Introducing Slam Poetry to the High School ELA classroom

Introducing Slam Poetry to the High School ELA classroom

I’m late to the slam movement, but I am fast falling in love.  I introduced two of my classes to it this semester, and several students and I now share new poems that we find with each other.  I’ll be honest though, slam poetry is risky.

slampoetrygraphic4 - CopyPart of what defines it is the fact that it is raw emotion about painful events–and such raw emotion is rarely pretty or grammatically correct or edited for polite society.  Slam poetry is equal parts performance, metaphor, pacing, story-telling, and advocacy.  It will sucker punch you when you least expect it, either with its painful honesty or its biting ironic wit.

Below are five of my favorite slam poems, all of which I have played in my classroom. Yes, the language is often sailor-like and salty, but that’s part of their power.  Slam poetry is about letting go, and letting people who don’t know your pain or frustration share it.

(1)  Taylor Mail:  If you’re a teacher, and you haven’t been privvy to Taylor Mali’s taylor mali“What Teacher’s Make,” you’ll want to bookmark this and watch it about halfway through test season (what we used to call ‘spring.’) It’s statement of what teachers really do, and what we really make.  Mali’s other work is great, but as a middle school teacher, he sums up why we do what we do, and does it with power and pizazz. Here’s the text of it, but you MUST watch him perform it.   Goosebumps. I promise. (You can find Mali on Twitter at @

(2)  Janette McGhee Watson:  If you’ve ever wanted to wander through a woman’s head janetteand find out what heartbreak and weak and absent fathers do to our psyches, “I Waited for You” by Janette McGhee Watson will take you there. Unapologetically and artistically, her poem is her wedding vows, and they are forceful and brutally honest.  I have so much respect for her; it’s a ten minute treatise on why she is who she is, and why she is marrying the man in front of her, and it is as beautifully painful as anything you’ll see in a long time.  You’ll need to watch this a few times to get all of it, as her rapidfire word play is sometimes difficult to catch, but oh, is it ever worth it! You can find her and more of her work here.

(3) Jesse Parent“To the Boys Who May One Day Date My Daughter” jesseparent.jpgis just flat funny. Teenagers will love it because it’s a dad’s message to boys who, as the title says, may want to date his daughter.  It’s a message every parent has thought at some point, and as a teacher, I think it’s a very cool thing for our kids to know that this is how we feel about them. Funny, threatening, loving, and hopeful, it’s great fun, with only a little bit of controversial content. (Jesse tweets @jesseparent.)

(4) Amina Iro and Hannah Halpern (@hanhalp), the two girls who perform this poem, have taken their personal experiences and differences and made the point that those things aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things. With the Middle East still (always?) in the forefront of the news, their poem is and likely will be, timely for a long time. Check out their take on the Arab-Israeli conflict here.

(5) As a trans-racial adoptive mom, Javon Johnson’s “cuz he’s black”   broke my JavonJohnsonheart, and forced me to look at my son differently.  Every person of color in the room will nod and agree, even if their white peers don’t.  With so much talk about racism in the media today, it’s important to remember that you cannot dictate to another person what their own experience is.  This poem helps teach that lesson. You can connect with Johnson on Twitterat @javonism.


6.  Kai Davis:  This last one might require special permission to use in the classroomkai depending on where you are because of the ferocity of the language, but it is so worth it.  Kai Davis’s “I Look Like” has a lot of f-bombs and n-words, but the message and the performance and the wordplay are near perfection. It’s about the judgement faced by smart kids of color by both their white and black peers, and how this one spunky young woman refuses to sell out to anyone.  Kai tweets at @KaiDavisPoetry.


Slam poetry’s increasing popularity makes it an amazing classroom tool, and because of its tendency toward performance, self-evaluation and clever phrase turning, can appeal to a wide range of people. However:  as a teacher, be cautious.  These poems and their honesty and salty language are not for every classroom.

If I’ve missed a good one, let me know in the comments!


The Seven Best Love Poems of all Time

The Seven Best Love Poems of all Time

It’s time we had the talk.   The love poem talk.

As a teacher, I love to encourage my kids to write, but Lord help me when they bring me their love poetry to look at .

When I make them write poetry, I tell them that they can write about anything they want, as long as it isn’t romantic love.  “If you can out-sonnet Shakespeare, then go for it; if not? Pick a different subject.”  Then I tell them that if they give me a teenage love poem to read, I will make confetti out of it.

