Treasure Box Alternatives: Sitting at the Teacher's Desk

Sitting at the Teacher's Desk

Let's get real for a minute.  Who ever sits at that desk, really?  Other than the occasional "Let me look for that Pinterest picture" moment, or the times you grade papers on your lunch break, no one sits there. Seriously. So why not put that space to some use during the day?

I know there's a whole movement about getting rid of your teacher desk to make way for more student space, but I'm not quite there yet. I'm willing to admit that I rarely (if ever) sit there, but I still like having a space to spread papers, toss To-Do-Later items, and display office supplies in pretty jars. So, until I jump aboard the no-desk bandwagon and get rid of my desk entirely, I'll continue use it as a student incentive. 

Teachers that I mention this idea to nearly always respond the same way: "I'd be afraid they would touch my things!"  Now, know everyone's class is different, but my experience in letting kids sit at my desk has always been positive. 

First of all, this is not a first month of school option. I make sure students know me and my expectations very well before introducing my desk as an option for students' work space.  Letting kids sit at your desk is not the time to practice defining boundaries!  (Granted, there will always be a student that you would give your car keys and ATM card to from Day 1, but I'm talking about the entire class in general.) 

I would only begin letting students sit at your desk after they have demonstrated the ability to show respect for the rules and procedures of your classroom. Once that happens, my students are in awe of how much I trust them, and even my most wild child will work extra hard to show that he/she is worthy of sitting at this place of honor. I've never once been afraid that a student will take or break something from my desk. Like I said, it's an honor they want to prove themselves worthy of, and they will most often do their very best work while sitting there! (This could also be because they are separated from other distractions, like chatty table mates.)

Depending on the size of your desk chair (last year I used a director's chair at my desk), you can often fit two kids behind your desk at once.  Two first graders on the smaller side fit easily in my director's chair. 

Once the lesson/independent work time was over, I'd tell the student(s) at my desk, "Okay, time to go back to your own desk!" And they'd quietly gather their notebook and pencil box and happily trot back to their own desk again. A single student will rarely sit at my desk for the entire day, but I will rotate different kids, allowing a handful the opportunity over the course of a morning or afternoon. 

Even if you have reservations about it, I would urge you to give it a try. Start with your most responsible student, and let him/her model respectful behavior.  But given the chance, I bet even your most troublesome student will thrive and complete his/her best work while sitting behind your desk. 

Tips for Positioning Bulletin Board Letters

BEFORE YOU BEGIN: Test to make sure your painters tape will not tear your bulletin board paper when peeled off of it!  Some of the thinner (read: cheaper) bulletin board paper won't stand up against painters tape/masking tape.

1. Measure out a piece of tape the length of your bulletin board.

2. Remove the tape after finding the appropriate length, and then place it down on a table where you have room to lay out your letters.  (Here I've bypassed the use of my Cricut to use the pre-cut letters from Lakeshore.)

3. Arrange your letters across the tape, spacing them however you'd like them to be on your bulletin board.  Once you've found the correct spacing and positioning of letters, slide them under your tape (as shown below).

4. Gently peel the strip of tape off the table, taking your letters along with it, and carefully take it across the room to the bulletin board you're working on.

5. Position the painters tape on your bulletin board, to where where you'd like your letters to ultimately be affixed. Staple the letters to the bulletin board while everything is still taped to the wall.

6. After stapling your letters to the wall, carefully remove the painters tape, leaving the letters behind in exactly the right place!

Teachers' Back to School To-Do Lists

I know these types of Back-to-School lists are very different for every teacher, depending on the type of school you teach at, your grade level, your classroom configuration . . . I could go on and on.  But these are MY Back-to-School To-Do Lists, which hopefully will help you to create your own (or perhaps remind you of something you'd forgotten)!

