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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

This Year I'm Telling My Students I'm a Single Mom

This year I'm telling my students that I'm a single mom. I decided last spring that this was something I needed to do in the fall, and now that school is starting, I am more and more certain that this is the right thing to do. Today I want to share some of the heart behind my choice, because the general principles really apply to all teachers, and I'm sure there are others out there who have been in similar situations.


So a brief background on my story, for those who don't know: I taught elementary music for 6 years before having twin babies, moving to the U.S., getting divorced, and starting my current job. When I started this job 3 years ago I had been separated for a year and divorced for a week or two, and my daughters were 18 months old.

I have always felt strongly about the importance of developing relationships with my students (even though there are hundreds of them!). Not that I try to be "buddy buddy" with them, but I really do honestly enjoy connecting with them on a personal level, and I think the trust and respect you really need to have a positive classroom environment cannot be created outside of those relationships. So I used to freely tell my students about growing up traveling the world, telling them about my hobbies, and sharing some of the struggles I went through when it related to their situations. I think the students understood that I really was invested in them as human beings, and both trusted and respected me more as a teacher because of it.

But when I started this job, I didn't feel like I could go through my usual "get to know your teacher" stuff at the beginning of the year. I hadn't even gotten used to not being "Mrs" yet, and I didn't feel like I could share my story without things getting sticky. Not that I haven't told my students anything over the last 3 years- I haven't ever lied about my marital status or hid the fact that I have children, and I have even mentioned on a couple of occasions that I am a single mom, but for the most part I've avoided talking about myself. And because I was trying to avoid sharing about the more recent parts of my life, I didn't share as much about the other parts of my life either. I still have students who don't know that Japanese is my first language, or that I taught in South Korea for 6 years, even after being in my class for 3 years, and that is just crazy to me! How can I expect students to be willing to trust me enough to share their own stories, take risks in the classroom, or even just feel comfortable enough to be themselves if I am a complete unknown to them?

After spending the last 2 years focusing on improving school climate and culture in our building, I've come to realize that for me, this is the biggest missing piece. So this year, part of my first day lesson plan is going to include telling students about my life. No, I'm not going to rehash my divorce with them or vent to them about the struggles of being a single mom, but I am going to tell them that
1) I grew up in Japan mostly, plus some other countries,
2) I taught in Korea before I came here,
3) my immediate family now consists of me and my two 4-year-old daughters,
4) I love bright colors, music, delicious food, crafting, and reading, and I don't like cleaning, scary movies, or tomatoes.

Seems like a pretty basic thing to do, now that I write it out. Don't all teachers share a little about themselves at the beginning of the school year??? I never even noticed that I had stopped doing it until recently, and it was a combination of not really knowing what my new life had become or how to explain it to anyone (let alone children), and feeling....ashamed. Why? I know for a fact that lots of my students come from broken homes- in fact I think they are the majority. And either way, my story is not something I need to be ashamed of or hide from my students.

This year I'm sharing more of myself with my students.

Want to read more of my thoughts on developing a positive culture in my classroom and beyond? Here's a good post to start with:


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Monday, August 22, 2016

My Favorite Family Back To School Ritual: the Dry Run

Today is my first day back at work (students start next week), so I guess it is now officially Back to School! The hardest thing about starting school as a teacher/mom? Mornings. Man, as a morning person I never understood what all the fuss was about when parents talked about dreadful school day mornings. I get it now. Today I wanted to share my favorite trick for getting all of us ready to go back to school: the "Dry Run".


The basic idea behind the Back to School "dry run" is to practice getting ready for school in the morning before you have the actual threat of being late for school and/or work on the first day of school. Everybody gets up at the same time, gets all of the same stuff ready, and leave the house at the same time, but you don't actually go to school! I'm sure other parents do the same thing, but if you haven't yet and would like to try it, here are my tips for making it work:

1. Do it several days before the real first day of school

Because school started on a Monday this year, we did our dry run last Friday. Actually a few days earlier would have been great, but Friday was the best day for our schedules. I always do the dry run a few days before the real first day so that I have time to make changes to our morning routine if something doesn't work, and we all have a few more days for our bodies to adjust to the new sleep schedule.

2. Actually go somewhere

I think what helps make the dry run most effective for me is that we actually go somewhere. I usually try to make plans with someone to meet them somewhere for a play date or breakfast so that we are actually committed to being somewhere on time. It also makes the morning a little more fun for the kids because they have something to look forward to! This year we met my mom at IHOP and had an epic breakfast :)

3. Practice your routine too

The dry routine is really for me more than anyone else, although it does help the kids get used to getting up and at 'em again before the Big Day when they're more emotional. Because let's be honest: as much as I foster independence in my preschool age children, and as much as they do things on their own pretty well for 4-year-olds, the biggest key to school morning success is me, not them. So I get up and get all of the same stuff ready that I need on school mornings too: purse with all of my work stuff, lunches for everyone, etc and even making sure I have decent clothes. I actually put on earrings! There were several times Friday morning when I realized I had forgotten all of the STUFF I do on school day mornings. Oh boy.

