Wednesday, July 25, 2018

14 Teacher Hacks (+ Other Helpful Ideas)

As I took time after my first two years teaching to figure out some health issues, I decided to substitute teach. I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would (most days). I was still able to work with my passion of teaching, while taking the time off that I needed for doctors appointments, neurologist appointments, and other sick days. One thing I loved about subbing, was that I got to be in many different classrooms and see the various ways teachers ran their space.  I took pictures of some awesome ideas that I would have loved when I taught full time, because I wanted to share them with my teacher friends. This post is for you, my fellow teachers!

*This post may contain affiliate links, which means when you purchase something through that link, you're helping support this blog at no additional cost to you!*

1. Straw dispenser as a pencil dispenser

I've always used shared pencil bins (sharp and to-be-sharpened) because there is nothing worse than a child sharpening a pencil in the middle of the lesson. That being said, it seemed like kids were spend forever at the pencil pail picking out the perfect pencil, the sharpest one with the biggest eraser. Using a straw dispenser for pencils eliminates all of that! You get whichever pencil comes out so there is no reason to play around with the pencils in the back of the room. You can find one here!

2. Tupperware containers for crayons

Every teacher knows that crayon boxes barely last the first month of school without falling apart and keeping crayons in a pencil box just opens kids up to a full box of tools to play with when they're supposed to be pulling out a green crayon. I've seen some teachers use soap boxes to store crayons, but I love how easily these little Tupperware containers stacked together.

3. Re-purposed Coffee Can or Paint Can

This is probably the most genius idea I've seen so far. One problem I always had was desks shifting everywhere! It seemed like I would straighten the desks when my kids were at specials (because I'm super anal like that) and they would be spread about the room not 10 minutes after they returned.  Putting the feet of neighboring desks in a shared coffee can keeps them from moving away from their spot. If you don't have spares, you can order them here!

4. Coin Incentive

This was from a first grade classroom, but it could be modified to use in any elementary classroom. The students earned coins for different things (1 penny for getting 100% on an AR quiz, 3 pennies for clipping to the top of the chart, etc.). Amounts and coins could easily be adjusted depending on grade level.  They then get to buy things from a treasure box.  This is a great incentive and also helps children learn their coin values and practice adding coins.  Plus, it gives them the real world experience of buying things with money and saving to buy something you want.


5. Teacher Bathroom

Okay, so this isn't exactly a teacher hack, but it's a genius idea.  This school had shelves with a basket for each teacher than they could store tampons, deodorant and other toiletries. I can't count how many times I went to the bathroom and forgot to bring something with when I needed it. Since teachers are lucky to have time to use the restroom once in a day, it's nice they can store anything they need right there.

6. Door stops

All of the classroom in the district I subbed in had these and I think it's genius.  Some of them go into the wall and others go into the floor, but they're effective either way. The purpose of these door stop things is to push them into the wall/floor during an emergency situation such as a lockdown.  Again, not really a teacher hack, but something I felt I should share.  On the topic of lockdowns, the schools also require two different people to announce over the intercom that the lockdown is over before it actually is. This I assume is to keep everyone safe in the event that the original announcer is forced to give an all clear.

7. Emergency Red/Green card with class list

I've seen a lot of school use a card or something similar that has a green and a red side during emergencies (fire, evacuation, etc). If you haven't seen this, the card is used to easily show if a teacher has her whole class accounted for (green) or if she is missing a student (red). The thing I loved about this teacher's is that she put a tiny class list on her card. I always kept a class list on my clipboard that I grabbed when we left the room for a fire drill, but this would eliminate the need to remember to grab that too.


8. Calendar Time

The following two strategies were used in an inclusion kindergarten class that I spent a lot of time with.  During their morning calendar time, they counted how many girls were absent and how many boys were absent, then added them together.  It gives them daily practice with adding numbers in a real world scenario daily, even if the numbers are usually low.  They also checked the weather everyday and used a stamp to record it on a sticky note which they placed on a graph.  This also was a great way to incorporate real world skills  into daily practice.  At the end of the month they would analyze the graph and compare the varied weather.

