I walked into my classroom one day just feeling… off. That’s the best way I can describe it. I was tired and already annoyed before my students had even walked into the classroom. I didn’t greet them at the door like I typically did, and found myself bothered by the fact that they all walked into the classroom talking with one another.
The morning was dragging on, it felt hard to get through our morning meeting, 15 minute phonics lesson, and reading groups. FINALLY, it was time for recess! But then I remembered something awful….. I had recess duty! It was the perfect way to make my day even worse. By the time 28 sweaty kids, plus myself, walked back into our classroom, a classroom with NO air conditioning, mind you, I was just done. My kids asked if they could do some free drawing during our read aloud time and I snapped at them. During our math lesson I was not tolerating any funny business, whatsoever.
I was not a good teacher that day, and worse off, I was down on myself for not being a good teacher. Finally, the day ended and all 29 of us went our separate ways. On my drive home I recounted my day and regretted being so short and unhappy with my class. Did they deserve to be the ones taking the brunt end of my bad day? No! They talked a little extra and were a little extra loud in the hallway, so what? They are first graders. They deserve some grace!
I ended my drive trying to figure out how to make it up to them the next day in class. Plenty of ideas flew through my mind. Ice cream party? No. Extra long recess? Not good enough. Then, finally it came to my mind.
The next morning I greeted each one of my students at the door with a smile and directed them to the rug to start our morning meeting a little earlier than normal. I had them all seated in front of me and told them I had something important to tell them, and with eager eyes they looked up at me waiting to hear what I had to say.
Then, I sat in front of all of my kids and apologized. I opened up my heart and was vulnerable in front of these 6 and 7 year olds. I admitted my mistake and let them know that it wasn’t their fault that I had an off day. I told them they are really great kids and that I was extremely lucky to be their teacher, and I meant it! And I told them we would have a better day.
And we did!
Here’s what I learned from that day. First, it sucks to have bad days! It’s hard to walk away from a day feeling defeated and regret your decisions. But it’s also okay to have those days. A bad day of teaching does not make you a bad teacher.
But here is the part that is the most important to remember:
It’s okay to have those bad days if you take the time to reflect on them and troubleshoot the day (or situation), so that next time you’re in that situation you can handle it a little better. It absolutely will not be perfect, but it’ll be a stair step process as you troubleshoot the next bad day and try to improve each time after. This is what leads you to the tools you need to cope with the bad teaching days. Troubleshooting and trying again. It’s what we teach our students to do anyway, isn’t it?!
You’re not a bad teacher- it’s just a bad day. You’ve got this.
I’ve written a few blog posts giving tips and advice and often say “set your kids up for success.” I give a quick little excerpt of what that means, but I really want to dive deep into this topic and define what it means to set your kids up for success.
In a parent or teacher role, we set expectations for our kids.
“Ask before using the restroom.”
“Keep the paint on the paper and reasonably clean.”
“Do well this spelling test.”
We can give our kids these expectations, but it’s a two-part system: We have to set them up for success to carry out these expectations before we can expect them.
What does that look like? If we expect them to ask before using the restroom, we must make ourselves approachable and give them the resources needed to ask to go. Such as a hand signal or allowing them to raise their hands.
If we want them to do well on a spelling test, we have the responsibility as the adult to provide them with the spelling words to practice before they head into the test. We don’t give them a spelling test of worlds they’ve never seen and expect them to do well! It’s unfair.
If we expect them to keep the paint clean during their craft time, we have to be responsible for giving them the proper space, table covers, and rags to clean up any accidents.
If we are going to expect things from them, we need to set them up for success before we can realistically keep these expectations. So during activities when I say, “set your kids up for success with a rice bin” I mean, lay down that blanket so the rice doesn’t go rolling under the fridge. We want them to keep the rice in the bin, but we all know that won’t 100% happen. When they are playing with oobleck or slime, set a wet rag next to them to wash dirty hands so they don’t track the material all over the house when they become overwhelmed with the mess. They won’t be able to navigate the road without giving them the map first.
