Teacher Gifts They’ll Appreciate This Holiday Season


Teachers are in a profession that requires they wear many hats. It is a profession that can often feel thankless despite the additional unpaid hours they clock each and every week. A small holiday gift may seem trivial, but it can make a teacher’s whole day receiving even the smallest token of gratitude.

When the holidays come around, some parents love to get a special gift to thank their child’s teacher for everything they’ve done to make the school year a success. Yet, many parents don’t really know what teachers WANT. However, if you’d like to get gifts for your child’s teacher that they will appreciate, take a peek at this list (don’t worry, we checked it twice)!

1. Paper Mate Flair Pens

While 100% of educators may not use these, I can assure you that MANY educators LOVE these Paper Mate Flair Pens. We can’t explain it… we just absolutely love writing with them. Blame the easy-glide or the huge selection in colors… these are a winner in most classrooms!

2. Expo Markers

Expo Markers are always an appreciated gift during the holidays. The year is about half over and usually we are trying to get the last dregs out of the marker we started the year with… a fresh pack of Expo Markers can brighten any educator’s day!

3. 365 New Words a Year Page-a-Day Calendar 2019

Now, this is something that the teacher and the students can enjoy together – something fun for everyone to look forward to each new day. Plus, it’s slightly educational so you’ll get double points from the teacher.

4. Scentsy Wax Warmer


Teaching can be a very… odorous… job (especially middle school)! Your child’s teacher can keep a beautiful wax warmer in their classroom to make it feel more like home (and cover up the after-gym smells) or they can light it up at home, relaxing after a long day.

5. Small Succulent Plants

No classroom is complete without some plant life involved. The best plants to buy for a teacher are succulents and small cacti simply because they don’t require a ton of attention and only sporadic watering. These adorable plants would fit on any bookshelf or counter to add color and make the room feel homier.

6. Movie Theater Tickets

Go to your local movie theater and see if they offer pre-tickets for any show. That way you give the teacher their choice of movie and an excuse to sneak out of the house for a night to splurge on some movie theater popcorn and candy!

7.Self-Care Gift Cards

Teachers don’t get very many opportunities to spend chunks of time on themselves. A gift card to a certain spa nearby, a nice restaurant, or a popular retail store ensures that they have a good reason to go and take care of their personal well-being. Rested and relaxed, they will return to the second half of the year energized to continue being the very best teacher for your child.

8. Coffee Mug – with Humor

Teachers get lots of coffee mugs, travel coffee mugs… so if you’re going to go this route, be sure to add some whimsy and humor! Teachers LOVE to laugh, and getting gifts like this donut coffee mug will do just the trick!

9. Classroom Posters

Teachers are constantly changing up their classroom decor, either quarterly or yearly, and they really appreciate receiving gifts of classroom posters that are stylish and well thought out. If you don’t know your child’s teacher well enough, stick to these chalkboard posters that are full of positive inspiration!

10. Gift Certificates!

Find out what interests your child’s teacher may have – then go pick up a gift certificate or two that will enrich their life outside of teaching. Are they crafty? Jo-Anns, Michaels and Hobby Lobby offer some of the best craft supplies. Are they a book nerd? Barnes and Nobles offers a great selection! Are they a sports lover? Dick’s, Nike, Reebok, Adidas and many other similar stores are a sports lover’s dream!

Stress-Free System for Absent Students

Absent students were the bane of my existence as a new teacher. I could not, for the life of me, figure out a system that made anything easier when it came to having work ready for students once they came back to school from being absent. I teach three grade levels (7, 8, & 12) and five different classes a day, so keeping up with absent work was rapidly becoming a nightmare.

A close friend of mine suggested that I just keep a list of kids that are absent on a Post-It, then at the end of each day, I had to remember to gather their materials, and write down instructions for what to do. The problem with this was that it placed all of the responsibility on me. I had to be diligent about keeping track of which students came back to school the next day (or later) and provide them with their work. This was an added chore at the beginning of class when I needed to be settling students down to begin their five-minute Journal Write. I had to find a solution that allowed students to be in control of collecting their work when they were absent.

So, I created Absent Work Bins. Each student would have their own folder in my classroom into which I would place any and all of the work they missed while they were out! On the day of their return, it was their responsibility to come to my class before school started to collect everything from their folder. If they needed to stay after school to make up any lessons, it was stated on their While You Were Out slip. If you don’t want to make one, I provide my own free version of these handouts here.