9. Win a trip to Chuck E Cheese!

This school had entry tickets in each classroom that were put into a raffle at the end of each quarter to win a trip to Chuck E Cheese! In order to earn a ticket, the students had to make a 100 on their AR quiz.  At the end of the quarter, one student was chosen from each class/grade (not sure which) and was taken to Chuck E Cheese by the principal (I think). Great, fun way to motivate kids to work on comprehension!

10. School-Wide Behavior Plan

I really liked how one of the schools I subbed at had a school-wide plan set up for children who had troubles with their behavior.  It made it really easy as a sub to know how to discipline, and it helps all teachers when everyone is on the same page.  I also really liked how they had a section for positive comments in each class period.  It can become so difficult to see the good things a child is doing when you feel like you're always having to deal with their negative behavior.  I think this helps teachers to see the good in their most tiresome kids, and also shows the students that the teachers are there to support them and that they see the good things too.

11. Graphing Question of the Day

You could have this posted every morning; when students come in they could answer the question with their sticky note during their morning work time. Then, you can review the graph with students during calendar time. This is a great way to incorporate the graphing skill into daily practice and takes very minimal time.

12. When I Grow Up...

I loved these "career kids" that were painted all along the hallway in this school! Using the mirrors in the face to reflect each kid- such a fun idea!

13. Morning Work Tubs

When I taught second grade, I found that my students fine motor skills were terrible.  Since they were rarely allowed to cut or color during class time, they were really missing out on key fine motor skills.  This Kindergarten room and tubs filled with various things- mainly math manipulatives. Students followed a chart to see which tub they would get each morning.  This could easily be adjusted for any grade level and could incorporate independent center-type activities that correlated with the standards being worked on.

14. Substitute Contact Sheet

As a substitute, I HATED when teachers left minimal plans. I think it is so important to leave as much information as possible to insure the class will run smoothly for your sub (but more on that in another post). This teacher added a substitute contact sheet at the end of her sub binder for substitutes to leave their contact information.  This would be great to have when you know a sub did a good job with your class (or not good!) so you know who to call again (or not call) and who to recommend to your co-workers.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Taco Tuesday: 13 Places to Get Tacos in Nashville

Everyone who knows me knows that my top three favorite foods are potatoes, pizza, and TACOS.  Lucky for me, tacos have definitely become a "trend," so there are taco places EVERYWHERE, especially in the food capital of Tennessee- Nashville. (That's not an actual thing, but it should be, because there are an infinite amazing places to eat in Nash). Anyway, I still have a pretty extensive list of taco places to get to, but here are some of my favorites so far!

1. Mas Tacos Por Favor 5/5 ★

I would have to say this has been my favorite place so far.  Mas Tacos is cash only (they have an ATM, but come prepared!)  There is ALWAYS a line out the door and parking is a pain but it is totally worth it.  This is my go-to taco place every time someone new comes to town. Tacos cost $3 each and are decent sized for corn tortillas.  They have a few different side and drink options, though my goal is always to stuff my face with as many tacos as possible, so outside of the street corn, I've never tried the sides.

2. Bajo Sexto Tacos 3/5 ★

Baja Sexto is located in the Country Music Hall of Fame building (though I believe there is at least one other location in Nash).  Tacos are $5 a piece, which is spendy in my opinion, and weren't that great.  They were good (just not great), and I would eat there again if I was seriously craving tacos and was downtown, but I wouldn't choose to go if I had other options.

 3. Bartaco in 12 South 4/5 ★

I've been to Bartaco a couple of times now.  The tacos are pretty small, but they only cost $2.50 a pop. That being said, you can easily eat six of these!  There is a vast variety of taco choices, sides, and other sustenance.  I was not a fan of the margaritas.  I've only had one once, but it was not very strong, and fairly small for being $10.  The ambiance of Bartaco is incredible.  You can be seated inside or outside.  I always opt for outside, where there is cushioned seating on benches with low tables, perfect for conversation with friends.