When a spelling test is coming up, handing out the spelling words before the test is the minimum. Practicing the words is the next step. Giving them ideas on how they can practice at home is great too!
What does this accomplish for us by taking the extra time and effort to do these things for them? Less frustration for us! Less time spent
It is so important for us to set our kids up for success! Give them the means to accomplish what they need in order to find success. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for letting our kids struggle a little to learn, but we still have a job as the adult to set them up with the tools they need. If you want to read more on that, check out my post on lighthouse parenting.
What other things do you do to set your kids up for success?
If you’re here you need some direction on how to start up sensory bins and other activities for the early childhood age! So before we begin, I want to share with you a whole page I’ve put together of multiple blog posts that can direct you and answer questions that you may have. Check it out here!
Adding in hands-on activities for your early childhood learners can be overwhelming at first, but don’t stress! I am here to help. What qualifies me? I was in the exact same position as you a few years ago. I had the desire to be the #teachermom that pulls out fun, educational activities for my kids, and even followed plenty of people on social media giving me all of the ideas for activities. BUT it seemed absolutely overwhelming to do so. Eventually, I got the hang of it, and now I am in a place where I can walk you through it! Here’s what I did.
I invested in materials. Typically, these materials are fairly inexpensive and you’ll probably find a lot of them around your home (rice, cooking utensils, paper, markers). But I found the most success when all of the materials were there and ready for me to pull out. I spent around $75 at Amazon, Walmart, and The Dollar Store combined. This is also partially because I didn’t want to share my kitchen materials with my kid’s activities, so I spent a good chunk on new spoons, cups, muffin tins, etc. Having all of the materials together and organized helped tremendously to help me feel like I could be a part of this crafty early childhood educator bandwagon of hands-on activities!
I lined out the purpose of these activities. Yes, I want my child to have these experiences and learning opportunities. But was I setting up activities for me to sit down and work with my kids one-on-one? Did I need the activities out to keep them entertained while I worked on something else? Yes to all of the above. However, it would take time to achieve the latter.
I decided to use the sensory bins and activities for one-on-one time and connection with my kids at first, and then eventually use them as something for them to do while I made dinner or worked. I wouldn’t be setting myself up for success by expecting my kids to play independently and keeping expectations of the activities.
I found the right social media accounts to follow. There are parents and educators out there that have done all of the dirty work for us! You don’t have to carefully create a new activity each time you feel your child needs entertainment or has a skill they need to practice. Others have already done it, and they are on social media! My favorites: Busy Toddler and Days with Gray.
These two stand out to me because they don’t post extravagant activities. It takes minimal set up time, simple materials, and are doable for any parent or educator to put together! Watch out for those social media accounts that are posting above and beyond activities that will make you feel inadequate to carry them out!
I made a schedule. This was a temporary thing that I didn’t have to do for long, but helped initially. It made it predictable for all of us and gave me a visual of what I could expect. I decided activities in the morning would be 1:1 and done with new activities that needed a lot of supervision. Afternoon activities, while I was cooking dinner, would be independent activities that I knew I could trust my kids alone with. It looked like this:
Week one: Activities in the morning after breakfast, before nap.
Monday: bubble foam Tuesday: rice scoop and transfer Wednesday: water painting on construction paper Thursday: Color mixing pour station Friday: contact paper art
Week two: morning activities for together time, afternoon activities for independent play
Monday morning: moon sand Tuesday afternoon: water painting on construction paper Wednesday morning: color mixing pour station Thursday afternoon: contact paper art Friday morning: dot sticker line-up/ color match
Week three: Start trying two activities a day!
