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Write a Philosophy of Teaching Statement You Can Be Proud Of

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 14, 2014 11:10:00 AM

philosophy_of_teaching_statementA philosophy of teaching statement is one of the most important documents an out-of-work teacher will ever write. Done right, a philosophy of teaching statement can breathe new life into a flimsy CV from an applicant who has little teaching experience. Done wrong, it can cost seasoned veterans the interview no matter how many years of teaching he or she may have under the belt.

So what’s the secret to a successful teaching statement? In our humble opinion, you can start by avoiding these five common pitfalls.

It is too long
In addition to your CV, you also have a teaching portfolio, letters of recommendation, maybe even copies of your most recent evaluations to share with the hiring committee. That’s a lot of paper for your prospective employer to go through and a good reason for you to keep your philosophy of teaching statement short. How short? No more than one page.

Make your statement as readable and aesthetically appealing as possible. That means 12-point font, one-inch margins and enough white space in between your paragraphs to ensure that the reader isn’t overwhelmed.

It tells rather than shows
Your statement is not the place to tell your life story—or even your teaching life story.

Your prospective employer doesn’t want to know that you taught AP English at Roosevelt Elementary in Memphis, Tennessee, that you were truly grateful for the opportunity to work with struggling readers, and that you always used a wide range of videos and online materials to enhance your students’ classroom experience.

Nope, they want to hear about your principles of teaching; they want to see evidence that you exemplify these principles in specific classroom goals and practices. Show. Don’t tell.

In other words, your future employer wants you to demonstrate in concrete and specific terms, what your principles are. Once you’ve done that, he or she will want you to show how you practice these principles and use evidence to illustrate that it was done effectively.

It is rife with clichés
It’s a competitive market and not uncommon for review committees to receive dozens, even hundreds of statements, CVs and application materials from hopeful applicants.

A good number of these materials will be rife with the usual teaching clichés. One of the best ways to distinguish yourself from all of the other applicants is to dispense with common teaching clichés like this:

  • I am passionate about teaching
  • As a child, I used to set up all of my stuffed animals in a makeshift classroom and pretend I was teaching them
  • In my classroom, I encourage open discussion and promote a variety of viewpoints
  • I am passionate about technology and use a variety of multimedia materials
  • I love kids!
  • I am a life-long learner
  • I strive to provide my students with a 21st century learning experience

Skip the clichés and simply give succinct examples from classes that you have taught, examples that are not painfully obvious, but truly vivid and memorable.

It is self-effacing
Nobody likes a bragger. That’s true. And because nobody likes a bragger many of us resort to a tone of affected self-deprecation in our statements. There’s no need to do this. Be confident. Don’t apologize for being good at what you do.

In other words, you can probably skip language like this:

“I was honored to have the opportunity to…”

“I was fortunate to be selected for…”

“I hope that my students will take what they have learned from me and apply it outside of the classroom.”

“I am always striving to do…”

Language like this is “nice,” but it makes the author seem unsure about him or herself. Being “fortunate” suggests that you were given an opportunity without actually earning it. “Hoping” that your “students take what they have learned” from you and “use it outside of the classroom” makes you sound unsure that they are up for the challenge. Skip the self-effacing language and say it like it is!

It is excessively emotional
This is really an extension of the previous point. Excessively emotional language is just as bad as self-effacing language and for exactly the same reasons we stated above.

Here are a few examples:

“I am delighted when students tell me…”

“I would be thrilled to teach your course in xxx…”

“I am so excited to use new materials…”

“It would be a great pleasure to create new courses…”

“I can’t say enough about how much I enjoy…”

This blog has been adapted from “The Dreaded Teaching Statement: Eight Pitfalls.”


The Thankful Turkey_Marygrove_MAT

Tags: Philosophy of Teaching Statement

How to Grade Papers Without the Grind

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 13, 2014 10:09:00 AM

how to grade papersThere is a special place in heaven for all teachers, but especially for those of you who teach writing. Not only do you spend five days a week in the classroom, you spend your days “off” grading papers, a task that can not only eat up your entire weekend, but lead to a bad case of burnout.

Grading papers is never going to be a holiday, but there are simple steps you can take to reduce the tedium and time you spend doing it.

How to Grade Papers Without the Grind: 5 Tips for Teachers

Focus on two major things
If you’re spending forty minutes on each paper (believe me, I’ve done this a time or two), you’re doing way, way too much. If the introduction is disjointed and doesn’t contain a strong thesis statement, there’s no reason for you to address grammar in this paragraph. Why? Because it’s going to change in the next draft anyway. There’s no reason for students to add commas to a paragraph that needs to be rewritten!

Instead of addressing everything in the first draft, focus on two main issues in the paper. This will make the whole process a lot less overwhelming for both you and the students.

