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Uncategorized   |   Jul 26, 2012

Ask Angela Anything: July Edition

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Ask Angela Anything: July Edition

By Angela Watson


Welcome to the July edition of the monthly post series in which I answer readers’ frequently-asked questions. Although I do respond personally to every email, with this series, you can submit any teaching-related question anonymously to maintain your privacy and student confidentiality. I’ve called the series “According to Angela” because I share what has worked for me in my own classroom and in the rooms of the teachers I coach. My personal philosophy is that there’s no one “right” solution that works for every child in every classroom: I encourage you to adapt the ideas I share for your own situation.

Though the content of the post is completely mine, the series is sponsored by companies and organizations that are committed to providing high-quality resources for educators,  This month’s post is brought to you by Marygrove College’s Master in the Art of Teaching, an online degree program designed to empower teachers by focusing on the knowledge and skills required to deliver effective instruction to diverse learners from preschool through high school, including those with special needs.

This month, we’ve got a TON of questions, so let’s get right to it! Here’s a note about the submitted questions which are NOT answered below due to space constraints. I’ve set up a new section of the site called Your Teaching Scenario which includes the following:

  • Because co-teaching is such a popular topic, I’ve given it its own page on the site: Co-Teaching and Team Teaching. Going forward, all co-teaching questions and resources will be compiled there, so I went ahead and answered the question from “Overwhelmed”  on that page, along with my response to the question Rebecca submitted last month.
  • Ditto with Kathy’s questions about departmentalizing in 3rd grade: it’s been answered in-depth on the new Departmentalized Teaching
  • Jane’s question about teaching a 2nd/3rd grade split has been answered on the new Combined Class/Multi-Grade Classes

My question involves a set of twins whose mom wants them in separate classrooms, but wants the teachers to do exactly the same thing. Do you have any advice other than explaining that each teacher has her own teaching style and may not do things exactly the same?

Autumn, if the two teachers can get on the same page regarding homework, that would help tremendously in simplifying this parent’s life and relieve a lot of anxiety. If the teachers also follow a pacing guide (meaning they teach the same concepts on the same dates), that would also be helpful. Beyond that, tell the parent that just as each child is unique, each group of students is unique, so both teachers have to teach the concepts to their students in ways that make sense for those particular students. What works with one group of kids may not be appropriate for another group of kids, so teachers have to differentiate their lessons to meet individual needs. I would always bring the conversation back to that, rather than talking about differences in teaching styles, because the mom might not understand or care why teachers all teach differently. But, she will certainly grasp that no two children learn in identical ways, and every parent wants to hear that their childrens’ teachers are highly attuned to the kids’ needs and tailoring the curriculum and instruction to meet those needs. Though she probably won’t verbalize it, ultimately this mom wants to be reassured that both of her kids are receiving a top-quality education and neither one is being slighted, and once you make her feel confident in that, things will start falling into place.

Hi Angela,
I am a fifth grade ELA teacher and I would like to go back to school to earn a degree or CAGS in SPED, ELL or Literacy. I’m interested in gaining more specific knowledge to bring to my daily teaching, keeping my options open and boosting my salary. I know of free and reduced Master’s programs in STEM but not in other areas. I know there’s a high need in my area for ELL. Do you have any leads or advice on how to further my education without going broke in the process? I am a teacher after all and don’t make an awful lot  

Alexia, I don’t have any leads on that, unfortunately. In my experience, though, online degrees are much cheaper and I did many of my masters courses online to save money. You can check out Marygrove College (they’re a sponsor of the site and I know for a fact their tuition is very reasonable). I think SPED and ELL are a great direction to go in, because the need for teachers in those areas is always great. Check to see if there are any special programs available for your state and district, as there tend to be more discounted opportunities at the local level rather than the national level.

What are some quality resources for upper elementary hands- on science lab lesson ideas? 
– Sue

Hi, Sue! If your school doesn’t provide a science curriculum with the lab activities already spelled out (like FOSS), you could try the links at The Science SpotExworthy, and Kids Do Science. There are also some really good hands-on science lab ideas on Amazon. Everything Laura Candler does is amazing, so I’d assume her book Cooperative Learning and Hands-On Science (which is targeted for upper elementary) would be extremely useful. This book also looks like it has some good ideas.

I have tons of stickers and each year I sort them by month. I can’t find a way to store them so that they are not crinkled; and yet easy for me to use. ANY IDEAS??
– Sue Q

Isn’t it funny how the little things like this can drive you nuts if you don’t have a good organization system, Sue? I kept my stickers in plastic drawer bins. This worked best for me since stickers come in all different sized sheets. I had one drawer for stickers that went on students’ papers, one for random fun stickers (animals, cartoons, etc.) one for expensive special-occasion stickers (scratch and sniff, puffy, etc.), and one for stickers I used in the classroom but didn’t give out to the kids (stars for charts, those round dot stickers I used as labels on childrens’ books, “please sign” stickers I placed on papers for parents, etc.) I’m guessing you have a lot of “fun” stickers, and you might want to get an additional tiny set of plastic drawers so that you can sort them by type to make them easier to find. Maybe something like this?

Do you have advice for experienced teachers who are presently unemployed in looking for a job? With the economy being what it is, schools in my area are hiring teachers with 0 experience. I live in the Rust Belt. I have excellent references, letters of recommendation, and take great care in filling out applications and submitting my resume. I have decided that I will begin my next cover letter/letter of interest by stating my willingness to forgo health insurance benefits so that I can be competitive. I don’t know what else to do.

Jeannie, I’m sorry to hear you’re in such a tough position. You can check out my Finding a Teaching Job page for tips from other teachers and admins on standing out during the application process, and the Job Interview Tips page for advice on landing an interview and answering/asking questions effectively. Beyond that, I would run the idea of forgoing health insurance by some teachers at the Teachers.Net chatboard for your state (or some other resource where you can tap local teachers) and see if they think it will have the impact you want. Keep in mind that those state chatboards can be incredibly discouraging places (not sure why, but it’s always been that way): ignore the naysayers and pay careful attention the people who genuinely want to help you and are giving you sound advice.

I just accepted a Literacy Coach position. Although I have taught for 10 years, I have no idea how to setup my office. Help! I’ve seen coach’s offices with professional texts, but what should I be sure to include in my office for the students?

Hi, Eleni! It depends on how closely you’ll be working with students. The coaches that I know don’t work with students directly, unless they’re doing a demo lesson in a teacher’s classroom. If that’s the case, then you’ll want to keep whatever materials you like to use during those demo lessons. I have a couple big plastic drawer bins that I store my stuff in by subject area (those used to hold my science/social studies materials when I was a classroom teacher). Then, just before a demo lesson, I just pull out what I need. I didn’t buy any teaching materials specifically for my work as a coach–it’s all stuff I used as a teacher. The Instructional Coaching section of my website has links to a few blog posts about resources and activities. My plan is to develop that section a lot further next month, so please check back!

Have a question you’d like to see answered in a future “Ask Angela Anything” post?
Submit it here!

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so ask ANYTHING you’ve ever wanted to know about teaching but were afraid to ask.

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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