Monday morning: moon sand Monday afternoon: sticky note shape match Tuesday morning: rice bin scoop and transfer Wednesday afternoon: water sensory bin Thursday morning: play dough Friday afternoon: dot sticker activity
This isn’t exactly but gives you an idea. Mornings were for working together and learning together. Afternoons were for independent play with materials I could trust my kids with. This schedule didn’t last forever, only about 3-4 weeks. But once I was in the rhythm and knew what to expect more, I didn’t need the schedule as much and slowly tapered off. Eventually pulling out activities became intuitive and I could tell when we needed one, what type it needed to be, and so forth.
Do what you feel comfortable with. Are you not into playdough or paint? THAT IS OKAY! You can still have success. Just because a teacher or mom on Instagram shows how “easy” and “doable” it is to let children play with slime doesn’t mean you have to do it too.
My first activities with my daughter were water sensory bins (because all it takes to clean up when it spills is a towel.) and “painting” with water on construction paper. Again, because cleaning up water is mounds easier than cleaning up rice.
Eventually, all of our water play led to me being more comfortable with dried corn in a sensory bin. Then rice. Then, I let my daughter paint… It was absolutely nerve-wracking, but guess what I learned? The paint can be cleaned up. I can clean it up, and my daughter can learn how to clean when she helps! “Everything can and will be cleaned up.” Now, years later, we paint at least once a week, and I can comfortably leave my 3.5-year-old alone at our kitchen table to play with play-dough. Rome wasn’t built in a day, friends.
Set you and your kids up for success. This is something that deserves a whole blog post, but I’m going to sum it up in two paragraphs for you. When setting up activities, think ahead. Are you working with paint? Keep a wet rag close by for messes. Maybe today is rice sensory bin day? Don’t put the bin near the fridge, because when it inevitably spills, it will roll under there and you won’t ever want to set up a rice sensory bin again. Also, set your kids up for success. No child was born knowing how to play properly in dried rice and corn, they need boundaries and rules! Keep it simple, but keep them there.
Don’t add too much rice, don’t give them access to too much paint, or too much water, etc. Use big blankets or dollar store table cloths and shower curtains to protect your floors. And know your exit plan. What will clean up look like? What will your child help with, and what will you take on? Read my whole list of sensory bin tips here.
I know, I know. This post can be just as overwhelming, if not more so than you were before. But take it in baby steps! Figure it out as you go! Your child isn’t looking for the perfectly curated bin with exactly the lessons and skills they need for their current age and stage.
Your child is looking for an opportunity to play. To spend time with you. To just be a kid. These finite details aren’t here to scare you away or add more to your plate, it’s just a reference guide for when you need help.
So let’s break it down to basics.
How do you start a rice sensory bin? Open a bag of rice. Pour contents into a large bin or bowl. Add in a cup and spoon. Sit on the floor with your child and enjoy.
It really is that simple. So, go play! Go have fun! And go let those kids explore!
In college, I had this professor. You know the one that changes your life and puts you right on course for where you need to be? Yep, she’s the one.
Dr. Mecham was my professor for my level two practicum (level four is student teaching, for perspective). On the very first day of class, she stood up in front of the roughly 150 students currently in the practicum and said, “This semester is going to be really hard. It will push you to a lot of limits and we will expect a lot from you. So if you feel like you need to switch to an easier major, perhaps engineering, then go ahead and talk to us and we can direct you to the correct advisors to help you make this switch.”
I was blown away that she had the audacity to state that majoring in engineering would be an easier route than an education degree. I’ve never taken any engineering classes, so I cannot confirm or deny that her statements were true, but I will say that we were worked very hard by our professors and we were expected to perform to the highest standard that semester.
During my practicum, it not only required 14 hours of classes a week but also being in an elementary school classroom every day of the semester working with a teacher to provide classroom experience. This time in the classroom was focused on working with students in small groups and one-on-one to slowly introduce us to eventually student teaching.
My practicum experience in the classroom was less than ideal, with a teacher that often sent me to the copy room to do mindless copy work and rarely let me work with students. There were multiple other problems I ran into, most of which I wish I would have been bold enough to stand up for myself, but at the time I wasn’t.
