass a subject matter exam in grades 7-12, before given a contract to teach the subject.

I pledge to remember that there is art to teaching, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh grades and standardized test scores.

I pledge to present my very best self to students by dressing professionally, having excellent attendance and exercising professional behavior at all times.

I pledge to master the skills of classroom management appropriate to the population I teach.

I pledge to support action to provide teachers a middle class salary that provides room for ample advancement and monetary reward for success and hard work.

I pledge to support action to provide the tools, training, personnel, and competent administrative discipline support that is necessary in the schools.

I pledge to have prepared lessons and be able articulate to parents and students and administrators the purpose of my lessons, every day.

I will remember that I have special obligations to my fellow humans and have the responsibility to teach future generations.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of teaching those who enter my classroom.

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Posted in Teaching Tips | 2 Comments

Kids In Need Foundation

Kids in Need Foundation is a quick and easy grant to apply for, and you get some free goodies, just for making out the application. Good Luck!

Applications for the 2010 Kids In Need Foundation Teacher Grants are now online. This year all teachers that apply will receive a special gift of poster making and bulletin board supplies from ArtSkills! Deadline for applications is September 30, 2010.

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Quick Teaching Tips

This post does not offer mind-bending revelations about teaching or groundbreaking advice. (Do any of them?)   My student teacher asked me for some oddball tips, things not in the books that might help him. So here they are, off the top of my head, sliding down the cuff and written down on a Friday at the end of May. Ay, ay, ay. If you can add to this list, please do so.

1. Get an electric stapler for your desk.

2. Get a phone from a garage sale that is programmable (for speed) and has a speaker feature (good for student parent teacher immediate conferences) and an answering machine.

3. Groom teaching assistants (if you’re lucky enough to have one) well and reward them generously.

4. Get an electronic time/date stamp for fast passes. (You can buy them used at time clock stores.)

5. Greet students warmly, at the door.

6. What ever your personal style, dress as well as you can, everyday (clean, ironed, non-offensive). Did I say clean?

7. Stand outside during passing time as much as possible.

8. Lock up all valuables, everyday, all the time, always.

9. Get a fish tank and delegate the care and feeding.

10. Give kids regular chores in the room and rotate them. Even older kids like the responsibility and it engenders ownership of the room.

11. Take time to play board games like checkers and chess at lunchtime with your students. You’ll get really good at checkers.

12. Catch students doing the right thing.

13. Praise little achievements with challenged students.

14. Notice shy people.

15. Notice good behavior, or a turn to good behavior, with praise.

16. Develop a wide vocabulary for praise beyond “good job.”

17. Get an electric tea kettle.

18. Keep your room clean and remember the broken window theory.

19. Don’t socialize your prep away.

21. Eat fruit.

22. Write notes and letters to students.

23. Use plastic sheet covers on the seating chart for quick notes.

24. Buy a packet of good earplugs and use them at rallies.

25. Put your keys on a skinny cord, sports type nylon lanyard. Click Here to Get From Amazon

26. Keep a change of clothes and shoes in the classroom.

27. Use sick leave only when you’re sick. Unused sick leave is added to your retirement. You could end up with an added year or more in service at the end of your career.

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Posted in Classroom Management, Teaching Tips | 2 Comments

I’m Managing… a Girl Group?

It’s rather funny to think of myself as a show biz impresario. I’m one of the un-funny–willing to laugh but can’t remember a joke or tell a compelling story to save the free world. Oddly, putting together a girl act and the ensuing opportunities that came as a result helped save one grisly year and gave me back the joy of teaching.

The Act: Ladies of Expression

There can be an invisible, unattractive wall between you and your students. Maybe you built it. You might be too busy with career classes or your own family to spend any spare moments after school. You might be unsure of yourself or simply stressed out. I was stressed out and not connecting well with my English language learners last year. My lessons were tense and flat and I was a bell-to-bell taskmaster, alert as a ferret for misdeeds and disorderly behavior.

