December 6

Self-Care for Teachers


Let’s talk teacher stress and self-care. That, along with Social Emotional Learning, are hot buzzwords right now in education. Teachers have stopped being content area experts delivering instruction and are now expected to be full time counselors for students. It has all gotten to be too much.

By now we have all seen the gargantuan lists of impossible teacher duties, very few of which have anything to do with actual teaching. We have also seen the statistics on teacher burn out and those leaving the profession in droves.

So what do you do when leaving is not an option? How do we take care of ourselves because we all know that if we don’t take care of ourselves first, we cannot take care of others? You know, that whole “put on your own oxygen mask before helping those around you”?


Here are some tips and tricks you can complete right at school, many (not all) of them in the classroom.

#1) Leave school on time. We hear this all the time and typically roll our eyes at the prospect of walking out when the last bell rings. I’m telling you. There is absolutely nothing that cannot wait until the next day. Nothing. The day will come, and the day will go with or without that “one last task” checked off the list or not. Leave. Go home.

#2) Write it down. As new tasks arise throughout the day, write them down and come back to them later. You get an email with a question or task or yet another meeting. Instead of trying to fit one more thing into your hectic day, stop for three seconds and write it down. Then move on with whatever you were doing. Keep a notebook on your desk for these things. Don’t let the interruptions and ever increasing list of things to do interrupt your flow. Then when you do get a minute to look at the list, you can prioritize (or more often than not, reprioritize) and check them off.

#3) Stop and Listen. When you are deep into that three part lesson and feel yourself exactly on track and in the groove, a student will throw you off and ask an off the wall question that stops you right in your tracks. Occasionally, we must stop our lessons and talk with our students. Really listen to what they are saying. Make them listen to each other. Oftentimes these are the greatest lessons and make the best memories for both of you. The lesson will be there to pick up again when the time is right. Sometimes we all need a detour to gain a sharper perspective. And that’s okay.


#4) Hot bath. Make it a habit and take one a few times a week. Take the time for yourself. Force yourself to run the water, add the bubbles, light the candles, pour yourself a relaxing beverage. Then get in (without electronics!!), close your eyes, and r-e-l-a-x….

#5) Keep bedtime consistent. Set an alarm or reminder that it is bedtime. Sometimes we get so caught up in the day, work, spouses, kids, schedules, etc. that we can forget to go to bed. Next thing you know, it’s midnight and you are just crawling under the covers. Be purposeful about bedtime. Train your body to rest.

#6) Be purposefully grateful. Think of three things you are grateful for and say them to yourself BEFORE getting  out of bed each day. If you can start your brain each morning in a place of gratefulness, the rest of the day will follow.

#7) Eat lunch. Separate yourself from the work that surrounds you and the students who hound you. Leave your room if you need to or at least shut and lock your door. Cover the little window. Do not let anyone in. Except your warrior tribe that helps you hold it all together. Don’t work through lunch “this one time” as that becomes a habit. A very negative, bad habit.

#8) Acts of kindness. Be intentional in showing your appreciation for others. Doing so is automatically reciprocal to your own well being. Write a positive note (signed or anonymous) to a coworker or student. Leave it in their mailbox or on their desk. Watch how they respond. Send home a positive email to a student’s parent. Kindness is multiplied…never divided.

Small breaks you can take right at school

* Listen to your favorite songs

* Tell someone “I love you”

* Write about how you feel

* Put yourself in timeout

* Look at artwork

* Write a compliment to yourself on a sticky note and post it at your desk

* Learn to say no

* Phone a friend

* Pop some bubble wrap

* Wear comfy clothes

* Take a quick walk around the building (inside or out)

* Take a couple extra minutes of alone time in the restroom

* Meditate in complete silence for 5 minutes

* Practice a few yoga poses

* Focus on taking five deep, cleansing breaths

* Color. Keep a coloring book and your favorite coloring utensil handy 

* Send a happy text to your favorite person

* Watch a short motivational video

Take care of yourselves, my friends, for you will be replaced before your obituary hits the news.