Because I teach three grade levels, I needed to keep each grouping of folders separate from each other. I purchased these plastic crates for their durability and easiness to wash if any middle school gunk gets inside!

There are other options for keeping hanging file folders organized, but these ones were cute and matched my room decor. I then purchased hanging file folders, one for each of my students. The ones I chose were inexpensive and durable, which is what you’re looking for when creating this system – you want it last for a while.

I chose to also label each folder myself (blame it on my OCD) using adorable tab labels I found in Wal-Mart. I chose a simple, smaller size plastic tab because I have close to one hundred students. You can determine what size tab is appropriate for your classroom! These are the exact tabs I used.

Use a permanent marker to label the tabs for ease of reading, as pen does not work as well as you would hope (clearly, I’m speaking from experience here).


Absent Work Bins

I have two sections of English 7, two sections of English 8, and one section of English 12. Each section was given its own color hanging file folder (English 7, Period 1 folders are all blue. English 7, Period 2 folders are all red, etc) so that students going to find theirs knew right where to look. My senior class was mix-matched in color because I only have one section for English 12. On the wall behind the Absent Work Bins, I cut out the grade level number using fancy scrapbook paper I had in my home. The students were already familiar with this system from my Homework Bins, so I decided to stay consistent!


Homework Bins

After you’ve labeled all of your folders, sectioned them in a way that makes sense for your students, then you must find a great location for them in your classroom. I placed mine on a counter right near the door this year. Students pop in, check their folder, and head back out. You must explicitly teach this system to your students so that they are comfortable with getting into their folder without having to ask for your permission first.

This system relieved an enormous amount of stress off of me. I no longer had to remember who missed class, how many days they were gone, and what assignments I needed to get around for them. Every day after school I check which students were absent, gather their missed work, and fill out a While You Were Out slip. I file the work into the student’s folder and don’t think about it again.

This system will ONLY work if you consistently put their work into their folders on the day they are absent. If you make a habit of forgetting to put the work in the folders, students will start to become confused; they may believe that they didn’t miss anything and not just that their teacher forgot to place the work in their folder!

If you choose to implement this into your classroom routines, please send me pictures of your final set-up! I love to see the finished products!

Tips For Surviving the Holidays (Teacher’s Edition)


The holiday season can be such a wonderful time for educators and students, alike. Everyone is excited about the upcoming festivities, gifts are being exchanged between friends and co-workers, and everyone is full of an abundance of energy as they get into the spirit of the season.

As teachers know, the holiday season can also be challenging and, quite frankly, exhausting! All of that joyous energy can also be hard to channel when students are off-task and buzzing about gifts and current happenings. Some of you may even be marking down the days left until the students are released for the long holiday break!

Instead of feeling overwhelmed and a little bit Grinchy this holiday season, I went to some fellow co-workers of mine and compiled a list of their best tips to get to (and through) the holiday season. Enjoy!

Survival Tip #1: Lighten the Severity of the Topics

Your students are distracted, at best, the last few days before break. Instead of trying to cram in the remaining few standards to meet the “halfway” mark by midyear, reflect on a standard you covered earlier in the year that didn’t take so well with your students. Did they only kind of understand compound sentences? Were the details of dividing fractions a bit muddled for a few kids? I know you don’t want to waste the time by tossing on a movie, so instead of grappling with new content right now, use this time effectively by strengthening a topic they already started to wrap their brains around. Maybe this time around, make it into an engaging game of Around The World, or toss up a Kahoot! to get the kids using some of that excited energy for educational things.

Survival Tip #2: Stay Consistent With Routines

While it may be tempting to toss in the towel and vow to review your classroom rules again after the holidays, don’t let your high expectations slide. You know that students may be a bit more chatty during transition times, yet students will appreciate the consistency in your classroom. Countless times I have had students with anxiety tell me that their other classes are complete madhouses the few days before the holidays – which causes their stress levels to fly through the roof (now they’re REALLY not going to be able to focus). There are so many things that students have to be stressed about when it comes to holiday time – try to take your class off that list of anxiety!

Consistency may also help with keeping behavior issues at a minimum. Students that know how they are expected to act and are aware of procedures are less likely to get squirrelly than if you let them have free rein. In their minds, you’ve let your other expectations go, so they’ve got the green light to push your boundaries a bit more. With the headache of your other responsibilities during this time, this is the absolute last thing you want. Keep everything as consistent as possible, and your students will know what you expect.

