Posts Tagged ‘classroom management’

Returning to Teaching after Maternity Leave

I am writing this post in hopes of helping any other teachers who happen upon my blog and are looking for advice about returning to work after a maternity leave. It is an anxious, emotional time, and I hope I can help ease your transition by sharing about my experience.

At the beginning of this year, I missed the first 12 weeks because I was out on maternity leave. This means I didn’t get to set up my room or meet my students until we were well into the school year. On top of all that, it was a new position for me, so I really had NO idea what I was coming back to. A new grade, a new age level, new material, new room, new everything. It was a lot to take in.

Luckily for me, I had an amazing substitute teacher who made everything so helpful and efficient for me. Additionally, my district gave us 3 overlap days where we were both in the room – that helped with the transition immensely. On the first day, I simply introduced myself to each class and sat in the back to observe the atmosphere. By the second day, he was still teaching, but I became a support in the room, traveling amongst the students and asking questions, listening, and assisting. By the third day, I was leading the lesson while he supported. On the fourth day, I was all alone but feeling confident.

My first day, waiting for my students to arrive.

My first day, waiting for my students to arrive.

Throughout this post, I have shared my personal choices and experiences, including what worked well for us and what is (and continues to be) a struggle. Feel free to ask questions or share your own experience in the comments – I’d love to learn and do better!


My husband and I chose to leave our daughter in a daycare center while we work. I know there are many different options for childcare, and people tend to turn up their nose when we say we chose a daycare. However, I chose to focus on the positives of daycare: my daughter will be cared for by certified staff, there will always be multiple adults on hand, she will be exposed to learning activities and many different kinds of people (and germs!), and she will be socialized for school.

Leading up to the first day of daycare, I took my daughter to the center a few times and just sat in the infant room with her. I did this so we could both get use to the atmosphere and the people. It gave me a chance to observe the routines and to ask a lot of questions. The staff said they didn’t mind (I hope they meant it!) and even encouraged me to come as many times as it took to feel comfortable. And each time I came in, I brought in more supplies for her drawer (diapers, wipes, outfits, creams, pacifiers, etc.) so that I wouldn’t be burdened with that ask on the first, hectic day. By the way that’s a big theme in my life – prepare, plan, do things in small chunks, and get it done before a deadline.

At first, sitting in the room was terrifying. There were babies crying and so much activity. I felt I had made a huge mistake. I wanted to quit my job and stay home forever. But then I got a hold of myself (and my crazy postpartum emotions) and became more settled with the idea the more I visited and self-talked. Everything would be okay. This is a good thing for everyone – mom and baby.

It is a very strange feeling to leave your child in the hands of someone else, all so you can go to your classroom and take care of other people’s babies. But this is my calling.

I have to tell you that I am so grateful that my husband does the drop-off each morning. If I had to do it, I would always arrive at work a total basket case (that’s if I would actually able to detach myself from my daughter and leave the daycare building). I do the pick-up, and it is definitely the best part of my day.


A big tip I have for you: Do NOT call in the middle of the day to see how your child is doing. I fell into this trap on my first day back, because I wanted to make sure my daughter was doing well on her first day, too. I couldn’t even make it through the phone call without crying. For me, it is best to just keep busy and let the professionals do their job. I had to have faith that if they needed me for anything, they would contact me.

The First Day

The first day – okay week – is THE hardest. People mean well, but everyone will ask you trigger questions like, “What’s it like to be back?” and “Who has your daughter?” and my favorite, “How was it leaving your daughter today?” I cried each time someone asked me any of these questions. Hormones, man. I sat in the bathroom and cried during passing time. It was hard. When the bell rang at 3:05, all you could see was a big blur behind me as I bee-lined it to the parking lot and attempted to follow all traffic laws on my way to pick her up from daycare. It will get easier. REPEAT: It will get easier. Everyone told me that, but I had to experience it for myself. Now I take my time leaving. I go to the bathroom and wash my hands before I leave work (because I won’t get a chance when we get home!).