November 10

Corralling the Chaos During the Holidays

As we begin to skid wildly into the holiday madness known as November and December in the high school classroom, teachers don their adventure hats and take their stances before the restless masses of students. We all know what’s coming once the sugar high of Halloween madness begins, and we must do all we can to keep this academic train planted firmly on the rails of education. A bit much? Not if you’re the one in the front of the classroom attempting to keep all 145+ (or more) students engaged and focused on a daily basis.

So what do we do? How do we keep the kids engaged in academia when their minds and attention are anywhere but what you are attempting to teach them? (And that doesn’t even count the numerous classroom interruptions this time of year, so teaching an intensely focused unit is pretty much out the window.)

Well I’m here to help. Below are five of my very favorite go-to lessons and activities to help keep your high school students engaged in the classroom during the holiday build up. NOTE: Some of these are paid resources indicated by the dollar sign next to the link, while others are FREE indicated by the large F next to the link. All paid resources are less than $4.00.


#1) Blackout Poetry (Long’s Learners) $

This assignment can be used at any time alongside existing units of study or as a stand alone activity. Students are given a page from a book. Yes, you must muster the strength to deface and tear up an actual book in order to complete this one. I use books that the library no longer wants and are giving away to clear their shelves for new books. I have also used books from my own classroom library that students have “lovingly” read and returned in not so great shape. I suppose you could make copies of book pages and print them off as well. However, I find that giving each student a different page from a book allows for more diverse poems.

Students are asked to skim the page and circle words that pop out to them. They then go back and “black out” the rest of the page so to speak leaving behind the newly found poem as well as their artwork. My students love this one and typically ask for additional pages to create more.

#2) Pass Back Story (Long’s Learners) FREE

This one is always a class favorite as well. I typically place students in rows or small groups with desks in a circle. Everyone starts with their own piece of notebook paper with their name at the top. I give everyone in the room the same sentence starter to write on their page (see ideas below). I set the timer for 2 minutes as students quietly begin to write their story. At the end of the 2 minutes, students stop right where they are…middle of a sentence, middle of a word, middle of a letter. It doesn’t matter. They stop and pass their paper to the person on their right. I give students one minute to read what is on their paper, set the timer for 2 more minutes, and students continue the story on the page before them. They repeat this process until either their original paper is returned to them or I ask them to conclude the story before them and return the paper to the original owner. Then we read the stories out loud. I have never once been disappointed in the hilarity that ensues as a result of this fun writing activity. Students don’t even know they are learning as they write, and I’m not about to tell them!

Possible sentence starters:

The holiday break had just started when…

It was a dark and stormy night on the farm…

I turned the corner and couldn’t believe my eyes…

It didn’t seem like such a bad idea at the time…


#3) Cartoon Obituaries (Long’s Learners) $

Students will write an epitaph and an obituary for a cartoon character. I include certain items that must be included in their writing. This assignment includes directions, a rubric, and a tombstone for them to use. This assignment could also be used for any fictional character that has been studied in class.

#4) Micro fiction Stories (Laura Randazzo) $

This one is exactly as you would imagine. Students are given a genre and instructed to write a complete story (including certain elements) using only two sentences. Students are forced to examine their diction, style, a sentence structure when trying to convey an entire story using only two sentences.

#5) Character Christmas/Holiday Shopping (by Presto Plans) FREE

This one is a fun one to keep students engaged as they are asked to make a short shopping list for a character either of their own choosing or one that has been studied in class. Students must come up with a gift they would buy their character and then list the reasons why that would make the perfect gift for them. It causes students to analyze characters more deeply.

What other ideas do you have for corralling the chaos in your high school classrooms?

October 27

Four Ways to Keep Students Responsible

Being a high school teacher, we all have our own way of getting and staying organized in our classrooms, professional, and personal lives. It looks different for each of us. Some teachers stay organized through organized chaos. Others, like myself, have systems of organization that we rely on to get us through our days.

What I do to stay organized is completely different than most of my colleagues. At some point, they have each come in my room to look around and see what I do and possibly implement some of my ideas into their own classrooms.

So let’s get started and go over some of my systems to see if any might be helpful for you as well.

Here are four ways I stay organized while also keeping students responsible for themselves.