Survival Tip #3: Consider Planning In Movement to Your Lessons

Students are going to have extra energy, especially before the long Christmas Break. Everyone is aflutter with holiday cheer, gift-giving, the family is coming into town… a recipe for squirmy students. Think up some ways to incorporate movement into your lesson – even if it’s just to have kids stand up and grab a handout from a certain location! Yes, it will take a few more minutes of class, but after they settle again, you may notice that their attention is refocused on what you are teaching. It’s worth a shot, anyways!

Survival Tip #4: Don’t Collect a Large Project/Essay Right Before Break 

This is a break for you, too! Don’t collect a huge project or an essay before break with the intention of having them all corrected before you return to school. You need time for self-care, mental breaks and just time doing what you love to do. The holidays are for family, friends and finding magic in the season. Don’t ruin your own break by trying to be the superhero teacher. Your students are counting on you to show up after break feeling refreshed and bringing your very best self – which you can’t do if you’ve spent a chunk of your time grading assignments. I know it’s hard… but don’t bring home a huge workload this holiday season. You’ll thank yourself later.

Survival Tip #5: Don’t Assign a Large Project/Essay Due After Break

Just as you want a break from school work and a bit of time to relax, your students do, too! They need this time to destress from the last few weeks so that they can come back to school charged up and ready to go. If at all possible, don’t send your students home with a large project or essay that they have to complete when they return from break. 1) 95% of them are going to procrastinate, then hurriedly finish the project the night before school starts again and 2) You are going to spend part of your break worrying that someone forgot about the project, wondering if you need to send out a reminder, and groaning over the fact that you will have a PILE of grading to do once you return from break. Just. Don’t. Do It.

Survival Tip #6: Do One Thing You REALLY Want To Do

What is one thing that has been tickling the back of your brain for a while now, that you just haven’t set aside the time to do? Have you wanted to throw a holiday party? Plan one! Been thinking about a few old friends? Schedule a meet-up! Wanting to read that book that you keep hearing everyone raving about? Grab a snuggly blanket and get to it! Do this one thing that your soul has been begging for you to do so that at the end of the break, no matter what else happens, you can check off your list and feel an iota of accomplishment.

Survival Tip #7: Take a Mini-Holiday Away From Social Media

Scrolling your Instagram feed may seem like a mindless task, but for some people, it actually causes a building up of tension and anxiety. Seeing the highlight reel of other friends and family doing their holiday things may bring about a feeling of loneliness if you haven’t been involved in as many holiday events as you’d like. Try taking a brain break from your most addictive social media account for a day or two (or the entire break!) and spend the time instead on Survival Tip #6! You will find that your mind will be clearer, your mood will be boosted, your intentions more focused and that you are happier in general. Enjoy the present this holiday season. Social media will always be waiting for you.


What survival tips would YOU add?

Race Versus Racism: Do Your Students Know The Difference?

Honest question: Do you teach your students about racism? Do you spend time showing your students what is acceptable to speak about and what is absolutely a racist comment? I ask because… I didn’t. In my class, we learn the definition of “prejudice” and “racism” that you can find if you Google the terms. I assumed my students knew from life experience the difference between a race and a racist comment. My students hold discussions about where they have witnessed prejudice or racism, they analyze where these two concepts are present in our class novels, and they discuss ways to prevent further racism from happening. Yet, I never explicitly taught them the difference between stating someone’s race and being racist. Because of my oversight, my students were avoiding talking about race in class – and I had no idea.

Back Story

My students just finished MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers and were segwaying into To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. When asked if they have ever noticed instances of prejudice in America, one student mentioned they noticed certain races being mistreated. This student said, “I have seen people yell names at black people. I mean, sorry Ms. C., I should probably say African American so I’m not being racist.”

I stopped the class and asked the students, “If someone in here describes me as a white teacher, are they being racist?”

Crickets. I waited. One kid raised their hand and admitted that it probably wasn’t a racist comment but they didn’t know for sure.

Light-bulb moment, for sure. I work HARD to make sure that students feel comfortable stating their opinions in my class. We have tough discussions, and we learn how to debate with each other without the conversation turning hostile. Yet, at this moment, I was instantly aware that most of the students in my room were suddenly tense. No one knew the right answer, and no one wanted to speak up. The very idea that students were too afraid to state someone’s race spoke volumes to me of the world that they are growing up in today. Our students should be mindful of what they say about others, but they should never fear to say white, black, latino, etc when their intent is pure. I could not move on with my lesson until this was rectified.