Go Shopping:
✏︎ Composition books in specific colors (green for math, yellow for spelling) from Target ($0.50 apiece)
✏︎ Student Work folders (from whichever office supply store has them on sale the cheapest)
✏︎ Primary Writing Journals from Dollar Tree ($1.00 apiece)
✏︎ Extra boxes of Crayola Crayons and Glue Sticks (because we always need extra)
✏︎ Rolls of fadeless bulletin board paper from Lakeshore
✏︎ Rolls of corrugated borders from Lakeshore
✏︎ Name plates for desks
✏︎ New birthday poster & "Who lost a tooth?" poster
✏︎ ALL THE THINGS in the Target Dollar Spot 😉
✏︎ Stress balls for students who may need help calming themselves down
(I usually also buy myself a new set of colorful Sharpies, and a new box of my favorite pens, regardless of how many I have stashed in a tub in my classroom already.  Just because it makes me happy.) 

Once I Have My Roster:
★ Update class website with students' birthdays
★ Write names on Birthday Poster
★ Pre-Write names on Happy Birthday certificates (keep in a page protector and hang next to
     Birthday poster)
★ Create Star of the Week calendar/schedule
★ Update class website with students' Star of the Week date
★ Update ClassDojo with new class
★ Create/look up student accounts for online programs:
          - Spelling City
          - Read Theory
          - Accelerated Reader (AR)
          - Mathletics
★ Create labels for workbooks and journals:
          - Writing Journals
          - Math Journals
          - Spelling Journals
          - Math Workbook
          - Handwriting Workbook
          - ELA Workbook
★ Create labels for filing tabs (for completed work bin)
★ Write names on desk name plates
★ Write names on die-cuts for Welcome Back bulletin board
★ Create new Class Jobs board with student names
★ Print and laminate website password cards
★ Create student supplies checklist for first day of school

More Getting Ready:
✓ Prepare Math Journals:
        Pre-number pages
        Affix ruler tape to cover
✓ Prepare Spelling Journals:
        Stamp top corners of pages with letter stamps
        Cut dividers from card stock, glue inside

Classroom Set Up & Decoration
✓ Plan theme/color scheme
✓ Put up bulletin board paper and borders
         ✜ Star of the Week 
         ✜ Calendar
         ✜ Welcome Back to School
         ✜ Religion
✓ Arrange desks and tables depending on class size
✓ Clean tops and insides of desks
✓ Number desks with Sharpie Paint Pens
✓ Pull textbooks out of cabinet, lay on corresponding numbered desk
✓ Hang bunting banners across windows
✓ Hang "Lost a Tooth" & Happy Birthday poster
✓ Prep classwork folders with highlighters (see my post HERE on how I do this)

Get My Personal Life in Order:
♡ Drop of dry-cleaning for first week of school
♡ Plan outfits for first week of school
♡ Get car washed (it makes me feel like I have my act together, regardless if it's true or not)
♡ Make hair appointment (for those of us who have let our highlights grow out over the summer and
     need our roots touched up) 😊
♡ Reload Starbucks app (so there are no delays in getting your morning coffee)

This is what I have so far, although I'm quite sure I will be revisiting these lists to add things as I think of them.  Include things you believe I need to include in the comments section below!

Hand-Painted Teacher's Pencil Shoes

My hand-painted pencil shoes have been receiving a lot of attention lately, especially after being featured by @targetteachers' Instagram!  They've received more likes and comments than any other picture I've posted on Instagram, and have been the subject of countless direct messages from followers who want more information about how I made them.  Well, here is everything you need to know about making your very own pair!

{If you aren't up to the task of making your own, order a pair from me on Etsy!

Start with a pair of white canvas shoes. I bought mine from Target for $16 or $17. I believe Walmart also sells an inexpensive pair as well. You will also need:
~ Acrylic paint: Pink, Yellow, Gold (or very light brown/tan) Black, and Green
~ Paintbrushes: One very small, and one medium-sized
~ Painters tape/masking tape
~ Mod Podge

Remove the laces from your shoes before you begin. Then use painters tape (washi tape will work too, in a pinch) to mark the edges of the pink "eraser" portion of your shoes.  Line up your shoes to ensure you mark both shoes at roughly the same place.