Focus on your job and why you are there. Try not to think about your baby. You need to stay in the moment. Your baby is in good hands, and you are needed here, now, to take care of these babies. It will be okay, and it will get easier!

Nightly Routine

I have lots of routines to help me get through life, and this should be no different. I quickly figured out a routine that worked for all of us to help make the nights and mornings go as smoothly as possible. This is survival, people!

Each night, I put my daughter to bed around 6:30pm. Then, I immediately wash and reset the bottles for the next day and pack them in her lunch bag in the fridge. I add any notes or supplies she may need right in the bag so it is ready to go. I pair up all of her clothes when I wash them on the weekend so her outfits are ready to grab-and-go in the mornings:

Outfits for the week

For myself, I also make my lunch, set out my clothes, and take a shower. I used to take 1 to 1.5 hours to get ready in the morning (let’s be honest, I used to putz. I checked my email, did some house work, etc. Not anymore!). Now, I can get ready in 20 minutes flat. This is important, because you don’t know how your morning will go. Will she be sick, sad, or needy? Will you just NEED a cuddle? Be ready for anything. Preparing the night before is essential to having a smooth morning.

After I’ve gotten all of her things and my things ready, I spend about 20 minutes TOPS straightening up before bed, because it makes me feel good. Then I tackle my nightly chore from the next section (Housework and Errands), and I’m done.

For my own sanity, I attempt to go to bed as close to my daughter as possible. My goal is to be asleep by 10pm, and my alarm is set for 6am. This way, I am lucky to get  8 hours of sleep between all of the night feedings and wake ups. You have to preserve your sleep! Make it a priority. Skip all non-essential things and just S.L.E.E.P. It is how you survive being a teacher and a parent – two incredibly draining and demanding jobs.

Housework and Errands

I have also had to adjust the way I run our house. I used to do almost everything on the weekends – cooking, cleaning, and chores. Now, however, I want to covet that as family time (and down time). To that end, I have made a schedule where I do a little bit every day, like the old adage of eating an elephant. I also try to run short errands right before I pick up my daughter from daycare. Eventually, we’ll get to the point where I will take her on the errands, but right now it’s easier to do this way and just leave her in daycare an extra half hour.

Also RE: Amazon Prime / Amazon Mom: JUST DO IT. Seriously. It makes your life so much easier.

Here is an example of our weekly schedule, designed to free up our weekend time (Do I actually get to all of these things? No, but I do try):


  • My Laundry
  • Clean Shower
  • Clean toilets


  • Bathroom counters
  • Wash towels


  • Vacuum / mop 
  • Windex glass


  • Disinfect Kitchen
  • Clean out fridge and microwave
  • Dust


  • Bathroom floors
  • Change sheets

Saturday & Sunday

  • Groceries
  • Cooking
  • Daughter’s Laundry

We have tried to make grocery shopping a family activity, as well. My daughter really likes all the sensory experiences of a grocery store.

Weekly Lunches (c) Kristen Dembroski

During weekend nap times, I cook. This is how I SURVIVE, people. I make all of our lunches on the weekend so they are ready to grab-and-go. I also try to make a casserole or dinner for the evenings. But honestly, I usually don’t have time for dinner and just skip it (oops). This preparation saves a huge amount of time and money throughout the week.

Grading and Working At Home

What I have to say about this is short and sweet: FORGET ABOUT IT. You will no longer do any schoolwork at home. Oh, you’ll have good intentions. You’ll bring home a bag full of things to do, emails to check, etc. But you won’t do it. Nope. You’re exhausted, and you miss your baby. My best advice is what I have learned to do – do not leave work until you have done everything that MUST be done by tomorrow. Emphasis on must – you do have to stop and leave at some point. Maybe you can finish grading those papers tomorrow? Prioritize. Just don’t bring it home. It will sit in your bag / car and it will haunt you.

