Dear Students

This post originally appeared at  Reprinted with permission.

Dear Students,

I haven’t met you yet, but I have prepared to teach you for years. I’m excited for this semester. I probably won’t be able to sleep the night before we meet. I never can, 10 years after getting my teaching certificate.

My mind overflows with ideas for readings, activities, and discussions. I want to show you how literature connects the world; everything from societal ills to economic struggles, human triumph to engineering feats – stories hold history lessons, which can then be guides for the future. I want to examine how to manipulate the written word in writing and speech. I want to study the craft that is language arts.

I also want to learn fun and interesting intricacies about you. I want you to share your life with me through writing and connect it to literature. I promise to provide plenty of examples of how literature connects to me.

You will learn that I drink lots of coffee Photo credit: Quality Coffee by Lkaus Post (Everystockphoto. Click for source.)

I never stop thinking about education and how to influence yours the best I can. The more I learn about teaching, leadership – the monster named education – the more I realize all these outside factors influence you, heavily. More than I can. More than you may want them to weigh on you. More than you may even know.

So I propose that we go into this school year together. I promise to teach you the best I can. I hope you promise to learn the best that you can. If you have those outside influences weighing on you, let me know. Maybe I can help, maybe I can find someone to help you. I will at least try to understand.

I hope that you leave my class believing you got a fair deal – that we worked, but that the workload and your treatment was fair. I will do the best that I can everyday, and I hope you do as well.


Mrs. M.


LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee Moss, a secondary language arts instructor, has taught for over a decade. She has a B.S. in English Education and a M.A. in Teaching and Leadership; visit her blog for more ideas or store for great products.
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Classroom Setup – A New Twist

As I am getting ready to set up my classroom this year for the upcoming school year, I am going to try to a new strategy.  I created a concept map (for my own use) with a central question.  For Earth Science it centers around the question of “What Makes Earth Unique?”  I then tied each unit back to that central question.  Such as “The Earth Moves.”  I am going to hang the central question on the wall in the classroom and then essentially ‘build’ the concept map with my class as the year progresses.  As each unit goes on, I will put the concept up. Then my plan, as the year goes on, is to ask students what they have learned (not every day, but every few days).  I will hang up some of their responses.  Sometimes I think we will co-construct responses as a closure or review activity.

concept map

For example, as we study “The Earth Moves” students can respond that they have learned about rotation, revolution, moon phases, sun’s path, or the rate at which the Earth rotates or revolves.   As the year goes on, they will be able to add their knowledge on other topics.

I think, many times, we have a curriculum overview but we (or at least I) don’t always pass that along clearly to our students.  Even if we give them a syllabus, calendar, or unit names, it is difficult for them to see the connections between units and the importance of topics.  I’m hopeful that this will help!

I will keep you updated as the year goes on.  What strategies do you use to help your students see the ‘roadmap’ of their learning?

profile pic2Tara is a science teacher from upstate NY. She has taught General Science, Biology, Environmental Science, and Earth Science.

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Back to School eBooks at Teachers Pay Teachers

This post originally appeared at Mrs. Brosseau’s Binder.  Reprinted with permission.

Have you seen the new Back-to-School eBooks from TpT?  You’ve got to check them out! Each one is full of tips for teachers to get off to a good start with your classes.

Even better – every single contributor has made a freebie available to you! That’s a lot of freebies!

Here are the links to the secondary eBooks based on subject:

English Language Arts & Humanities






Social Studies



Mrs. Brosseau's Binder Michelle is a secondary Science and Physics teacher from Ontario, Canada.  She blogs at Mrs. Brosseau’s Binder and shares her materials through her Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
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Missing My Goal

I won’t make my TpT goal this year – and that’s okay.

In January, like a large portion of Americans, I made a goal for myself. A TpT store resolution. At the time I realized that yes, this was a big undertaking. I gave myself all sorts of pep talks, spoke in clichés (go big or go home!), and told my husband I could do it when he politely told me that I was setting myself up for failure.

I marched along, checking numbers off a crumpled note card. Up until May, I was on track! I created/ fixed/ tweaked 8 products per month. Then my kids got out of school, the weather got nice, and I couldn’t sit on the computer all day. (Actually, I just went to TpT as I typed this and looked at the statistics and saw that since May, I have posted 8 products – my goal for each month, not one summer).

Reflecting on the end of my summer, I was bummed. I beat myself up and wondered how I let this happen when I had been doing so well. Like any person with an English degree, I wrote out my feelings, and I thank you very much in advance for reading my top five list of why I am at peace with not meeting my TpT goal for the year.