Paint the heel of each shoe pink.  I needed to use several coats of paint, but you'll be able to tell exactly where you may need a little more coverage once it dries. (As a rule of thumb, I like to let each coat of paint dry before adding another layer.)

After completing the heels, I move on to paint the rest of the shoe yellow, taking extra care between the shoelace holes and along the edge of the rubber sole. I like to use a tiny (like, really tiny) brush for these areas, and then a larger brush (like the size that comes with most kids' watercolor trays) for the bigger areas of canvas.  I found that it also helps to thin the paint a bit with water when getting into the trickier areas. (Keep in mind however, the more you dilute the paint, the greater the number of paint layers you'll need to apply.)

It's not necessary to go all the way to the edge of the toe, since this area will be painted two other colors.  (But don't forget to paint the top of the tongue flap inside as well!)

Here I made a scalloped line with my paintbrush before filing in the toe area with more gold paint. There is a twinge of shimmer in the gold paint, but once the entire shoe is finished it looks nice and just adds a bit of dimension (not flashy at all). 

Finish filling in the rest of the toe with gold paint to represent the wood of a sharpened pencil.

Just like I did with the gold scallops, use a tiny paint brush to draw a slightly curved line with black paint to mark where the black will go.  Start off making your line closer to the tip of the shoe, rather than further. (That way you can just add a bit more paint if you don't like the curve you made, or if one toe is a bit different from the other. 

When doing the toes, I like to keep both shoes side by side so I can ensure both the left and the right shoes are painted evenly. 

Let everything dry again before going back to touch up any areas that need a bit more coverage. (As I said before, it's a lot easier to tell where you need an additional coat once it's completely dry.)

Once you've added all the extra coats of pink, yellow, gold, and black, and everything is completely  dry, it's time for the trickiest part of all: the double green lines, and the black No. 2.  Again, do not begin this step until the yellow paint is absolutely, 100% dry. (Trust me. You will mutter - or scream - words that are not appropriate for the classroom.)  If you paint over wet yellow paint with black paint, the colors will bleed together in a rush of swirled liquid, while you watch the lines of your carefully crafted "N" (the beginning of No. 2) travel half an inch across the canvas. 

If this does happen: carefully blot the offended area with a paper towel, and let everything dry. (Yes, it will still look pretty messed up at this point.) Then, once dry, paint over the messed-up area with yellow paint. You may need several coats to cover your mistake, but it should cover eventually. Then try again! (And even if there is a faint smudge peeking through the yellow, no one is going to notice once the shoes are on your feet.)


When painting the No. 2 and the green stripes, use a veerrrrrryyy thin paint brush. I also recommend thinning the paint a bit so that the brush glides easily across the canvas of the shoe. If you need to, you can write it with a pencil first, and then paint over the pencil marks.  (You could even do the whole thing with a black Sharpie if you'd like, but I personally prefer the look of paint.)

For the green stripes, I drew them on with my paintbrush free-hand, but you could also use painters tape to ensure a perfect line. 

Once again, allow both shoes to completely dry. Then, use a thick paintbrush to coat the entire surface with a (not thin, but not too thick either) layer of Mod Podge.  I used two layers, letting everything dry between coats. And don't panic when it appears that you are ruining your handiwork with a milky-white layer of glue. It will all dry clear, and prevent the paint from running off your shoes the second you get hit with a neighbor's lawn sprinkler while walking your dog. 

{That being said, THESE SHOES ARE NOT WATERPROOF.  The Mod Podge will make the paint fairly water-resistant, however if the weather forecast calls for rain, I recommend leaving the pencil shoes at home.}

Good luck!  I would love to see your creations! If you post them on Instagram, please tag me @firstgrademenagerie so I can get a peek!  

Bookpedia: My Classroom Library Catalog

How many times have you seen an awesome book sale, but then wondered to yourself, "Which Magic Treehouse book was it again that I only have one of?" Or, "Which Dr. Seuss book did I loan to my fellow teacher and never got back?"