New Perspective

As a new parent, I find that I have a new perspective on my role as teacher. I have done a lot better job of communicating with parents, now. I also try my best to include them on as many decisions as possible. I always thought I was doing a good job with this, but now I see that I could do even better. Even though my students are ‘grown up’ 11-year-olds, their parents still like to hear nice things and be kept involved. At this age, many parents begin to start distancing themselves from the school in hopes of encouraging and allowing more independence from their children. I do my best to respect that, but also see that information is always welcomed.

As a new parent, I also see that I have so much more empathy and patience for my students. I love them all, each one, but now I also see them as someone’s baby. Everyone is someone’s baby!

Closing Thoughts

  • You will be awesome
  • This is what you were born to do. You will rock it!
  • Keep chocolate in your desk
  • Bring in pictures of your baby to display
  • Summer will eventually be here!


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High Five For Friday! 2-27-15

Wow, did February fly by! Week 26 is over, and when we return on Monday, it will be MARCH! Yippee skippy! I hope you had a fantastic week. Below are the highlights of my week.



The Education Dream Team!


1. Author Visit! – We (my coworker, Linda, and I) were THRILLED to host author Trudy Krisher at our school on Monday of this week. She came to provide a writing workshop for our 8th graders who are also currently reading her novel Spite Fences. Students selected an object from a table and developed some creative, sensory language to describe the item. Ms. Krisher had lots of great tips and suggestions for bringing the writing to life. We especially loved when she shared her own writing process, which includes a long and arduous journey of many, many revisions. How lucky are my students?!

Freedom on the Menu

2. Freedom on the Menu – To accompany a chapter in our novel study, we also read “Freedom on the Menu” this week. This picture book is about the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s, as told from a young girl’s perspective. It provides a powerful ‘first hand’ account of the events from the questioning, curious mind of someone who doesn’t understand everything just yet. A great read!


3. The Jungle – In Social Studies, we are learning about the Progressive Era. When we reached a section in our text about muckraking, I had my students read select excerpts from Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which is about the horrific conditions of the meatpacking industry during the Gilded Age. I think more than a few students walked out of my classroom as vegetarians 🙂

Political Cartoons

4. Political Cartoons – The Progressive Era is known for its many political cartoons. These are often very challenging for students to understand. To that end, I created a packet of cartoons, and we analyze one cartoon a day. This gets them into the mindset of analyzing the imagery, background, and message of the image beyond just the literal. As a culminating project, I will have them create their own political cartoon about an important concept from our unit. They did a rough draft today, and there were so many great ideas! It is very rewarding to see their minds develop right before my eyes.

1932261_10152869235283628_6688987376073204502_n5. Important Words – I came across this image on facebook this week, and it definitely struck a chord. I have learned in my years in the classroom that some students desperately need/want attention, and they will take any kind they can get (positive or negative, and sometimes both in the same hour!). I have a student who recently started a new habit where she comes and gives me a hug at least once a day. That is just one of my many jobs; educator, cheerleader, nurse, librarian, bookkeeper, accountant, part-time-parent, disciplinarian, and sometimes, a hug-giver.


How was your week?




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Web Memes and Classroom Management

funny-Darth-Vader-quote-legs what-i-look-like-if-youre-talking-while-im-talking

For Back-to-School this year, I’ve decided to use web memes to communicate my classroom expectations to students on second day of school. Pro tip: Don’t waste your breath going over rules and expectations on the first day – they will never remember a word you say. The first day back, for 8th grade at least, is all about the outfits, the friends, the lockers, etc. I always wait until Day 2 for this discussion.

I’ve been collecting funny web memes for years now on my Pinterest Boards, and I decided that I had enough to put together an entire presentation. My favorite two are pictured above. If you’d like to download my entire Powerpoint presentation (so you can edit it and make it your own), click here:

Mrs. Dembroski’s Classroom Expectations
Web Meme Powerpoint Presentation

I’d love to hear about your experiences using it, and/or any funnies that you might add to your own version. My goal is to get kids to relax, smile, and think, “Hey, maybe this isn’t going to be so bad after all!” All of my rules stem back to respect for yourself, your education, your classmates, and your teacher. Respect – that’s really all there is to it.