#1) Student Station

One area of my classroom that gets its own space is the Student Station. This is an area where students can go for everything they need in my room. Things like turn in drawers, markers, pens/pencils, paper, scissors/glue, tissues, extra handouts, hand sanitizer, etc.

These are things that students ask me about ALL.THE.TIME. These are things that I don’t want students asking me about all.the.time. I want them to problem solve and be independent learners. So I set up a station where all of these things reside so students can self-serve when needed.



#2) Daily Agenda

When students walk into my classroom, they will see a synopsis of the daily agenda written on the whiteboard in the front of the classroom. While they may not always know exactly what the items are that are listed, they will be able to see at a glance what the plan is for the day. This agenda is also posted in a weekly format on my classroom website (see item #3).

A typical daily agenda may look something like this:






  • The day and date are prominently displayed at the top.
  • Our “Do This” section is a snapshot of what we plan to do in class that day.
  • The “Deadlines” section is a reminder of any upcoming assignment or project deadlines.
  • Beneath the Deadlines section will be additional items I need them to remember or homework posted.
  • Finally, there is a “Remember” section where I will put any important reminders.

#3) Daily Bell Work

I have various things we do as bell work. The main purpose of the bell work is to get students in a daily routine of entering the classroom and immediately getting to work. It allows me time to do housekeeping tasks (taking attendance, glancing at important emails, answering lingering questions, etc.).

Mondays are Motivational Mondays that include a quick video intended to get our day and week started in a positive direction. I find these using a simple Google search and use lots of Steve Harmon “On the Road” quick videos.

Tuesday-Thursday are journal days. When students arrive in the classroom, they are presented with a journal prompt projected on the whiteboard for them to immediately respond to in their online journals. No questions. No talking. Journals are meant to be their ideas and responses to be interpreted in whatever way they desire. After 5 minutes of writing (with a minimum line count for assessment purposes), we typically discuss their thoughts.

Fridays are First Chapter Fridays which entails me introducing a book to the class, reading the back cover, and the first chapter aloud in the hopes of getting them hooked on a new book.

#4) Classroom Website

In years past, I have utilized Weebly as my classroom website. It included various sections organized so that students and even parents could quickly navigate exactly what we are doing in the classroom each day.

My present school uses Google Classroom which is set up the same way as in the past.

The various sections include Daily Agenda, Journals (with a list of previous entries in case students need to catch up), General Classroom Resources (syllabus, cell phone policy), Membean, and the current unit of study (Of Mice and Men, The Crucible, etc.).

Having a classroom website has been a Godsend! Students learn quickly not to ask me “what did we do yesterday?” As my reply will be “have you checked the website/Google Classroom?” I refuse to answer this question! My motto: Figure it out!

These are just a few ways I stay organized in my classroom. There are many more ways that I may cover in a future post that have more to do with organizing myself, my files, teacher desk and space.

October 13

A Teacher’s Life for Me: #TeacherTales, #StudentStories

As with any teacher, we all have more stories than we could ever begin to tell. I started keeping track of some of mine and titled them #TeacherTales #StudentStories. I thought I would share a few of them with you here in this post. Enjoy!


Answer received on a Gatsby Quiz:
Question: Who is hit by a car and killed?
“The person who got hit”

Question: Who was driving the car?
“The driver”

“Jason” <– Who is this??!!

Question: Who do you think is at fault and why?
“Murl, He shouldn’t have been there where he had a chance to get hit but the driver should have been paying attention.”
“I think Tom is at fault because he didn’t like George so he decided to kill him.”


Yesterday, I gave my classes index cards and asked them to write down their top three areas that they felt they needed just a little more help with before they take their state tests next week. Here are some of the real life answers I got. I love️ my students!

“My attion spand”
“When you have to finish the sentence and none of the answer choices relate to each other and they all seem to fit well.” <– I HATE this type of question too. Pick the “best” answer.
“grammar, school, life”

And my favorite:
“It smells like feet in there.”

Overheard in class:

Student 1: “A kid I know lost his scholarship after his grades went down.”

Student 2: “WAIT…your grades count even AFTER you’re in college?!”

After a lengthy discussion on whether or not you would ask a student’s grandparents to dial a phone or press the buttons to make a call, (he said press while I said dial because you have to be aware of your audience), student asks me: “But why would you need to change what you have to say depending on your audience? Just say what’s right.”

