Teacher Desk Essentials

desk

Now that teachers are back at it, here’s the very important, very necessary list of items every teacher needs, no – can’t live without, in their desk.

This is the one place you can call your own, your own little personal space. They have their desk and you’ve probably decorated your walls for them. This desk is yours – a container for memories and pick-me-ups.

Students may try to gain access, do not let them look. No getting something out of it for you. Don’t let them take a peek. Having a few surprises at hand might end up changing their day from mediocre to awe inspiring.

So with what to fill that old, splitting, pealing, well worn desk?

Here are eleven I consider to be must-haves.

1. Breath Mints. Mints because while many of us enjoy our morning coffee, our students do not appreciate the coffee breath that comes with it. Even worse might be that amazing hoagie you had for lunch filled with garlic and onion goodness that’s left your breath, well, a little ripe. If you care about helping them one-on-one, then you’re going to have to care enough to try to be a bit minty.

2. Chocolate / Candy / Guilty Tasty Pleasure. You deserve it! Next time you’re at the grocery store go on down the candy aisle and stash a bag of chocolate in your cart. Maybe two in fact. Then take that bag and stuff it far up in your desk drawer. Just when you’ve forgotten it’s there and you had a less than stellar day, go ahead and have a bite (or two).

Also, if you’re a friendly soul, and you should be, offer some chocolatey goodness to a colleague when they’re having a tough day. Perhaps they will offer some yummies when your time comes.

3. Spare Set of Shoes. Your feet are going to hurt. Maybe they already hurt. Mine do. Go out and buy that pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing that speak to you. Go ahead, permission granted. Then place them at the bottom of your desk to replace the ones that perfectly matched your outfit, however cause pain to shoot up your legs if you get up from your chair for more than a minute and a half. Remember, you so deserve those pair of shoes.

4. EZ Grader. I know that having an app to accomplish this task might be more impressive, however there’s nothing wrong with having this trusty tool at the ready. I think I have three at this point. Used to quickly determine grades by sliding to the correct number of problems, this handy little product is a must have and needs to be close at hand. Your students might also swoon at its ability to accurately report their grade and it doesn’t even require batteries.

5. Change for the Vending Machine. It’s the afternoon and there are days in which a little sugar rush is in order. Similar to the chocolate fix, this is an additional pick-me-up needed on occasion. Carefully decide however if combining a snack with the chocolate isn’t overkill, or just go for it and let the chips fall where they may.

Collect enough change and perhaps you can even convince your front office staff to order you some Chinese on a Friday as a super treat – please then go and remember #1.

6. Deodorant. You rushed out of the house this morning worrying about your family, your dog’s panicked look saying please let me out before you go required a bit more time in the backyard, and you then went back to the house for your lunch that you forgot. What you didn’t do is lather yourself with a swipe or two of deodorant. Similar to the breath mints, this one can’t be ignored or forgotten, so it’s better to have some backup just in case. Doesn’t take up much space, just try not to apply while standing in the front of the room.

7. Happy File. When students draw you a picture, when their parents have taken the time to send in a card of thanks, when your principal has written you an inspiring note recognizing your hard work, when good things come your way… put them into your Happy Feel Good File. Then also remember to take out a few examples to recall the impact you’ve made on students that have long since left your room and continued on to the next grade or even out of school.

8. Clown nose, Lone Ranger mask, magic kit. Use one of these (or all three) sparingly and whenever you pull open that squeaky drawer, heads will pop up. Eyes will widen wondering what your next move might be. Convince them that you’re someone else, combine it with an accent, and you’re certain to have them reminiscing at lunch about your crazy antics.

9. Stress Ball. For obvious reasons it’s a better idea to squeeze the ball than to unleash your frustration. Even better is to loan this to your students who have a bit of frustration pent up inside. Have more than two and one can be used for the all important toe crushing you can do under your desk as you appear calm from the waist up.

10. Music Option. When you need it a little quieter, try classical. When you need to inspire, try some jazz. When you need to develop camaraderie, go ahead and have a sing-a-long. Music can play a great role in your classroom and students won’t soon forget that Indonesian music you played that they had never heard anything that even come close to it. When they tell you they know if all, break out some big band and see how long they complain – they’ll come around, it just might take a few weeks.

11. Family Pictures. When you’re wondering why you’re still at it and how God could have possibly given you the patience you have found deep within yourself, take a look at the family that loves you and knows you are doing great work.

 I’m curious what you have in that desk of yours that others might find to be essential worthy. Please leave your comment. I look forward to adding yours to my list – I still have some room.

Classroom Toolbox: Strategies for Survival

boy swinging

They outnumber you.

While the calendar says you have about 180 days together, those days will fly by unsuccessfully if you don’t wrangle and redirect your students.

