What I wish I had known as a first year teacher

How to get through the first year of teaching - tips from a veteran teacher

There is nothing on earth like first-year teacher tired.  Well, maybe new mom tired.  They both left me asleep on my floor (hardwood) in front of the fireplace many times.  Both left me passed out asleep on books.  Both left me so tired I didn't know what I was doing half of the time.  However, when I was a new mom, I did get help from great friends and family.  It didn't change the fact that I was always needed by my new baby, but it left me feeling like I had great support.

Sadly, when I was a first year teacher, I didn't feel like I had much support.  Everyone was busy. Young, also new teachers were trying to deal with their own lessons, copies, behavior, conferences, and the million other things we have to deal with.  Older, experienced teachers, who would have been a wealth of knowledge, had often forgotten just how hard it was to be a new teacher.  I felt like I had nowhere to turn and no one to ask what I should be doing.  At 3:00, I would often sit and stare at my desk, so completely overwhelmed that I didn't know where to start.  I think I felt that way for two solid years.  So, to help the overwhelmed new teachers, here are some things I learned along the way.

1. Don't try to do it all RIGHT NOW!!!
It is okay if you wait one day to grade that quiz.  Yes, timely feedback is wonderful, effective, and important, but so is a great lesson from a well-rested teacher the day after a quiz.  If you need an extra day to grade that quiz so that you can be in good shape to teach the next day, take it!

2.  Stay out of the teacher's lounge (unless it is filled with positive teachers).  
I found that everyone was sitting around complaining about this person or that, and it just made me feel negative.  It is also easy to get yourself in the habit of talking negatively, and that doesn't help anyone.

3.    Don't waste your planning time!  
It is very easy to socialize, and you'll find your precious planning hour (or 45 minutes!) is gone.  After we spend all day with children, sometimes we crave an adult conversation, and that is okay.  However, it should wait until you've accomplished some things off of your list.  Shut your door, lock it if you must, and get to work.     

4.  Make a list.
The first thing I do every morning when I get to work is make a list.  I don't get a plan until the end of the day, and I have had that schedule for 5 years.  It is great, but as I often come up with ideas while driving to work, I don't want to forget them by the afternoon.  Also, 100 young people pass through my room every single day, and by the time I am alone, I don't remember half of what I need to accomplish during my plan.

5.  Find your most productive time.
If you work well in the morning, can you go to work early?  I can't, because I have a family, but I get up at 5:00 and work at home before they are up.  This may seem extreme to those of you who aren't morning people, so if you are a night owl, can you plan to do some work from 9:00-10:00?  Finding a good solid hour, sometimes away from school, can really help you knock out some tasks.

6.  Volunteer at school activities when you can.
It is fun, gives you a great way to meet kids, positive colleagues, and make some extra money (sometimes).  I was so broke during my first few years, and that extra bit of money each week allowed me to treat myself to coffee or an adult drink once in a while.  

7.  Your kids don't expect you to be perfect.
My former students still contact me all of the time, and it is not to talk about that day where I broke my pencil holder (which was so cute!) because I was nervous and knocked it off of the table.  It is also not to tell me about the day I stapled all of the copies upside down because I didn't know that it mattered which way I put the copies in the machine.  It is especially not to talk about the time I fell down the bleacher stairs, accidentally threw a marker, or missed my chair when going to sit once during their test.  (I definitely lack grace at times...)  Nope!  They call and write to tell me that I made them feel like they mattered.  I tried to make class fun.  I talked to them when they needed it and stayed after school when they didn't understand.  

8.  Organize your room on Friday!
This might be the most important, and the thing I still force myself to do.  Friday afternoon comes and all you want to do is get out and enjoy your life, right?  Take 15 minutes to organize your desk, tidy your bookshelf or throw out some old papers that you don't need.  I promise it will make Monday feel a little better, and we all need this, don't we?

9.  Find a trusty colleague and ask them to observe you.
It feels weird, and you will be nervous, but that person should not be there to judge you.  Find an area you want to work on (classroom management, maybe?) and ask him/her to see how you do.  A trusted  colleague who is not actually evaluating you can give you a ton of great advice.  

10.  Have fun with your kids!
February and April are always the hardest for me.  We get no breaks, the weather can be crazy, and with tests, snow days, pictures, field trips, and other unforeseen events, your schedule gets disrupted all the time!  Find time to play games a bit more in class.  I promise that they will still learn (maybe even more) and the pressure is off of you.  

What are your great tips for new teachers?  If you have a great idea, leave it below!

Learning a foreign language should be fun!

This blog post is full of fun ideas for teaching French. Includes ideas for games and activities plus links to resources at Teachers Pay Teachers that are ready to go!