My students won’t arrive until after Labor Day, but I know some of you are starting this week (eeek!) Best of luck to you all, and have a great first day!


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PBIS – Classroom Management

Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (c) Kristen Dembroski

Have you heard of PBIS? It stands for Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports. It is the behavioral component of the RtI Response to Intervention system. The idea is to promote positive behaviors rather than focusing on the negative. Instead of saying “We don’t run in the hallway,” you would say “We walk in the hallway.” It may seem like a minor difference, but it is important to focus on what students CAN do, point out what they are doing RIGHT, rather than on the undesirable behaviors. Truly, 99.9% of the students in my school are extremely well behaved. I have to remember that the one kid who struggled today does not represent my whole class – I need to focus on what is going right!

iVoice Poster (c) Kristen Dembroski

PBIS is important because it creates a system in which you systematically teach students what you want them to be doing. For example, I might say to my class, “Quiet down.” What if they aren’t sure what quiet sounds like in a classroom? What if no one ever explained it to them? That’s where a PBIS lesson would come in. I use the iVoice system in my classroom, and we start the year by practicing each of the voice levels so that I know and the students know exactly what is expected. You may have seen my previous post about how we start the year doing a tour of the school, discussing expectations, and practicing how to behave appropriately at each location – some kids just honestly need a demonstration.

We have a PBIS time built in to our schedule. Every Wednesday, we have 30 minutes in which the whole school can focus on PBIS initiatives, including building teamwork and positive relationships and teaching (or reteaching) behavioral expectations. Character building lessons are part of this time, such as a lesson on Fairness and Trustworthiness. We also discuss the future quite a lot – goal setting and dream planning time. I love that we do this – it has a really big impact on so many students.

Fairness (c) Kristen Dembroski                  Trustworthiness (c) Kristen Dembroski

An integral part of our PBIS system at our school is the use of blue slips and yellow slips (our school colors). The text on the slips is exactly the same – it shows our PBIS motto (Be Respectful, Responsible, and Safe), and lists the expected behaviors. The blue slips are the positive slips – we give them to students when we celebrate them doing something positive. The yellow slips (think ‘caution!’) are a behavioral modification slip – we give them to students who need to make a better choice. Students can save up the blue slips and buy fun things from our school store, from erasers and candy to backpacks and gift cards. The yellow slips, on the other hand, go to the office and get recorded. If a student builds up 3 within 10 days, it becomes an after school detention. Students hate getting this, and sometimes all you have to do is mention the yellow slip or place it on the desk as a warning, and the behavior will get corrected right away. The office uses the information on the yellow slips to help target areas needing more attention and intervention in our school. Perhaps there is a trend of poor behavior in the hallways – we use PBIS time to reteach our expectations, watch a fun youtube video, or anything else to help communicate our message of being Respectful, Responsible, and Safe for the good of our school.

I know PBIS has a huge impact on students’ academic behaviors as well. Any good teacher knows that students can’t learn in an environment that isn’t respectful, responsible, or safe. When students buy into the system, they are more comfortable with the procedures and expectations of our school, and the students thrive on that comfort and safety.

So my goal is to give out 5 blue slips (positive) for every 1 yellow slip (negative). And if I give out a yellow slip – let’s say to Johnny for being disruptive in class – I make it my goal over the next few days after that to notice him behaving appropriately and reward him immediately to help get him back on track.

Signing blue slips got a little tedious, so I just purchased a self-inking signature stamp. Can I just say I am really excited for it to arrive?!?! I can’t wait to post a picture!

Do you use PBIS in your school? I’d love to hear about your system – we are always looking for ways to streamline and improve things. Please share in the comments!

