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Lessons and insights from the classroom.

Year-end Insanity!

Staying sane when everyone around you is losing their minds

Hilary Richardson
Member Contributor

The Principal Wants Your Data From The Entire Year. Next Week. Your Evaluator Wants To Complete Their Final Observation. Tomorrow. Every Parent Suddenly Wants To Know What Their Child Can Do To Bring Up Their Grade. Today. The Custodial Staff Wants You To Clean Everything Out Of Your classroom. And label it. By Friday. Your students are bouncing off the walls and driving you crazy. 

Welcome to the end of the school year. 

No matter where you teach, what grade, subject, or school, you will experience this end-of-year insanity. How can you deal with it and stay sane?

Know that you are not alone. Year-end stress and silliness is normal in schools. Unlike in other industries, everything around you has the same endpoint. Once summer break starts, the year is over. This means everyone in the building and district, from students to superintendents, must meet the exact same deadlines. Many people will be crankier and have less patience. Understanding this can really help you sympathize with others, including your students, and help you defuse situations that escalate due to short tempers and stress.  

Be open with your students. Openly acknowledging my stress helps them understand and behave better. On particularly trying days, I start class with “I know I’m more short-tempered than normal today. I just want you to be aware so you understand it’s not personal.” Sometimes they will ask questions; I answer when appropriate and tell them I can’t when not appropriate. But, it means they are prepared for me to be less tolerant, and they behave. 

Realize students feed off adults. Stressed adults lead to stressed children. Add in the excitement of nicer weather and the impending summer break, and students are bouncing off the walls. Short-tempered teachers can quickly escalate situations, so letting students know upfront that today is a particularly bad day to act out can be very helpful. Remember, the students are also getting deadlines as the end of the year approaches: things like final exams and end-of-year grades. Some also will be worried about life issues like where they will find breakfast and lunch during summer break. Empathy is important during this time of year. 

Change the setting. We all know exercise is a great de-stressor, so add movement into your lessons. Can your class go outside on a nice day? Do it. Just sitting outside for silent reading can dramatically lower stress. Instead of trash can basketball review, use laundry baskets and real basketballs outside. Any movement helps—you and your students. 

With your space under control you’ll be ready to prioritize and deal with everyone else. Keep breathing. Remember,  “this too shall pass.” 

Hilary Richardson, a Jefferson County Education Association member, has taught American government and history at Bear Creek High School in Jefferson County, Colo., since 2004. 


6 Teacher Tips to Avoid Social Media Land Mines

Watch your steps on social media

I’ve been sharing on social media professionally for eight years now, and I have to admit, it can be kinda tricky. There is a gold mine of information out there for teachers, but also land mines that can be quite treacherous if not deftly avoided. 

As educators, I passionately believe we should use social media to push the positive, celebrate student successes, share resources with our colleagues, and connect with parents and the community.

But how do we professionally use these tools without torturing ourselves over every Tweet, update, or Instagram pic? Easy! Try these six tips to share sensibly online.

1. Follow your school district policy.

Does your district have a technology and social media policy? If so, read it and follow it to the letter. I’m so proud that my district has had a “Responsible Use of Technology and Social Media Policy” since 2002 and has updated it every three years. Here’s one of the many parts that I agree with:

“Any postings by employees will not reference, link or contain: Statements that could be viewed as malicious, obscene, threatening or intimidating; that disparage students, employees, parents, or community members; or that could be viewed as harassment or bullying.”

Well, duh! Before you Tweet, post, or share—make sure you’re following the rules. I’m daring, but I’m not stupid, and I kinda love my job.

2. Should you follow students?

No matter your school policy, the easiest answer is no. Do not follow or “friend” students. Sure, we all want to be cool, connect with our kiddos, and be there for them in a crisis, but there are too many potential hazards in following their lives on social media. My pat answer to students who ask me to follow their private Twitter or Instagram accounts goes something like this: “Sorry, no can do. Until you graduate I’m a teacher, not a friend. After you graduate, then maybe I can become a friend and a mentor.”

But the answer to students who ask me to follow their public accounts is a definite maybe, depending on whether the account is open and transparent, they’re over 13 and out of my school, and that they asked me directly to follow them.

The clear caveat that could turn a maybe into a yes is this: I would make sure to clearly and firmly tell them that “anything I see that you post that is the least bit inappropriate, bullying, uncivil, illegal, against our school policy or state law, I am ethically and professionally impelled to act upon, inform the authorities, and call your Mama! Yes, I would totally tell on you in a heartbeat for your own good and because I care.” 