4. Don't neglect first day jitters

Even after practicing everything, we all know that a "dry run" is still not the same as the real thing, when we all (kids and adults) have so many mixed emotions about the first day of school. I always allow extra time in the mornings the first few days of school to allow for potential meltdowns, or just general contemplating.

Do any of you do a "dry run" before school starts? What are your favorite tricks for helping your family adjust back to hectic school mornings?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Fermata Friday: new format

After hosting the Fermata Fridays link-up each Friday on my blog for over a year, I've decided to change the format of how I run it. Starting this week, I will no longer host the link-up in a weekly blog post, but I will continue to feature a post each Friday on Facebook and Pinterest. I will also be sharing a monthly round-up of my favorite things, including the featured posts from Fermata Fridays, on my blog.


To be considered for a Fermata Fridays feature, you can submit your blog post any time through the submission form that I now have in my sidebar. Look for and click on the Fermata Fridays button in my sidebar to be taken to the form:


As before, I ask that you limit your submissions to blog posts that are primarily focused on ideas rather than the promotion of a paid product. Otherwise, I invite you to submit any blog post, old or new, that is related to music education! The beauty of this system is that you are welcome to submit as many posts as you like in one sitting and I will consider them for feature whenever I can. I will select one blog post to be featured each Friday on my Facebook page and will also be pinning the post to my Fermata Fridays board, and each month I will include all of the blog posts from that month in my monthly favorites blog post.

I hope bloggers and readers alike enjoy this new format. I think it will help more people to see all of the awesome blog posts out there while also making it easier to sift through my posts on my blog. I look forward to reading all of the amazing posts- thank you for submitting and reading! If you have any questions please leave it in the comments below or email me (link in my blog header).

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Teacher Desk Tour

Today I'm giving you a tour of my teacher desk in my classroom! I still have one more week left of summer before I start work, so things are still in progress, but most of my stuff is set up (well, around my desk anyway) so I thought I would go ahead and show you what I have. Jennifer from The Yellow Brick Road is also sharing her desk for her home office, so be sure to head over to her post after you read mine- she has some awesome techy solutions to get organized and work efficiently!


If you remember from last summer, I actually downsized my desk quite a bit. You can read more about how I corralled everything into my current small semicircle desk here:


So here's my little tour of my desk! :)


If you want to read about how I made my "teacher toolbox", which has all of my smaller bits and bobs in it, you can read that post here:


I'm also joining in with other music teachers who are sharing their desks this week as well! Check out all of the other posts below (and add your own link if you have one to share)!


Monday, August 15, 2016

Organizing Kids' School Papers in Your Purse

A year ago I became a parent of school-age children for the first time. It was scary and wonderful. I learned a lot last year about what I need to do in order to stay on top of everything from my daughters' classes, but one of the biggest surprises was the sheer quantity of paperwork that came home every day (and this is just preschool!). My girls keep track of their own paperwork in their own backpacks each day for the most part, but I found there were several papers that I wanted to keep with me in my purse, and I've come up with a better way to do that for this school year!


I felt pretty confident about my ability to keep up with all of the school papers going into last year, having had experience as an elementary school teacher. Boy was I wrong. Keeping track of all of the field trip permission forms, birthday party invitations, artwork, and surveys from two classrooms was mind-bogglingly difficult. I quickly put the girls in charge of those papers, and assigned them to put them in their backpacks every day before they left school and then put them in a certain spot on the kitchen counter when they got home so that I could deal with everything.

But some of the informational papers I found I needed to carry around with me in my purse: school contact information, policies for snow days and sick days, school lunch menus, and other information that I needed to have available at random times. I thought about putting them in my planner, but I found in the craziness of school life, I needed a dedicated spot to slip papers in and out and find them quickly in my purse without digging through all of my stuff.

Last year I ended up using the folders that the teachers sent home the back to school welcome packets in, but they were cheap paper folders and, with all of the wear and tear from being in my bag all year, they got pretty beaten up.

Enter my new Dollar Tree find: plastic zippered folders with a pocket on one side!


I associate each of the girls with a particular color (green and purple), so I was able to get colors close enough so that I can easily pick out the right folder from my purse. These things are so cool! They have a zippered pouch, but also have an open pocket on one side where you can store more paper.

I will be keeping any papers that I haven't dealt with yet- things that people hand me when I'm too busy to look at it or put it in the girls backpacks- in the pocket, so I can slip it in without having to open the zipper. The rest of the papers I need to keep on hand will go inside the zippered folder. The other side has no pocket, so I am planning to write the contact information for that child's classroom with wet erase marker so that I can quickly access that information without opening anything.


The folders fit nicely inside my purse and make it easy for me to find things quickly. Hopefully this way I won't have stray papers getting crumpled up in the bottom of my purse this year- I'm trying to make it as easy on myself as possible! :)

What are your tips for staying on top of school paperwork? Do you find you end up keeping some of them in your purse? Share your thoughts in the comments :)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Fermata Friday: August 12, 2016


Welcome to this week's installment of my weekly linky party, Fermata Fridays! For a few reasons, I have decided that this will be the final installment of Fermata Fridays on my blog: starting next week I will be inviting people to share their blog posts on social media and featuring posts that way. I think the change in format will allow me to continue sharing awesome posts from other blogs while getting rid of some of that extra bulk that hosting a weekly linky adds to my blog. If you aren't already be sure to follow my Facebook page to stay updated on future Fermata Fridays!