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Seat markers

In our 2-story school, we have 4 minute passing time. Students have complained about this from the dawn of time, but it is what it is. My room is about 80 yards from the nearest restroom (it takes me about 4 minutes to walk there, use the restroom, and walk back. I’m sometimes late to my own classes, ack!). Therefore, I am a bit more lenient/understanding of students who are tiny bit late because they had to use the restroom. What I prefer, however, is that they come to my room first, drop off their belongings, and then go. Since we are going to have iPads this year, that is going to be a mandatory procedure because federal law and school rules mandate that no iPads are allowed in the restrooms.

So that students don’t have to hunt me down or interrupt a conversation during passing time to ask permission to use the bathroom, I put together these Seat Markers. A student can simply grab one from the side table, put it at their seat, and then off they go. When class starts and I am doing attendance, I will notice the visual cue at their desk that they are in the restroom. I may even branch out this year and allow my students to grab a seat marker and excuse themselves to use the bathroom without interrupting the lesson to ask permission – we’ll have to take that on a class-by-class basis depending on behavior.

I wanted something cheap, tall, and not at all appealing for students to destroy (no toys, no cups because they’ll tap that Cups song by Anna Kendrik). I managed to make these with a lot of things that I had lying around the house:

Seat Markers (c) Kristen Dembroski

2 empty Pringles cans
Decorative Duct Tape
Plastic flowers
Small, heavy rocks/marbles, etc.
Glue gun

The final product isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing thing I’ve ever made, but I know it will do the job. I wrapped strips of duct tape around the can, filled it with small rocks to give it weight, poked a hole in the cover to insert the flowers, then hot-glued it all shut so they couldn’t open it.

Seat Markers (c) Kristen Dembroski

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Virtual Reality Escape in the Classroom

I have an idea that I am excited to try out this fall. Recently, I learned about two new apps that I think will be very valuable in my classroom. Both of them offer a virtual reality experience of sorts. I think this will be ideal for students who need a break from ‘reality.’

Teachers – you know when you have a student who just seems like they need to take a deep breath and start fresh? Perhaps they are overwhelmed, emotional, or anxious. This is when I would invite them to take out their iPad (or borrow mine) and have a 3 minute Virtual Reality escape. This will replace my old ‘go to’ techniques of “Why don’t you go get a quick drink?” or “Please take this (meaningless) super important document to the office for me (so you can calm down and walk it off).” These apps will hopefully occupy their mind and offer them a brief respite from what is leading them to be off task and unfocused (notice I didn’t say ‘naughty?’).

So here are the apps I am thinking of using for Virtual Reality Escape in the classroom. Let me know if you have heard of any others I can add to my list!

1. Sphere (TourWrist) 360 Degree Panorama Photography – by Spark Labs FREE

Sphere App - Virtual Reality Escape in the Classroom (c) Kristen Dembroski

This app is FREE and totally awesome. You can take yourself to some amazing places throughout the world from world famous cathedrals to tropical vacation destinations. As you twist and turn your iPad/iPhone, you get a 360 degree panoramic view of the location – even the sky and ground. I must look like a real fool as I swivel in my chair and contort my body to see every inch of the awe-inspiring views, but I just don’t care! I love looking at Sphere just before bed so I can dream of a vacation.

Of course, there are academic purposes for this app as well. Perhaps there are some locations you are currently studying in the classroom, and your students would love to visit in 3D! My only complaint about this app is that not all of the links work for me all of the time. Hoping some bug fixes are on their way!

2. Sky Guide: View Stars Night or Day – by Fifth Star Labs LLC $1.99

Sky Guide App - Virtual Reality Escape in the Classroom (c) Kristen Dembroski

This app was gifted to me, but normally costs $1.99. I honestly had no idea how much I would enjoy it. Basically, the app helps you to identify celestial objects (stars, planets, constellations, etc.). You simply point your iPad/iPhone at the sky, and voila! The app includes ethereal music to accompany your ‘Out of this World’ experience, but I often turn off this feature. As the title says, this works in the daytime, too. Students can imagine launching themselves into the atmosphere, flying through space, across the universe!

Of course there are real academic uses here as well – be sure to share with your school’s Science department!


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