I recently talked to my supervisor, Julie Alonso-Hughes, district coordinator of instructional technology and library media, about additional social media guidelines. She said, “It’s really all about common sense. If you saw suspicious behavior in the hallway, same rules apply, you would have to report it.” She also added a few handy hashtags to keep in mind.


3. Don’t share the private.

Do share the personal. On social media, it’s good to overshare the professional; under share the personal; and never share the private. Because that’s just creepy!

There’s a big difference between sharing what is personal versus sharing what is private. We all know the professional tone to take when we talk face to face with kids, parents, and the community, but sometimes with the buffer of a keyboard we lose proper perspective. What sounds funny in your head doesn’t always translate to hilarious in the written word. You can delete a Tweet or a post but they can always be captured...and BOOM! Land mine! Best to err on the side of professional.

That’s not to say that I don’t occasionally post personal stuff on Twitter, Instagram, Scoopit, and Pinterest. I might share a Kindle quote from what I’m reading, a picture of my mom’s perfect Thanksgiving turkey, or a selfie with a friend at an ed tech or library conference. Sharing personal info shows you’re human, approachable, and authentic.

4. Do share the awesome!

I think the best way to use social media in school isn’t with kids but about kids. Without being preachy, we can be a role model for effective and ethical social media use to our kiddos and colleagues. Most of us have smartphones on us all the time, making it so easy to capture those exciting daily lessons, activities, projects, and general fun. With Instagram tied to my Twitter, I like to catch pictures of my students being awesome. From #Shelfies (kids posing with books they’ve checked out), science projects, robotics, school plays, impromptu dancing, lip dubs, to our Makerspace—this is an opportunity to connect with the community.

Make sure to check your school policy about publishing the faces of kids. If that is a concern or a confusion, or if you have kids who are camera shy, consider taking dynamic pictures from behind, not showing their faces but their hands—doing, making, writing, and creating.

5. You are what you like and re-Tweet.

It may not seem fair, but you are what you like, favorite, and share on social media. Sure, you may not have said it yourself, but a re-Tweet or “like” is an endorsement. Just ask any politician or public figure who has felt the heat for it. People can also see what you like or favorite. So, it’s best not to re-Tweet bad language or something controversial.

6. Be human but avoid dinner party topics.

When it comes to controversial topics, think of social media like an enormous dinner party, taking place in public. Even if you have a disclaimer saying “opinions my own,” people will judge you (and your colleagues, your school, your district) for every touchy, snarky, hot-button personal opinion that you express. Keep personal topics for face-to-face conversations. Of course, using the term “Bless your heart” is always correct and ever so nuanced!

Bottom line: Social media is here to stay.

It’s a powerful tool for educators that can transform your professional practice or blow up in your face. Before you get started, consider just lurking and listening for a while. Know this: You will never regret being kind. Don’t give toxic people, situations, or haters the time or energy—in life or on social media. Passion and positivity go a long way in almost all situations, and it’s a super start on social media!

This article was greatly inspired by Keegan Korph, @OPSMrsKorf and her excellent Edublog post: “When Students Ask to Follow or Friend: An Ethical Response Guide for Educators.” (For additional online sources and material, check out the NEAToday app at!)

@GwynethJones, a.k.a. The Daring Librarian, is a blogger, a Tweeter, an International Ed Tech keynote speaker, Google Certified Innovator, PBS Graduate Champion of Change, and the author of the award-winning Daring Librarian blog. Gwyneth also is a career-long NEA member and the teacher librarian at Murray Hill Middle School in Howard County, Md. And, of course, it goes without saying, she’s ridiculously humble. 


Captain Underpants!

A Q&A With Creator Dav Pilkey

What qualities do superheroes share?

It seems like most superheroes are born of adversity. Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man each found their purpose after the deaths of parents or guardians. Dog Man (the hero from my new graphic novel series) is also brought to life after a tragedy. I think this is what makes superheroes so relatable. When times get tough, we must all dig deep and find our own superpowers.

Why does each book in your Captain Underpants series contain a minicomic? 

I wanted to inspire my readers to start making their own comics. The minicomics in Captain Underpants look like they were made by children—the drawing style is primitive, and the spelling has mistakes. My hope was that kids would see these imperfect creations and feel like making comics was something they could do—and it didn’t matter if they made mistakes. The spelling and artwork in these minicomics gradually improved as the series has progressed. (By book #12, there are no spelling errors.) I did this to subtly show that although creativity doesn’t have to be perfect, we should always try to improve and grow. 