Grade one half of the stack; discuss the other half in person; then rotate
I started doing this after my first year of teaching and do I wish I’d thought of it sooner!

Here’s what you do: Divide your stack of essays in half. On the first half, provide written feedback, marginal comments, suggestions, questions, etc. When you’re done, issue a grade and return the essays to your students.

Now, instead of responding to the other half of the pile, simply read them. On the back of the essays, jot down a few bullet points. These will help you remember what you wish to discuss with the other half of your students when you meet with them one-on-one in your five to ten-minute meetings. Five or ten minutes isn’t much, I agree. But if you stick to your rule of only focusing on two major things in each draft, five minutes will be plenty of time.

On the next essay, switch it up. Those students you met with one-on-one will receive written feedback and vice versa.

Mix and match
Instead of starting at the top of the stack, grab four random essays and then top off the pile with an essay from one of your strongest writers. Now put the rest of the essays away and forget about them for the time being. Continue this with each stack of five essays.

Grading a strong paper first will make delving into the next four essays much more pleasant.

No more grading marathons
My mentors and professors always cautioned me against trying to do “too much” when responding to student work. “Focus on two main things in the first draft,” one mentor told me. I didn’t listen—and I certainly paid for it.

You’re not going to believe how much of your job is tied up in paperwork and grading, especially if you are a composition teacher. One of the best things you can do for yourself is create a realistic grading schedule, stick to it, and for goodness’ sake, stop working harder than your students! If you know you can only grade 10-15 papers in a night, don’t bring home a stack of 50; this will stress you out and lead to exhaustion. 

Start a student-run writing center
A couple of years ago, I attended a writing center conference at Oakland University. Out of all the presentations I sat in on, I only recall one of them. This particular presentation was led by five high school seniors who, with the help of their English instructor, created a student-run writing center. These five students were personally selected and trained by their teacher to become writing “consultants.”

With the support of their principal, a room was set aside; for a few hours every week, the “writing center” was open for anyone that needed help with their writing. Writing consultants were not trained to be “grammar geeks”—in fact, they were not even allowed to write on their peers’ essays. Instead, consultants read their peers’ work, asked questions, helped brainstorm for topics, helped with thesis statements, and taught their peers how to better develop their ideas.

Training students will take some time, and you’ll have to work with your administrator to find an appropriate space for your writing center, but I think the payoff could be huge—not only for your students, but for you as well.

Photo credit: E_TAVARES / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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Tags: paper grading, grading papers, how to grade papers

5 of the Best Thanksgiving Read Alouds for Teachers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 11, 2014 1:43:00 PM

All of the signs point to the fact that Fall is here—and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. In our neck of the woods, the trees are shedding the last of their leaves, our furnaces are humming, and everything from coffee and candy to Pop Tarts and Pringles are infused with pumpkin flavor.

We could probably do without the pumpkin flavored chips, but we look forward to this time of the year for a variety of reasons—one being that we finally have an excuse to break out our favorite Thanksgiving read-alouds.

5 of the Best Thanksgiving Read Alouds for Teachers

read_alouds_1One Is a Feast for a Mouse: A Thanksgiving Tale
Thanksgiving is over for humans, but it’s just getting started for Mouse, who creeps out of his hiding place and spies first a green pea, then a cranberry, then some mashed potatoes and even turkey! Spotting the leftovers is one thing, but getting past Cat is something else altogether.

This Thanksgiving read aloud is certainly cute, but it’s also an excellent starting point for a discussion about appreciation and excess.

Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie

Think you have a bad habit of overeating on Thanksgiving? Think again. In this book, the old lady begins her feast by eating a Thanksgiving pie that’s just too dry. So what does she do? She polishes off a jug of cider to wash it down. But it’s Thanksgiving—and what would Thanksgiving be without a roll, salad, turkey, and an entire squash?

As the old lady continues to eat, her belly continues to grow. I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie is a silly, strange and wacky, but definitely one of our most popular Thanksgiving read-alouds.

read_alouds_2-1Fried Feathers for Thanksgiving

Halloween has come and gone, and boy is it a terrible let down for grumpy witches Dolores and Lavinia. So what do they do? They decide to ruin Thanksgiving for Emma, and all of her friends. Unfortunately, Emma is a kinder and much wiser witch than the two grumps she lives with.

read_alouds_4Ankle Soup
It’s Thanksgiving day and Carlos, a French bulldog, just can’t figure out what all the fuss is about. Carlos’ journey begins amidst the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, giving young readers a mostly-ankle view of the Big Apple’s most famous icons: Grand Central Station, the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade, Coney Island, F.A.O Schwartz, and many more.

read aloudsBalloons Over Broadway
We can’t speak for you, but we’ve always felt that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is as integral to the holiday as pumpkin pie. This book, written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, is the story of Tony Sarg and how he developed the huge balloon puppets that have delighted parade viewers since 1928.