If the poem has the phrase “there for me” in it, I’ll add glitter and use it at their next parent conference.

So, this being National Poetry Month, we’re going to get the obvious out of the way.  If you love poetry, there are love poems you love.  This is not complicated, unlike love itself, whose complication is infinite and ever-changing.

Here are my favorites, and why I love them so much.  Can I use the word ‘love’ again? I’d love to, thanks.


(1) Shakespeare’s sonnet 114.  Otherwise known as “Let me not to the  marriage of true minds admit impediments.”  One of Will’s best known, it basically says that love isn’t going to break if things get in its way. It’s not going to change for the worse when bad things happen.  If it’s real love, it’ll get stronger, and the fact that you’re reading the poem is proof of it. The fact that we study it is proof that The Bard was right.  When it comes to love poems, he wrote more than a hundred of them, and they are all worth reading, especially if you are both in love and a poetry geek.


(2) The Seafarer–This poem may seem like an odd choice for a list of love poems, but the Anglo-Saxon Bard who wrote it was no stranger to the heart ache love can cause, especially if the thing you love does not love you back.  The speaker’s one true love is the ocean, which we all know is capricious and unrelenting.  Not great traits for a lover to have, but we don’t pick who or what we love, do we?

(3)I Love You, by Roy Croft  This poem has some dubious origins if Wikipedia is to be bettermanbelieved, but regardless of who wrote it, it maps out why we love the people we do. It’s not just about them, it’s about who we become when we’re with them. Remember Jack Nicholson’s “You make me want to be a better man?” speech?  That’s essentially what this poem is.  It’s simple, free verse, and doesn’t require much reading between the lines to understand. I think we had it read at our wedding, because it’s just that awesome of a poem (and my memory is just that out of whack!)

(4) Annabel Lee, by Edgar Allan Poe  My favorite poem of all time, bpoey one of my favorite writers. It’s a sad fairy tale love story about love that goes on beyond the “sepulchre there by the sea” into eternity.  When I was in 6th grade or so, I figured out that “Annabel Lee” rhymed with Tracy Marie, and that made my little heart explode. Even now, when I recite it, I have to sub my name for Annabel Lee’s name at least once. And it still gives me a goose bump or two. Like much of Poe’s love poetry it mourns the loss of his love, but does so in a beautiful lyrical style with sound effects and rhythm as only Poe can do.


(5) 1st Corinthians 13:4-8.   These are the “Love is patient” verses, and might be the most recited passage in the history of modern weddings.  It is a Biblical definition of what love is and isn’t, and no matter where you are in your spiritual life, you have to admit that the definition is pretty spot on. Now, there are about a gazillion different translations for the Bible, and while some are better than others, your choice as to a favorite is exactly that.  The link I added here allows you to choose among MANY translations.

(6) Sonnet 43, Edna St.Vincent Millay  Many might argue against this choice for a great love poem, but hear me out.  Each of us has a lost love story.  A broken heart is good for someone because of all the lessons that come with it, but most sad love poetry is all “please come back, baby.” Millay is wise enough to know that such wishes only create more problems, and that broken hearts and loves that didn’t work out should stay in the past, sighing and tapping on the window pain.

(7) To Althea, From Prison” by Richard Lovelace. Love doesn’t hold us back, cage-gravure-2400pxaccording  to Richard Lovelace, it gives us the freedom of flying angels.  Perhaps best known for its “Stone walls do not a prison make” line, most people have at least heard of this poem.  He admits to loving the physical relationship with his beloved Althea, and offers the idea that true love is the most precious kind of freedom.  Plus, he uses the verb tipple.  How can you not love that?



Worksheets for some of these poems are in progress, and will be posted in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store when they’re done!

What’s your favorite poem?  Comment with a link below!

Introduction to Poetry

Introduction to Poetry


Part of the frustration of any literature teacher is the groaning chorus of poetry haters who are not excited about the poetry unit. To help this, I try to introduce poetry via song lyrics and fun poems.  One of my favorite fun poems is Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry” which presents the problems of teacher expectations running into students.

It is perfect for teaching assonance, metaphor, and free form structure.  And it nails #thestruggleisreal feeling teachers get when trying to get students to read beyond the surface of a poem.

I’m in the process of creating a worksheet for this poem geared toward high school students.  I’ll email the first five requests in the comments a free PDF copy of it when it’s done!  Everyone else will be able to buy it from my Teachers Pay Teachers store when it’s done.


