Warning: NEVER Buy These Easy, Amazing Items!

It's another Happy Teacher Tip Tuesday! Link up (even if it's not Tuesday) by writing your blog post and adding it below. Make sure to visit this page for the rules of the linkup.


Ok, I admit it: my post title is dripping with sarcasm, but it's because the idea behind today's post is really simple, but we complicate it often. If you need something convenient, but you can make it yourself, JUST. BUY. IT.

You have so much to get done, and so little time to get it done. You have to teach, you have to eat, you have to sleep, you should exercise, you'd probably like time to spend with your family, hobbies might be nice... SO MANY THINGS exist to make this easier for you. I find that because it's an extra few bucks, we take the harder route. But what are you going to miss more--your time or your money? I'm guessing it's your time, but can actually do a lot of this in a really affordable way.

I'm not suggesting that you constantly treat yo self and buy every expensive thing in sight all the time (shout out to Parks & Rec). However, if you want to take care of yourself and your sanity, these are some great examples of things you can, should, and deserve to buy that you can definitely afford on your teacher-salary:

  • Pre-cut or pre-washed veggies/fruit
    especially if it means you won't make that healthy teacher fuel if you have to cut/wash it, which will make you spend double on buying lunch anyway.
  • That awesome product on TeachersPayTeachers you've been eyeing
    but you haven't purchased it yet because you know you can make it if you spend a lot of time on it... YOUR TIME IS WORTH IT.
  • Some cute decor piece on Etsy that you saw
    because making one will take longer (and it might actually be more expensive after you buy all the supplies anyway).
  • Flair pens
    because even though they aren't that cheap for what they are, they don't cost a ton and they make you SO. DARN. HAPPY. (Ok, maybe I am suggesting a Parks & Rec Treat Yo Self here, but it's still warranted.)
  • Someone to clean your house for you
    for an hour or two every few weeks so that you don't go crazy and get to spend more time with your family.
  • Spotify Premium or Pandora so you can be happy in your classroom when you're working alone after the kids have left for the day.
I was raised with a mentality that I should not buy these kinds of things because they were not the best use of money, and I have so many teacher friends that feel the same way. Just look at the way we hoard things in our classrooms, hoping they will come in handy someday so we won't have to buy it. The truth is, while I'm still a smart spender, the more things like this I buy, the happier I end up being. I don't need to design the most adorable schedule cards ever, because they are available on TeachersPayTeachers. OH WAIT, THE MOST ADORABLE ONES ARE FREE. (YASSS Cara Carroll).

Since we have a tendency to make things harder for ourselves, especially when we're going back to school, and I am here to provide you with your reminder that you are awesome, and you deserve to cut yourself some slack. So I want to know, what little things did you tell yourself you shouldn't buy? What have you started doing to make your life a little easier?

How To Call Out Sick Without Feeling Guilty Or Overwhelmed

You know what DOESN'T make teachers happy? When they want to call out sick, but they have to go into school to set up sub plans at 6 AM. At that rate, isn't it easier to just get through the normal day since you'll be there anyway? NO. NO IT'S NOT. Today I'm going to help you get super happy by helping you to set up no-prep sub plans before the school year even starts. So many teachers feel negatively for one reason or another when calling out sick, but it's just not appropriate for several reasons. You can't do your best teaching when you feel like crap, and you'll probably be sicker for longer than you would if you just took that one day off in the first place.

Pre-made, no-prep, high quality sub plans for free.

I set up sub plans that don't require me to be present, let my students practice valuable skills and don't cost anything. You don't have to pay for some on Teachers Pay Teachers. These sub plans are free. I set them up before the school year even starts, and you can too.

First, get a folder.

Label it "Sub Plans" super clearly, put it in a super obvious place, and tell a few colleagues where it is so they can pull it out and put it on your desk when you text them because you feel like you have the plague. Inside of this folder, make sure to put:
  • Your class list (updated if you get new students)
  • Emergency drill information
  • A copy of your schedule
  • A page about your rules, routines, and classroom management tips that you know will help your substitute teacher.
  • Sub plans for each day of the week
  • Housekeeping slips (like attendance or lunch slips)
  • Morning work materials (I'll discuss that in the next part).
  • A few books they can read in case an activity is finished early.
  • Any other relevant information for your class

Next, set up for your morning.