The Thankful Turkey_Marygrove_MAT

Tags: Thanksgiving Lesson Plan Ideas, reading teachers, read alouds

Using Tongue-Fu to improve teacher student communication

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 6, 2014 3:23:00 PM

classroom communicationMost of us have seen the popular Verizon commercial featuring actor Paul Marcarelli, an affable “test man” who roams the most remote parts of America, repeating “Can you hear me now?” into his mobile phone. The message Verizon wishes to send, of course, is that unlike those who subscribe to other cellphone providers, Verizon users can rest assured knowing that they will never enter “dead zones” that interrupt their service.

Verizon subscriber or not, the truth of the matter is that many of us live in a “dead zone” when it comes to positive teacher student communication. Why?

Well, if you buy what Sam Horn suggests in his book, Tongue Fu! at School: 30 Ways to Get Along with Teachers, Principals, Students, and Parents, miscommunication happens because we often fail to redact simple words and add other, more constructive ones to our working list of vocabulary.

We recently picked up a copy of Horn’s book and wanted to share a few tips to help educators better communicate with students.

2 Simple Steps to Help you Improve Teacher Student Communication

  • The first step: Remove the word “but” from your vocabulary.
    Why? “But” may technically be a conjunction, but it does very little to connect us to those we are communicating with. Think about it for a second. When we respond to what someone has just said with “but,” we are actually undermining everything he or she just said.
  • The second step: Substitute “but with “and.”
    There’s a simple way to disagree with someone and legitimize their viewpoint at the same time: Substitute the word “but” with “and.” Below is a simple script to help you put this play into action.

In the following scenario, a student—who has been absent from class for a week without explanation—returns, but does not have two major assignments that were due when s/he was gone.

On the left column, you’ll see what happens when you use “but” to make your point; in the right column, you’ll notice why using “and” is a more constructive alternative.

classroom communication

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Tags: classroom management, Relationship-Driven Classroom, classroom communication

Save Your Students’ Teeth: Try These Science Experiments with Candy

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 4, 2014 11:04:00 AM

science experiments with candyHow do you save your students a trip to the dentist and help them learn a little something about science? Why, you stop by a cool little website called Candy Experiments. All of the science experiments you’ll find on Loralee Leavitt’s website can also be found in her book, but this is a great way to try before you buy.

Here are a few of the science experiments with candy you’ll find on the site. Click here or on the image below to find instructions for each experiment.

science experiments with candy

Pedagogy with a Personality

Tags: STEM curriculum, science and engineering education, science experiments with candy

Broaching that age-old question: “Why do we have to learn this?”

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 3, 2014 2:52:23 PM

7550213772_f6cd3f6e5b_h“Why do we have to learn this?” It’s a fair question, it really is, and if we’re confident that what we’re doing has a purpose that transcends “The Test,” it’s probably a question that we should get comfortable with.

This morning we came across a YouTube channel called The School of Life; they have a lot of great videos, but there were two that might come in handy the next time your history or literature students ask you why they are learning about the fall of the Roman empire, or are skeptical about the merits of reading some “dusty old” novel.

While I think both videos make legitimate arguments, they will probably work best as conversation-starters. Enjoy!

What is History for?

What is literature for?

The Reading Playbook, a teachers guide to success


Tags: history teachers, social studies teachers, Literature Teachers,

The Zombie Apocalypse: Using World War Z to Teach Genre, Metaphor, and Creative Writing

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Oct 31, 2014 11:47:37 AM


One of our teacher-buddies shared an awesome zombie lesson plan with us. It was created by Tony Cerullo, and uses Max Brooks’ novel World War Z to help students explore genre, metaphor, and creative writing. Unlike a few of the zombie-themed activities we’ve shared over the past few days, this one is quite a bit more in depth and should take a month to complete. It is recommended for grades 11-12 due to high level literary themes and a fairly substantial work load.

Because this is a substantial project, we figured it would be easier for you to simply download a PDF of the lesson plan and take it with you.

You can download the PDF by clicking here or on the image below.

Zombie_Apocalypse_Lesson_PlanSpooky Story Starters Guide

Tags: zombie lesson plans, Literature Teachers,, Halloween lesson plans

Our Favorite Zombie-Themed Halloween Lesson Plans

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Oct 30, 2014 9:50:16 AM

Over the past couple of years, we’ve been slowly building our collection of zombie-themed Halloween lesson plans. Halloween is only a couple days away and we couldn’t think of a more appropriate time to gather our goods and share them with you!

halloween_lesson_plans4 Zombie-Themed Lessons from PBS
These lessons, which you’ll find on the PBS website, ask students to compare the “normal” brain to a “zombie” brain. While you could use these lessons as “stand-alones,” each one follows an accompanying plot line where the world is fighting a zombie apocalypse and the best and the brightest young people are being trained as neuroscientists. The hope is that, with the proper training, students will be able to cure the zombie epidemic and save the world.