After a semester of feeling discouraged and not very adequate as a teacher, I had my final interview with my professor, Dr. Mecham. I accomplished all of my school work, had a 4.0 GPA, and according to the books, it looked like I was the perfect candidate to continue my education degree. However, my mental state said otherwise. Dr. Mecham was ready to pass me off and tell me I was ready to continue, but before so, she asked her final question that went something like, “Do you feel ready to move on and that you passed your level two practicum?”
With tears in my eyes, I told her I couldn’t. I said that being a teacher must not be what I am supposed to do as a career, because I felt so inadequate in the classroom, and that I possibly needed to consider a new degree.
She comforted me with compassion, asked details on why I was feeling this way, and reassured me that I wasn’t the problem, my situation was the problem.
I left her classroom with a warm hug and felt better and more confident than ever before. She truly had just changed my life and kept me on the path as a teacher, one that I am still so happy to be on, even if I’m not actively teaching at the moment!
A handful of times I ran into Dr. Mecham in grocery stores and other places throughout town. Every time she saw me she always stopped to say hello with a warm, welcoming smile. She always was ready to take the time to acknowledge an old student, which made me feel like a million bucks!
About a year after being in her class, I was walking through campus with a new haircut. I happened to pass Dr. Mecham on my walk and the first thing she said was, “Oh cute new haircut! I like that style on you!”
I want you to realize that Dr. Mecham hadn’t had me as a student in a full year. I had only seen her very briefly in passing a handful of times. And still, she recognized that I changed my hair! If you want to know the true definition of personal teaching, she is the icon for it. She also asked about my experience at college how far along I was in my program. I was happy to tell her that I would be student teaching soon, ready to take my final step in the program to reach graduation. She was elated for me! She knew how hard it was for me to get through my level two practicum and I knew she was the only reason I continued on.
I thanked her again for telling me how truly hard it would be and preparing me to work hard. And for knowing me and my struggles through it all. I wasn’t just another student walking the halls of the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education at Utah State University, I was a student of Dr. Mecham, someone she knew and cared about. And that made all the difference for me.
I try to remember Dr. Mecham in my teaching experience. I try to get to know each of my students personally and pay attention to them as a human, not just someone to teach the curriculum to.
And I strongly suggest you teach like Dr. Mecham too.
How are you? No, really. Take a minute to close your eyes and really think. How are you doing?
This school year is unlike any other. Instead of walking into your classroom, putting up creative borders and posters around your classroom, and setting up for students, you sat at your computer waiting for emails, calls, or anything that would indicate how you would be teaching this year.
Masks? No masks? How much plexiglass would be installed in your classroom?
It’s natural and okay to feel overwhelmed by the state of this school year. So many of you were told one thing, only to be changed last minute. Those expecting to be all online had to curate a socially distant classroom experience in a matter of hours because districts and higher-ups changed the protocol in the 11th hour. Some who spent all summer working on their socially distant classrooms were changed to all online and had to revamp their whole curriculum overnight.
You’re expected to teach our “lost generation”, those who won’t have the opportunity at the same education as others have. It can put a certain level of guilt on you as their main source of education!
But you’re a good teacher.
You’re trying your best.
The students are the center of your work.
How do I know? Because it takes a special heart to be an educator, especially in today’s political world. And I know you wouldn’t be there if you didn’t care about your students as much as you do.
Think back to one year ago, did you know the term “socially distant”? Would you have ever imagined teaching with a mask on all day? Did you ever see yourself on Zoom teaching concepts that really need to be taught in a personal setting? Like…. How to write….?
No. No one saw this coming, no one could have prepared us for today.
Your students are the same way, they were blindsided one day in March when nearly every school shut down with very little notice for an undisclosed amount of time.
