Feature Friday: Cassie Lee

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here. 

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Cassie Lee, an elementary teacher in West Jordan, Utah. She taught second grade for a year and is currently teaching in a first-grade classroom. Here’s what Cassie has to say: 

What is your favorite thing about teaching this age/subject?

“First graders are so enthusiastic and curious about everything! They are all little scientists and just want to know more about the world around them. Any question or experience can be turned into a teaching opportunity, and I love fostering that love of learning in them. They have such a love of life and there is never a dull moment in my classroom. How many people can say their job is never boring?” 

What made you want to go into teaching? 

“My main reason for going into teaching was that I wanted to pay forward the hard work that good teachers before me had done. My dad is an immigrant and had some teachers who impacted his life greatly, to the point where he named my brother after one of them. Those teachers took the time to really care and went above and beyond the call of duty. I myself had many amazing teachers who also took the time to get to know me and loved me for who I was. I wanted to be able to have that kind of impact in the lives of children as well.” 

What is one of your favorite ways to utilize technology in the classroom? 

“At the first school I taught at, I had a SmartBoard in my room and that was a really fun, engaging and interactive tool. My students loved getting to use it and interact with it. It had its fair share of shortcomings and glitches (I will never forget when it didn’t want to work during an observation, ahh!) but overall it was an enjoyable resource. My students could sort information on it, roll interactive dice, write on it, etc. It gave all of them an interactive visual to participate with during my lessons and I enjoyed learning the variety of ways I could use it in my classroom.”

How have you integrated the arts into your core curriculum? 

“I enjoy using visual art in my teaching most of all, but I also enjoy using elements of drama, dance, and music. Integrating the arts is engaging and enjoyable and gives students more chances to be creative and demonstrate their learning.” 

“As a first-grade teacher, I have to keep my kids moving, so we act out and dance a lot. We will also learn songs connected to our curriculum too. Due to time constraints and maintaining a rigorous pace, I integrate social studies and science into reading, and I integrate the arts into that as well. We do an art project every Friday that is linked to the unit we studied that week. It is a really fun way to cap off that week’s worth of learning.”

If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why? 

“What a hard thing to do! I openly acknowledge that I am addicted to kids’ books. So I’m going to cheat a little and give two answers.”

“If I had to pick a book to use for teaching, it would be The Panda Problem by Deborah Underwood. It is such a fun and clever way to teach story elements and get the kids engaged in narrative writing.”

“If I had to pick one children’s book that changed my life personally it would be The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. What a heart-wrenching and beautiful story. It really tugs at your heart and makes you think. If I taught an older grade I would totally read it as a read-aloud.”

What are your best tips for avoiding burnout? 

“That’s a big question. Burnout is very real and very overwhelming. I recommend remembering to take time for yourself and your own hobbies, outside of teaching. I myself am married but don’t have any kids. It’s easy for me to come home and work non-stop. I’m learning how to cut myself off and take time for self-care. It’s not a selfish thing, it’s how I keep myself healthy and fully able to do my job to my best ability.” 

“I’m also working on saying no. That sounds weird, but I tend to be the kind of person who just keeps accepting more and more additional work and responsibilities. I like being helpful and tackling big projects, but I’ve started noticing that I am burning out quickly. It’s important to be self-reflective and learn to create some boundaries.”

What do you wish someone would have told you in your first year teaching? 

“That it’s okay to acknowledge my mistakes and apologize to my class. Whether that was over something I mistaught, a situation I mishandled, etc. You’re not a bad teacher because you’re not perfect. You’re not a bad teacher for messing up. You’re just human, and that’s okay. It’s always funny to me how my kids react to me apologizing. They’re always so shocked. Adults hardly ever apologize to kids for their mistakes, right? But it’s a valuable lesson to see and learn- no one is perfect, and that’s okay.”

What are the benefits you’ve seen in collaborating with your team of teachers? 

“We all learn from each other! I have always been the youngest person on my teams and I worried in the beginning about not being able to contribute. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Younger teachers bring a fresh perspective and new ideas. It’s been really enjoyable to collaborate and see what comes of it. Everyone benefits and all of our teaching practices improve.”

How do you use student voice in your classroom and what outcomes have you seen from it? 

“Student voice is a funny thing in first grade. First graders can be very random and silly, so I try to hone that to my advantage. You gotta think quickly on your feet when a kid replies to your question with a random answer, like telling you their pet’s name. I always try to affirm their initial response but will push for deeper thinking with questioning. I want kids to feel comfortable to be themselves and express themselves, but I also want them to learn how to do that respectfully. They are all such unique individuals, so it’s also fun to work on collaborative projects, like a class story or art project.”