To browse these four lesson plans, click here.

halloween lesson plansPrepare for the Zombie Pandemic
This is a three-part lesson created by one of our Edmodo buddies, Mrs. Stauffenecker.

If you are skeptical about the academic merits of this particular unit, rest easy: Everything aligns with Common Core Standards.

Step 1
Before your students create their own preparedness plan, they’re going to need to do a little research. A good place to start is with the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Zombie Pandemic Preparedness 101 manual. This is written in an easily-digestible comic book format, so you’re students are sure to devour it (pardon the puns).

Step 2
Next, you might show them Tips for Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse with P. Allen Smith.

Step 3
To get your students talking, try using Mrs. Stauffenecker’s Power Point presentation. This asks students to think about the nature of fear and teaches them about the different types of zombies they may encounter. To download the presentation, click here.

Step 4
OK, you’ve read the CDC manual, considered P. Allen Smith’s tips for surviving the zombie apocalypse, and had a discussion about the Power Point presentation. Now you’re ready to go over the specifics of the assignment. To download the rubric, click here. 

halloween lesson plans
Prepare Your Zombie-Escape Plan
If your school is following the rules, you should have a building blueprint or escape route posted throughout the building.

Grab one of these floor plans and photocopy it. You’ll need it for George Chilton’s zombie-themed lesson plan.

You can find the lesson plan by clicking here.

 Spooky Story Starters Guide



Tags: free halloween printables, Halloween lesson plans

Stream Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” for Free

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Oct 28, 2014 2:24:15 PM

Halloween is upon us and I can’t think of a better time to bust out Edgar Allan Poe’s classic horror tale, “The Pit and the Pendulum.” The story is good on its own, but I think you’re students might also enjoy Ray Harryhausen’s award-winning, stop-motion interpretation of the story. You can watch the short film by clicking on the image below

In addition to the film, I recommend checking out the interactive comic book version of the story.







Spooky Story Starters Guide

Tags: reading teachers, Reading, Literature Teachers,, edgar allan poe

5 Halloween Worksheets & Printables for Reading & Writing Teachers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Oct 28, 2014 9:35:00 AM

We love bringing Halloween into the classroom, but it’s even better when we can turn spooky celebrations into teachable moments. To help you do this, we’d like to share a few of our favorite free Halloween worksheets & printables for reading and writing teachers.

5 Halloween Worksheets & Printables for Reading & Writing Teachers

free halloween printablesHalloween Shadow Makers
These spooky shadow makers are cute, but how can they help your students hone their writing skills? Simple, place students in groups and have them collaborate on their own spooky script. Once they’re done, pull out a projector, sit back and enjoy as your students perform their plays in front of the class.

To download this halloween worksheet, click here.

3-1Halloween Haiku Cookies
While your students probably won’t want to eat these Halloween “fortune cookies,” they will enjoy choosing their template and learning how to fold it. What you have students write on the fortune is up to you, but we ask students to craft their own Halloween haikus, stuff them into the “cookies,” and exchange with their peers on Halloween.

You can download the fortune cookie template here. Folding might be tricky without instructions, so check out the tutorial here.


free halloween printablesAdd an Adjective and Tell a Spooky Story
Sometimes the hardest part about writing is getting started. Thanks to this free Halloween worksheet, your students already have a spooky story outlined for them. All they have to do is add the adjectives!

You can download the worksheet here.






free_halloween_printablesWhat Should My Teacher be For Halloween
This is by far our favorite Halloween worksheet on the list. If you’re a teacher with thick skin and a good sense of humor, give this free Halloween printable a shot.

Just grab a headshot of yourself, photocopy it onto the template, and have your students help you pick out your Halloween costume!

You can download the free template here.

free_halloween_printables.jpgHaunted House for Sale
This is another favorite. The goal of this activity is for students to create their own haunted house and produce a sale ad persuading people to buy their house. Who is the intended audience for this piece of writing? Why, a family of ghouls, ghosts and goblins, of course!

This activity is divided up into five parts:

  • Web: Brainstorm ideas about what features students would like in their haunted house.
  • Page 1: Draw the exterior of the haunted house. Name the haunted house.
  • Page 2: is optional: Draw two interior rooms in the house (most students like to draw the bathrooms or a bedroom). You may choose to leave this out based on time.
  • Page 3: Students fill in the name of the house. They should list the features of the house, address, and the realtor (they should think creatively on who might sell a haunted house). Lastly, they should write an opinionated description of why people should buy this house. Remember, they are writing to persuade the reader to purchase their house.
  • Page 4: Additional page if a student needs more space to write.

To download this free Halloween printable, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page.


Spooky Story Starters Guide

Tags: reading instruction, writing fluency, writing skills, Reading, free halloween printables

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