4. Taco Mamacita 4/5 ★

Taco Mamacita is located on Edgehill Ave. I recommend ordering an appetizer of chips and the seasonal salsa.  When we went, teh seasonal salsa was pineapple and habanero, which sounds strange, but it was the perfect mix of sweet and spicy!  Taco Mamacita has an extensive menu, with many taco options.  They also have a specific gluten free/vegan menu with ample options.  Tacos come on flour tortillas, but you can ask for corn.

5. ACME Feed and Seed 1/5 ★

ACME is not a Mexican restaurant, but they do have one type of tacos. I'm going to tell you right now, if you want to eat tacos, DO NOT GO HERE.  In fact, if you want good food, DO NOT GO HERE.  ACME is gushed about all over the internet, but y'all, I've eaten here twice and both times have been a total bust.  The food wasn't bad, per se, but it wasn't good.  The second time I went, I saw tacos on the menu, so  I had to get them.  The tacos are pulled pork and are served with Mexican street corn and black beans. The meat was so dry and lacked flavor.  Adding the Texas ketchup (aka BBQ sauce) helped a lot, but I still would never order them again.

6. Music City Brisket Food Truck 5/5 ★

The Music City Brisket food truck was at CMA Fest 2017 and I went there twice because their food was SO GOOD. Despite being flour tortillas, they were delicious! Definitely not your average street taco, but it had the great flavor of southern brisket!

7. San Antonio Taco Co. 2/5 ★

SATC is a step up from Taco Bell in that it doesn't make you spend the night in the bathroom, but I wouldn't recommend eating there unless its after a night of drinking or you're desperate for queso and too broke to afford real tacos. They're pretty average for tex-mex tacos, but no substitute for the real thing.

8. Nada 4/5 ★

The price is a little steep for tacos here, but they're worth trying at least once.  I had the carne asada taco and the baja fish taco and both were delicious! They advertise as street taco size, but they are much smaller than an average corn tortilla street taco and they cost $3.75 a pop (which is why they received 4 stars instead of 5).  I did appreciate that I could get sweet chili glazed potatoes as a side and the chips and queso were mouth watering.

9. Taco Mama 3.5/5 ★

The great thing about taco mama is that they have a ton of options when it comes to tacos.  They're pretty good, but lack the overwhelming flavor that a lot of the other tacos places in Nashville have mastered.

10. Smoke Et Al 4/5 ★

I found the Smoke Et Al taco truck at CMA Fest and YUM was their noble brisket taco good!! The only downside was that for $7 you only get one taco.  It was enough to fill me up but too spendy in my opinion.

11. Chuy’s 3/5 ★

Chuy's is a chain, but I still wanted to share because the fish tacos were delicious! This one is located in the Opry Mills mall.  It's also hard to find good rice at Mexican restaurants, but I was impressed with the rice here.  Caitlin had the nachos when we went and they were not good at all, hence the three stars.

12. Taqueria del Sol 4/5 ★

Taqueria del Sol has two locations in Nashville, one in 12 South and one on Charlotte Ave.  It is a cute little restaurant with ample menu options to choose from.  I had the fish taco (YUM) and either a carnitas taco (which was a little dry but still good!)

13. Muay Thai Tacos 5/5 ★

Yall. These tacos were AMAZING! The Muay Thai Tacos food truck was at the Nashville 4th of July celebration and I just could not pass by and not order something. I am so glad I did because these were some of the best tacos I have ever eaten! I ordered the Cap N Crunch Tilapia tacos, but they also offer chicken and steak tacos as well as burritos and quesidillas.

Stay tuned for another post detailing more tacos outta Nashville coming soon!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Very Nashville 4th of July

I finally got to spend the 4th in Nashville this summer for the first time and it was everything I expected it to be- full of music, energy, fireworks, and lots and lots of sweat! As soon as I saw Lady Antebellum was headlining the evening, I knew I would be staying downtown for the night.  The only thing better than a Lady A concert is a FREE Lady A concert!