I replied: “So that you are speaking their vernacular and not being pedantic.”
His expected reply: “Huh?”
Me: “See?”

Student: “Is the movie version of Romeo & Juliet just like 50 Shades of Gray?”

Umm….No. No it’s not. Not in any way.





At Open House tonight, I had a PARENT ask if there would be any reading.

Me: Well, it is a literature class soooooo I’m gonna say yes. Yes, there will be reading.





I offered a student a piece of candy today. He replied with, “meh. I’m on my way to type II diabetes anyway. Might as well close the gap.”






I was passing back papers today. When I laid one on a particular student’s desk, he murmured, “mmm….look at God!”







Student: “Is Connecticut a state or a city?” (Quick reminder, I teach high school.)






Student was looking for a word to use in his research paper. He says to me, “You know…like a crack circle.”

The word he was looking for was rehabilitation.


Teaching is fun. Teaching teenagers is the best. There’s just no other way around it.

September 29

First Chapter Friday

So I do this thing in my 11th/12th grade high school ELA classes that I’m sure many of you do too called First Chapter Friday.

It’s exactly as you are probably imagining. I start the class by gaining the students’ attention, and then I read the first chapter(-ish) of a book to them. They love it for many reasons, and the results have been fantastic. I tell them that it’s been a long time since they have had “carpet time” or “story time” in class, and I think it is long overdue. They close their devices and focus solely on the story. And the most magical of magical things happens.

* whispers in a hushed voice*

They are quietly listening and hanging on to my every word.

It’s stunning really. And at the end of nearly every chapter read, they respond in the same way. “What happens next?!” “Can I get that book please?”

I have had students who have requested to borrow a book that other teachers have exclaimed about them, “So and so?! I didn’t even know he/she COULD read!”


And the next Friday is the same way. “Hey Mrs. Long. It’s Friday. You know what that means?!” I play dumb and insert a sarcastic comment letting them tell me…


Here are the (completely unsponsored) links to the books I have used thus far this year.

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

Anything But Ordinary by Valerie Hobbs

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Scythe by Neal Shusterman


In the YA fiction section, I currently have Jason Reynolds, Kwame Alexander, Nic Stone, Tomi Adeyemi, Rainbow Rowell, and others in my classroom library ready to go.

In the nonfiction section, I currently have several biographies of famous people on standby (Michelle Obama, Trevor Noah, Laura Bush, and other lesser known people who have compelling stories to share).

Any ideas of books I should add to my list? What are you reading?

September 15

Truth, Sarcasm, and Diet Dew

Here we are. First blog post. Steeped in truth, sarcasm, and Diet Dew (my caffeine drink of choice).


As a high school teacher, we are expected to educate and lead these young folks who have been entrusted in our care. Many times, these young people are not used to hearing the truth. Or they hear it wrapped in bubblegum and air pockets.

My truth is wrapped in sarcasm and Diet Dew. Teenagers understand the language. it becomes common ground between myself and them. Being real with students allows them to be real with you.

Students may think they want sugar coated feedback, but in reality…they do not. They want the adults in their life to be as real as possible with them. Especially when it is a life lesson or truth they need to hear.

One prime example of sarcasm I use in the classroom is with my classroom rules and procedures. I have funny memes (which let’s face it, is just visual sarcasm) sprinkled throughout my slideshow and on posters and signs around my room.

So many articles have been written with glaring warnings about avoiding sarcasm in the classroom. Please. Get outta here with that mess.  If you can’t speak a foreign language, I would advise not attempting it in a classroom. Same applies to sarcasm. If you cannot speak it effectively and in the humorous vein that it is intended, then do not attempt it. You will fall flat and potentially get yourself in huge trouble.

One of my favorite teacher comedians has multiple examples of sarcasm in the classroom. Some of it we say out loud. Other times we keep it inside.

So there ya go. A little bit of truth and a whole lot of sarcasm. What sort of experiences have you had in speaking the teen language of sarcasm?

Stay tuned.



All images from Wikimedia Commons is license under GNU Free Documentation and Creative Commons ShareAlike 3.0.