Is teaching French grammar your least favorite part of teaching?  Do your students get bored with the grammar drills?  It doesn't have to be that way!Learning a foreign language should be fun, shouldn't it?  Kids take our classes for a variety of reasons:  They need to fulfill an elective.  They need the credits for college.  They want to learn to speak another language.  They have to be enrolled in foreign language.  They think it will be fun.  Regardless of the reason, learning CAN and SHOULD be fun!  Here are a few fun pointers to help keep your lessons fresh and fun!

1. Include movement.

Kids learn more when moving, and they will definitely be more awake.  Use TPR, have them act out verbs as you call them out, play charades, do white board races, create skits, or role-play.  Do anything that is interactive and helps them move! Related: 7 ways to incorporate movement into your classroomOur favorite movement game in my class is SCOOT!  Simply cut out the cards, tape one on each desk, and have students move from desk to desk answering questions.  I give my students 30 seconds per desk, then call out Scoot!  (In French, we say Filez!) When students hear Scoot, they move to the next desk and continue until they have completed all of the questions.  The kids love it because they are not sitting, and the movement helps students stay focused.  It is great for practice anytime you want to review and have fun!   Here's what my Avoir and Être Scoot game looks like. 

This fun scoot game is a great way for beginning French students to practice the verbs avoir and être in the present tense. Click here to read more about this game and see others from Mme R's French Resources.

This fun scoot game is a great way for beginning French students to practice the verbs avoir and être in the present tense. Click here to read more about this game and see others from Mme R's French Resources.

I have Scoot for all levels  Click here to see my Scoot games.

2. Stock up on supplies at dollar stores.

You can find playing cards (great for practicing numbers), dice, game pieces, foam blocks, miniature clip boards, timers, and fly swatters. I have bought flash cards for colors and numbers, and these can make fun learning centers for middle school or can be incorporated into a lot of games for high-schoolers.  I also love push lights!  You can use these as buzzers for games (except they don't buzz, so there is less noise).

3.  Don't feel pressured to bring technology into every lesson. 

Yes, my classes love to play Trivia with their buzzers, and they think it is so fun to see race cars zoom across my Smartboard, but they also love good, old-fashioned board games. My students particularly love this board game for reinforcing French clothing.  This is a great, non-threatening way to get beginners to speak.   Students play in groups of 2-4 and create sentences using the vocabulary depicted on the board.  Because they get to practice in small groups, they are willing to test out their new vocabulary.  If you have advanced learners, you can ask them to also describe the weather in which they'd wear that article or clothing or say an activity they would do during in that outfit. Make it really hard by combining the two! Want to differentiate even more? There are more ideas in the game for making it more challenging.

This board game for practicing French clothing vocabulary is a great way to get beginning students speaking. Click here to read about even more fun games from Mme R's French Resources.

Here are a few fun games you can play tomorrow:

1. Montrez-moi

This requires wipe-off boards and dry erase markers.  I like to do this with verb conjugations.  I divide the class into 4 quadrants (teams) and give them a verb to conjugate.  The first student to raise his/her board with the correct answer wins a point for the team.  If you cannot decide who was first, you can give a point to the top 2 teams.  If it is too hard to determine, no point is given.  Play continues until you have practiced the verbs you want to practice.

2. Board races

Students practice vocabulary words, spelling, or verb conjugations in teams at the board.  Requires no prep, but some students may feel shy about coming to the board. If you have students who are shy, you can allow each student 2 passes, and they can pass the marker to another student on their team.

3. Jacques dit...

We love to play this when learning body parts.  I call it "Jacques dit..."  Give the kids instructions (Jacques dit...place your right hand on your head).  Students should only follow the instructions if the instructions are preceded by Jacques dit...If they follow the instructions but you didn't say Jaques dit... they are out and have to sit down. The last remaining student wins.

4. La Claque ! This is my students' favorite game by far!

This is best played in groups of 4-5.  Print out your unit vocabulary words in large font. I use a font of about size 32 and I typically do 20-25 words at a time.  Cut them out and have students place them face up on their desks or the floor.  Make sure all students can see and reach all vocabulary words.  I have them start with their hands on their heads, but you can also have them put their hands behind their backs.  Call out the definition or translation and the students swat the word and leave their hands there.  The student who finds and swats the word first will keep the word.  Continue until you have done all of the words.  The student who has the most words wins.  Here's a version from my store for food vocabulary that includes over 75 word cards, over 75 image cards, and 8 editable cards for you to add your own terms.      

Click here to see this French food game!

5. Swat it!

This version is played in two teams (or four if you want to rotate).  Write the words on the board and have the students swat the correct word with a fly swatter.  Two students come to the board at a time.  The student who swats the word first wins a point for her/her team.

What are your favorite games to play in the classroom?  I'd love to hear about them below!  