My brother and sister-in-law came down to visit, so it was great to be able to spend the holiday with them. (I guess they didn't get the memo that July/August are the WORST times to visit Tennessee).

My friends and I made it to Broadway around 6PM, though the festivities started around noon.  There was live music and a DJ playing all afternoon on 5th avenue and Broadway.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the security they had set up to get into the area.  All the roads around the "event" were blocked off, and you had to go through metal detectors and be wanded (is that a word??) prior to entering Broadway and the surrounding area.

All the honky tonks were jam-packed full of people, natives and tourists alike.  I was already having a good time, but then I found the best taco truck I have found thus far in Nash. I will fully admit when I am being dramatic, but this time I am not.  Seriously, it is two days later and I am still thinking about these Cap N Crunch tilapia tacos from Muay Thai Tacos.

The only artists we were downtown to see perform were Chris Janson and Lady A.  Chris was fun as always- he even played a few cover songs from LOCASH!  Lady A put on an awesome show as well.

But the real show started at 9:30 PM- the largest firework show in the US of A!  If I were to rate it, I would say it was a solid 9/10.  To be front row to the show you have to walk down to Riverfront Park, which is much easier said than done considering that over 250,000 people attended.  However, you can easily see the show if you choose to stay and hangout on Broadway (or anywhere downtown really).  I walked with Sam and Sarah down to the river.  They shot off fireworks for a good half hour, no breaks.  It was like it was a grand finale of fireworks all 30 minutes! The downside was that the river isn't that wide and the crowd was continuously being showered in firework debris.  I couldn't look directly up or it would get into my eyes.  One firework even landed about 20 feet from us and exploded!

When the fireworks were over, we met back up with my friends for some pizza at the Mello Mushroom. Y'all, those slices were the size of my face and were just what we needed.  I was shocked to see how empty all of the bars got once the fireworks were over.  I was sure there would be way more people staying out, but I guess people had to go back to work on Thursday (what's that like??).  The people we did meet out were all from outside of Tennessee and just visiting on vacation.

I definitely had a blast at my first Nashville 4th of July and I definitely plan on returning to the celebration next year!!

Friday, July 6, 2018

#gretchensbooks2018 - June

Summer is so perfect for outdoor reading, especially when you've got a pool to read by! Even so, it has been such a fun and busy month that I haven't gotten nearly as much reading in as I would have liked. That being said, the few books I did manage to squeeze in this month were pretty good!!

*This post contains affiliate links, which means when you purchase something through that link, you're helping support this blog at no additional cost to you!*

(Summaries are from Amazon, but all reviews are my own!)

48. her pretty face by Robyn Harding (4/5★)

Frances Metcalfe is struggling to stay afloat.
A stay-at-home mom whose troubled son is her full-time job, she thought that the day he got accepted into the elite Forrester Academy would be the day she started living her life. Overweight, insecure, and lonely, she is desperate to fit into Forrester’s world. But after a disturbing incident at the school leads the other children and their families to ostracize the Metcalfes, she feels more alone than ever before.
Until she meets Kate Randolph.
Kate is everything Frances is not: beautiful, wealthy, powerful, and confident. And for some reason, she’s not interested in being friends with any of the other Forrester moms—only Frances. As the two bond over their disdain of the Forrester snobs and the fierce love they have for their sons, a startling secret threatens to tear them apart. Because one of these women is not who she seems. Her real name is Amber Kunik. And she’s a murderer.

I received an advanced copy of this book to read, but the official publishing date is July 10th, so it will be available soon! The author was new to me, but I enjoyed the suspense and mystery that took place throughout the whole book.  Even when I had some of the important details figured out before they were actually explicitly stated, there were still things I was questioning until the very end. 

49. The Real Michael Swann by Bryan Reardon (4/5★)

On a typical late summer day, Julia Swann is on the phone with her husband, Michael, when the call abruptly goes dead. Then the news rolls in: A bomb has gone off at Penn Station, where Michael was waiting for a train home. New York City is in a state of chaos.