Usually, I have my students look at their morning work and check in on the smart board when I'm in school. All I do is write the same stuff they would usually do on a few big pieces of construction paper. I put a sticky note on those papers telling the sub to tape the papers to the smart board and to save them for next time. I do the same thing with the morning message. Every day I'm absent, the morning message is the same. It usually sounds something like this:
Dear Team,
Today you will have a guest teacher. I am counting on you to be helpful and responsible. How can you take care of your learning and the guest teacher while I am away? Be ready to share your idea at Morning Meeting today. I can't wait to be back!
 Love, Your Teacher
That's it. If you are a big fan of morning work, keep it super simple. I'm not, so I just give my kids a little extra reader's or writer's workshop time. You could also have kids work on unfinished work.

Now write your sub plans.

Here's what I do for each subject.
  • Morning Meeting- For the greeting, have the kids go around the circle and say their name and favorite subject. Then have the group say good morning to that kid. This gives the sub a little heads up about who each kid in your class is. For the share, have the kids share how they will take care of their learning and the guest teacher while you are gone (just like the Morning Message said), for the activity, have a student lead an activity you've taught early in the year. Make it a quick one with no prep needed. You can snag some ideas for activities here. Then have the class read the message together. Done! Easy peasy.
  • Reading & Writing- I give the kids independent reading or writing time. Because I am a workshop teacher, we just have more time to work on what we've already been working on. I call this a "marathon day" (a chance to practice strategies they love and haven't gotten to work on much, or a chance to work on something they haven't finished yet). Here's exactly what I write in my sub plans:
    Tell the kids they will be having a marathon period in reading, which means they will get extra time to practice what they’ve been doing in class. Have them discuss what reader’s workshop should look and sound like. 
    Next have them think about what strategy they will practice today to push their reading further and why. They can look at the charts in the room to help them make decisions. Have the kids turn and talk to their partner to tell them their choice and why. Share out some answers. 
    Have the kids read independently. Circulate and check in with kids if they need help. Ask them what their goal is, how they’re reaching it, and to prove that they are reaching it. This will help them be more productive. 
    During the last 2 or 3 minutes, have kids share what their goal was and how they reached it. 
  • Math- This one is simple! I have the kids start by finishing any unfinished math work, and then they play independent or partner math games. These are games they already know how to play. Many of them are enrichment games they play when they finish their math work. It's a great time for the kids to review skills you may or may not be learning about at the time. I recommend giving 2-4 options to keep things simple. I also leave a note for my substitute that if students aren't focusing with their partner, they lose the privilege of working with a partner and need to work on an independent math game.
  • Science or Social Studies- In my class, we have a Time For Kids subscription. I often send it home to read for homework (since reading is most of the homework I give anyway), but I keep a few in my sub folder. The kids can read with a partner or independently. The teacher's manual has some worksheets that I ask the sub to copy for early finishers. You can also have the sub read a book on a topic of study you are learning about. If that's the case, I recommend adding books to your sub folder regularly.
  • Word Study- Have students play some games independently or sort their words. What do you usually do? That's what you should do now.
Did you notice how I did not invent the wheel here? I did end up changing my lesson plans as the year went by to add or remove certain math games, but that's pretty much it. If you have any free periods, just have the sub read a book or have students work on unfinished work. Those will probably be more useful than any fancy schmancy game you could print out and leave for the kids anyway.

Now create your sub plans by day.

So you've already done the hard part--you've figured out what should be taught during each subject. Most teachers have a different schedule each day, so now write each sub plan according to day, making sure to add in your specials. Clearly mark each day so your sub knows which papers to pull out of the folder.

