Posts filed under ‘Friday Finds’

Friday Finds: Teachers Pay Teachers

Today’s “find” is not actually hard to find – in fact, it’s practically viral, at least in the teacher-blog-osphere. But this site is so valuable to teachers, parents, and even students that I have to share just in case anyone does not yet know about it. 

Teachers Pay Teachers is, in their words, “an open marketplace for educators where teachers buy, sell, and share original teaching resources.” Pardon the hyperbole, but to me this is a thing of unspeakable beauty. It’s a boon to both buyers, sellers, and even window shoppers.

For the buyer, TPT offers a clean, friendly interface and a vast selection of all types of materials, including graphics, lesson plans, worksheets, slideshows, interactive whiteboard lessons – you name it. The open market conditions drive sellers to create high quality, visually appealing materials and price them competitively. Because the materials are created by actual teachers, you will usually find them to be highly relevant to your actual students and teaching standards. Many sellers offer some items completely free, so you can personally evaluate their style before starting to buy – and when you find someone you especially like, you can add them to your “favorites” for easy tracking in the future.

What especially appeals to me is that many of the materials are specific. While many sellers create “packs” of full units or series of related items, you can also find materials for individual lessons or specific topics. I can’t be the only one whose library overflows with teaching materials I never use because I bought a whole book and only used one activity. Buying full sets and volumes is a budget drain, especially for teachers like me who move around a lot and don’t teach the same topics repeatedly to similar populations. On TPT, you can use search terms, tags, and previews to find the materials that are just right for your current need. The prices are right, the file goes straight to your computer, and you will no longer have to sift through piles of random materials in your file cabinet to find the ones you want.

As a seller, you benefit from the easy-to-use platform and built-in publicity of being part of such a large sharing community. If you’ve ever considered selling your teaching materials for profit, this is the perfect way to break into the market. I have not yet begun to digitize my collection, so instead of linking you to my snazzy TPT seller page, I am sharing this resource just for your own benefit. However, I look forward to this opportunity to share my ideas and creations with a wider audience.

We all work hard to create materials for our students and have long been generous in sharing with fellow teachers; here is the chance to reach a wider audience, make some money on it, and have access to other teachers’ creations, too! Here are a couple of my favorite sellers so far.

Laura Candler is a pro, she has full books but here you can also access individual activities. Her activities and ideas are highly interactive while still being approachable for students who are hesitant to engage.

Rachel Lynette has many reading comprehension “task cards” for really quick practice. These have been great for my students who need a lot of repeated, targeted skill practice in short bursts.

You’ve already heard how much I love Angela Watson (The Cornerstone) but did I mention she is the queen of math games? They’re on TPT, too, and she is way up to date aligning them with Common Core. You’ll pay a bit more for the full game packs, but they’re worth it – they are engaging, they teach/practice what you need them to, they are very well designed, and the kits are very complete. You basically just need to print and go.

Just a small sample, browse around yourself and see just how much talent there is when teachers around the web gather together. Then come back and share – what is your favorite TPT find?

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May 10, 2013 at 1:38 pm 2 comments

Part II: How the NYC DOE gets teachers to work for free (or cheap)

My previous post shared some of the frustrations the Department of Education puts us through to get services for students in need. Now it’s time to expose how the DOE unconscionably rips off the special ed teachers and related service professionals who actually provide these services on the front. I pointed you to this NBC report, but that only tells half the story: it only addresses the payments that were delayed, not those that were altogether denied, and it makes no mention of the obstacle course the DOE puts us through to get any payment at all – not to mention the payments that disappear altogether.

There are two stories here: The DOE’s internal problems of inefficiency, incompetence, and unfairness which cause ignorable inconveniences to ignorable little people like me, and their major mix-up this year that turned the entire population of independent SETSS providers on its ear. SETSS stands for Special Education Teacher Support Services, and independent contractors provide these services to students who do not receive them directly from DOE employees, usually because they attend a non-public school by choice. Since special education services are the school district’s responsibility regardless of school placement, the DOE is supposed to reimburse the providers for our work.

