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My Favorite Teachers in Children's Literature


We have recently started our second read aloud this year and I was reminded about the sometimes funny, frequently encouraging and oftentimes powerful role that teachers play in the books we share with our students. Especially in reading aloud, I love finding the humor with my students in the silly ways teachers are portrayed, or finding the compassion and kindness in the way other teachers influence a character.

This got me thinking about my most favorite teachers in children's literature. This list is by no means extensive, and I am sure I could come up with ten different ones tomorrow, but these were the first characters that came to mind when I pictured fictional teachers.

Some of these are inspirational, some are kind, and some are downright awful... which is always memorable and creates some fun class jokes for the remainder of the year. I have always loved to refer back to the Trunchbull after we've read Matilda because her character is just so over-the-top and we always can laugh about her as a class.

So, here are my top teachers, in no particular order, that can be found in some wonderful children's books:

1. Miss Nelson


Miss Nelson, from Miss Nelson is Missing, is probably the first book I remember reading about a teacher as a child. I still share this book with my daughter and we laugh as we discover some of Miss Viola Swamp's costume in Miss Nelson's closet at the end. I am so grateful this book has stood the test of time because there really is no other teacher as memorable. Plus, this makes a great beginning of the year book since it displays both the right and the wrong ways to behave in a classroom.

2. Ms. Frizzle


Who could be a more enthusiastic and energetic educator than Ms. Frizzle? She is the famed teacher from the Magic School Bus series and even has her own cartoons and new Netflix show (although I am partial to the original version of her from when I was growing up!). Not only does she live and breathe science, but she demonstrates what great teachers do: get their students excited about learning and solving real-world challenges. Her outfits are on my list of future Halloween costumes, too.

3. Ms. Trunchbull


Okay, I know, she is a nightmare of a teacher, or rather, headmistress, but Roald Dahl's description of her antics and her dialogue make her a favorite part of Matilda. I love to read this book aloud each year and saying her lines in a deep and angry voice is just so much fun. She embodies everything awful about an educator, but in a humorous and hyperbolic way. Roald Dahl is the master of characters and storytelling and she is such a memorable character because of it!

4. Miss Honey

The real hero teacher of Matilda is, of course, Miss Honey. She exemplifies what it means to be kind, compassionate, caring, responsible... you name it. She is humble and loving and you are rooting for her the entire story. She provides the perfect character to compare and contract with the Trunchbull, since there are so many stark differences.

5. Professor McGonagall


While there are a host of amazing teachers from the Harry Potter series, and some that are purely awful, Professor McGonagall had my heart from Book One. I am rereading the series with my daughter now and I just love how her character is written: serious, but caring; disciplined, but with a spark of excitement. I love following her journey through the seven books and beyond. She is one exemplary teacher.

6. Mr. Daniels


Mr. Daniels comes in as a substitute in Fish in a Tree and is one of the first people to ever realize that Ally has a learning disability. His gentle and encouraging teaching allow the once angry and misunderstood Ally to forge friendships and realize that she does have talents and gifts to share. This is a fantastic read-aloud that I like to share later in the year with my students, as it does a very good job of describing dyslexia from a student's point of view. A similar thread is found in the picture book, Thank You, Mr. Falker.

7. Miss Stretchberry


The talented Sharon Creech's poetry book, Love That Dog is not only a true tear-jerker, but a powerful story of how gentle nudges from teachers can make a huge difference. This book is written as a poetry journal from Jack's perspective, and he hates poetry. Through his poems, we learn of the different strategies Miss Stretchberry tries and, in so doing, we see his confidence grow and his poems take on powerful topics in deeply-feeling ways. If you are looking for a similar story of teacher inspiration, I can also recommend The Dot, by Peter H. Reynolds.

8. Mrs. Granger


Frindle, by Andrew Clements, is a perennial classic in our grade and that is in large part to Mrs. Granger. Nick's plan to replace the word "pen" with "frindle" would have been dead in the water had she not stepped in and made it such a huge deal. Near the end, we learn what was written in her letter to Nick, and the final chapter always makes me tear up as she remembers the lasting influence she has had as a teacher for so many years.

9. Ms. Jewls


I like to start the year with the oldie-but-goodie Sideways Stories from Wayside School. The chapters are short, silly, and always allow us to end our day with a smile on our face. Mrs. Gorf is the original teacher, but she turns into an apple and Ms. Jewls is brought in for the rest of the year. She has some great dialogue and is one of the reasons this makes such a great read aloud: she is so "teachery" in her tone, yet her words and ideas often make no sense. Have fun with this one!


Who would you add to the list? Importantly, who is your favorite teacher from the Harry Potter series? I am already thinking of that list in my head...

Happy reading!



Quick-Assembly Brain Breaks You Can Use Tomorrow!


As a teacher, time is always at a premium! There are always so many things to do, lists to check off, and ideas swirling around in our brains.

Over the years, several of you have reached out to me and mentioned that assembling Brain Breaks was tough, especially if you don't have a circle punch. I totally get it! I created a how-to to make assembly easier, and you can find that HERE.