1. I am not publishing junk. I refuse. Could I have published 8 new products? Probably. I wouldn’t be proud of them though. I prefer not meeting a goal as opposed to meeting it with fluffy products.

2. Meaningful lessons take time. I want to test materials on students. I want to tweak my notes. I want to rearrange my worksheets or add another for further clarification. I don’t want to scrap material that doesn’t work – but I will take the time to do so if it is in the best interest of students.

3. My goal maybe, a bit, was lofty. I know 8 products would be stretching it, but I have so many ideas! Fun ideas! Ideas to help others! Ideas begging to be turned into lessons! Still, 8 products per month while I work and mother three kids? It was a big order.

4. I am taking lots of time for thinking. When I taught full-time, exhaustion followed me. That guy was everywhere.

Now that I work part-time, I am still busy, but I do have those moments where I can think. I can reflect on lessons. I can brainstorm. I can type an idea, scrap it, and come back to it later. My best lessons – the ones that students enjoyed and I treasure – came from lots of thinking. If I don’t meet my goal because I am thinking, well, I’ll miss my goal for that.

5. I spent lots of time with my kids this summer. We went on vacation, rode bikes, visited parks, climbed trees, had picnics, bowled, hosted sleepovers, attended sleepovers, played with cousins, ate too much ice-cream, picked homegrown tomatoes, chased the dog, read for the library’s summer reading program, and stayed up late.

And you know what? I sat at kindergarten registration on Thursday and looked at my middle child, beaming with confidence in her tiny seat in her new kindergarten classroom. I stood in the hall, bouncing my one-year old, realizing that I would be back in this classroom in four short years, placing her in a tiny seat. Later, I looked at my second grader, nonchalantly assessing his new classroom, asking the teacher about science projects for the year.

And I am glad that I did not hold myself to my goal for the year. I love making products, but I cannot envision coming home from a college dorm room in seventeen years and wishing I could trade these summer memories for more products, more money.

Honestly – of course I want more products in my store. I want all the ideas from my head typed – all those half sheets of paper, scribbled in the night made into fruition. I want to save money for that college dorm room!

As I reflect on missing my goal for TpT, I am at peace. I take the teaching profession (which includes TpT) and my parenting job too seriously to goof them up. If that means missing my goal for the year, not getting those products out there, that is what it means.

We teachers work on a different schedule than others. August brings a time of closure, a time of new beginnings. It can also bring a new meaning to the goals we have for ourselves.


LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee Moss, a secondary language arts instructor, has taught for over a decade. She has a B.S. in English Education and a M.A. in Teaching and Leadership; visit her blog for more ideas or store for great products.
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Surviving the First Two Weeks

CCC Surviving First Two WeeksIn my college of ed days, the old adage of “Don’t smile until Christmas” was already fading from use.  But the idea of setting up the tone– and expectations– of a classroom right from the start is still an important one.  Amongst the potential and/ or likely chaos of the first weeks, this can prove a challenge.  Survival might even be questioned.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Here’s some coping strategies that I honed in my years at the alternative ed program (you know, the place where the troublemakers go after the left the traditional classroom down the road.  Except instead of the normal one or two challenging students in a classroom– or maybe a handful if you have a rough bunch– I had 20+ of them.  Maybe one or two non-troublemakers there for health or personal issues.)

I figure if they work with this delightful bunch, then maybe they’ll work in a classroom where the students show up, more or less ready to learn and succeed–rather than test the fences like  raptor, looking for weakness.

1. Be Flexible.  Be able to adjust your plan and, ideally, have one or more backup plans.  Maybe you can’t pull off that sort of smooth “It’s in the lesson plan” response, but being able to laugh about it or even just admit that you’re shifting gears can work too.  Being able to adapt to changes is crucial– as is the ability to do so calmly without being flustered or upset.

2.  Have a Couple Back Up Plans or Activities: Some of my classes were chatty and could be drawn into topical discussions.  Others would give me that “I dare you to teach me” look.  So , the first days of class, as they’re seeing what they can pull with Ms. Dickson, I have a couple varieties of activity and a couple back ups.  Yes, I totally over-prepare with activities that are topical, important, and timeless (things like grammar review or practice writing effective thesis).  If the planned “fun” activity goes over like a lead balloon because one of my dears has more “sway” with his classmates than I do (one of us is wearing a bracelet or ankle tether from the local jail, which lends a certain “street cred” amongst fellow suburban troublemakers), then I can shift gears to a group activity or even an individual project, which may allow me to meet the students without outright challenging the Tough Guy.  Survive the First Two Weeks

BONUS: Those timeless activities that I over-prepared?  They work great for substitute teachers or other fillers throughout the term.  Things I can pull out if technology goes awry, snow flakes prove too great a distraction, or another activity finished quickly and I don’t want to move onto the next Unit.