Teachable Moment

I launched into a lecture about the difference between stating someone’s race (Latino, White, Black, Native American, etc) as a descriptive word and saying something negative about a certain race. Saying that someone is white is not racist – it’s a fact. There are other words that people use to describe a person that ARE racist (a few nervous giggles leaked out of my middle schoolers at this).

I spoke about how, sometimes, people had poor intent behind saying that someone is a certain race and that that negative meaning would come out in their tone. I used the example of a student saying I was a white teacher again. “If the student had looked at me, rolled their eyes and said, ‘Ms. C is a white teacher,’ then the intent behind their comment was negative, and therefore a racist one.” I could see my students looking at their short writings and smiling. They hadn’t written anything racist, and they were relieved. That realization, that my students had been THAT uncomfortable about speaking about race, made me realize that we needed to have more conversations regarding race – way more.

We further discussed how “African American” and “Caucasian” are the more formal terms they should use in their essays, or if they’re speaking in front of a group of people to show professionalism. I described to the students that this is part of “code-switching” – the ability to alter your speech depending on your surroundings or who is in your company. I pointed out that when they addressed me, it was never with a “Yo, Miss Teacher Lady,” and of course, more giggles. They already knew how to code-switch to a degree. Some students raised their hands and said that they spoke completely different at home than at school. They were intrigued by the idea that they were skilled at something that some people struggle with!

By the end of class, my students were at ease again. When they were sharing their thoughts, they did not hesitate to mention the prejudice they had witnessed happening against someone who was a certain race. We had thoroughly discussed what was appropriate, and what was absolutely not. I had put power back into the hands of my students and it was evident in how confidently they were sharing their ideas with each other. We have to be careful that we don’t assume our students know the subtle differences of word meanings. In this case, my students weren’t sure of what was acceptable. Their fear of being deemed a racist prevented them from asking important questions, and was actually stifling their willingness to share their thoughts with their peers!

I wonder… are your students feeling the same hesitation when speaking about race?

Five Books That Set My Teacher Heart On Fire


There are SO many books out there that are geared towards educators, it is often difficult to choose which ones are worth your time and hard-earned money. I read anything and everything I can get my hands on, searching for great texts to implement in my classroom as well as fun and creative texts to share with coworkers. I designed this list as a hidden treasure trove for those you who just don’t have the time to waste on books that aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. These five touched my heart and infused my soul with a new sense of purpose in teaching.

Teach Like a Pirate


This was the very first “teacher” book I ever purchased, and I have been addicted to Dave Burgess’ writing ever since. This book will make you want to sing and dance your way through your next class. Burgess gives you insights into student engagement and then provides some of the most soul-healing examples of creative teaching.

The Wild Card: 7 Steps to an Educator’s Creative Breakthrough


Oh, I can not EVER say enough great things about this book. A friend mentioned that this book was right up my alley, and boy was she absolutely right! Hope and Wade King are a married teacher couple who dig at your heartstrings with their real-life anecdotes about teaching with creativity. Some of their stories will make you laugh, some will make you cry, but mostly you will put this book down with a renewed sense of purpose as an educator and a whole bag of tricks for upping your teacher game.

Disruptive Thinking: Why How We Read Matters


Like the lightbulb on the front cover, my brain exploded after reading through this text (okay, not literally). As a lover of literature and a life-long writer, I truly thought I had it all figured out when it came to anything to do with teaching English. This book challenged me to reconsider how to approach teaching basic literary concepts and offered the Sign Posts (check them out, they’re BRILLIANT and there are TONS of resources online) as tools for wrapping student brains around tough topics.

180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents


These two educators cut down to the nitty-gritty and outlined an entire school year full of ONLY teachings that were going to transform their students as readers and writers by June. I have written all OVER the margins of this book (I know some of you are appalled at the thought of writing in a book) and have tabs sticking out to earmark the resources they provide to get you started on some useful lessons. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by everything you’re expected to teach, this may be the book to help you decide on what’s important.

Girl, Wash Your Face


This isn’t a teacher book, per se, yet it resonated with my educator heart on so many levels. Rachel Hollis is like your down-to-earth gal pal who is pep-talking you to stop letting everyone’s opinions dictate how you run your life. She is so honest and speaks to a range of topics that get you thinking about the balance that you may (or may not) have between your working life and personal life. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed with teaching, relationships, home life, and everything else that is tossed into the mix, go grab Girl, Wash Your Face.