How running keeps me sane and makes me a better teacher

                             How running keeps me sane and makes me a better teacher

I'm a teacher. Those of you reading this now who are teachers all know...this means I am always tired.  I'm stressed.  I'm pulled in fifty different directions each day before I even sit for my fifteen minute lunch/check email/try to make it to the restroom break.  As much as we love what we do, the days can wear the strongest of us down.  I have been worn down often myself.

For a while, what kept me going was candy, coffee, and going out with friends.  Then, I added being a mom to my list.  It is the best thing I have ever done, yet it adds a whole new meaning to the word tired.  I'm so out of my mind tired at times that I don't know if I'll ever catch up on my sleep.  

After becoming a mom, candy and coffee no longer worked, and going out with friends was next to impossible.  I have "friend dates" scheduled way in advance on my calendar, because like me, many of my friends have young children, and finding a time where we can meet is next to impossible.  As a new mom, I found myself becoming more and more stressed, and the stress made me tired, and the tiredness made me...more stressed.  There simply were not enough hours in the day to get it all done.

In my search to find more hours in the day, my sister encouraged me to do something crazy.  We signed up for a half-marathon.  I'd been a runner for years, back before children and teaching and life convinced me that I didn't have the time for a luxury like being healthy.  I barely had time to pack lunches, do laundry, and catch up on Netflix, so why would I have ever thought I would have time to train for a race this long?  I was surely out of my mind.  It turns out, however, that it was the best thing I have done for myself in years.  Here's why:

1.  Teaching is stressful.  

Some days are amazing, and others make you want to cry.  Some parents are wonderful, helping you each step of the way and really partnering with you.  Others, well...they let you be the teacher, the parent, and the scapegoat when everything goes wrong.  It is on those days that we need a release the most.  Exercise is a great way to think things through, be irritated and let it go, and release the tension of the day.  I might look crazy sometimes as I run, because I have imaginary conversations while doing it.  (You know, the things you wanted to say or write in that email, but you couldn't, because you knew it would be BAD later!)  I also do this in my car, but since the wonderful invention of Bluetooth, I look like I am now talking to a person that actually exists.  :)

2.  Being healthy is a great immune booster.  

Teachers are susceptible to every virus that enters the building.  I had a school year where I had the stomach flu, the respiratory flu, pink eye, numerous colds, strep throat, and a strep skin infection all in the same year.  No kidding!  I thought I would never feel human again.  However, now that I run regularly, I don't get sick very often.  It's not like I'm not around less germs.  Kids are kids, so that is not going to change, but I am lucky to be healthier all around.  

3.  Being healthy makes me feel better about myself.  

Feeling strong makes you feel proud of yourself.  It makes you stand taller, walk more confidently, and just all-around feel good about what you can accomplish.  Boring 4 hour-long meeting about things that have nothing to do with me?  No problem!  I have run with blisters on my feet and pain all over for longer than that!  Never-ending pile of papers to grade?  Got this!  I once ran a race straight uphill for miles.  Parent belittling everything I do and complaining that I am no good?  Nope.  I am good enough, and I prove it to myself all the time!

4.  Running helps me keep my calm and make better choices.

That kid who knows just what to do to get under your skin can't bother you when you have a more calm state of mind.  Those meetings where people are bickering and no one can agree are less painful when you have trained your mind to tune out the negative thoughts.  Those doughnuts in the teachers' lounge are less tempting when I am respecting my health.  

5.  I am a positive role model for my students.

Each year, I lay out my goals for my students so they know what I want to accomplish in my personal life.  It helps them see me as a real person, but it also encourages them to achieve something for themselves.  I keep them up to date on my training, tell them about my races, and tell them when I'm scared or unsure.  I want them to understand that even if I am scared, I'm not giving up, and even if it is hard, I'll make it.  They show up at my races and cheer me on, and this is so huge for me when I'm struggling.  They always seem to find a spot where I'm exhausted and think I can't go on.  (They surely don't know this!)  When I see them, I'll never give up, because I want them to see me struggle and overcome.  

It's not always easy to keep motivated, but I try to remind myself that if I'm not taking good care of myself, I'm not as able to take good care of others. So, back to the original subject:  Am I still tired?  Running is exhausting, but it is also energizing.  I find myself reading to my son at night without struggling to stay awake, and I am less prone to crave an afternoon coffee.  So, am I still tired?  Much less than I used to be when I was not making time to run. And since that first race? I've run countless half-marathons and 10ks, and even braved a marathon or two. ;)

What to you do with your free time that makes you a better teacher?  I'd love it if you'd share your ideas below!  

                        How running makes me a better teacher and keeps me sans


How to get your French students speaking

Get your students speaking French with these practical tips. Click here to read the blog post and find links to effective resources.