I searched for the best computer programs for cataloging a personal/classroom library, and after trying bunch of them, Bookpedia was the best option for me. It helps guide my book purchases so my library isn't lopsided in terms of number of titles and reading levels, and has a checkout system for me to track who I've loaned books to. 

The interface is very similar to iTunes, so it feels very familiar and intuitive to use, and I love that I can add my own categories for sorting books. 

There were a few things I had to figure out on my own though, to make the program more tailored to a classroom setting.  After purchasing an downloading the software, here's a step-by-step guide to setting up your Bookpedia for your classroom library.

You can use the camera in your computer/iPad/iPhone to scan a book's ISBN barcode, and Bookpedia will then run the ISBN number through several online databases to pull up the book's title, author, publisher, number of pages, genre, and a picture of the book's cover, automatically filling in the entry fields for you in Bookpedia. Scanning your books makes the process of cataloging your library go so much faster. Which brings me to my first piece of advice:

STEP 1: Connect your Bookpedia to the AMAZON DATABASE
Bookpedia's default online database for pulling book titles, authors, etc. is something called Doghouse. You do not want to use this database as I found it will have few (if any) of the books you own.  When a book is not found online after you've scanned it, you must manually enter each piece of information about the book (which would take forever when multiplied by the total number of books you own). 

By connecting to Amazon's database of books, you'll make the process of inputting your book entries faster and more accurate.  This link explains the process for connecting to the Amazon book database.

You have to set up an Amazon Web Service (AWS) key, and then follow the directions for entering those numbers into your Bookpedia settings. It takes a little bit of time, but once you're finished, you'll be glad you did, because it will make all the difference in how easy it is to enter books into your Bookpedia catalog. 

I don't know about you, but I have multiple copies of the same title for many of my books (whether they're guided reading sets or just a part of my regular library). Bookpedia does not have a default field for recording how many of each book you have. You could simply add multiple entries for each book (so you would see the same title, say, three times in three separate listings, if you had three copies), but I didn't want to add that much visual "clutter" to the interface. You can add a Quantity field by going to Preferences. 

These are the custom fields I've added to my Bookpedia:

This is a screenshot of the information I've input for the book Dixie
I downloaded the (free!) Scholastic Book Wizard app to find the reading levels for all of my books.  Every once in awhile I'll search for a book that I can't find within the app, but for the most part it's pretty good about having the titles I'm looking for.  

Depending on how many books you own, it will take a big chunk of hours to enter them all. But make sure you start in one section of your room and move methodically through your collection.  Otherwise, you'll be pulling your hair out trying to figure out whether a.) you've already scanned this book, or b.) this is simply another copy of the book you scanned already. I'm going to start putting a tiny stamp on the inside of the cover of books I've input, so I don't run into this problem again. 

As you add to your book collection (Hello, Scholastic points!) make sure you continue to scan new books into your database. 

Southern California Kindergarten Conference Blogger Bash

Whew!  I'm finally back in my own house and laying in my own bed, after a long (but fun and wonderful!) two days in Pasadena, California for the Southern California Kindergarten Conference.  This is hands down, one of my favorite professional developments each year.  I really have to give my principal a huge shout-out/hug of thanks for consistently letting me take the Friday off for the Pre-Conference session, and for footing the (rather large) bill for registration year after year.

This year was especially exciting for me, because I was a featured blogger for the first time during the Blogger Bash on Friday night!  It was a humble honor to sit at the bloggers' table with some of the best teacher-authors I know.  (Ummm, any of you heard of Katie Knight and Kelley Dolling HELLO?!?  I had the opportunity to see both of these ladies' pre-conference presentations, and they were AH-MAH-ZING.)*

*Side note: You should all binge watch Happy Endings on Hulu during your Spring Break this year.