Thanks, Cassie for the great words you have for us today! 

Slowing Down To Remember The Simple Learning

After 2-3 months of virtual learning, who’s ready for a good old fashioned “read out of a book” and “use pencil and paper” kind of learning? My mind is going back to my early school days of chalkboards, chalk, and big hefty erasers. Just take a minute with me to go back in time and picture the one-room schoolhouses full of heavy desks and children of varying ages all learning in the same room. What would they think if we explained our schooling methods now, especially today while schools are closed but we are still finding creative ways to learn online? 

Zoom meetings, iPads, Google Classroom, emails, and virtual learning are all jargon that kids as young as preschool can comprehend. Boy, learning has taken vast leaps and bounds since the one-room schoolhouse where all work was done on a simple slate! Even thinking back to my own elementary days, email was still a term that everyone was trying to wrap their heads around. 

Photo from Mrs. Beach’s Class– A quick read I highly recommend

Oftentimes I find myself longing to live in a simple time period where going to school was a luxury and nights were filled with candlelit dinners, reading, and music instead of extracurriculars, tv shows, and work on the computer. However, I am grateful for our opportunity to gain knowledge even amidst a global pandemic that shut down the world for a time. 

How are you feeling after a few months of virtual learning? Are you hyped up and ready to keep going, or are you coming with me back to the one-room schoolhouse for a little break? 

The Power of Asking: Creating Classroom Resources

Being a teacher means one absolute- paying for your own supplies. It is no secret that there are teachers across the nation paying out of pocket for staplers, books, and more. But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if there was a way we as teachers could find our own resources, but not pay out of pocket? What if I told you there is ONE simple way you could have access to copious amounts of supplies without spending a dime? Because there is a way, and it really can be simple. Here it is.

Ask. 

Asking for donations and supplies can be scary, scary enough that many don’t go this route. The way I like to look at it is, what is the worst that could happen? They tell you no? But let’s break it down- who do you ask, and how do you ask? 

Who- This comes with endless possibilities. Ask your principal, see what the school can offer you. Maybe they have staples and sticky notes and really cool classroom sets of books lying around that never get used because no one ever asked! 

Parents- Some parents may not want to contribute their time, money, or resources to your classroom, and that is fine! Others may not have the means do to so. That’s okay too. But there are also parents out there who can and will support you how you need, you may just need to ask. 

Friends and family- It might surprise you how willing people are to chip in a few dollars here or there to your classroom. Amazon Wishlists and DonorsChoose.org are great resources for sharing what your wants and needs are in a classroom, giving others the option to help fund and support those wants and needs. My dear friend Danielle Macias has been a great example of asking friends and family for support of her classrooms by sharing a donors choose platform when she has a need. She said,
   

“I’ve learned that social media, especially Twitter, can be a great platform to share any projects I may need help with. There are also many donors who are willing to help if you know whom to ask. I would advise teachers to familiarize themselves with Twitter hashtags like #clearthelist and join Donors Choose FB group. (Teachers need to make sure that it’s okay with their district.) I would also advise that teachers promote their donors to choose projects when there’s a promotion to increase their chances of getting funded.” 

Danielle was able to raise money to fund a classroom set of books and headphones. The options and possibilities can be endless if we do one simple thing- ask. 

How have you obtained classroom resources on a budget? 

Feature Friday: Logan Nielsen

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here.

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Logan Nielsen, a 7th and 8th grade English teacher. She received her education at Utah Valley University and then taught for 8 years before eventually staying home to raise her family and become a different kind of teacher. Here’s what she has to say about teaching- 

What is your favorite thing about teaching this age/subject?

“I taught junior high English for 8 years and absolutely loved it. People would always give me a look of either pity, amazement, or sympathy when they found out what grades I taught, but I would always respond by telling them how much I loved it and loved my students. One of my favorite things about teaching junior high was that the students are still so impressionable. They, for the most part, are very receptive to learning and are still young enough that they haven’t been jaded by the world. They are still kids at heart but are also turning into incredible young adults.”

What made you want to go into teaching? 

“I chose to go into teaching because I had a passion for my content area. I loved all things reading and writing, so teaching English just made sense for me. I wanted to share that passion with young people and help them realize how amazing reading and writing could be.”

What is one of your favorite ways to utilize technology in the classroom? 

“I had a smartboard in my classroom and loved to use that. I also frequently used Google Docs for assignments. We frequently did PowerPoint or other types of computer-based presentations. As cell phones became more popular among that age, I began to utilize their access to various apps for classroom instruction.”

If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why?