That being said, there's an even *easier* way to create these little Brain Breaks, although it will take the Poster PDF version of my packet and look slightly different. The good news is that you can use a paper cutter and get these guys up and running quickly! Plus, this packet includes the posters and PowerPoint versions, so you end up with several options for these in your classrooms.

For comparison, here is a picture of my original Brain Breaks set:

The picture and title are on the front and the description is on the back. I mount them on paper and laminate them to make them extra-sturdy and I know from personal experience that they last for years and years!

Here are what these quick-assembly Poster Brain Breaks will look like:


These are smaller versions of the poster, so they are one-sided and include the title, picture, and description all on one side. You can easily laminate these and hot glue them to a popsicle stick in no time flat. They offer all of the same information, just in a more compact form.

Interested in creating these? Here's a simple step-by-step guide to help.

What you will need:
  • Brain Breaks PDF & PowerPoint from TpT HERE
  • Cardstock (optional, but highly recommended)
  • Printer
  • Laminator
  • Scissors or paper cutter
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Hot glue

The first thing you will need to do is open the PDF of the Poster Brain Breaks and get ready to print. I recommend full-color on cardstock for added durability.

On your print screen, be sure to make the following adjustments:

  • Click "Multiple"
  • Change the "Pages per sheet" to 16
  • Be sure it is in "Landscape" Orientation
  • Print on one side only
  • Do not print page borders
  • Optional: You can adjust the pages that will print to take out the cover, directions, credit pages, etc. 

I have made a short walkthrough video here to help:


There is also a post HERE that can help as well. You can make these larger by only printing 2, 4 or 9 per page. Nine per page may be a good choice for younger grades, especially if you have a "Brain Breaks Leader" as a part of your Classroom Jobs-- the text is slightly larger to help. The examples are all done with 16 per page, which is the size I found to be the most convenient.


After these have printed, you can laminate them right away.


I cannot cut a straight line to save my life, so I get out my handy-dandy paper cutter to trim off the borders, then just cut these Brain Breaks by rows and columns.


Start heating up the glue gun and get your popsicle sticks or tongue depressors ready.

I have heard of a few ideas when it comes to assembling:

  • Glue one Brain Break onto each popsicle stick
  • Pair these breaks up-- glue one "energizing" break on one side and one "calming" break on the other
  • Different popsicle stick colors can be used to differentiate the types of breaks: energizing, calming, partnerships, etc.
However you choose to assemble them, they are easy-peasy to glue right on and go. I store mine in a bucket so they are ready to pull at any time. With the purchase of the Poster PDF and PowerPoint set, you have so many options when it comes to sizes and formats, so there really are endless possibilities.


I hope that you can use these tips to create Brain Breaks for your classroom. If you have been on the fence about adding these to your classroom repertoire because of the assembly required, don't let that be a factor anymore-- you can get these done in one evening and be ready to share them with your students tomorrow!

Happy Brain Breaking!



Welcoming Students Back with Bunny Snacks and Tags


In years past, I have put out a wide variety of goodies to welcome students back to school. The first time they step into the classroom, typically during Open House the day before school starts, I want them to be able to find their table spot and have something fun already waiting for them.

There are so many possibilities-- from pencils, to glow sticks, to food-- and this year I am choosing my most favorite snack (and what has basically been a food group for me this summer), bunny crackers and gummy bunnies from Annie's!


I had never really gotten into these before, since the smaller size boxes at our grocery store were so expensive. However, our local Costco started carrying them and I also found them on Amazon HERE and HERE. Do any of you use their Subscribe & Save feature? I use it each month and it gives me even more of a discount.

       

So, once I found these discounted options, I have become a devoted cheddar bunny lover and knew these would be the perfect treats to pass out to this year's students. I also picked up some of the gummy bunnies for my students who have sensitivities with gluten.

These tags are super-easy because nothing is worse than complex work in August and September.... there's enough on the to-do list already! They are available in Kindergarten through Fifth Grade, with four on a page for less paper use.


You can easily print them and sign your name, but, as you can see, I am looking for even less work than that, so I have included a PowerPoint version that allows you to add your name in a text box to the bottom in the size, color, and font of your choice!

All that is left is to cut and tape down onto the snack bag-- I used double-sided tape because it was all I could find at my house at the time-- but packing tape, Scotch tape and even staples would work well.

These would be a fun find during Open House, Back to School Night, on their spots when they walk in on the first day of school, or even as a treat during your first snack time!


You can find these in my TpT Store HERE. I hope these can help your back to school transition and give you a quick and easy way to add a sweet treat to your students' first meeting with you!

Review: 2018 Erin Condren Academic Planner & Back to School Goodies

I cannot tell you how excited I am to share these new back to school goodies with you from Erin Condren!


This year, the Academic Calendar been updated to include a coil, making it possible to now use all of those great interchangeable covers! There are more notes pages and no dated calendar or weeks, so you can adjust this to fit any school schedule. I found that it's a good size, in that it's not as thick as a Teacher or Life Planner, but thicker than a Deluxe Monthly Planner... a happy medium.

All of the other new releases will make planning so much more motivating, too. From stickers to markers to improved lunch totes-- you'll want to keep your eyes on her site these next few weeks as these items are released.