Introduction to Poetry


I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
Seven Reasons to Celebrate National Poetry Month

Seven Reasons to Celebrate National Poetry Month

NPM-Poster-2016Started in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry month is a special kind of nerd thing.

Many people are nerds for science fiction, gaming, cosplay, computers, coding, music, musicals, TV shows, fan fiction, etc. Those of us who nerd for poetry get pretty excited that we have a whole month dedicated to the thing we love that so many other less fortunate people don’t.

If you don’t love poetry, you might want to come back in May.

If you love poetry, or love someone who loves poetry, this spot will be the place to be, as in the next 29 days, we’re going to look at the world of poetry. Where it came from, how we study it, why we study it, and why more people should stop and love it. So, in true modern blog fashion, here are some reasons you should celebrate national poetry month.

  1. You remember something about poetry because a poetry geek pounded it into your head.That geek was probably one–or four–of your high school English teachers.  Each of mine were amazing women who pushed me to write not just for grades, but for passion.  That they cared enough to make me remember that sonnets have fourteen lines and haiku three, means something. And that you remember it means something too. 
  2. You might admit to having a favorite poem if forced to.  We all have a favorite book, and if we’re the smart educated sort, we might even have a favorite poem.  I do. I have several actually, but the one that will always top the list is Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabelle Lee.” I memorized it in middle school, and have tucked my kids into bed with it, despite its depressing story.
  3. You have actually liked a song for the lyrics and not the music. There are some performers whose lyrics are just gut wrenching.  I bet you can name a few songs whose lyrics were the perfect backdrop for an event in your life.  Like it or not, those lyrics are poetry. Everything from sappy country to hard rock and rap are, at their heart, poems.
  4. You want to impress your significant other. Every romantic wants someone to think they’re beautiful enough to have a sonnet written for them.  I had a student once who, as part of his poetry memorization project, recited one of Shakespeare’s sonnets to a girl in his class, gave her a rose, and sat down.  I’m pretty sure they’ll both remember the absolute amazingness of that two minutes for the rest of their lives. I don’t remember the student’s name, but I can see him, on one knee in front of her, one hand on his heart and one holding out that rose.
  5. Educators could use the support. There are poems about everything.  Find some, and encourage your children, your friends, your family, to read them.  Teachers can use all the help we can get to encourage our students to dig a little deeper, and not be embarrassed to embrace something like poetry.
  6. Poetry is a living, beautiful thing that grows and changes and demands that you pay attention to it.  I stole this from a teacher at a training years ago: Good literature is like a good girl. She doesn’t kiss on the first date.  You want something more than company? You’re going to have to work for it, earn it.  With poetry, that work means you may have to read a piece several times to really “get it.” My favorite poem for this lesson is William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis,” which my 10th grade literature teacher made us memorize the last stanza of.  In her honor, I make my juniors memorize it too.
  7. The Academy of American Poets has it all planned out for you. They have a “poem a day” email that will bring you cool poetry you’ve likely never read before straight into your in-box on the daily, so you don’t even have to go looking for it.  They have lesson plans for you teachers, and poems for every event and occasion you can imagine.  Some of the best poets are represented on their website.  You should check them out.

Don’t be embarrassed.  Poetry is a really cool thing.  Trust me.  Celebrate it.  You won’t regret it!

Two funerals too many

Two funerals too many

They were very different girls, Altonise and Alexis.

Both were fun-loving, full of life, and feisty. Beyond that, their similarities were the color of their brown skin and the first letter of their names.

I taught them both, loved them both, and both were murdered.  IMG_0637

One was a senior, one was a junior.  Different high schools.  Different challenges in life. Different goals. Different styles.  Different attitudes.

Both were found dead in their homes, both of their last moments filled with violence and terror.

Unfulfilled promise that will never have a chance to bloom.

As a teacher, there are no things worse than the funeral of a student, except maybe the day when you and your students find out about that death.

I couldn’t go to Alexis’ funeral because my husband works weekends and I couldn’t find a sitter.

Altonise’s fell on Monday after a rainy Easter weekend.  The day burst with bright blue sky and a few dancing white clouds.  My heart wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the day nestled in with the tragedy of the funeral.

But even the funeral wasn’t gloomy.

There were songs of hope and the promise of salvation, and guarantees that, if we follow the right path, we’ll be able to see our loved ones again. The mourners sang and clapped along, and silences were punctuated with the keening of her friends and family.