3. Be organized: Being organized really helps with being flexible.  Having a couple back up activities in folders and binders allows you to pull out something prepared if needed, right now.  Even though we use a computer system for attendance, I take that first roster and make a printed file with room for additional names– I could make sure I had attendance for every student in my room.  No question about records during the chaos.  Plus, if you can maintain an organized-ish desk, it does make for a positive appearance to the students.

4. Meet the Students, somehow: Maybe you do ice breaker activities and students response positively.  Or maybe they stare at you and report, “I’ll take a zero.”  Or even if the ice break goes well, take time to mingle with the students those first weeks.  Beyond what they’ll share in front of the class!  I really like to move around the room the first weeks of class as they are working on projects or assignments, finding ways to touch base with them, to catch them working well right at the start.  I believe building the personal connection along with catching them working well can help build a positive classroom dynamic, which helps not only the first two weeks, but well beyond.


CDickson Profile PicClair Dickson, high school English teacher, likes free eTexts and Project Based Learning to stretch her meager budget.  Visit her store High School English on a Shoestring Budget to stretch your budget.
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The Power of Habit Book Review

This post originally appeared at The Language Arts Classroom blog.  Reprinted with permission.  

I reviewed The Power of Habit in regards to my life, but I enjoyed the book so much I am writing about it in regards to teaching. I know teachers are swamped, but this book is powerful and since it is realistic and simple, I feel that many ideas will help in the classroom.

The Power of Habit Review– as related to teachers.


This is an overall take – and quick how-to for teachers looking for easy starts to implement ideas in a classroom. Reading The Power of Habit will give you a clearer idea of my examples, and you will enjoy the book too.

So, what ideas will work in a secondary classroom? I took three main points from The Power of Habit.

1. Small changes can make a big difference. Time and time again, Charles Duhigg explains how corporations changed employee behavior by focusing on one positive action, something everyone could support, like safety.

I did this behavior once, but didn’t realize I could repeat the action! I am kicking myself now. What I did was simple – I had every student walk into the classroom, grab an assignment, and start on it.

This is what tons of teachers do – bell ringers. After my students were finished, I asked them to take responsibility for their assignments. They put them neatly in the ‘to grade’ stacker, neatly returned the books to the shelf, and started the next task that I had put on the board. It was an action every student supported – they knew where their papers were, they knew what to expect every day in class.

It was a habit, they were good at it, and I praised them because they were so neat and orderly with their assignments and books.

2. They need a reward. Duhigg explains the habit loop: cue, routine, reward.

Students would walk in the room and pick up an assignment. The bell rang (cue) and they started. We reviewed and they finished the assignment. I praised them and would admire how great they were handling the task of organization.

The reward was simple. I was happy and would often verbally praise them. Their work was neat too. When I would return work, they would open the binder prongs and place the graded assignment. Reviewing before a test, students would flip to the correct place in their binder, and viola! No confusion or embarrassment.

The reward was simple. And inexpensive. And meaningful.

3. One good habit flowed into other aspects of the class. This was the best behaved class I have ever had. They worked together and I never caught anyone bullying another. The abilities were diverse, though. I had honors students and repeats (from not passing the class the prior semester). The class had a clique that could have been problematic.

BUT, this is the class that when I see a student from, I smile. Those students smile at me. I figured it was a magical teaching experience. (Teachers know what I mean – this class was great and years later, I remember all of their names).

There were twelve students, and I also attributed the cohesiveness to the small class size. I figured the personalities never rubbed wrong. After reading The Power of Habit, I think there was a bit more.

Once students had a positive behavior loop going, they were positive in other aspects of the class. They would help their peers who needed clarification and in return, would understand the material better. They understood they would have more freedom like sitting on the floor to read, or larger groups for group work if they got along. The class behaved, learned more than typical sophomore classes, and had more freedom.

After reading The Power of Habit, I realize that this “magic” from my sophomore English class years ago was based on the habit loop – students had a cue, they worked (the habit), and got a reward – good grades, positive verbal feedback from a teacher, new knowledge, freedom, and a peaceful class.

Like I said, I am kicking myself now. I attributed all of the greatness in the class to the small class size and luck. I could recreate that experience with work, and knowledge about habits.

The Power of Habit is not a “how to” book. It presents research from a variety of fields, and teachers would be remiss not to read it. The information is applicable to classrooms and students.


LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee Moss, a secondary language arts instructor, has taught for over a decade. She has a B.S. in English Education and a M.A. in Teaching and Leadership; visit her blog for more ideas or store for great products.
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