Here are nine strategies from my classroom toolbox I use to motivate, entertain, refocus attention, and encourage reflection.

I hope one or two will prove useful to you in your own classroom.

Laser Focus: Last year, two of my students were beyond impressive in watching my every move. I called it “laser focus” and I still refer to them both as examples of how to listen to me as I try my best to teach them. It was even more impactful that they both performed at an advanced level once those state assessment scores were returned. When students’ eyes are wandering to the far reaches of the room – I prompt them with the laser focus command.

Why or How?: After years of being given the assignment of teaching concepts that are sometimes developmentally beyond the understanding of my students, I have the following conversation.

During a lesson some students will want to know why and grapple with understanding a concept until the why is fully understood – this may, of course, take some time. For some students this will be accomplished in a matter of minutes, while for others it could very well take days. For the remaining students, even after repeated attempts using various approaches, a concept just may never “sink in” within the current academic year.

Time to go to How. I clearly remember blindly following my teacher’s instruction in math when I was in school. Instead of why we were regrouping (as an example) I immediately went to the just tell me what to do and I will do it exactly that way. This is obviously not what we want our students to do – we want questions and thought provoking conversation, however we also can’t have students participating in mass melt-downs as the curriculum becomes more difficult as the year progresses.

Sometimes teaching the how, and waiting for students to ask why is ok. Sometimes acknowledging that students just asking how is perfect for that moment.

The Success Board: When my students have achieved an A and have shown the paper off at home, I ask them to return it to school so I can staple it on our Success Board. I then frequently refer to it as the days pass claiming that each of them can indeed achieve awesomeness. Each of them has within them the ability to achieve anything they desire – I hope that seeing it, will help them believe it.

Your Choice: When I ask my students to read as they sit in the hallway and wait to use the restroom, or when I want them to begin their homework and instead they want to stare at the ceiling I tell them it’s their choice. They can do as I ask or they can do it during recess. While some teachers may get upset and raise their voice, I prefer a little logic prompted by a carrot.

Crush It: The other day my students and I spoke for some time about the state assessments and the choice each of them had. They could take them and hope for the best, or they could crush it. I continued telling them that my hope was they would not just prove their capability to people who loved them, but they would prove to themselves that they could overcome any challenge. The constant battle of intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards is one with which I continue to struggle as society looks to equate learning to getting a reward

The Worm: Students’ nature is to be competitive with one another. Often this leads to a race to the front of the line. For some reason being first is worth falling on the floor or pushing others out of the way. This is when I introduce “the worm”. As we reach our destination, whether lunch or resource, I have the last person swing around and become the first person. As they curl around, I remind them to worm around behind one another.

Teaching With My Head Down: Too often students feel it appropriate to put their head down and listen to my instructions. So I pretend to teach with my head on my desk. It leaves the same impression on them – except I’m sure I look sillier with my head on my desk.

Foreign Language Redirection: when we have a student in class who is a non-English speaker and we’re determining how to help him, I pause and speak to them in German for a minute or so. Hearing an unfamiliar language of an uncomfortable amount of time helps hit home how our ESOL students might feel each day, every hour, every minute.

Speaking in a different language also encourages sleepy heads to perk up and look around while they wonder for a moment if they haven’t in fact fallen asleep and awoken in a world where no English is spoken.

The Mumble: Some students are really loud. Others are very quiet. I can relate to both. Until I entered my senior year in high school, I was that quiet boy in the class who hoped no attention would come to him. If I can get my student to smile, perhaps I can get that quiet person inside to show a bit of themselves.

So occasionally I will repeat a student’s question with a reply that doesn’t have a thing to do with what was asked. For instance: “why yes, when the moon spins backwards my hair does grow quicker.” Not done too often or when my student is having an off day, I make sure that the smile I’m hoping for will likely come quickly. I then prompt them to ask me their question again.

I’m curious what tactics you have for those everyday occurrences in your classroom. I know I need to add a few to my toolbox to keep both myself and my students interested.

What tools do you pull out when necessary?

Feel Good Friday Video: It’s Never Too Late

Here’s this Friday’s Feel Good Friday video. My attempt at shining some social media light on news that highlights the positive within us all. Enough already of the negative – let’s be inspired by the good. Enjoy.


A few weeks ago browsing Facebook I came across this video posted by James Makamba. A video that reminds me that when we think we’re at our wits end and can’t imagine what might be next (especially us older folks), there is in fact a whole world of possibilities that remain. The inspiring story of Deshun Wang.

It’s Never Too Late Video

First Day of School: Four Reassuring Facts for Parents

Bus Stop Sign

Can you hear the squealing of bus brakes?

Do you remember that sound? Can you ever unhear that sound?