Our contract isn’t great, but there isn’t any room for negotiation. Because it’s up to the parents to find an independent provider for their children, the DOE simply doesn’t care if you don’t want to work on their terms. Let the parents go crazy trying to find someone who will sign on to it. Among the terms of the service:

  • You’re only paid for time when the student’s body is actually there with you. Spent 30 minutes traveling to his house only to wait for 15 minutes at the door until you realize nobody’s home and they forgot to tell you? Tough. What other professional would accept this? Every therapist I’ve ever visited requires 24-hour notice of cancellation in order to cancel the bill as well. Even an hour would be enough for me to save my travel and waiting time, and possibly even squeeze in a different client. How about the kid who got suspended and needed a week’s worth of home-based curriculum coordinated with all his teachers and communicated to him at home? Hours at my desk and on the phone. No body in school, no money.
  • You’re required to tend to all of the child’s special education needs, including attending IEP meetings, collaborating with general ed teachers, etc. Again, no pay for this time. We’re not even talking prep time, but actual in-person meetings mandated by the DOE about the student’s services. But you only get paid for “direct” teaching time.
  • Provide make-up sessions only during the same week, but not on the same day as a regular session. Most students are mandated to receive services 5 days a week, so there isn’t any day that isn’t the same as a regular session. So, that student for whom you killed an hour because they were absent with no prior notice? Forget about getting that hour back. No matter how much school work he missed during his absence, which will be harder for him to make up due to his special needs, you get your same one period a day to catch him up. If he was absent for a week, that’s a week’s worth of income you’ll just never see.

Well, it’s their game, so we play by their rules. I sign on the dotted line agreeing to the above terms (among others). I mail my signature in to the CSE (Committee on Special Education – the ones in charge of these forms) and, if all goes well, I get back an approval letter. Theoretically, I shouldn’t work with the student until I get the approval, but that could take a month – a month in which they’re supposed to get services, not slip ever farther behind their general ed peers. So I just sort of count on the approval coming. The approval letter says that at the end of each month, I should send an invoice together with a copy of the approval letter and expect payment within 6 weeks.

  • Question: Can’t they just keep a database of which services they approve? Why do I need to make copies of your own approval letter to send back to you over and over again every month? *cue moans of dying trees*

Here’s where the fun starts. So far, it’s all been logical: I sign to their rules, do what they said, complete the invoices, copy the approval letter, and wait for the check in the mail. Instead of a check in the amount I’ve billed, here are some examples of what I (and others) received instead:

  • A check for 75% of the amount I billed. No explanation for the difference.
  • The exact same papers I sent in, stamped “Received,” with a note saying I haven’t sent them (I sent back the EXACT same set of papers again, just swapping the to and from addresses and re-paying the postage. This time they found nothing missing. *shrug*)
  • A message saying that my handwritten invoices are invalid because one date was corrected with white out
  • A message saying that my handwritten invoices are invalid because from now on all invoices must be typed
  • And finally, this year’s new zinger: A letter saying that I can’t bill for services until I sign into a series of websites with exactly the same information, and then communicate with a bunch of people to say I did so.

I oppose overlong blog posts on principle, so since my word count is again approaching 1,000, I’ll save the autopsy for the next post. Spoiler: I will never recover the missing 25% of that paycheck, but that didn’t bring me to tears as the rest of the frustration did. It only gets better.

February 6, 2013 at 10:18 pm 1 comment

Friday Finds: The Cornerstone

I went through one of the top teacher colleges available, but no one told me what to do when a kid asks to use the bathroom too much… until now.


I first encountered Angela Powell Watson when I accepted my first teaching job. While not very long ago in the scheme of history, that was before the explosion of teacher-blogging and internet resources. It was also before I had any clue about classroom management, having just (tentatively) signed up for my teacher training program. Ms. Powell’s Management Ideas for Teachers saved my day, and many other days throughout that long first year. On this simple site, Ms. Powell shared a wealth of wisdom that guided me in setting up my classroom, creating a behavior plan, and generally feeling ready to teach. I printed off reams of it and took it with me everywhere that summer, clicking through every link to mine all the depths.

So you can see why I was so excited when Ms. Powell, now Mrs. Watson, published The Cornerstone: Classroom Management That Makes Teaching More Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable, which is basically a polished up, reorganized, printed-and-bound edition of that content, perhaps with some more packed in for good measure. With 471 pages, I certainly can’t imagine anything she’s left out.

The Cornerstone is not your classroom management college textbook; it wastes no time on theories and gets straight to business with practical, realistic, classroom-ready suggestions. It not only presents great ideas, it tells you exactly how to make them happen – there are charts, dialogues, examples, and even a smattering of pictures. This is the book for real people who teach real children. It covers an enormous range of situations, all of which occur much more often than anything I’ve ever read assigned in school. It goes through how to manage materials, behavior, lesson planning, time, and even fellow adults. A run through the table of contents made me want to devour the entire thing in one bite; not knowing where to look first, I realized that one couldn’t go wrong by simply marching from cover to cover – though if you have a specific challenge, you could certainly skip around. Just make sure to go back so you don’t miss any gems.