During the Blogger Bash, all the bloggers and I got to rotate around to each table and answer questions about our blogs.  For all of you who weren't able to make it to the Blogger Bash, these are the two most frequently asked questions I was asked last night: 

First of all, let me just say that I wish I had more time to write blog posts, and that I am in AWE of the women who are able to write on a consistent basis (as opposed to me, who has only written a few times this calendar year so far).  But, the posts I do write, are nearly always written between the hours of 11:30pm and 2:30am, when I am unable to shut off my brain and fall asleep.  Does that mean that the next morning when I wake up at 6:00am, I am an exhausted zombie?  That would be a big fat YES.  I read somewhere that you should schedule times to write, just like you would set aside time for an appointment.  I would like to get to that point, but if I'm going to make time for something other than exhaustedly putting on sweats and crawling into bed at the end of the day, I want it to be for the gym.  (Because let's get real: summer is around the corner, and this body is not bikini-ready.)

When I first decided to begin my blog, I was terrified to begin.  I racked my brain, trying to come up with ideas that I thought would be "blogworthy."  Finally, I had to just force myself to begin writing, regardless of the degree of importance I believed others might assign to my ideas.  No matter what anyone thought (although this was a mute point at the time, because no one was reading my blog yet), I simply began to write.  For all of you who are considering a blog, and wondering how you start, you just do.  You simply begin writing, about anything, and then bravely press "Publish."  

Be brave, dear teacher friends, and take the plunge if you feel like it's been put on your heart to venture into blogging.  And TRUST ME; it gets easier and easier with each subsequent click of that little orange button. Before you know it, you'll be like this: 

Starting Whole30, Attempt #2

I have heard so many incredible things about Whole30: that it helps your sleep, makes you feel happier, gives you more energy . . . the authors of Whole30 call it Tiger Blood.  So, I'm giving it a go (again).  I started Whole30 last month, but fell off the wagon on Day 10.  Looking back at the Whole30 timeline, I feel embarrassed to be such a cliche; apparently the day most people quit is on Day 10 or 11.  Well, I'm giving it another go, and today is DAY 1 of my new resolve to stick it out the entire thirty days this time.  (Or at least make it to the Tiger Blood stage.  I've got to see what everyone's raving about.)

I'll admit, the main reason I'm doing Whole30 is to lose weight.  I KNOW, you're supposed to do Whole30 for the "non-scale victories," but I would like to lose twenty pounds, and if I'm going to stop eating all the terrible (but delicious) things, I may as well do it in a way that will make me feel better, right?  In the ten days that I was still on the wagon, I lost six pounds, so I'm guessing (hoping) I'll lose at least ten this month if I stay on track.  (And yes, I gained four of those pounds back in the several weeks since.  When I say I fell off the wagon before, I hit the ground hard.)

So, of course today, Day 1 of Whole30, had to be Dollars for Donuts Day at school.  All the kids bring a dollar to buy a donut, and the money raised goes towards the school's fundraising goals.  Temptation slapped me right in the face within hours of my first day.  I told myself the donuts looked stale, and that I wouldn't have wanted one anyway.  (This is a lie.  They looked delicious.  Sometimes you have to lie to yourself to make yourself feel better.)

So instead of eating a donut, I'm spending my recess writing a blog post about how much I wish I was eating a donut.  Wish me luck, people.  My sugar dragon is already rearing its ugly head.

Open House, Classroom Set Up, and Miscellaneous

Well, one more Open House has come and gone! Catholic Schools Week is always a really fun, but really busy (and slightly stressful) time of the year. The week leading up to Open House (which is always on a Sunday morning) is all about beautifying your classroom and hiding the piles of clutter that inevitably make their way onto your desk.  Everything needs to be clean, neat, and beautiful for that three-hour window of time that students and parents, as well as prospective students and parents come waltzing through the door. 

If you teach at a public school, the purpose of Open House is to showcase to the parents everything the students have been learning and creating.  However, at a Catholic school, Open House is actually for marketing to prospective parents. While it's true that the majority of my students come with their parents to show them around our classroom, I actually spend more time talking with and answering questions from parents who are considering enrolling their child in my first grade class next year. 