There were speeches of forgiveness and admonitions against violence and revenge.

And there was pink.  Deep rich pink, like impatiens in the summer.   It was in the corsages members of her family wore, in the flowers around her casket, and in the headbands and hairstyles of her friends.

As a mom, there are no words I can offer for comfort. And as a teacher, there aren’t either.  Death is of life, and we must face it, but when it is a shocking death, a loss of the promises of youth, how do you find comfort or offer it?


And faith.

And so, for Alexis and Altonise, two spirited young women whose tenacity and spunk lit up the world around them, I can only offer words. One of my favorite poets is John Donne, whose poetry is by turns passionate and full of faith, lost and full of love. In one of his holy sonnets he says, “But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space.”

I will mourn the space that held these two girls, and hope that as the world turns on, those who loved them will live a little more, do a little more good, and experience a little more of life in their honor.

quote 1

Yes, I Just Emailed This to the Governor

Yes, I Just Emailed This to the Governor

Hello Governor Deal (and whichever staffer is lucky enough to be reading this),

I am what you call a “veteran” teacher.  I’m on the downhill slide toward retirement; and I’ve gotten to the point that I’m tired of keeping my mouth shut about issues concerning my profession.
The GMAS system stinks. The Georgia Teacher Evaluation system stinks.  The fact that my elementary school children do more to prepare for tests than they do play outside stinks.  Are you seeing a pattern here?
I love to teach. I love my students, and like parents all over this state, I love my children and want what’s best for all of them.  However, tests that aren’t reliable or valid are not what’s best for them. Tests that generate no useful data for teachers are worse than useless.  Tests that are compared to different tests for the purposes of evaluating me are even more useless than that.
Tests that are far beyond the abilities of a disabled child are not good for them. Having little to no recess is not good for elementary school kids, and pushing small children to do what they are not developmentally ready to do does damage that takes years to undo.
Governor Deal (and your dedicated staffer), if you want to know what teachers and students need, how about asking teachers?  How about asking parents?  Ask actual experts instead of relying on the corporate input that got us into this mess; wouldn’t it be nice to go down in history as the Governor who actually made genuine change for the better in Georgia’s schools?
If you want to know how to do this, ask the people who know. Ask teachers. Ask parents.  And when you do, listen to them.  Sending them a survey and then ignoring what it says is not sound policy, Governor Deal.  If I ran my classroom like that, I’d be out of a job.
I would love to be able to come talk to you and the legislature in person, but our grades are due this week, and school policy forbids me from taking the day before a paid holiday off, or I would be there early Friday morning to talk some sense into you and the representatives you’re leaning on.
Instead, I have to rely on the saucy tone of my letter to do that for me.  Please encourage the legislature to do what’s right by teachers, students, and their families and pass 355 and 364.  It’s the right thing to do.  And since I voted for you, I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a citizen of the state of Georgia if I didn’t ask you to do what your electorate wants.
Tracy Saunders
18 Year Public School Teacher
Mom of Seven
Classroom Wish List (Updated 8/28)

Classroom Wish List (Updated 8/28)

Hello!  I’m applying for a Reddit teacher gift package, and to make it easier for people who might adopt my classroom, I’m posting my wish list with links and explanations here.  Regular readers, Facebook friends, and everyone else, don’t feel pressured. Unless you’re easily pressured, independently wealthy, have money to burn, or any of combination of those three, then feel free to embrace any invisible pressure you may be feeling.

Here is my Amazon wish list link.  I hope it works. I’ve been fiddling with it.

If it doesn’t, on Amazon, go to the Wish List Tab, and select “Find a Gift Registry or Wish List.” Search for Mrs. Saunders; I’m the lady with tiara (it’s the same picture as my profile here.) The list is called “WTTCHS ELA Wish List.”

Thank you!

Over the summer I did some Pinterest-inspired making over of my classroom, and while it’s not done, it is in progress.  Most of the supplies I’m asking for go along with the changes I made this summer.

UPDATE:  Thank you so much for your generosity: Jen, Gwen, Tammy, Nioka, and Cindy!  I am so excited about how this school year is progressing.  Your help has made a huge difference, and I am humbled by and thankful for your generosity.  