When Johnson Lee approached me and asked if I would help his sister try out for the Multicultural Show I was amused. Shirley peeked at me from behind her brother. She looked terrified. I couldn’t imagine what talent or knowledge they thought I had about show business, or what this peewee girl might perform. Overweight, feeling humorless and grumpy. I stared down at them, flummoxed. “You want me to sponsor the Hmong girl dancers?” They bobbed their heads in unison. This was the shaky beginning.

Spending time with your students outside of the instructional day is a sure fire way to build your relationships with them. And at the risk of sounding trite: it’s all about the relationships. I agreed to help and the project reconnected me with my students and ended up both earning money for the group and creating an amazing form of community outreach.


By the end of the year the group had performed at our Back to School, Open House, and Multicultural Show, neighboring schools and assisted living facilities in the community. And the kids got paid. Honorariums bought them yearbooks, tickets for the end of school trip and a multicultural party. Not to mention the huge ego boost of being paid performers. The girls maintained good grades and were positive role models for their peers. The success prompted me to apply for grants to expand the program to Mexican Folklorico, and Hip Hop.

Hmong quiz

The strength of the project was the students and what they brought to the table. They had to develop a narrative, choreograph and execute a dance routine, learn presentation skills and create presentation visuals. They learned more about their own culture and history and became budding public speakers.

Once I got organized and knew what I was doing, I really didn’t spend any more time at school than I usually do, and the group was self-supervising and didn’t require my direct instruction. I usually graded papers while they danced and worked out the routine. And yes ma’am, the student work was tied to the standards and as a surprise bonus I was able to reduce my adjunct duty.

Briefly, here’s how to do it. And remember, there’s no business like show business.

Telling a Hmong folktale

Identify: Scout students who have a cultural talent who want to develop performance skills.

Facilitate: Set up practice time in your room and keep them on task.

Teach: Introduce stage presence and reinforce manners.

Structure: Give the group a framework for practice time and provide constructive criticism.

Develop: Help the students create an audience quiz about the culture and anticipate and practice a Q&A session.

Pull it Together: Run through the whole act, check costumes, praise and bolster confidence.

Schedule: Set a schedule of school shows and community events.

On Stage

Assisted Living Facility Performance

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I’m Gonna Be A Better Teacher

Somedays I wake and announce, “I’m gonna be a better babe.” It does set the tone of the day on a positive note and it pleases my mate immensely. Odd thing is, even as I forget my vow and the mini crises and labors of the day unfold, I usually do have a lighter step and I steer away from the pessimistic gloominess that is my nature.

Logically, the whole day would be hugely better if I wrote my mantra down, referred to it often and made modifications when I steered from the theme. Hmm, sounds like a lot of work for just living a day, but for making positive changes as a teacher, it seems like a good method.

So for the 2010-2011 school year: I’m gonna to be a better teacher.

This is a great start, but unlike my morning mutterings about being a better human, being a teacher requires organization and planning and so does my vow. Here are five steps I’m taking this year to improve:

Enthusiasm It is a contagious disease. I’ve got 30 or so pairs of eyes experiencing the subject matter for the first time in each class. I will focus on the sense of discovery and excitement of learning.

Preparation We all know that well planned lessons usually result in success–academic and behavioral. That being said, what about those days when you have a 47 minute lock down with your classroom filled with students who are not yours? Or, you get a wild case of the flu? I will have five emergency lesson plans in the bank, ready to go.

Attendance Students can’t learn if they’re not present and subs are hit and miss. I will aim for 100% attendance for myself and set up a monthly award for all students who have perfect attendance and no tardies.

Computer The computer is not a babysitter. I will not use the computer as a “free time” device.

Buddy Room My next-door neighbor and kitty corner colleague are lifesavers. I’ll meet with them to establish Buddy Room expectations and rules and set up a comfy place for their emissaries.

To be posted on my desk and screen saver.

