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By Julian Peeples

EVERY NEW SCHOOL YEAR is a blank slate, waiting for students to make their unique marks on the whiteboard. It’s also an opportunity for educators to adjust their approaches and polish their skills, as lifelong learners and students of the craft.

We asked CTA educators for their thoughts, tips and hacks on must-have classroom items, student engagement and self-care. Here are some of their wise words:

What classroom supplies can you not do without and what makes them so great?

“ Dry erase boards and markers to work out math problems, pre-write or take a brain break.”

— KENYA UMPHENOUR, fourth grade teacher, Anaheim Elementary Education Association
Photo of Teacher Kenya UmphenourPhoto of Teacher Kenya Umphenour

“ As a second-year teacher (long term sub for 10 years before that) I cannot do without pencils, colored pencils and Expo markers. We use the colored pencils for rainbow writing.”

— ANNE MCCLELLIAN, third grade teacher, Fontana Teachers Association
Photo of teacher Anne MclellianPhoto of teacher Anne Mclellian

“ Learn to be flexible. No pencils? Pair share and take oral answers. Whiteboard marker dead? Find a crayon or pencil. No paper today? Oral pair share. In my 23 years I’ve probably experienced it all. No internet? No lights? They happen every year. Find a book. Go outside. Make it work.”

— MACKENZIE FERREIRA, sixth grade teacher, Los Banos Teachers Association
Photo of teacher Mackenzie FerreiraPhoto of teacher Mackenzie Ferreira

“ Find out which digital tools are available and which your district may try to discontinue. Sacramento City Unified leadership was going to discontinue a district license for an online supplemental program because their interpretation of the numbers made it seem unwarranted, when several teachers are still using it and want it to stay.”

— MARY RODRIGUEZ, high school special education teacher, Sacramento City Teachers Association
Photo of teacher Mary RodriguezPhoto of teacher Mary Rodriguez

What self-care tips do you have for educators to help make it through the long year?

“ After 27 years of teaching, I have come to the conclusion that what is best for my mental health is to put my school bag in another room when I get home at the end of the day. I no longer feel that I must open my bag in the evening, and I take comfort in knowing that it is there for me if (and only if) I want to get it later. A lot of teachers say “Don’t take work home with you”. I agree and I don’t feel guilty if I don’t do anything at home.”

— JENNIFER DEWEERDT, fourth grade teacher, Martinez Education Association
Photo of teacher Jennifer DeWeerdtPhoto of teacher Jennifer DeWeerdt

“ Keep to your contract time as much as possible. If you must work on something, create boundaries like don’t stay more than a half hour late (set a timer), don’t take work home or absolutely no work on the weekends. Put after-hours auto-notifications on all parent communication. Don’t put school mail or apps on your personal devices.”

— SARAH VIERRA, elementary school teacher, Los Banos Teachers Association
Photo of teacher Sara VierraPhoto of teacher Sara Vierra

“Schedule and plan time for yourself, whether that be an enjoyable activity or exercise class weekly, a coffee date with a friend, or planning a trip for that next three-day weekend or break! Our ‘to do’ lists are impossible to complete but become even more overbearing when we don’t take time to focus on ourselves.”

— CHRISTINE PINGOL, first grade teacher, Irvine Teachers Association
Photo of teacher Christine PingolPhoto of teacher Christine Pingol

“ Prep five days of sub plans in advance and put them where your admin can easily find them. You never know when a surprise will keep you away.”

— WHITNEY WEDDELL, continuation high school teacher, Kern High School Teachers Association
Photo of teacher Whitney WeddellPhoto of teacher Whitney Weddell

“ The best self-care tip is to not take on too many tasks, learn to say no and find a type of exercise that you love. Mine is yoga.”

— JENNIFER KURFESS, high school teacher, Rosamond Teachers Association
Photo of teacher Jennifer KurfessPhoto of teacher Jennifer Kurfess

“ Teaching is really a lonely job so make a couple of close teacher pals. If they’re on your grade level, even better, because you can have lunch together and vent or just enjoy adult conversation. Touch base in the morning, support each other. It’s too easy to just come in right before school starts and leave right after it ends so you can go home to your families, but these colleagues will be your family as well. Develop and nurture those relationships.”

— STACY FEARY, elementary school teacher, Compton Education Association
Photo of teacher Stacy FearyPhoto of teacher Stacy Feary

“ After 38 years in education, 35 in Pomona Unified, use your days, meet with CalSTRS to plan, and love what you do. If you don’t have anything to give and your heart isn’t in it, the students know.”

— VIVIAN MEASTAS, elementary school teacher, Associated Pomona Teachers

“ I am a K-12 French and Spanish teacher. My favorite grade span is middle school. I taught for three years in elementary and hated every minute of it! At lunch, I would watch funny videos on YouTube to try to keep myself in a good mood: laughing babies, pet videos, America’s Funniest Videos, etc. Laughing releases serotonin in the brain.”

— TRINA GONZALES-ALESI, K–12 French and Spanish teacher, Desert Sands Teachers Association

“ Any time I write an email out of contracted hours, I always schedule it to send at 8 a.m. the next day. This allows me to compose emails when I can, but families don’t need to know I’m available all hours of the day. It’s made a big difference!”

— MARIAH MONROE, elementary school teacher, Harmony Unified Teachers Association
Photo of teacher Mariah MonroePhoto of teacher Mariah Monroe

What are your best techniques to keep students engaged and on task in classrooms?

“I allow my students to get up from their desks about every 20 minutes to share their work with each other.”

—THOMAS HENRY, third-grade teacher, Stockton Teachers Association
Photo of teacher Thomas HenryPhoto of teacher Thomas Henry

“ My students earn ‘Basin $Bucks’ for doing their schoolwork, homework and for getting along. They have a ‘Shop ‘til You Drop’ opportunity three times a year. We also have ‘Fun Friday’ for students who complete all of their schoolwork during the week. It’s a great motivator!”

— TERESA BASIN, elementary school teacher, Murrieta Educators Association
Photo of teacher Teresa BasinPhoto of teacher Teresa Basin

“ Engage students with realia and their senses. Regardless of their ages, students are able to associate with their experiences. And if you go on tangents, go for it. Deviation from the norm will get their attention and may become an enrichment lesson.”

— CARLOS RIVERA, TK-second grade special education day class teacher, South Whittier Teachers Association
Photo of teacher Carlos RiveraPhoto of teacher Carlos Rivera

“ First priority is set classroom protocols ASAP. Second priority is to establish relationships with the kids. Nothing else is as effective with behavior issues. Third is to always insert some fun and silliness! My students not only learn quickly if it’s funny, they also remember it! Finally, read ‘Teaching with Love and Logic.’ It’s a total game changer!”

— RUTH ELLER, elementary school teacher, Cupertino Education Association
Photo of teacher Ruth EllerPhoto of teacher Ruth Eller

“ Engagement pieces that I cannot do without: “Education Through Music” (Richards Institute) and “Whole Brain Teaching.” Both are game changers backed by solid brain research.”

— STACEY WELCH, third grade teacher, Pleasant Ridge Teachers Association
Photo of teacher Stacey WelchPhoto of teacher Stacey Welch
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