Here is where my student work supplies are stored; please ignore the mess.  It’s a work in progress, I have drawer labels almost made, and zip straps and tape to deal with all the cords and wires. Once that’s done, it’s gonna look amazing.  (Thank you Debby for the drawers!!)   I’ll post the after pics in another piece, hopefully at the beginning of next week.


Right now, each box contains between four and six miniature marker boards, what’s left of my marker supply from a purchase four or five years ago, some mostly dried up glue sticks, and a pair of scissors, and a pair of socks.  I color code things, and have my students do the same, on a regular basis. For that to work, this is what I need:

  • 12 packs of colored pencils (Thank you and CH!!)
  • Black chisel permanent markers (other colors welcome, too!  (two dozen)
  • glue sticks(Thank you CH!!)
  • 12 SIX packs of Crayola markers (Thank you NT!)
  • 12   SIX packs of six color highlighters (pink, orange, yellow, green, blue & purple) ((Thank you, T&DB and NT!!)
  • Notebook paper
  • Copy paper in any color you’d like to send!!


For right now, this is what suffices for each table’s folder.


However, with the supplies below, I could make this much easier, more efficient, and longer lasting.

  • 6 binders in 6 different colors (My groups are labeled by colors, based on the paper I could find to identify the tables) (Thank you NT!!)
  • 6 sets of dividers


Once kids get past fifth grade,  parents don’t help much with tissue and cleaning supplies.  I’m not sure why, but trust me, we still need the help.  If there is tissue or sanitizer or cleaning supplies in my room, it’s because I’ve bought them, or a parent has sent them in after seeing my wish list at the bottom of a mass email.

  • Bleach wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Facial tissue  (Thank you J.F.!!!)


Again, this is a work in progress.

At the end of last school year, I got a grant for eight Chromebooks for my class room. Thus summer, I bought/picked up the tables, rugs, pillows and the lamp seen in the picture below.  I’m currently looking for two baskets for under the tables to hide the cords and wires, but that’s assuming I can find two matching baskets in good shape, that will fit, and still hold everything. Everything in the picture, (except the computers) was purchased via yard sales, or Facebook yard sale groups. (Thank you Gwen, Gwen’s friend down the road, and three other nice ladies who sold me stuff for pretty cheap!)


Ideally, I’d like to have at least eight to twelve good-sized throw pillows or bean bags for student seating.

**Pillows or bean bags


Here is where my yoga balls spend the night; they earn their rest, as they are used all day, every day.  They’re great for kids who are twitchy and wiggly, and for kids who are either to short too tall to fit comfortably in our desks.  I’d like to get more, because my students love them.  I bought three of them in yard sale groups, and had one given to me when she realized what I was getting it for (thank you Debby, Gwen, and two nice ladies whose names I don’t remember!).


Again, for my regular readers, this is not a plea for you to send me stuff (unless you’re purging things and have items to get rid of).  I’m doing this for a teacher supply giveaway being done here.

And to all those ladies I bought items from, or who gave me supplies for my classroom this summer, THANK YOU SO MUCH!!

Comments, suggestions or ideas?  Add them in the comment sections.  Thanks for stopping by!

Future Plans Before Lesson Plans, 180 Days, Day 6

Future Plans Before Lesson Plans, 180 Days, Day 6

My American Lit class started their day off today with this journal prompt:

What have you done to work toward life after graduation? Have you researched and visited colleges? Interviewed a military recruiter? Talked with your parents about living arrangements?  How ready are you?

Turns out, they aren’t ready at all.

My planned, five minute “you need to start thinking and talking about this” turned into a question and answer session that lasted the whole period.   My lesson plan was scrapped for what we teachers call a “teachable moment.” Sometimes, something comes up that’s more important or relevant that what’s mapped out on the pacing guide.  In the next forty minutes, we covered everything from in-state versus out-of-state tuition, the evils of student loans, the importance of communicating with their families about expectations and wishes, and how if they didn’t want other people to run their lives, they had to learn to run their own.

Most of them had no idea that student loans had to be paid back.  “How are you supposed to have a life if you have to pay that mess back?” Exactly my point, sweet girl!

We talked about options for paying for college, including working full-time and going part time; living at home, working for two years, saving every penny, and then going to school; using GI Bill benefits after spending time in the military;  paying cash for college, either because someone has a college fund for them, or through scholarships. Most of them had no idea about how they were going to pay for college.

They also didn’t understand paying taxes and tax refunds, so we went over that.