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Posted in Classroom Management, Teaching Tips | 1 Comment

You Big Stupid Young Dummy

You’ve probably heard it from your parents, or mentor, or older relative, but now you’re going to hear it from me. My cachet is that I am a knuckle head myself and made many financial mistakes. But here are four biggies not to make. If you do as I say and not as I do did you’ll be really happy with yourself in about 15 years.

Buy the five year unqualified service time from calSTRS today, right now. (Check into your state school retirement system, if you’re not in CA.) This provides an extra five years service credit when you retire, and it’ll significantly boost your retirement. Every year you wait, it’ll cost more, since the cost is based on your yearly salary. calSTRS will allow you to buy the credit overtime, rolling the payments into your check as a salary deduction.

Make sure you opt in to all calSTRS service credit that you may qualify for, i.e. military service. You can also convert some other government service time into calSTRS.

Move across your district’s salary schedule as quickly as possible. The longer you wait to take classes, or go to the district offered training is just a waste of money. Learn as soon as you’re hired the district’s rules of salary schedule placement and then max out your eligibility every year until you’ve reached the maximum column placement.

Get as many of the salary schedule placement units below the going rate, or free if you can. In 2010 the average unit cost is between $90 and $100. Column advancements are typically 10-15 units… do the math. Take district offered classes (usually free outside of the working day), summer offerings that are subsidized, and county education courses. Ask colleagues for tips and comb the internet for courses that are reduced in cost. If you must pay for units, try to take a course that offers at least 5 units.

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Posted in Teacher Finances | 1 Comment

Teacher Discounts: Getting the Best Deal on Magazine Subscriptions

Every year I watch teachers open their wallets and buy supplemental material for the classroom. This, combined with layoffs, furloughs and wage cuts, is an economic smack down. My teacher discount blogs are intended to find the best deals for teachers, for supplies for the classroom and for teachers’ overall financial health.

I’m in the process of snowballing my debt, but getting rid of all magazine subscriptions is something I just can’t do. My wonderful mate is a political junkie, sucking up information daily on Huffington Post, the major newspapers and every latest politico quit and tell. I can always tell what type of day it’ll be by the sound of paper. Mornings filled with fast furious page flicks, angry newspaper rattles and hard keyboard pecks—oh boy! LOOK OUT.

So when the subscription renewal came up for Newsweek I toyed with the idea of canceling. It was the frugal thing to do, but not the politically smart thing in my household. Not even something I should bring to the table. Newsweek is the people’s magazine, a popular culture pulse that must be checked weekly! God forbid it silently disappear.

Out of curiosity I let their solicitations for renewal pile up, hoping to ferret out the best price. Here’s the chain of offers from Newsweek. Their mailings started in January for a May expiration date.

(For those of you who may not know Newsweek has a newsstand price of $4.95, 272.25/year.)

  • January 10 Courtesy Renewal, $85/two years, $50/one year
  • February 28 Priority Renewal with fake stamp attached to remind me that postage was free on the return envelope, $70/two years, $40/one year
  • March 21  Renewal with fancy serrated receipt, $70/two years highlighted, $40/one year in small print, extra month offered
  • April 11 Priority Renewal Discount Form $40/one year, Account Number printed with a WARNING of service interruption
  • April 17 Courtesy Savings Renewal  $40/year, $70/two years, warning that lower prices will not be offered in future mailings
  • April 25 Renewal $40/one year and a gift mailing for $35/one year

Not satisfied that $40/year was the cheapest, I began to hunt. There are many gimmicky ways to get magazine subscriptions for free, sort of. Trial subscriptions and shady eBay offers are available, but I wanted something that would come every week on Wednesday and not be part of some tiresome renewal and reorder scheme. And I wanted it cheaper than usual.

As a teacher, I have access to University Subscription Service, Inc. This is a discount service for teachers and students. (Yes, students at any level.) The summer promo Newsweek subscription rate at USS was $30/year. I took it.

I always was curious to let the magazine offers play out and now I know the secret answer: Don’t renew or order through the magazine. Find a professional organization or trade group service and order through them. And for crying out loud, never cancel a subscription without having a family meeting.

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