Has your neighborhood endured school buses stopping at the corner, children racing to opening doors, and kindergarten moms screaming good luck? Maybe you also noticed some parents’  tears as you looked out from behind your living room blinds.

Maybe those tears were your own.

Yes, it’s true. The first day of school is upon us.

In fact if you’re in my district or one close by in the Richmond, Virginia area, you too will begin your year on the day after Labor Day. In my county alone, 59,000 students will arrive at their school for the first day – that’s a lot of energy, anxiety and excitement.

Others in private school have already started their first day and I expect have probably nailed down procedures and begun earnest teaching.

For me, I’m still wondering where the summer went. Maybe that’s the same for you and your child.

The first day of students arriving to the sound of the school bell seems to sneak up on us every year. Perhaps because teachers are lulled, much like our students, into thinking that summer is endless. I know when I was younger, I felt that way too. Frankly, I still think that way.

I clearly remember the last school day this past June and how there was cheering while the buses left the building. There was singing, there was crying and there was joy – for students too.

Summer began that day. Vacations to places far away would be taken. Tans were achieved.  We were able to spend some time with our own children. Doctor visits were scheduled. Errands were run on weekday mornings. We even marveled at how “the other half” go to lunch on weekdays, seem to enjoy their meal, and return back to their office – quite amazing to see.

Today, this first day of school, students (and yes, teachers too) are woken up at an early hour. An hour that seems inhumane to most. There’s complaining about it being too early from many while there are others that throw back the sheets in celebration.

New outfits have been laid out next to the bed. Or old outfits are pulled off the hangers and thrown on. Hair is carefully combed with just the right amount of product while others might just forego any sort of hair prep. I myself am sporting a beard longer than ever that takes way too much primping for someone my age.

Day One. A hundred and seventy, or so, to go until Summer vacation arrives yet again.

Each year I hear colleagues complaining about returning to their jobs after being off for a couple of months. I hear the same from my own children. Part of me thinks “get over it, you’ve had lots of free time”. Part of me understands completely.

We like our freedom. Freedom to schedule our days to include what we want to do. Isn’t that what we all really want?

Of course for some of you at home, freedom is returned when those children get on the buses. Your quiet time has been returned to you and for that I say – you’re welcome.

So whether you are seeing your first or last child off to school, whether this is the year your child enters high school or whether you dropped off your child at the bus stop.

Here are four teacher facts on the first day of school that I hope you’ll remember and be reassuring as you watch your child leaves for school.

1) We strive to be ready for your child’s arrival.  Your teachers have been preparing their classrooms  for over a week. Some even came to work well before their teacher work week began. It’s not that they were excited about working in the un-airconditioned rooms, it’s more about taking the time to get it right. Some even went to their classroom this past weekend to be sure all was in order – I did that.

2) We’re more than interested in your child being successful, we want them to leave at the end of the day wanting more. This past week class rolls were given and staff meetings introduced the year’s focus. In our district we ventured out into other schools to mingle with colleagues and learn new approaches that would better connect with students (my take away was the excellent teacher resources at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts). Bulletin boards were created and posters hung. We participated in teacher learning sessions and set up our gradebooks. Lesson plans have been made and get-to-know-you worksheets are already sitting on desks. Teachers have worried about being ready and shared that they wished that they had more time.

3) We want your child to feel welcome. On Tuesday morning, we will stand by our doors and welcome this year’s group to their seats and warmly introduce ourselves as their teacher. We have thought about the importance of students feeling safe and how we will encourage them to ask questions and take risks. The first day is planned – in fact every minute of the day has been thought out. We will be writing down bus numbers and re-checking those lists as they board those buses for home.

So as the sound of the bus becomes faint as it leaves your neighborhood, please know what we teachers await your students arrival. Then the school bell will undoubtedly ring and class doors will close officially beginning what we hope will be a memorable first day.

So whether elementary, middle or high school… 4) On this first day of school I want you to know that we care about your child.

Here’s to a great year for you and your child.


Have a great story to share? I would love to hear your thoughts on the first day of school. Please take a moment to share your comment.

Feel Good Friday Video: Life is Good

Life is Good logo

Here’s this Friday’s Feel Good Friday video. An attempt at shining some social media light on news that highlights the positive within us all. Enough already of the negative – let’s be inspired by the good. Enjoy.


Life is Good Story Video (highlighted on Inc.com)

Imagine living out of an old van for five years hoping to make it.

Inspired by your mom who prompted you at the dinner table by saying, “tell me something good that happened today” you continue traveling with your brother and selling shirts at college campuses.

Then when thinking about the need to share what’s good in the world, your brother sketches a character named Jake.

This is Bert Jacobs account of how he cofounded the Life is Good brand and how he endeavors to do more than sell shirts. Enjoy.