One girl–my thrift-store, funky jewelry rebel stole my heart completely when she said the most courageous thing a kid can say in a room full of expensively groomed young women.  She commented on the fact that if people quit spending so much for useless stuff, they wouldn’t be so broke.  Another girl looked at her, shocked.  So I asked that girl about her manicure.  Fifty dollars a month.

I told her that if she invested that money every month, she’d have nearly $500,000 in the bank when she was ready to retire. She looked shocked, and said, “Doesn’t the government give you a check when you retire?”  That was a real eye-opener for several in the class.

I also pointed out that a twenty year career in the military meant a retirement check and a second career. “But I’ll be too old for that,” one boy said.

I laughed and told him, “Trust me, you won’t feel as old at 38 as you think you will now.”

I’m sharing all this because one girl told another that she was lucky that her family had a college fund for her. I told her that it wasn’t luck. It was planning ahead, sacrifice, and wanting a life for their kids that was better than what they had.  And I followed it up with, “Someday your kids will be in a class like this, and it’s up to you to decide how they talk about you. It’s about changing your family history.”

The questions slowed down with about seven minutes left in class, so I told them to take a minute and jot down the things they wanted to talk with their families about, and to think about how best to start the conversation with their families.

Here’s my huge frustration: Why are so many of the KIDS in my junior English class having to start this conversation with their PARENTS?  They are too young for that responsibility; it shouldn’t be their responsibility at all.  It is our job as their parents to be building that conversation as they grow up, so that when they become juniors in high school that they’ll be able to have answers to some of the scariest questions any high school student has to answer.

Think back to your high school days: We were all hot and excited to get out from under our parents and be free.  How many of us, though, had any actual clue how to make that happen? I know I didn’t.  I have often said that I think the biggest failing of either of my parents was that they didn’t really teach us to manage money.  Which in the grand scheme of things means I had pretty good parents.

But even though we were excited about the prospect of being free and independent, we were terrified.  Well, I was, anyway.  And today’s world, with instant bad news everywhere all the time,  is a much scarier place to be.

Tomorrow’s warm-up journal will be to ask them to choose the best thing they got out of yesterday’s conversation and how it will help them, and then we’ll move on to what my lesson plans said we should have been doing today: Native American Oral Tradition and Creation Myths.

If you’re read this far, I’m sure you’ve figured out what your homework is.

Go on; get started.

School Start-Up Stress

School Start-Up Stress

Wednesday was my first day back in my classroom for the 2015-16 school year.  I’m not being paid to be here, but I’m here because I’m redoing a lot of my classroom, and want to put it back together before we are required to be here next week.  I like doing this for lots of reasons, but mostly because I can work at my own pace, turn up some music, and get to cleaning.

For those of you who aren’t teachers, lemme catch you up. At the end of each school year, most teachers get anywhere from two to five days, called “post-planning.” In that time, we have to pack up and put away everything.  And by everything I mean anything that was out of a cabinet, decorating a table or wall, storage tubs and bins, empty or cover all the book shelves, desks, computers, everything.  Then we move it out into the hallway so the floors can be cleaned.

Think about the packing you did the last time you moved. We pack like that at the end of the year, and unpack like that at the beginning of each new year, during pre-planning. This year we have three days of pre-planning.  Three days to deep clean a room, unpack, prep lessons and materials, and get ready for open house and the first day of school.

Good times.



Not at all. It is stressful for a lot of reasons.  The physical stress of the work is one thing, but then add the two months of dirt and dust on top of everything, the not knowing what your teaching assignment will be, the pressure to get it done before open house, and the normal startup jitters.

Yes, experienced teachers do get the start up jitters just like the newbies do.

Teaching is like starting a new job once a year, and job changes are listed as one of the top five most stressful life events. It IS that big of a deal.  And after fifteen years or so of this, I have some suggestions for new teachers, and veterans alike.

1. Purge, purge, purge,  then purge again.    Teachers as a species are pickers and borderline hoarders– we collect and hang onto things because we might be able to use it in our classrooms, and we are used to living and working on an ever-shrinking budget.  I am not exaggerating here.  I just threw away worksheets and lesson plans from my student teaching. From 1996.

I finally threw out curriculum guides from the curriculum we used three new curricula ago.  I even tossed out its followers from the last few changes.  Now, I have empty binders, which I will not purge, because there is always that one kid who needs help getting supplies.  Or because I’m saving other stuff.

