Freshening Up

Mary McLaughlin
Special Education Teacher

During Christmas break, I spent far too much time in front of the television. I know this because there is a groove in the couch from where my happy hiney spent far too much time embracing the spirit of the word "break."

I took a break from wearing make-up. I took a break from wearing any clothing I wear to school. I took a break from my daily routine of get up, eat a solid breakfast, go to school, come home, do chores, relax a bit, go to bed, lather, rinse, repeat.

I took a break from cooking, cleaning, and the typical grind at which we teachers toil from, typically, August through June.

Breaking from things caused me to feel neither guilty nor driven to do too many extra tasks at home. I was worn out and needed to take a step away. At my age and after two-plus decades in the field of Education, feeling the pangs of guilt during times intended for refreshment is a feeling from which I no longer suffer. Listening to my body has become a priority; taking time to exercise, eat right, and rest are all priorities now at the top of the list for this gal who still loves the avocation to which she has been called.

During the numerous hours of chillaxing (do people still say that?? Probably not…but I like it.), one of my favorite entertainment news shows did a feature on actors who had decided to undo their overdone facial fillers. Okay, so…wow. I guess if that's someone's biggest concern in life, then their life is reallllllllllllly blessed. From my perspective, unless fillers are super well done by an experienced professional, they can make someone look far worse than their well-earned lines. No matter one's perspective on fillers and aging, ya gotta admit that duck lips are not sexy on anyone and I appreciated the fact these celebrities wanted to take a hold of their lives and reset their course. Getting their systems back into place and taking control of things is something good for everyone to do once in a while. We become complacent and say things like, "Yeah, I'll get to that this weekend," and pretty soon "this weekend" becomes Christmas break then Summer vacation then during the pre-school prep week and pretty soon, you're right back to where you started having successfully procrastinated your way through a full calendar year.

Guilty as charged.

Not wanting to experience too many guilty feelings which weren't associated with the mass quantities of chocolate I was consuming, the remote control flipped to another of my favorite channels-a home and garden channel. There I was met with a show about organizing: one of my favorite things to do! Yippee! So, I settled in for a bit of "How To Make It Better" TV and it got me to thinking about my classroom…

Here are some things the New Year has prompted me to implement or do just because it's SMART:

  • A Sub Tub for the days an unexpected absence has to occur. One could put a day's work or a week's worth of meaningful activities and lessons, a schedule, a class list, and all the other important needs-to-be-knowns for your classroom. This saves you from feeling guilty, saves your administrator from getting fussy, keeps the kids on an appropriate trajectory, and makes your paraprofessional continue to love you. I currently have a Sub Folder which seems quite lame in comparison to the idea of a tub of good stuff.
  • Create an electronic folder in Google drive and keep every single document associated with that student in their file. I can also keep a hard copy file in a folder, but having everything electronically will help me at IEP writing time. I keep all the test scores, too, which helps with that grumpy old PLAAFP.
  • In August I started using binders to house work samples. Do I always immediately put the work right into them? No…but I should. One section is tabbed for work samples, one section is tabbed for reading fluency passage/score tracking. This has been so helpful and the kids love seeing their progress.
  • Create and IEP At-a-Glance to be sure the students' goals are always at the forefront of your planning. Mine is a basic page with sections, no graphics, but here is a fancy one I found on Pinterest. A tool like this is also excellent at parent-teacher conference time.
  • This is more of a decorating idea, but stick with me-I have a set of ugly shelves in my room which are currently hosting-let's call them Questionable Purchases By Teachers Past" and because Special Ed funds were used, I am obliged to keep them in the room. I have purchased a really cute shower off the end cap at my favorite store. I bought the dollar curtain rings, then because I'm super cheap, put a nail on each side of the book case and used two bungee cords I found in my junk drawer at home. Boom! Instant curtain rod! It looks cute and hides the stuff I'd prefer isn't seen.
  • I am currently hosting a Bag Bag hanging off the shelf behind the washing machine in my room. While it's amazing in all its WalMart labeled splendor, it's handy to have extra bags on hand for a variety of reasons. However, I realized that I can take a kid-print empty tissue box and stuff the bags inside of that and make the storage issue a little cute and out of sight.
  • For next year's planning, I have already begun to use a calendar and "backward plan" for themed units of study. I have no real curriculum for a several subjects, so this will help a lot. I have already gotten a jump on planning for the last three months of the year.
  • We are blessed to teach in an era of high technology. I just received an Apple TV! Pretty heady stuff considering when I started teaching, I had no technology beyond an overhead projector-which was shared with three other teachers. Now every classroom has their own Apple TV. Good stuff. Anyway, with so many remotes, gidgets, and gizmos of which we need to keep track, I put a Velcro button on the back of each remote and then apply the other side to a location adjacent the device. I can put them higher so little hands don't get what they shouldn't or I can put them lower so little hands can help.
  • On the site, a wealth of organizing ideas can be found, but this one has already found a home in my classroom: in years past, I purchased a classroom set of plastic (more durable and reusable) magazine holders. I take a photo of my young ones, cut it out, and using Velcro buttons, I apply one photo to the front of each magazine holder. I have used it for different things over the years, but this year I am using it to host books I've selected for them to read at their level. They're free to choose books from our book nook, but these books are often more read because they enjoy reading on their own. I love to find ways to create what I like to call Guided Independence.
  • When I was student teaching 1,000 years ago, my cooperating teacher had a cute plastic bucket with rope handles on the sides. That was her Library book return bucket. The kids knew which day to bring back their books and then a student helper schlocked the books to the Library. The Librarian loved it because it allowed her to check in the books ahead of our arrival. My kids also knew that if they "missed the bucket," they still had a chance to get their books retrieved from the bowels of their desk for a same-day return.
  • Milk crates!! Buy them! They can be used for zillions of things. I use them for binder storage. I store the binders with the labeled spine facing outward and have the binder opening situated so it's like a bookshelf. When you stack these bad boys of the organizing world, you won't even miss the bookshelves someone stole from your classroom before you were hired. If you stack nine of them (three in each of three rows), you can put a solid plank on top for another flat surface for things like a pencil sharpener, lamp stand, etc. In a classroom I visited last Fall, a teacher had made upholstered tops for the crates. The tops were removable so students could store belongings down in the crate while sitting atop on a nice, cushy seat. It was a fun way to bring a little colorful flair into the white-washed walled classroom, too! Creating a milk-crate sensory station is another great idea. The crates can be stacked in such a way that a child can sit with crates stacked under and on either side of them while playing with the contents of a crate which holds sensory toys. When they're done, the toys go back into the crates, the crates are restacked, and hopefully the student's sensory diet has been met. The milk crate is an amazing clutter clearer-upper! I've seen them used as planters, as junk catchers, as toy storage, as cooking supply storage, craft storage, etc. One plan my para wants to implement is to put a dowel rod through the sides and through the holes of spools of string, ribbon, etc. to keep them organized. Also on the rod can be clips for bags or juice concentrate cans/small plastic containers to hold paint brushes, googly eyes, etc. A plethora of organizational wonder is yours to unfold with this handy denizen of the craft supply cabinet!
  • Paper hits my desk exactly ONCE. It comes in, I complete it that day (or early the next day) and it goes back out. Now, let me qualify that arrogant statement: if it's IEP season, it may run from the classroom door, take a leap then a plunge onto my desk where a loud thunk is heard up and down the hallway, and there it will sit until it's that file's turn to be dealt with. Even then, I try hard to do what needs to get done by keeping a checklist attached to the front of the folder so that I don't have to open the folder to know what needs to be done.

We teachers are creatures of habit and tend to find our rhythm and flow

which, once found, we are not too willing to release. We need to know where things are at the drop of a hat, so to speak, or be able to pick up a teaching tool so quickly that when our administrator comes in to do that rate but required drop-in observation, we can look like the extraordinary Educators we all know we are. And why, pray tell, does it always happen that the administrator comes by for the drop-in observation when we've already finished our amazing lesson and our kids are free-forming it like freshly spilled paint? When no one is looking, I do great work and when they're looking, one might think my kids are just standing around picking dandelions all day.

It's approaching mid-year and we're all ready for a pick-me-up; implementing a tip or two noted above is a great way to help you get things tightened up a bit with a little bit of organizational "filler" to plump and reinvigorate.

Have a great week!


Mary McLaughlin

Mary McLaughlin

Mary has always loved learning, but was a struggling learner who couldn’t read until one day, the right teacher came along with the right methodology, and everything clicked for Mary. Understanding the struggles of children who just “don’t get it,” Mary has spent her career supporting children with learning difficulties and finding ways to excite them about education. Over her career, Mary has taught Second Grade, Third Grade, and served as a Middle School Administrator in Michigan, most often in the urban setting. In 2015, Mary relocated to Arkansas in search of new opportunities and is excited at all that has been placed before her. She currently teaches Special Education in a self-contained setting for children in grades 2-4.
Mary McLaughlin