George and Harold receive an assignment to write 100 pages on “good citizenship.” How would you define good citizenship for students today?

I think putting yourself before others is a good start. Empathy doesn’t always come naturally, but the more you practice the better you get. George and Harold are constantly in situations where things get out of hand, and they must risk their own lives to save others. At first, their motivation is selfish (trouble avoidance), but as the series progresses they risk their lives to protect others because it’s the right thing to do.

Did you create your characters with diversity in mind? 

When I wrote the outline of the first Captain Underpants book, my neighbors had a Caucasian 10-year-old son who was best friends with an African American boy. I saw them running around together almost every day, so I wrote what I saw in front of me. These kids became the basis for my characters George and Harold.

Your books once topped the most banned list. Why? 

I’m not sure that the folks who want to ban my books have actually read them. They contain no cursing, no drugs or alcohol, no sex, and no more violence than you’d see on a kids’ cartoon TV show.

Anyone who reads a paragraph out of context will probably miss the point that my stories are about fun and friendship—about two kids who use their imaginations and their creativity to save the world time and time again. Reading is important, but comprehension is even more important.

As a student, you had ADHD. What’s your advice for teachers who have kids with ADHD in their classrooms today?

My experience in the classroom growing up was not very positive. There weren’t many resources for teachers back then to deal with kids like me who had learning, behavior, and reading challenges. The term ADHD didn’t even exist back then.

I had parents who encouraged me not only to be myself, but to do the things I loved (draw and make my own comic books). They actually commissioned comics from me, and I wrote and drew original comic books almost as fast as my parents requested them.  Most importantly, my parents also let me choose the books I wanted to read. As long as I was reading, that’s what mattered. I read lots of comics, magazines, and anything that made me laugh. Soon, I began to associate reading with fun.

I’ve been lucky to have met many teachers who support and encourage their students to choose the books they want to read. This can be life-changing and can forge a path to a kid’s lifelong love of reading.

The Captain Underpants movie is coming out soon. What is the best part about having the series turned into a film?

I saw an early cut and my favorite parts were when my characters did and said things that weren’t in the books. George, Harold, and Captain Underpants are living apart from me now. They don’t need me anymore. They’ve become real.

It feels so rewarding to let go and see my creations fly.


Engage the Brain from First Bell To Last

Getting Students To Think Critically

Simplify Math: 1, 2, 3, 4

Struggling with long-form math? Teach students to B.U.C.K. the problem:

B - Box the problem’s main question. This forces students to define what the problem is really asking. When a solution is determined, its label will be found in that box.

U - Underline descriptive information important to solving the problem. Be concise.

C - Circle words that need explanation. Those circles provides information about students’ level of understanding. Allow them time to uncover the meaning of these words.

K - Kick out numbers that are not needed to solve the problem.

From here, students use their math skills to determine and check their solution and present it with its label and explanation. 


What’s a Mama Bull Eat? Bulloney!

To liven up the last few minutes of the day, I bring out the game MindTrap and select a card to read to the class. 

The MindTrap cards range in challenge level, and the students enjoy trying to solve the mysteries. Sometimes the mystery is so intriguing that I send them home to puzzle the answer overnight. The game is available online through various vendors and private individuals.

[Editor’s note: A sample question is “If a daddy bull weighs 1,200 pounds and eats 12 bales of hay a day, and a baby bull weighs 300 pounds and eats three bales of hay a day, how much hay should an 800-lb. mommy bull eat?” Got it??]


Bingo! A Fun Idea for Content Review

Sometimes it’s hard for my students to remember what we learned in class, so at the beginning of each class I have them jot down four things that we discussed in class from the previous day. This not only helps them to remember what we discussed, but gives them an extra credit grade. 

At the end of the week, we take what we learned all week, and turn it into a Bingo or Jeopardy game. The winning team or student then receives a small award such as a free homework pass. This gives each child the incentive to learn and increase their knowledge.

Want more tips and classroom help?

Check out these resources:

Works4Me Tips Archive—Search through thousands of tips from teachers like you or share your own ideas for success:

NEA edCommunities Professional Learning Community—NEA’s online, collaborative space where educators exchange ideas and resources. Sign up for free and join groups in your interest areas, including Classroom Management. Go to 

Works4Me E-Newsletter—Sign up to receive tips, lesson ideas, and more with our bimonthly email. Go to


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