If you really want your sub to thank you, include a few brain breaks the kids can play between periods. I include 2 or 3 games the students can play to get the wiggles out, and I always leave the names of a few students who can lead the games. I also leave 1 or 2 calming brain breaks. I write these right into my plans. If your sub will have access to a computer, you can even give them the log-in information for your GoNoodle account. Your sub will experience less negative behaviors when you do this.

When you do this, you'll be able to take your sick day knowing that you have quality plans for your students. YOU CAN SLEEP IN WHEN YOUR BODY NEEDS IT. I cannot believe I used to go to school at 6 or 7 to set up my room for the sub. I would never in a million years ever do that again, and I hope you don't either.

So how do you want to spread the teacher happiness this week? Link up below! All you need to do is write a short blog post with your teacher tip(s), include the above graphic linking back to this post, and comment on at least one other blogger's post. If you don't have a blog, please participate by adding your tip in a comment below!

How To Make Your Conferring Instruction More Effective

Good teachers collect and use data effectively, and that's the role conferring plays in the reader's or writer's workshop. Use these tips to keep your conferences and strategy groups running smoothly and effectively.

How To Confer Efficiently and Create a Conferring Toolkit by A Word On Third

Keep it simple.

The best conferences and strategy groups follow a predictable formula, and they are quick and short!! We have a tendency to over-talk even though students should be doing the majority of the talking and work. Here's the typical formula for a conference or small strategy group:
Research: 1-2 minutes, Discuss goals, strengths, and challenges with the student and listen to him/her read. Ask some meaning-based questions. Use what you learn to teach. End with a compliment. *This step is only needed in a conference--in a strategy group, you already know what you'll be teaching based on data you've collected! 
Connection: ~20 seconds, Grab the students' attention.
Teaching Point: ~20 seconds, Name exactly what you will teach.
Teach: ~2 minutes, Model the strategy (or use another method, like a mini-inquiry).
Active Engagement: ~1 minutes, Let the students try the skill.
Link: 20 seconds, Send the students off with an ending thought about the skill they learned.
Strategy groups need to be short and pointed so that you can fit as many as you need into your week. Aim for 5 (maybe 7 minutes for a small group) and no more. Shoot to meet with each student at least once per week. Getting the timing down will be an adjustment. Use a stopwatch if you need to. Click the picture below to be taken to a great one online.

Provide students with tangible tools.

I like to teach with a quickly drawn anchor chart on a piece of printer paper. It helps to have a visual aid, and creating the charts can even clarify how I'll teach each skill in my mind. Students need to hear and see the teaching point over and over again. Notice how the example I made below is super clear.
How To Confer Efficiently and Create a Conferring Toolkit by A Word On Third

It's also critical that students have a piece of tangible evidence of learning. Send them off with a smaller version of your anchor chart to glue into a notebook or keep with them while they work. Even jotting the teaching point on a post-it note can be a big help for keeping students mindful of the skills they are practicing.

Create a toolkit to save time.

Keeping a pencil pocket full of post-it notes, writing utensils, and other materials you use during conferences is a time-saver! Put that in your toolkit so you always have it.

How To Make Your Conferring Instruction More Effective by A Word On Third

When you know the students and your curriculum, you can predict the majority of the skills you will need to teach. When you create the tangible tools you will use during conferences--whether it's in the moment or ahead of time--SAVE THEM! It takes so much time and work to do this--if you don't save it, you're wasting instructional or planning time. You can use them several times throughout the year and then over again in future years. I will admit that this does take some time, but it's totally worth it when you see your student's skills improving daily. So what if it takes you a few years to develop your personal toolkit?

If you're not up for the hard work it takes to create your own toolkit, or you want to experiment with one before committing, I recommend checking mine out. I created a toolkit to help you launch reader's workshop effectively. You can use it to create the reader's workshop culture you wish to see in your room and teach into effective reading behaviors, partnership work, and comprehension strategies. It's also $10.00 in my store for today only! Click here or on the picture below to check it out, and make sure to download the free preview with some goodies in there for you.

If you happen to read this a day late and miss the discount, you can also enter a giveaway on my Instagram account to win it for free along with a $10.00 TeachersPayTeachers gift card. Make sure to go enter!