3 Things Teachers Can Be Thankful For

thankful

While researching my book, Happy Teacher, I came across the work of Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology. Nobody has contributed more to the science of happiness. One simple exercise Seligman recommends to those wanting to improve their outlook on life is what he calls “Three Blessings.” He writes in his book Flourish:

“We think too much about what goes wrong and not enough about what goes right in our lives. Of course, sometimes it makes sense to analyze bad events so that we can learn from them and avoid them in the future. However, people tend to spend more time thinking about what is bad in life than is helpful. Worse, this focus on negative events sets us up for anxiety and depression. One way to keep this from happening is to get better at thinking about and savoring what went well.”

This is especially good advice for teachers, who are regularly faced with negative events, stress, and anxiety. Because of our tendency to focus on problems and deficits, we can easily start to view our jobs as a burden. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, many of us are stressed and exhausted and we wonder how we’re ever going to make it through the rest of the year.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to step back and force ourselves to acknowledge the things we should be thankful for. The Three Blessings exercise is really simple. You just write down three positive things in your life. Since many teachers start to view their jobs negatively around this time of year, it might be beneficial for you to take a moment this Thanksgiving break and write down the things you appreciate about your job. Here are some to consider:

THE KIDS

No blowing smoke here. A lot of teachers, when you ask them about their jobs, will start their answers with, “I really like the students,” and then go on to complain about the things that make the job annoying.

  • “The kids are great, but administration doesn’t support us.”
  • “I love my students, but I’m working 10 hours a day. I’m beat!”
  • “The best part of my day is when I’m in my room with my students. It’s everything else that sucks.”
  • I love teaching the kids. I just wish government would butt out.”

Yeah, except.

Students can make or break your day. The reality is that the lion’s share of our day is spent with students. If you happen to have a great class, then you probably enjoy your job. If you have three or four kids who are really challenging, you’re probably stressed out and tired. If you have more than that, you’re probably on Indeed.com every night. All of that extra, outside-the-classroom stuff matters, but so do the kids sitting in front of you every day.

Too often, we tend to focus on those who are struggling. Poke your head into a teachers’ lounge and it is these students who are being talked about. Attend a staff meeting, and it’s the behavior of these students that is being discussed. In fact, at our last staff meeting, the principal shared the number of office referrals and suspensions we’ve had this year in the building. It was a high number, but the great majority of them came from 12 students, which represents less than 5% of the student population.

So here is one thing teachers can be thankful for: Most of our students, the vast majority in most schools, are doing their best. Most listen. Most follow the rules. Most get along with others. Most are respectful. Most try hard. The next time you get frustrated with your class, stop and count. How many are doing what they’re supposed to be and how many aren’t? Chances are you’ll find most of them are doing the right thing. It’s important to remind ourselves of that and be thankful for it.

THE PAY

I read this piece from the Atlantic this morning as I prepared to write this article. It includes some depressing information:

“While public-school teachers made $30 less per week (adjusted for inflation) in 2015 than in 1996, around $1,092 from $1,122, wages for college graduates rose from $1,292 to $1,416. Where other college-educated workers used to make just slightly more per week than teachers, they now earn significantly more.

“There are only five states where teachers make within 10 percent of what other college graduates earn, and there is not a single state where teachers earn the same or more than other people with four-year degrees.”

So if you want to feel underpaid and unappreciated, you’ve certainly got some numbers to support that point of view.

But I’d rather feel good about how much I’m paid, so I look at different numbers.

In America, most of us are rich. The median per-capita household income worldwide is about $3,000. If you have just $3,210 in assets, you are wealthier than half the world’s population. You’re better off than 3.5 billion people!

According to the National Education Association, the average first-year teacher in the United States earns $36,141. If you’re a woman–and three-quarters of teachers in the United States are–then that income puts you in the 67th percentile for all female earners in the US. If you’re a male first-year teacher earning the average, your income places you in the 48th percentile of all males. Regardless of your gender, the average first-year American teacher makes more money than 57% of all US workers. Open a phone book (if you can find one). Pick two people. Odds are you make more than one of them.