It is absolutely astounding how Angela seems to know exactly what to do in every situation. She really seems to have covered all bases of classroom management, and each of her ideas is beautiful in its simplicity. There is nothing here that is more of a drag to carry out than whatever you’re already doing. Her suggested responses are phrased with utter clarity and everything just makes SO MUCH SENSE. It would seem that you could have thought of it yourself instead of needing to buy a book… except you hadn’t, so you’ll be glad you did.

The ideas seem to be targeted mainly towards the elementary grades, as much of Angela’s earlier experience was in lower elementary, but just about everything is either already relevant or can be adapted to just about any age and ability. You might find much of it less relevant if you teach high school, but you will probably also find some parts useful anyway. What teacher doesn’t have heaps of resources to organize and documentation to keep track of, for instance?

As a former graphic design major, I can never review a book without commenting on aesthetics. The layout of this book is about as basic as it gets, but completely readable and well-organized. The pictures could use a little help, they’re pretty dark. But overall, though it’s hardly artful, the book is friendly enough to the eyes. Definitely above par for self-published works. On a related note, it has a very low ratio of typographical/editing errors, making it a smooth and professional read.

In addition to the book, The Cornerstone has a companion website which has replaced the former Ms. Powell’s. On it, Angela is amazingly generous with advice and resources. A lot of the original content is still there, as well as all the reproducible forms from the book. There are additional free resources that would have been too tangential to include in the book, such as a page of math games/center ideas. You can also find selected links to quality resources from other sites, like this. And of course, there’s a blog in which Angela continuously shares new insights and links.

What I love about all of Angela’s work, besides the total practicality I already mentioned, is her positive outlook. Her focus is on making teaching and learning a pleasant, peaceful experience. I think a majority of teachers enter the profession for love of kids and learning, but we often get swept away in a storm of nitty-gritty that can potentially drag us down and suck the joy out of teaching. Angela Powell Watson’s mission is to bring back the joy through ironing out those kinks, and she does it admirably. She has even published another book, Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching, which specifically focuses on the mental/emotional aspect of loving to teach.

Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of The Cornerstone to review. However, all opinions expressed are honest and unbiased; in fact, I am such a big fan of Ms. Powell/Watson that if I hadn’t been offered the review opportunity, I would have just bought the book myself!

May 11, 2012 at 12:51 am 3 comments

Friday Finds: CEC SmartBrief

About a year after graduation, I felt like I was drying up.

For about six years, I had been immersed in a constantly-updated world of theory and research. I regularly interacted with others of my ilk who were also occupied full-time in improving their teaching practices through trial and information-gathering. I happily considered myself well-informed and felt mighty intelligent.

And then it was history. Out in the field, my education did serve me well, and I frequently referred to ideas I had read about during my college years. But one day I woke up and realized that the world was moving on without me, unless I would keep pace.

So I headed over to the CEC website, intending to join the preeminent organization for special educators, thus renewing my professional self-image and subscribing to their acclaimed journal, Teaching Exceptional Children. I left the website without a membership.

Why?

Because instead I signed up for the CEC SmartBrief. Now, I should probably still aspire to full membership one day. But for now, this service delivers relevant headlines to my email inbox daily – and free of charge. The articles it links to come from a wide range of sources, including both popular mainstream media as well as more focused, professional education publications. They cover the gamut of topics of interest to special educators, from technology to research to teaching ideas to politics. Each link is summarized in the email so you can easily decide which might be worth your time.

The one gripe I have is that it’s not quite selective enough. Some may like that they get so many articles to choose from, but I find the daily influx somewhat overwhelming. There is no option to choose specific areas of interest, and many topics recur frequently to the point of feeling redundant. But overall, it is definitely worth subscribing. I never receive any spammy promotional stuff from them, just the news briefs. And you can’t beat the price.

Sign up here.

January 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm Leave a comment

Friday Finds: PurpleMath.com

It started one embarrassing day when my resource student began to learn about factoring quadratic equations. Now, I teach elementary/middle school. In my day, you didn’t meet one of these until at least the middle of high school, and I don’t think I understood them until college – and even that was, ahem, x years ago. The textbook was no help. I excused the student from homework that night and went home with a headache.