I love being a foreign language teacher!  I love that my students can communicate in another language.  More importantly, I love that they can SPEAK in another language.  Due to the resources available and some serious time constraints, a lot of foreign language classes are heavy on grammar and writing and light on speaking and listening.  Students often leave after years of study being able to conjugate verbs in many tenses, yet still uncomfortable holding a basic conversation in their language of study.

While we might not always be able to take the students to another country to experience the language, we definitely should bring the language to them in meaningful and fun ways.  Here are a few things that I have learned during my years of teaching.

1.  Students are scared to make mistakes.  

The older they are, the more scared they are.  In my family, we speak French, and my own little one makes all kinds of cute mistakes (in English and French).  He's not scared, but if he were learning French in a traditional school setting, he probably would be.  Allowing students to talk in small groups early and often will help ease this fear.

2.  It is awkward for them.  

Encourage them to be silly, have fun, mess up, and start over.   When they see that it is okay to make mistakes, they will have more confidence with their speaking. 

3.  Students want to have fun, and if they do, they learn a lot more!  

Find ways to play with the language. Teach a fun slang expression every week, listen to music, play games.  Do whatever it takes to have fun, but make sure that the activities are fun and easy for you to do as well, or you won't want to come back to them!  

4.  Movement is key to learning and retaining information.  

Get them up and speaking!  If they are working with partners, consider letting them work in the hallway (if possible), at another desk, standing up, or even sit at a corner of the room.  I have large pillows on my floor, and students are often all over my room - some on the floor, some on my corner carpet, some walking around.  The point is that movement helps them retain information, and it makes them like what they are doing even more.

Sometimes I place my conversation cards all over the room and have students walk around with a partner as they answer the questions.  It takes minutes to prepare, but it is a fun and different way to get them speaking.  

Related:  7 ways to incorporate movement into your classroom

5.  Classroom management issues are not issues when your students see that what you're teaching actually matters and can be applied to something.  

Trust me on this one! I began teaching in one of the most under-budgeted, lowest-performing schools, and highest-incident schools in the state.  When I began playing games and practicing movement, the issues almost disappeared completely.    Even though I no longer work there, I still use these activities and I love to see my students' faces light up when they see that we are doing one of their favorite activities.  

6.  You have to speak French!

If you speak a lot more French, they will naturally do so as well,  so you need to speak primarily French in your classroom.  Maybe you can't do this from day 1, and how much you'll speak will vary based on the students you teach, but you should be able to speak a significant amount of French with any group.  For me, it has really varied from school to school, but from the roughest schools to the highest-achieving, I have been able to speak mostly French, and the students naturally speak more French.  They understand my expectation and I have provided them with a lot of non-threatening and fun ways to become proficient. Don't be afraid to be silly, draw pictures, and play with the language.  

Here are some of our favorites:

These FREE speaking cards are a great way to get beginners speaking in a fun way. In the package you'll get five six fun ideas to get beginning students speaking French!  There are enough cards to choose the questions that best match your curriculum.  

This free speaking activity for French food vocabulary is a great way to get beginning French students speaking. Includes question cards and fun ideas for using them. Click here to read more about Mme R's speaking activities and find this FREE activity.

Click here to get these FREE cards!

These are a lot of fun when you are learning reflexive verbs, because students get to act out a variety of situations.  There are 15  cards for partners and another card that is specifically for a group of 3, although you could add a third person to most groups.  You can adjust them to the level of the student by picking the more basic cards for beginners of reflexive verbs or the more difficult scenarios for the more advanced learners.  Situations are provided in French and English.   


Click here to see these reflexive verbs skits.

Find Someone Who activities are especially fun to get beginners speaking and answering basic questions.  Students are less intimidated to speak when moving around and speaking all at once, and they will love that they are able to speak more than they thought they could.  This is a great formative assessment!  At the end of the activity, you can pick up the answer sheets and call on students who have signed specific boxes.  Each activity includes a printable vocabulary sheet that you can use as enrichment or the base of a new unit.  They are available by subject or in a bundle of 10 activities using common themes for beginners!  


See all my Find Someone Who activities here.

Even more advanced learners still need structured practice!  These cards are ready to print and go.  You just print the cards, cut them out (8 pages total to cut) and pass them out to students.  In the package, there are 5 fun ways you can use these in your classroom.   

These French speaking prompts for practicing the imparfait tense are a fun way to get your students speaking! Click here to read more about Mme R's speaking activities and find a link to these cards.

Click here to see these French imparfait speaking cards.

I think speaking and listening is the most important component of foreign language learning. They transfer that knowledge to writing and it helps their reading fluency when they know what some of the words sound like rather than if they had sound out every word.  Students took your class to learn the language, and learning starts with speaking and using the words.  
Check out all of my speaking activities by clicking here:

What are your favorite ways to get students speaking?  I'd love to hear them in the comments below!