“This is a tough question for me! There are so many great ones out there. For me, personally, I love anything by Shel Silverstein. He has an amazing way of teaching poignant lessons through silly poetry. Kids love it, and adults do as well.”

How have you seen education change in the years you’ve taught? 

“I saw a shift in how students learn. Technology began to play a much larger role in my later years of teaching than it did in my earlier years. I also saw a change where students began to be more responsible for their learning. They were able to do more inquiry-based learning where they were in control of what they were doing.” 

How do you use student voice in your classroom and what outcomes have you seen from it? 

“I believe that student voice is absolutely crucial to a positive learning environment. Students do so much better if they have a say in what is going on. They love choice. As a time when they are faced with so many life changes, and often times are wanting to feel some independence, I believe that allowing their voices to be heard is extremely beneficial. I loved giving project options and letting them choose what they wanted to do. I loved free writing time, where students were able to tell me anything they wanted to. I loved getting them to think critically about issues that impact them or that they would have opinions on. I saw students blossom when given the chance to share their voice. It is truly one of the most magical things about teaching.”

What is your favorite unit you teach and why is it your favorite?

“With my 7th graders, my absolute favorite unit was teaching the novel The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I loved teaching it because, even though it was written in the 1960s, there was still so much that was relatable to teenagers today. It was always the one book I could count on every student enjoying and getting involved with. I mean, who doesn’t love Ponyboy?!”

“With my 8th graders, my favorite unit to teach was the novel The Giver by Lois Lowry. It became my favorite because, again, there are many things that are relatable in it. It has so many topics and issues that are excellent discussion starters. It’s amazing how deeply 14-year-olds feel about certain issues, and I loved seeing them come to life when we would discuss the issues present in the novel.”


Thanks for the great insight, Logan! What a fun Feature Friday we had this week! Next week we get to hear from a second grade teacher with an excellent book list to share with us, come on back to hear what she has to say!

A Review On Vooks- Virtual Books

After a week or so of social distancing, we were losing our minds being so stuck at home! Anyone else? One of my solutions was to sign up for Vooks- Storybooks brought to life. They have a first month free trial for parents- Or first year free for educators! I’m not an active educator right now, so I did the first month free and wanted to share my findings with you. Please note that blog posts from Honors Grad U are never sponsored or endorsed. These are my honest, true thoughts and feelings on our experience. 

A quick rundown of Vooks. Basically a “virtual book” of sorts. Imagine those YouTube read alouds that others so generously post for us, but with small animation of the pictures and the words lighting up when read. Here is one quick example of this cute book by Zack Bush.

Some of the pros:  

Good selection for browsing if you aren’t looking for a specific book. 

Great way to introduce audiobooks, can be a scaffolding method into them. 

Downloadable- Don’t need data or wifi to use the app. Great for parents! Also useful for teachers for the days when technology or the wifi is not on your side. 

No ads!! 

They hear various accents and voices that I’m not capable of doing. 

It’s a good change of pace and a novelty way to read a book.

It can be empowering for a struggling reader to still be able to read books without the pressure of having to know every word. 

Cons: 

It can be hard when you need specific books 

They weren’t used in our house often- However, I could see that changing in a classroom. I know I’ve had multiple times in my teaching experience that I needed two minutes to find the missing papers, or set up something I forgot for a lesson, and a quick Vooks would have done the trick to give me the time needed. 

It isn’t a great replacement for a book, it’s just a more “book version” of a movie by using the same text, lighting it up, and using slightly less animation. 

My 2.5-year-old didn’t find them engaging, so I ended our membership when the free trial was over. Please don’t take this as an end-all for every kid! She may like it again in 6 months. She’s 2, she doesn’t really know what she likes. 

They weren’t quite as engaging as a movie because it was less animation, and not quite as engaging as a book because I found the animation often took out the deductive reasoning books usually offer and didn’t have the book “feel” to it, more a movie feel.

Overall, they were fun when it was free! And if I were teaching I would definitely be taking advantage of the first year free to give it a try. However, I did not feel like it was useful enough to pay the monthly subscription fee. Please remember I am one human with one opinion, I strongly suggest you take advantage of the free trial as well and decide for yourself how you feel about it. 

I wonder how these pros and cons will change as my kids are older, and if they were used in a classroom setting instead of in my home. Have you used Vooks in your classroom? If you have, please tell us your experience in the comments below! 

Featured photo from Vooks.com

Independent Chores At Two Years Old- How We Do It

I recently created a chore chart for my two-year-old. I knew I should set one up for her around the time that she became more and more interested in housework and started seeing the benefit of helping. When coming up with the exact chore chart I wanted in my mind, I went through a lot of ideas before eventually lining out exactly what I wanted. Here were my stipulations. 