Then I found PurpleMath.com. Their “factoring hard quadratics” page here did more than just clarify the lesson – it introduced a graphic method that I’d never seen before but made the entire process simpler and more organized. The lesson included clear, step-by-step examples, and a quiz that went through the steps one at a time instead of just leaving you to figure out how to independently apply the new skill, as most web quizzes I’ve seen do.

I was so excited to bring the strategy to my student the next day, and we both shared the heady feeling of being able to easily and accurately do something that had been beyond us just yesterday.

The content is very thorough and covers topics relevant to middle school through college. It is geared to students but, as in my case, can be helpful to teachers too, especially in elementary grades where you need not be a math specialist to have math on your curriculum. Even if you are naturally good at math, it can help to see the steps clearly explained in a way that your students will understand. A clearer understanding of the math will help you teach it more clearly.

The site also includes a forum for users to submit questions. There’s a lot of homework help going on there, and it seems to be up-to-date and reasonably active, if not really buzzing (I guess math homework isn’t that viral).

All the content is free and organized decently. You can download the lessons on CD for a reasonable price. There are ads but all I have seen so far are appropriate and unobtrusive. I would feel very comfortable directing students to this site for extra help.

December 2, 2011 at 1:09 pm Leave a comment

Friday Finds: Overcoming Dyslexia

This one is getting a little old, but remains one of my all-time favorites. It is a must-read for all teachers and for parents of struggling students. Also recommended for the general public.

Dyslexia (a specific brand of reading difficulty) is one of the most important and misunderstood conditions in special education. In this book, Sally Shaywitz, M.D., covers  everything you want to know about it – and she does it concisely in plain English. Overcoming Dyslexia is an easy, interesting read even if you have never thought about dyslexia before. It’s written for real people and includes illustrative stories and visual aids.

The book is very thorough and solidly research-based. Published in 2005, it’s missing the latest research, and I hope they revise it soon to incorporate the latest finds. However, there have been no contradictory findings that I am aware of – only new insights that would add to the previous understanding, without invalidating it. Shaywitz, a noted expert in the field, explains the neurological mechanisms involved in reading and what goes wrong when reading isn’t working out. On a practical level, she describes proven ways to identify and remediate dyslexia.

What I like best about this book, besides its easy readability, is that Shaywitz addresses the broad picture, not just the diagnosis and clinical treatment of dyslexia. She discusses how to find the right school and plan an intervention program, how to minimize the emotional fallout of having a learning disorder, and what parents can do by-the-way to improve their child’s reading.

Apropos to its content and target audience, the book also comes in an audio format.

November 11, 2011 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Friday Finds: Education.com

Welcome to Friday Finds! I’ll try to bring you the best of the web every week. Or, if not every week, then on random Fridays because I like alliteration. Education.com is an all-purpose site aimed at parents but reasonably relevant to teachers as well. It’s a good starting point for  little of everything, and surprisingly thorough – my usual instinct is to look for specialty sites when researching a particular topic, but for many purposes, this site will serve you quite well. I’m getting no commission for saying this.

What you’ll find:

  • Articles on just about every topic in education. Makes me feel like this blog is a little extraneous. Oh well, I can still try.
  • Educational activity ideas and printable worksheets
  • Q&A forum
  • General topics of interest to parents, such as crafts and recipes.

Why I like it:

  • Well organized: It’s easy to find everything that’s there. Easy to navigate. Easy on the eyes. I like easy. The search tools work great, too – You can search for activities or materials by grade level, topic, and/or subtopic, by clicking tags, or just browsing new or popular items. Very smooth.
  • Real info: Everyone has something to say on the web, but much of it is junk. Here, the material makes sense and is consistent with other current research I’ve read – as well as common sense. Even better, many of the articles are actually written by well-known, respected authors and personalities in educational fields.
  • Great materials: The worksheets and activities are visually appealing, simple, and educationally sound. The articles are written and organized well, easy to understand, and not too long.
  • Thorough: As I stated at the beginning of this post, but will say again because it’s so impressive, this site is remarkably thorough. They seem to have something for everything.
  • FREE! Really free. No “If you want to see the rest of the worksheet, become a paying member.” No spam emails, so far.

Wishful thinking:

This is a darn good site, but could be even better. The ads on this site are not too pervasive, but I do wish you wouldn’t have to click through so many pages. There is only a small amount of material on each page, and frequently after you select your topic you still need to click again to open the article. I assume they do this to maximize ad impressions, but it’s a little annoying, especially if your internet connection is slow. Still, some sites will just annoy you for money – this one at least gives you a good return for it.
I would also love to see more materials for the higher grade levels.

October 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm Leave a comment


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