According to Glassdoor, the average US teacher salary is $47,760. That figure puts the average teacher in the top 0.35% of the richest people in the world. That’s right, teachers are one-percenters. Actually, we’re more like one-third of one-percenters. In other words, if you want to be rich, you can stop wishing. Because compared to almost everyone in the entire world, you already are.

FIND OUT WHERE YOUR SALARY RANKS HERE

Regardless of how much the people I went to college with now make, or how much other professionals with similar education levels make, or whether my pay has remained largely unchanged for five years, I make enough to live a comfortable life. I can afford the things I need, plus a lot of stuff I don’t. I’m thankful for that.

THE TIME OFF

I am never ashamed to tell people that one reason I became a teacher is because of the time off. To the best of my knowledge, I’m only getting one life to live and I want to spend as much of it as possible doing things I want to do. The more time I spend at work, the less time I have to pursue other interests. Teaching is one of the very few professions that offers a middle-class income and lots of free time, if you choose to take advantage of it.

So I am thankful that I have nine days off for Thanksgiving break and two weeks at Christmas and one week in April and two months in the summer. That allows me to spend time with my family, write, exercise, travel, read, and live a complete, well-rounded life. I’m thankful that I’m not going to spend the best years of my life in a cubicle. I’m thankful that I get to “retire” every summer. I’m thankful that I’m a teacher.

There. I feel better already.

Engagement Isn’t Everything

engaging.The contrarian in me bristles whenever any idea achieves such widespread acceptance that those who dare question it are subjected to reflexive condemnation. One idea that has gained such universal popularity in recent years is the power of engagement. Spend any time around educators, whether in person or in digital form, and you will have surely seen or heard the following sentiments passionately expressed:

  • Kids are bored because teachers’ lessons aren’t engaging.
  • Kids act out when they’re not engaged.
  • Kids cheat because the work isn’t engaging.
  • An engaged student will never give you any problems.
  • Kids hate school because they’re not engaged.

So at the risk of being ridiculed by the Engagement-is-Everything crowd, let me say that I’m skeptical.

We’re asking engagement to pull an awful lot of weight.

It’s the Wrong Word

First, let’s clear up some terminology. People who talk about engagement are often not talking about engagement. Engagement means that a student cares, that she gives a damn. Engagement ultimately comes from the learner, not the teacher. I don’t care a whit about needlepoint, and it won’t matter how much choice I’m given, how much technology gets incorporated, whether or not I get to work with my friends, how enthusiastic my needlepoint teacher is, or how much relevance she attempts to convince me needlepoint has to my life, I’m just not going to be engaged.

When some people talk about engagement, what they’re really talking about is involvement. Anita Archer, the Guru of Engagement, uses all kinds of involvement techniques that have been mislabeled engagement strategies. She keeps a brisk pace and requires a high rate of response from every student in the room. She expects attention and participation. She keeps kids on their toes. But none of those things ensure that students care about what she’s teaching; only that they’re involved. Anita Archer doesn’t do engagement. She does involvement.

The Student Owns the Learning

Perhaps that’s because Ms. Archer understands that true engagement cannot come from her. She can get students to actively participate in her vocabulary lessons, but she can’t make them care about learning the words. She can lead the horse to the very edge of the creek, but she can’t make it dip its head to drink.

The problem I have with engagement — at least, how it’s used today — is that it conveys the message that a student’s failure is his teacher’s fault.

  • It’s not a student’s fault for failing to do his job; it’s his teacher’s fault for failing to engage him.
  • It’s not a student’s fault for skipping class; it’s her professor’s fault for not making her lectures more engaging.
  • It’s not the salesman’s fault he didn’t sell anything; he just didn’t find the act of selling very engaging.
  • It’s not the teacher’s fault for showing videos all day; she just doesn’t feel engaged at work.

It’s bull.

There’s also this problem: What’s engaging for one student isn’t for another. I often see teachers on Twitter bragging about how hip they are because they incorporated fidget spinners or Pokemon Go or [insert current trendy item] into their lesson plans. But for every student who thinks a particular toy, game, or song is the greatest, there’s another who’s annoyed by it, and some who are flat-out pissed because their parents wouldn’t buy them one.