I found these adorable bunting flag banners in the Dollar Spot section of Target!  At $3 apiece, they were "expensive" for the dollar section (it feels like all the good stuff for teachers is three dollars now instead of one dollar), but how cute do they look hanging from my ugly window blinds?!  Totally worth the purchase.  Well done, Target.  

All the students have their writing journals and math journals on top of their desk to show their parents when they come to visit.  I have students do the majority of their writing and the majority of their math in their respective journals.  (While the downside of frequently using journals is that there is less work to send home each week to parents, the plus side is that at the end of the year, students have a great compilation of their best work, and a record of their learning progression from the beginning of the year to the end.) 

When I first moved into this classroom three years ago, I felt panicky that there was so much bulletin board space (at least twice as much bulletin board as my last classroom).  But the longer I'm here, the more I feel the opposite: I don't have enough bulletin board space!  I use so much of the bulletin board for interactive learning (such as our weather/calendar/days of school components, CAFE reading strategies, and anchor charts), there's little room left over for students' work!  I may need to start hanging student work from the ceiling.  The ceilings are extremely high in my classroom, so I'd need to track down a huge ladder to help me reach.  (Speaking of which, does anyone have any great strategies for hanging things from the ceiling?)

So that's my classroom, folks!  Overflowing with (useful!) clutter, but at least I know where everything is!  Unless I'm looking for where I set my Starbucks down.  Or my iPad.  That's when I recruit my sharp-eyed students to help me. :)

Teacher's Guide to Organizing Your Computer Files, Part 1

I am fastidious about keeping my computer files organized.  EVERYTHING must go in a folder, and most of my folders have more folders within folders.  Ask me for anything I may have on my computer, and I can find it in seconds.  The packet I made for Back to School Night two years ago?  Check.  The unit on money I bought on TPT last spring?  Check.  Those Halloween-themed writing prompts?  Check.  

I have teacher friends whose computer desktops are filled with random files and TPT products that have yet to find a digital home.  

Every teacher needs the following digital folders in her computer to organize the hundreds (thousands?) of teacher resource files we all have floating around on our hard drives:

RECOMMENDED TEACHER FOLDER #1: Lesson Plans by Season (True, nearly all the files in these folders are not formal lesson plans, but in fact either printables, center activities, or templates for art projects, but I've always just titled my folders "Lesson Plans" because it covers everything I may use in a lesson for that topic.)

Within that folder (Lesson Plans by Season), I have a subfolder for each holiday I have resources for.  When titling folders by month, I always put the number of the month first, so that the folders will be in order from January to December (otherwise the folders would default to alphabetical order - and seeing April listed first, and then August and December would just throw me into an OCD tailspin).  Since Easter is always in a different month, that's the only folder that isn't placed in sequential order of the year's holidays.  Same goes for the 100th Day of School.  

Does it matter if the Valentine's Day worksheets/resources are for math, spelling, writing, etc?  Unless you literally have dozens of files relating to Valentine's Day, the answer is NO.  If it is a Valentine's Day-themed resource, it can all just go together in the Valentine's Day folder. And as long as your files themselves are labeled appropriately (which may be a whole other blog post), you should be able to find what you need within that one folder.  

RECOMMENDED TEACHER FOLDER #2: Lesson Plans by Subject

This folder is going to have a LOT of subfolders.  Every subject you teach (which, for us self-contained elementary classrooms, is all of the subjects) needs its own folder within the "Lesson Plans by Subject" folder. 

Each of these subject folders should in turn have a number of subfolders within them as well.  For example, my Phonics folder: 

My Phonics folder contains subfolders for all the phonics rules we learn in first grade:

  • Beginning consonant sounds
  • Ending consonant sounds
  • Long vowels 
  • Short vowels
  • R-Controlled Vowels
  • Variant Vowels
  • Digraphs
  • Dipthongs
  • Inflectional Endings
And within those folders, then another series of subfolders, as you can see in the screen shot of my Short Vowels folder above, which includes Short A, Short E, Short I, Short O, and Short U. 

More to come on ways to keep those computer desktops clear of your TPT resources!