This is a chance for music education bloggers to share blog posts with readers and bloggers alike, so we can all mingle and learn from each other. Readers, you are going to love all of the awesome blog posts that are out there- I hope you discover some new blogs to follow and get some new inspiration for your teaching! Bloggers, make sure you read the directions carefully before linking up to make sure we keep the party fun for everyone. Thanks! :)

Here are the rules for the linky party:

1. Add the linky image to your blog post, blog sidebar, linky party roundup, or other similar location on your blog and link it back to the party. Copy and paste the code for this button, or use the image above and link to the label "Fermata Fridays".

<div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="http://caldwellorganizedchaos.blogspot.com/search/label/Fermata%20Fridays"><img border="0" src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-8g8YQudJiB8/VaoWoBnpJ3I/AAAAAAAADuU/GeG51-nOB0Q/s1600/fermata%2Bfriday%2Bbutton.jpg" /></a></div><br />





2. Add up to two blog post links to the linky. The posts can be old or new (but no posts that have already been linked up to Fermata Fridays in the past), on any topic related to music teaching, but must not be primarily featuring a product. It's fine to have a link to a relevant product within a post, but that should not be the primary focus of the post. I reserve the right to delete a link that is too product-focused. If you're not sure, just ask! :)

3. Leave a thoughtful comment on at least two other links, including the one right before yours. Add #fermatafridays to your comment so bloggers know where you found them!

4. Pin at least one post to one of your Pinterest boards.

5. Make sure you are following me on Pinterest. I will be pinning every link to the Fermata Fridays board each week.

6. Make sure you are following me on Facebook and check back next Friday- I will be featuring one of the links from the previous week's linky on my Facebook page each Friday!


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Teacher Tuesday: preparing for back to school

I start back at work in just a few weeks, and I am definitely feeling the back-to-school pressure! As I finish up the last few things I need to do to get ready for the new school year, I wanted to share with you some of the things I'm doing to prepare and get organized. Be sure to stick around until the end of the post- there's a little back to school giveaway you can enter at the end!


I've been steadily working on projects for school and home all summer, but somehow I still didn't finish everything I wanted to do this summer! Now that it's crunch time, I've narrowed my focus in to the most important tasks I need to get done before school starts.


I spent the summer picking up things I found on sale, making new materials, and mending some old ones for my classroom. Now it's time to gather everything up, get anything I don't have yet ready to go, and take it all into school!

Target got me bad this summer. Their rainbow-themed classroom items were calling my name, and of course I couldn't pass up the musical instrument and flags of the world flash cards! I also got some new tape to use to color code my student seating that won't damage my new carpet, and I also found some clear organizers on super-clearance. I've got a few other supplies for some new centers I'm planning too, and some hooks for the new ukulele's I'm getting this year!!! I can't wait to start putting it all in my classroom :)

To make it easier to carry everything into my room, I'm putting everything in rolling suitcases. I plan to use those suitcases to lug things around the building as well- if you know you have to carry a lot of stuff around the building, getting a rolling suitcase or dolly is a great idea!


As you may know, long-range planning is one of my most important tasks each summer. I've been working on mine and am pretty much done, but I need to go back and fill in some more detail on some of my plans. I plan out the major concepts that I want to cover in each grade by month, and I include any lessons / activities / resources that I know I want to use with each concept. The more I have planned out now, the less thinking I have to do during the school year! Plus I know that I am teaching everything in a logical sequence and I can rest assured that we are covering everything that needs to get done.


Last but not least, I'm trying to get everything as organized as I can at home as well! With two preschoolers to feed, meals can be a particular logistical and organizational challenge for me, so I made some new organizers to help me plan out our breakfasts and lunch along with our dinners this year. I just wrote about those organizers yesterday- if you're interested in printing your own copy or seeing what I put together, check out yesterday's post on the topic here.

I have also been making extra-large batches when I cook, so that I can freeze the extras and have them ready for when I'm too busy to cook or need a lunch for myself. I feel so much better knowing that I have a few "back up meals" ready to go!

I think that about covers the major areas I'm working on to prepare for back to school. What are you doing to get ready? Back to school season can be stressful with so much to prepare, so I thought I would host a small giveaway to cheer you up!


I have one set each of the musical instrument and flags of the world flash cards from Target, which I will be using in centers and having students sort into categories and guess the names, and 2 packs of mini lego blocks, which I used last year as a composition manipulative and loved. Because there are different colors and sizes they are perfect for composition- I use the colors to represent different pitches, and the lengths to represent note lengths. You can read more about how I use these and other manipulatives for composition with lower elementary students in this post.

Ready to enter to win these fun items for your music classroom? All you have to do is go follow me on Instagram or YouTube (my two newest social media platforms, and definitely among my favorites)! You can enter once by following me on one, or get two entries by following/ subscribing to me on both. Make sure you come back and complete your entry after you follow! Good luck :)

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