The Real Secret to Success

Here’s an unfortunate truth about life:

There are things we must all do even though they are not engaging. Those of us who do these things have more success in life than those who do not.

People who create and stick to budgets have more money. Making and sticking to budgets requires self-control. Few would argue it’s engaging.

Buying groceries is almost always an awful experience, but if you don’t do it, you end up at McDonald’s, wasting money and getting fat.

Sitting through meetings requires self-discipline, and your boss may or may not care to make those meetings engaging. You better pay attention anyway.

Doing your taxes sucks. The government makes no attempt to make the process engaging. And if you decide to not file your taxes, you won’t be able to blame the government for failing to sufficiently inspire you. Sometimes, you just have to do things.

In fact, much of life — pretty much everything between all the awesome, engaging parts — is about self-discipline, the ability to stick with or do something well enough even though we dislike the task or find it boring.

Not Everything Needs to Engage

I’ve got nothing against making your lessons more fun or finding ways to involve your students more. There is no question that an involved student will usually learn more than an uninvolved one. Use whatever tricks you can. You can do a whole lot worse than Anita Archer when it comes to involvement.

Nor will I try to dissuade you from creating experiences for students that give them warm fuzzies, create indelible memories, and make you the kind of teacher students remember for the rest of their lives. Go for it. That’s what makes teaching and learning fun.

But let’s stop putting so many eggs in the engagement basket. Students who learn to do what needs to be done, regardless of how they feel about it, grow up to be adults who have the self-discipline to balance their checkbooks, do the laundry, get out of bed early enough to make it to work on time, get the oil in their car changed, shop for khaki pants (just me?), and clean everything from their teeth to their dishes to their showers.

Instead of focusing so much on engagement — an endeavor that is, at best, a crap shoot — why not teach students what self-control looks like in different situations? Why not teach students that people with self-control lead more successful lives? Why not show them how to exercise self-control through talk-alouds and modeling? Why not even intentionally teach something that’s not engaging at all and explain to kids that successful people must sometimes will themselves to complete uninspiring tasks?

We don’t do students any favors when we send the message that they must always be entertained. And we’re sending our teachers the wrong message when we imply that every problem in their classroom comes back to their inability to engage their students.

Top 5 Online Resources for Teaching Writing

A guest post by Paul Bates, a teacher in Fresno California

Throughout kindergarten to the final year of high school, students should have acquired appropriate vocabulary, punctuation, style, and grammar skills for essay writing. Learning and practicing skills through technology is an incentive to learning since students consider it a ‘fun’ activity. There are hundreds of websites available for teaching writing and hundreds more are continually being created as technology advances. Online resources have improved the art of writing by providing available information that would have otherwise been out of reach.

Below, you will find a list of some of the best online resources to use when teaching writing.

Time4writing

This website offers free writing resources as well as 8-week online writing courses. Educators use this site to impart writing skills to students. The site incorporates the use of resources such as:

  • visual aids; for example: posters, flipcharts, and slides.
  • grading conventions; for example: K-2 in primary grading.
  • writing conventions; for example: spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation.

Full guidance is provided to the student. The creative inscription, paragraph, and essay writing are inclusive in the teaching package. Time4writing.com incorporates students from elementary school to students in high school. The site focuses on assisting students to put their ideas and thoughts in order before they are conveyed to a writing surface.

SolidEssay

This is an essay writing service that has been active since 2005. It offers professional and timely services to students who require writing services. The service opts to offer hired essay writers assignments that would otherwise be very time-consuming to a student. Solidessay.com has become one of the most reputable companies. This is mainly because work is assigned to experienced writers that hold a doctor of philosophy degree (Ph.D.) and a Master’s degree in the specified fields.

Online Writing Lab (OWL)

Purdue’s writing lab was created in 1994. It provides resources such as handouts, articles, journals, grammar and mechanics, citations and formatting styles. The teaching writing category is partitioned based on education level from grades 7-12 to college. Purdue’s OWL provides useful information to teachers and students in relation to writing. This includes instructions and formats for expository essays, email writing, letter writing, poems, etc. Basic information on writing citations and extensive research processes makes it a reliable educator to students. Students who are interested in becoming proficient in basic writing skills, formatting and styles, have a wide range of resources to acquire knowledge from.