A frantic Julia races to the city to look for Michael, her panic interwoven with memories of meeting and falling in love with the husband she's now desperate to find. When someone finds a flier she's posted and tells her they may have seen her husband, her dreams seem to be answered. Yet as she tries to find him, her calls go unanswered. 

Weaving between the aftermath of the explosion and Julia's memories of her life with Michael, new developments raise troubling questions. Did Michael survive the explosion? Why hasn't he contacted her? What was he doing when their last call was cut off? Was he--or is he still--the man she fell in love with?

Part family drama, part tragic love story, and part disaster narrative that hits terrifyingly close to home, The Real Michael Swann is a deftly plotted suspense novel with an unflinching portrait of a marriage at its heart, challenging us to confront the unthinkable--both in our country and in our own homes.

This was another book that I had received an early release edition of, but it will be for sale at the time of the publication of this post. My book theme this month was definitely suspense, and this story held plenty of it! At first I was confused, because there didn't seem to be much of a plot line outside of 'man-is-lost-after-explosion-and-wife-is-looking-for-him' which I thought was lame, but then that changed into crazy drama! I am definitely going to have to check out more books by this author.

50. Twist of Faith by Ellen J. Green (3.5/5 ★)

When family secrets are unearthed, a woman’s past can become a dangerous place to hide…
After the death of her adoptive mother, Ava Saunders comes upon a peculiar photograph, sealed and hidden away in a crawl space. The photo shows a shuttered, ramshackle house on top of a steep hill. On the back, a puzzling inscription: Destiny calls us.
Ava is certain that it’s a clue to her elusive past. Twenty-three years ago, she’d been found wrapped in a yellow blanket in the narthex of the Holy Saviour Catholic Church—and rescued—or so she’d been told. Her mother claimed there was no more to the story, so the questions of her abandonment were left unanswered. For Ava, now is the time to find the roots of her mother’s lies. It begins with the house itself—once the scene of a brutal double murder.
When Ava enlists the help of the two people closest to her, a police detective and her best friend, she fears that investigating her past could be a fatal mistake. Someone is following them there. And what’s been buried in Ava’s nightmares isn’t just a crime. It’s a holy conspiracy.

I listened to this book via audible (hey free audiobooks via Kindle Unlimited!) during my twelve hundred drives between Alabama and Tennessee this month and really enjoyed it! There were definitely a lot of plot twists and it was full of suspense the whole way through.  The mystery was unlike any that I had read before which was great, because I feel like a lot of suspense stories are similar to each other.

51. The Sometimes Sisters by Carolyn Brown (4/5 ★)

When they were growing up, Dana, Harper, and Tawny thought of themselves as “sometimes sisters.” They connected only during the summer month they’d all spend at their grandmother’s rustic lakeside resort in north Texas. But secrets started building, and ten years have passed since they’ve all been together—in fact, they’ve rarely spoken, and it broke their grandmother’s heart.
Now she’s gone, leaving Annie’s Place to her granddaughters—twelve cabins, a small house, a cafĂ©, a convenience store, and a lot of family memories. It’s where Dana, Harper, and Tawny once shared so many good times. They’ve returned, sharing only hidden regrets, a guarded mistrust, and haunting guilt. But now, in this healing summer place, the secrets that once drove them apart could bring them back together—especially when they discover that their grandmother may have been hiding something, too…
To overcome the past and find future happiness, these “sometimes sisters” have one more chance to realize they are always family.

This was another audible read thanks to Kindle Unlimited.  I had seen this book pop up on goodreads a few times, so I figured I would give it a go. I loved the narrator and how she used different voices for each character. It was a really sweet storyline, and very family drama focused with a little bit of romance mixed in. Even though it was slightly predictable, I was engrossed in this story my whole drive back to Tennessee from Minnesota!

Reading Challenge: 51/52 books read in 2018