2. Pack up with the unpack in mind.  Thank you Pinterest for this one. At the end of last school year, I kept in one drawer the following things: Two board markers, a board eraser, a few pens and pencils, my Sharpie collection, stapler, highlighters, tape dispenser, hole punch, and the cords and accessories I’d need to reassemble my computer work station. I also kept a package of cleaning wipes in there.  This has made my return so much easier this summer;  I’m not digging through random boxes trying to find that one cord, or the pink jump drive, and I can get to work much quicker.

In addition, I made sure I packed all my materials for each subject together.  All my ninth grade materials were in two crates. American Lit stuff was in one crate.  The cool thing about milk crates (the ones I was able to get from our school’s cafeteria) is that they are much more durable than the ones you get at Wal-Mart or Target. They also may be heavy when full, but they aren’t so heavy that I can’t move them.

3.  Find a happy place.  Teaching often feels like you’re locked in a room with crazy people strangers, breathing the same air over and over, and you know that the air is probably what will finally actually set off the zombie apocalypse.  Sometimes you need to escape and breath somewhere else.  You MUST find that place.  My last two classrooms have been ideally placed by an exit door, which means I could get away from the locked-in feeling and go outside for some (sort of) fresh air.  You have to make time during the day to take a deep breath, hold it for seven seconds, and slowly let it out. My happy place is just outside that exit door.  I can’t close it, or I’d have to hike around the building to the front entrance, but I can stand there for a minute or so, breathe, pull myself back together, and get back to my job.

4. Let it go.  I have kids, so I can sing the entire Frozen soundtrack, but I’m telling you, if it’s eating at you, Let. It. Go. Try to let go of feeling responsible for things over which you have no control.  It’s above your paygrade, not on your evaluation, and NOT YOUR PROBLEM. You can only do so much, so do what you can, and come in with a positive attitude the next day. And even if it is your responsibility and on your evaluation, all you can do is the best you can do.  Period.  Sometimes we have moments of awesome, but most of the time, good is just that: good.

5. And on the flip side, get involved. If teachers don’t start speaking out about work conditions, incessant crazy levels of testing, and professional disrespect, we will continue to be scapegoated for societies problems and we will lose.  We will lose what little control we have left in our classrooms, and will continue to be held under the thumb of corporations who are getting big bucks on the backs of our children. (Can you tell I’m upset about this?  Good, because this is an issue I’m actually working on, instead of just complaining about it.)

6.  Redecorate.  Sometimes you need a fresh perspective.  I learned this at the end of last school year. I needed to get rid of some of the old posters and signs in my room, and make it less sterile and businesslike, and more comfortable and welcoming.  I did not get a grant, or an invisible donor of lots of money.  But for less than $100, I am now lighting my classroom solely with lamps, I have exercise balls for chairs at my computer stations, and some comfy pillows kids can use to relax on the floor to study or read.  I even got several really awesome old frames to put on my walls around memes and posters I want to post.  Once I’m done, I’ll post some pictures of what I’ve done, and the approximate costs of them.  Like Cheryl Crow said, “Some change’ll do you good.”

7. Get organized. I am the original absent-minded professor archetype: forgetful, scatterbrained, and often way over-committed.  This year, in addition to my class schedule, I am in charge of our school’s new teacher induction program, our Advanced Placement program, my student organization Nerd Corps, a Daisy Girl Scout troop, my family, church commitments, and my personal goals.  This year, rather than try to keep it all in my head (which I always tried to do, and always failed at), I am going back about fifty years, and I have a binder.  It is a happy light sky blue color, and it has everything in it.  I have monthly and weekly calendars, my lesson plans, and sections for every area in my life.  I have a zipper pocket up front that has post-it notes, and pens.  I have note paper for meetings and a master to-do list.  I’ve been using it for a month, and I LOVE IT. I purposely carry a purse large enough for it, and it fits in my backpack.  It goes everywhere with me.

No matter how you do it–digitally or old fashioned paper, find a way to manage your life, all in one place, so you can actually run your life, and not the other way around.

Here’s why.  Last year, due to circumstances mostly out of my control, I was forced to stop and take more time to take care of myself.  In that process, I have learned that I can do a lot more than I was to take care of myself, including how I manage both my personal and my professional lives.  My pretty blue binder is my big step in that direction.  There are several places on Pinterest with suggestions for organization and contents; that’s where I got my ideas from.

If you’re a teacher, what do you suggest for making the beginning of the year easier?

I look forward to hearing your ideas!