Education Northwest

The Education Northwest website provides a writing program that focuses on the 6+1 writing traits. These traits are:

Identifying the idea and content
Structural organization of the essay
The tone and voice of the message being conveyed
The choice of vocabulary
Sentence fluency and clarity
Conventions and presentations

These qualities define standard writing. Learning experiences are catered for students in colleges as well as adults (parents and teachers). Writing skills offered to students assist in critical thinking and reasoning, especially in real life experiences. The website’s core resources are the K-2 rubric and 3-12 rubric which are educator-friendly.

Quill

This is a nonprofit organization that provides writing and grammar activities for students from elementary school to high school. Educators use quill activities to jog the minds of students before and during class. The activities have been researched and approved by language instructors. With the integration of device applications that educate on vocabulary, grammar, and writing. The website is preferred by most teachers in classroom assimilation. Quill activities cover over 300 convictions on grammar giving students a substantial amount of skill and knowledge needed in writing. This website is bent on improving writing skills of students between kindergarten and grade 12. The site provides favorable circumstances by instantly grading tests and providing individualized feedbacks and instructions. This contributes to their divulging writing skills.

In this digital and modern age, students have tools and resources that assist them to become exemplary writers at their disposal. Writing is the framework of basic communication and it is important to nurture the skill at a tender age. Educators who have access to the internet and its resources, enhance the learning experience of the student while propelling the desire to express themselves through writing. Inscription skills are related to credibility. Having good writing skills is a gateway and requirement for careers such as journalism and therefore it is a skill essential to those in media-related fields.

Author bio: Paul Bates is a school teacher from Fresno, California. He loves helping his students become better and stronger writers.

What Jesus Can Teach Teachers About Priorities

jesus.

Nobody, not even the Son of God, can do it all. In the Gospel According to Mark, we learn about a trip Jesus takes to the bustling and sin-filled city of Capernaum. Jesus heads into the synagogue there and starts teaching. The people are left slack-jawed by his awesomeness and one guy, possessed by an evil spirit, wants to know if Jesus has come to destroy them. With a handful of words, Jesus exorcises the demon and everyone is even more amazed. (Mark 1: 21-28)

After preaching, Jesus takes his pals James and John over to the home of Simon and Andrew, where Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. So Jesus goes in there and cures her. By night, word of the exorcism and the fever healing has spread and the whole damn town gathers outside and starts screaming like a crowd calling for an encore at a Stones concert. Jesus obliges them. The gospel says, “Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons.” (Mark 1: 29-33)

The next morning, before the sun rises, Jesus gets up, leaves the house, and wanders off to a solitary place, where he prays.  His buddies eventually find him and are all, “Hey, man, everyone is looking for you!” I imagine that by this point, anyone with a runny nose or blisters on their feet were looking for some free health care. (Mark 1: 35-37)

Jesus, perhaps growing weary of his celebrity, says, “Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1: 38)

It happens again a bit later. After healing a loquacious leper who, in defiance of Jesus’s instructions, blabs to anybody wearing sandals about his miracle, we learn that, “Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places.” (Mark 1: 40-45)

There are a number of lessons here for busy teachers. First, it’s important to notice that the gospel doesn’t say that Jesus healed all who came. It says he healed many and drove out many demons. Jesus got tired, and he called it quits. Second, Jesus was wise to get away from it all and pray. He took time for himself. Third, Jesus recognized that he couldn’t accomplish his main goal of teaching if he spent all his time healing people, so he decided to get out of the city and go to nearby villages where he could teach, because that is what he was there to do.

As teachers, we have many opportunities to do good. We are offered chances to join committees that do important work. We are encouraged to attend before- and after-school activities that benefit our school, students, and parents. We could coach, run an after-hours club, write grants, be a class sponsor, or volunteer to help our principal with state-mandated reporting. Our time and efforts are requested for a lot of worthy endeavors that will help others. But we have limits. We have to remember to take time for ourselves. And we shouldn’t forget what our purpose is. Like Jesus, we need to focus on what we’re there to do.

