Thursday, March 14, 2013

MCAS Worries?

MCAS?  It's an inevitable part of every Spring.  

Last year we posted a popular blog entry and we thought it would be good to post it again for all of you.  It was a letter that teachers wrote to their students prior to their testing.  While this posting is especially aimed at those of you who have students that will be taking MCAS, it's certainly useful for any child, though, and yes, even for an adult who has to take an important test.  

From the NTC blog from Spring, 2012:

JoAnne Kazis and Caitlin Florschutz, elementary school teachers who co-teach together at the Memorial-Spaulding School in Newton shared something recently which I thought was inspirational and well worth sharing with the New Teacher Community. 

They had taken an EMI course entitled “Understanding Self Efficacy: Helping Students Do their Best Work and Strategies for Examining and Addressing the Academic Achievement Gap. “  This course stressed the significance in making subtle changes in test environments that can improve standardized test scores among students of color and girls. 

Joanne writes,

One way to reduce "stereotype threat" during testing is to prompt students to reflect on their talents, beliefs and values.  These kinds of affirmations remind students of what's important to them and can build a line of defense.  One recent study actually showed affirmation procedures were directly related to a 40% drop in grade disparities between students in different racial groups.

Another easy way to do this is by displaying inspiring quotes throughout the year (and right before testing) but also including the person's image with the quote (making sure a wide range of races, faces and genders are included).”

JoAnne and Caitlin wrote a letter to their students.  Writing a letter like this was inspired by an idea from the 1998 Massachusetts teacher of the year, Mary Ginley.

Joanne has graciously allowed me to share her version of the letter that she and Caitlin read to students right before they took the MCAS this year.  She revises the letter each year with details that relates to the class she is teaching and notes, “It just serves as a reminder to them that MCAS just shows one thing, but not everything.”

“Dear Super Star Students of Room 205,

Please remember that the people who will read and score your tests do not know you.  They do not know how hard you work every day.  They do not know how smart you really are.

They do not know what amazing artists you are,
or how much you know about Harry Potter.

They don't know that you can score a goal in soccer and hockey,
or have a strong serve in tennis.

They don't know that you are a star ice skater, ballroom dancer, swimmer or gymnast.
They don't know that you take care of your little brothers and sisters when they're not feeling well.

Or that you take care of pets at home, write stories about your favorite pets or wish you had a pet.

They don't know you smile and say, "Good Morning" to your teachers, even on rainy Monday mornings.

They don't know that you like clowns, pig dragons and make being "evil" fun.

They don't know that you go to another school to learn a language, or that you speak a different language at home. 

They don't know that you have a twin or are 1/3 of triplets.

They don't know that you can balance hours of dance class, sports and play dates and still pass in homework on time.

They don't know that you've entered math competitions, spelling bees and write for the fourth grade newspaper or that you've won trophies, ribbons and other awards.

They don't know that you can sing and dance, play an instrument or are in a rock band.

They don't know what amazing work partners and group project members you can be or that you are a fantastic fourth grade buddy.

And they certainly don't know all about your kind of mind. 

But we know you and we are proud of what you do every day, of who you are and all you will be.  MCAS scores will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything.  There are many ways of being smart.

Your friends,
Ms. Kazis and Ms. Florschutz” 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tips for Handling Teacher Stress

Stress!  It's part of all of our lives, isn't it?  How many balls can you juggle in a typical teaching day?

This is the time of year where you are starting to think, "OMG, Four months left and so much to still do!"

Here are some good tips:

  • Set your priorities!  Front load the hard stuff so that what's left are the easy things.  

  • Know that any activity you are dreaming up will probably take you twice as long to do well! 

  • Remember, it's so much easier to say "no" first and then rethink your decision.  If you say "yes" first and then think you've made the wrong choice, you'll have to backtrack. That can get complicated.  

  • Keep an organized calendar and a to-do list.  Keep them in one notebook or one place.  Use post-it notes if you need to.  Put them everywhere so you don't feel like you have to write on a piece of scrap paper which will inevitably get lost or placed in a pile of papers to correct!

  • Stay on task.  Yes, it's okay to have your classroom atmosphere be easy-going and for you to sometimes seize the moment, but lengthy or irrelevant digressions make it harder to stay focused on where you want to be.

  • Make your organizational systems simple.  Think to yourself about how someone else might know to find something in your classroom.  Label, label, label!

What tips to you have that you can share with us?   Add some of your own in the comments section.

While you're thinking about that, check out "101 Ways to Cope with Teaching Stress" at

Here are a few more stress buster tips from

Top Stress Buster Tips 

Lesson planning, late assignments, and a classroom full of kids make it easy for your stress level to boil over.  Here are a some of the top stress busters:
  • Secret Stash. Keep a few things that always make you smile in your desk. It can be anything from pictures of your kids, your dog’s first collar, a mini-Eiffel Tower from your trip to Paris, a bottle of sand from your summer getaway, lotion that smells like heaven, an Ernie Banks baseball card or your favorite candy. On your most trying days, take a momentary mental break from your class and your students and your crazy life by taking pleasure in your hidden treasures.
  • Let yourself take a "brain-free break" during a break or lunch period. Use it to play Angry Birds, read for pleasure, or to just zone out for a few minutes.
  • Forget about multi-tasking and focus on one thing at a time. Complete one task before moving on to the next one. 
  • Avoid teacher's lounge gossip.  It's unnecessary drama and no good can come from it.