Doctors and nurses on the front lines treating COVID are heroes and need recognition. But maybe our teachers are being somewhat forgotten about. Here you are, putting in as much time and effort as these doctors. You’re working long shifts and giving your whole heart and soul to bring the education back to your communities, putting your life and your family’s lives at risk while you do it.
Instead of nursing COVID patients back to health, you’re nursing our lost generation back to education. You’re providing our society as a whole a brighter future through your efforts.
You are seen. You are of immeasurable value. You are the heroes we need right now.
Positive affirmations are such a great tool for kids and adults alike. I’ve been doing them with my daughter recently. At three years old she commonly found situations where she was stuck and not able to complete what she was hoping to do. Such as climb a ladder or go down a scary slide.
I taught her to say “I can do it!” in hard situations and it seemed to help give her the confidence, but it also felt like something was missing. The affirmation was there, but the work behind it was absent.
I needed her to learn that yes, she can do it, but she needs to put in the work to get there. So I adapted her affirmation.
“I can do it if I try.”
We can get so caught up constantly telling our students, “You can do it! You know you can do it! I know you can do it!” But maybe what we are missing is reminding them of the work they must put into it in order to accomplish the goal.
“You can do it if you try.”
“You can do it if you practice.” because not everything comes right away.
Try it out and tell me if you think it makes a difference.
What positive affirmations do you practice with your students and children? How have they helped you as well?
Hi! Just me again, saying one thing and doing another. I wrote about my blog schedule just last week and was ready to get right to work on it! But on Monday, I strayed right away from the schedule and wrote about schools opening in the Fall because it felt so relevant and something teachers needed to be reading right now.
I had every intention to dedicate today to introducing Enneagram types and why it can be important in education, but again, another topic came up that I truly felt compelled to write about. I appreciate that I am not getting any hate emails because I’m not following the set schedule I just gave myself. Thanks for letting my intuition take the lead for now.
Setting up fun, educational activities for my daughter has been a side job and hobby of mine for about two years now. She’s well trained in sensory bins and being responsible with paint, play dough, scissors, and more. I have also been well trained in when and where activities take place. When I’m making dinner it’s a perfect time for unsupervised activities she knows well and can do independently. When her little brother is napping it’s a great time to pull out something new when I can sit with her and walk her through, and help where needed.
Usually, I am great at seeing the cues of when she needs something besides TV or her regular toys to entertain her. She gets a certain kind of antsy when I am busy and her brain just needs to think and create. But the other day I was so hyper-focused on what I was doing, I didn’t take the time to give her what she needed. She ended up finding some playdough in her bin of activities I keep organized and brought it to the kitchen table asking if she could play with it. She’s an extremely responsible three-year-old, I know! Within minutes she was bored and asking for something new, while I continued to work and ignore her needs.
My husband was cleaning the kitchen and watching the interactions unfold, seeing both of our needs. I needed to work and my daughter needed an enriching, fun activity, not just play dough. He walked over with a container full of food picks, food stamps, measuring spoons, and my rolling pin and showed my daughter how to roll the playdough, then stamp the shapes or make the food picks stand up, They scooped the dough with the measuring spoons and packed them in tight to make 3D shapes. Less than 5 minutes of instruction and she was on her way to independent play.
It made me realize that the activities I’ve set up around my house are maybe teaching more than just my daughter. My husband has seen enough of these setups to know what she needed to succeed, and I’m sure my son is picking up on the rules I’ve set by watching his older sister carry out her painting and sensory bins. I also thought about this quote I’ve seen often as a teacher.
One seed that we plant as teachers will have lasting effects for generations and generations to come. A positive influence on one child can have lasting impressions on everyone they come in contact with, you never know what great work you are doing.
This apple quote printable was made for me by Kelsie Housley. If you would like to download the PDF to print and hang in your classroom, the link is below. Do me a favor and leave her a comment of thanks if you downloaded it! I would love to show her our appreciation!