Our main goal is to be the best teacher to our students. And while taking on extra work to help our colleagues, our administrators, or students in other classrooms is good work, it’s not our main work. We need to recognize that we can’t do it all. Even Jesus couldn’t add more hours to the day. Even he couldn’t escape the hard reality of trade-offs. When Jesus spent his time healing people, he couldn’t preach. And when teachers spend their time doing important work that isn’t teaching, they too have less time to focus on their greatest contribution.

So be like Jesus. Be careful how you use your time. Take care of yourself. Keep the main thing the main thing. Remember why you’re there. And when things start getting in the way of your teaching, stop doing those things.


Related Content:

A More Effective Way For Teachers To Say No

When Teachers Should Be Selfish

American Teachers Should Work Less


I write a lot about how teachers can do a better job taking care of themselves. That’s because you can’t help your students if you’re overworked, stressed out, and exhausted. If you don’t want to miss anything, subscribe to Teacher Habits and receive new articles in your inbox.

 

 

8 Best Language Learning Apps for Teaching ESL Students

Today we have a guest post by Ethan Miller. Ethan is a private ESL tutor who has taught over a dozen classes. It’s an area I know absolutely nothing about, so I’m thankful to Ethan for providing the recommendations below.   

8 Best Language Learning Apps for Teaching ESL Students

English is known as a universal language of communication and many non-native students in the United States are learning it today. If you are one of them, or if you teach ESL students, then this post is for you.

Ever tried learning a new language? It’s undeniably hard. If you too have sailed those waters, what I’m saying will make sense.

There was a time when teachers were burdened with the task of coming up with interactive ways to make learning English simple for their students. Today, the pressure on teachers has eased as there are many online tools that aid teachers to do their jobs more effectively.

While there are many tools that you can use, which ones are right for you? How much will they cost? Are they easy to use? Do they have good exercises?

To answer these questions, I have compiled a list of eight English language learning tools that are easy to use, interactive, and free to download on both Android and iOS.

Here we go!

Memrise

Memrise is a free language learning tool that offers courses that are user-generated, i.e., by teachers who are experts in teaching the language. The app is visually appealing and students can select whichever language they are comfortable interacting in (French, Spanish, German, etc.) and enroll for the courses that they want to learn.

Memrise provides many mnemonic methods to learn and remember new words, the best of them being the Elaborative Encoding technique. You can even submit your own methods in order to keep the content fresh and share your ideas with other learners.

You get to review each lesson multiple times after completion through a feature called spaced repetition testing. As an incentive to motivate learners, points are awarded for learning new words and completing each level.

Busuu

Busuu is primarily a free language app and users can access the lessons, vocabulary, and practice sections by creating an account. The lessons are designed for beginners, elementary, and intermediate level learners.

Busuu provides highly interactive resources as a mixture of text, audio assistance, and images to help you learn and remember the lessons. You can listen to the words and sentences again and again and switch between lessons whenever you want.

There is a practice section where learners can connect and interact with millions of other native speakers during the lessons and correct their mistakes.

After every lesson, you’ll earn Busuu berries, which are points you can use to upgrade to the paid version and unlock premium lessons. However, even the free lessons are quite comprehensive.

Cram (Free)

Cram is a free flashcards app that is being used by millions of students and teachers as an aid for learning a new language and memorizing difficult concepts and subjects. It’s very popular because of its easy-to-use interface, vast collection of flashcards, and the Leitner’s system of memorization.

Cram is useful in a multi-user classroom environment for teachers to create and share flashcard sets with their students. Teachers can add images and record their audio on each flashcard to teach proper pronunciation and improve the vocabulary of language learners.

Flashcards help students remember what they learn. Cram has a feature called the ‘Cram Mode’ where students pass through five levels of questioning for each set of flashcards.

To make learning fun, Cram also has two pre-installed games – ‘Stellar Speller’ and ‘Jewels of Wisdom’ – for every flashcard set.

Babbel

Babbel has become one of the biggest online language learning apps due to its interesting features and affordable pricing. It uses the quiz style learning method and has courses designed for both beginners and advanced users.