It needed to be fairly independent for her, with very little help from me. Both the jobs I was asking her to do and utilizing the chart itself.

It needed to be visual with pictures for her but also labeled with words. You can read more about the labels and the reason why here. 

It needed purpose, she needed to be doing real chores to help around the house, not just busywork. 

It needed to include her day-to-day tasks like getting dressed so that she could easily feel accomplishment from the get go, and see a better sense of the time structure.

It needed to be age-appropriate. 

And thus, our chore chart was born. I picked a central spot in our house so she could see it often and ran with my idea. I made little magnets for each chore, then separated out the day, morning routine, chores for the middle of the day, and night. I wanted her to see a better sequence of time, that’s why it was laid out this way. And then I separated it into to-do and done so she could visualize what she needs to do and what she has done. 

The whole chore chart- on the metal door in our kitchen
Broken down into sections of the day and what she still needs to do.
A close up of her chores. Labeled with words and pictures.

One of my favorite parts of this chore chart was how simple and cheap it was! I made the chore pictures and labels on my computer and printed it off on card stock at home, then glued on the magnets I picked up from Walmart for about $4. Not bad! Just the card stock was working great for a time, but we also have a baby brother to account for here, so eventually, I printed out a new sheet of chores, and changed a few after our first trial run, then brought it to our public library to be laminated. The total lamination cost was 90 cents! I rubbed the backs of cards with a little sandpaper so the magnets could be glued, and voila! A $4.90 customizable chore chart!

The main goal I’ve tried to remember with her is that our lives do not need to revolve around these magnets. I try really hard to put my Type A personality aside and remember that it’s not the end of the world if she did something like getting dressed, but didn’t move the magnet. And our end wasn’t to get everything done every single day but to use it how and where we can. 

It took a lot of modeling, a lot of guidance, and a lot of work. But months later we’ve gotten to the point where she is in charge of her chore chart and can be independent in carrying it out. 

Have you done something similar in your homes or classrooms? I’d love for you to share with me! 

Feature Friday: Nadine Ball

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Nadine Ball, a second-grade teacher at Ucon Elementary in Ucon, Idaho, which is where I went to elementary school! She has been teaching there for 30 years now. Nadine is mom to Rachel Hassman, our feature Friday interview from last week. Rachel mentioned what an influence her mom has been in choosing a teaching career, so I only found it fitting to interview the legend herself! 

 Mrs. Ball loves second graders for their sense of humor and ability to accept other peers without judgment. She also loves what an innocent view they have of the world. Here’s what Nadine has for us today. 

How do you integrate the arts into your classroom? 

“I admit I was better at this when our district did not hire music teachers. Now we have them and it is awesome. When I was without music teachers, I recruited parent volunteers to come into the classroom and teach music. As far as art itself, I have always encouraged creativity and taught some sort of art lesson weekly. I still do this and it definitely varies each week and is often related to holidays. I rely on what I learned in my art methods class years ago to teach such things as grid, painting, etc.”

If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be? 

“Wow, to recommend just one childrenś book…I cannot do it!
Maybe to recommend just one author:  Here are three.”

Suzy Kline (Horrible Harry series)
Tomie dePaola
Chris Van Allsburg

What are your best tips to avoid burnout? 

“a. take summer off and relax!
b. hang out and chat often with colleagues; share fears and frustrations
c. try to always appreciate kids and their unique qualities”

What do you wish someone would have told you in your first year of teaching? 

“To just chill out and enjoy each day! Recognize the fact that every day will not be a great one and you always have tomorrow. Kids are resilient and forgiving.”

How has education changed in the years you’ve taught? 

“Education has changed every single year. I would say Math and Reading instruction has seen the most changes, mostly in theories and what works best for kids. When federal money is flowing, math and reading curriculum is updated often and each time something new is adopted, it is slightly different. HOW to teach math and reading is always tweaked, depending on what book on the subjects is popular at the time.”

How do you use student voice in your classroom? 

“Second graders do pretty much what I want them to and I call the shots mostly. I feel that I welcome all types of opinions and allow kids to express themselves freely. We do quite a bit of journal writing, creative writing and research and I think this allows kids to use their own interests. None of my kids participate in student council, where their voice could change the school. But we do have that and as kids get older, their voice maybe means more. I always listen to kids and their ideas!”

What are your favorite units to teach? 

“–solar system
–early US history and native Americans
–careers
–Idaho and state symbols
–rocks/minerals”


It was so fun to be able to interview two generations of second-grade teachers and see the insight they had for us. Enjoy that new grandbaby, Nadine and thanks for sharing your thoughts with us today!