Babbel has a good variety of courses divided into bite-sized lessons of 10 – 15 minutes each to give you just the right quantity at a time without overloading you with excess content. The courses are developed by linguistic experts and contain interesting exercises for reading, writing, speaking, listening, grammar, punctuations, and vocabulary skills.

Babbel makes learning English fun and easy with its intuitive course design. Other features like the intelligent review manager and integrated speech recognition help embed the lessons in your memory and bring accuracy in your pronunciation.

Duolingo (Free)

If you want to learn English for free, Duolingo is one of the best and easiest tools to do that. It’s a tool for both the beginners starting from scratch and for someone simply looking to brush off the ring rust.

Start by browsing through the list of languages on the course page and select English to begin taking the lessons. The lessons are divided into ‘skills’ that are arranged in a tree format. You need to clear each skill to move on to the next level.

The skills start with Basics and expand into different categories like Food, Family, Numbers, Questions, Colors, Grammar, etc. It’s very important for the beginners to understand these skills to move into the advanced sections.

Each skill has different types of questions to help you understand and remember the words and sentences. There is a unique option called ‘test out’ where learners can take a single test for all the basic sections and move directly to the advanced lessons.

Another unique feature of Duolingo is the ‘Immersion section’ where you get to translate real-world articles from the web. You can speak out words into a microphone to check your pronunciation. Points are awarded after completing each level.

MosaLingua

If you are short on time and want to learn a language quickly (for business travelers), give Mosalingua a try. With this app, you can learn English anywhere – while traveling, waiting at a coffee shop, or simply when you’re taking a walk.

The lessons are short and designed keeping in mind the time constraints of language learners. The best part of Mosalingua is the 20 – 80 approach, called the Pareto principle. The app first focuses on the 20% of vocabulary that we use in almost 80% of our everyday life. This way, you understand the basics and bring fluency in your conversations.

The app has around 3000 words and, interestingly, there are 100 common words that are used regularly in half of the world’s writings and conversations. The vocabulary lessons are divided into 6 different levels with each level having small sentences and phrases comprising commonly used words.

MosaLingua has trademarked its learning method that they developed using the spaced repetition and active recall memory techniques.

Talk English (Free)

The most difficult part of learning a new language is to be able to speak comfortably in that language. The English Conversation Practice app (ECP) by TalkEnglish helps you do that by holding conversations with you in English.

ECP is a free app that helps improve vocabulary, correct pronunciation, and aid in forming grammatically correct sentences. It has 200 different conversation lessons for developing your listening and speaking skills.

The conversation topics are divided into categories of regular events like taking a vacation, eating dinner, playing football, talking about children, etc. The lessons are made up of listening exercises, recording your own voice, and speaking exercises for conversation practice.

Fun English

The Fun English app, as the name implies, is a fun way to teach English to your children using games and activities. It is currently rated as the best English learning app for kids aged 3 – 10 years. What makes it best is the fun factor. Kids have fun with their parents while learning.

Fun English is released by StudyCat and has garnered a lot of attention from parents and ESL teachers. The course is divided into 12 lessons to teach you about Colors, Animals, Numbers, Human body, Fruits, Food, clothes, etc., and over 80 learning games divided into these 12 lessons.

The free version comes with 2 lessons on Colors and Animals and 14 games. You need to upgrade to the premium version to unlock all the remaining lessons.

Besides teaching English, the app teaches other important skills like developing concentration and hand-eye coordination. It’s again a fun way to get your children engaged and comfortable with technology at an early age.

Conclusion

Technology has made learning easy and fun. These were some of the popular language learning apps to help you learn English without actually burning a hole in your pocket.

Although, if you don’t mind spending more, there are a couple of extremely popular apps, such as Rosetta Stone and Voxy, that you can try.

Have you used any other English apps that you would like to share with us? Leave us a comment. Happy learning!

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Ethan Miller is a private ESL tutor and apart from his passion for teaching, he loves to write and holds a degree in creative writing. When he is not teaching or writing his book, Miller loves to blog and is a huge fan of educational technology. Follow Ethan on Twitter and his blog.