I'm doing a walkthrough of the Academic Planner and the goodies on YouTube, so watch below or head to my channel to subscribe and be the first to hear when new videos are posted.


Happy planning!

My Go-To Instant Pot Recipes

I posted about my most favorite kitchen appliance, the Instant Pot, the other day on my Facebook page and wanted to talk about it in a bit more detail. With the school year approaching, I want to share some of my go-to helpers, both in the classroom and my home, to help support your transition into August and beyond.


If you haven't tried an Instant Pot, I am hoping you'll see how helpful this little workhorse is in the kitchen, especially during the chaos of the school year. And if you already have one of these, you can try some of my favorite recipes and share yours below in the comments! Prices on Instant Pots vary greatly, so keep your eyes peeled for good deals (and I'll try to feature them on social media when I find one!). I recommend the 6-quart one HERE. I purchased mine over four years ago and it's still going strong.

In short, an Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker. Don't let the "pressure cooker" title scare you, as it did me!-- this is not going to explode and cover your kitchen in food! I think I left this in the box for the first three months I had it because I was still thinking of it like the stovetop version my grandma had. And while this can be used for all of those recipes and more, it is a "set it and forget it" kind of machine. These types of appliances are invaluable, especially in the months of August and September, when the only energy I have is to dump something into a pot and press a button!

Besides pressure cooking, this can also be used as a slow cooker and rice cooker. There are functions for soup, meat, poultry, chili, and more. You can also manually adjust the pressure (high/low) and cook time to fit your needs. I use Manual when I make hard-boiled eggs and they turn out perfectly!

If you have a favorite recipe for a pressure cooker or slow cooker, there are loads of resources to help guide you through the conversion, but the one I typically rely on is THIS SITE. If your food isn't listed, a Google search will help-- these have become so popular in recent years, it's much easier to find information than when I first got mine back in 2014!

Because liquid doesn't escape from an Instant Pot, like it does in a slow cooker, you won't need as much when you're putting your meals together. A general guideline is 1 cup, although that depends on other ingredients you have. My favorite feature is the Saute function, which allows you to get some nice crust on your meats before they cook, but doesn't dirty an extra pan (because who has time for that?!).

I want to share some of my favorite Instant Pot recipes with you-- these are my go-to's when school is crazy and I want good food in minimal time. It's just my daughter and I, and she's only 7, so all of these recipes yield delicious leftovers that I bring to lunch for the next several days. There's something about food that is pressure or slow cooked that makes it even more tasty when reheated the next day, right?


All-Time Favorite: 

Kalua Pig from Nom Nom Paleo


My all-time favorite Instant Pot recipe is the Kalua Pig from Nom Nom Paleo. I can never, ever, ever get tired of this recipe. It is so simple and easy, you almost question if it can taste good, or at least I did! Let me assure you, it is deliciousness and is very versatile-- you can add various sauces as you serve it and cover nearly every cuisine! Our favorite is teriyaki with some broccoli and rice (which I make in the IP after this is done), but we've served it with tacos, BBQ sauce, and even with eggs for breakfast and it is yummy across the board.

*Michelle at Nom Nom Paleo has a huge collection of Instant Pot meals that are all worth a try. She was the one who introduced me to Instant Pots via her tasty blog and I've been a devoted follower ever since-- she doesn't disappoint!

Lemon Chicken with Garlic from Life Made Sweeter


I love the freshness of this Lemon Chicken and Garlic recipe, especially with the real lemons. It just makes me feel fancier to serve with those slices. I never liked chicken thighs and always defaulted to chicken breasts, and while this meal works well with either, I hope you'll try the thighs to see how amazing they can taste in an Instant Pot! I serve this with asparagus and rice and it's a hit every time.


Honey Mustard Chicken from Paleo Running Momma


This Honey Mustard Chicken is another recipe that is stellar with chicken thighs. I usually buy the organic packages from Costco and keep them in the freezer until the night before, when I defrost them in the refrigerator.

This recipe is also a great example of the Saute function being a time and energy saver. The crispiness paired with the honey is finger-licking good, and a huge hit with my daughter. I've served this with rice (see a theme here?) and any vegetable we have on hand. It's also great to shred later and make sandwiches or wraps with.... if there's any left over for that long.

*This does use Paleo ingredients, but if you don't have coconut aminos, just use soy sauce and flour is the perfect substitute for arrowroot starch.

Mexican Tortilla Soup from Chelsea's Messy Apron


If you know me at all, you know I love Mexican food, so this Tortilla Soup is one of my favorites, especially in the cold Colorado winter. I find the flavors are even more profound when using an Instant Pot, and this is definitely one that gets better as leftovers. On that note, be careful how much chili powder you add, especially if you're trying to feed picky eaters. My daughter and I differ in our spice preferences, a LOT, so I tend to make this pretty mild and add my own spices to my bowl. Even without my extra spices, I find there's plenty of taste.

The reason I love this recipe is because it involves opening cans and sauteing chicken. Some soups require so much prep work, it's just not feasible in the busy school week. This is a great one to stock up for in your pantry and, if you have chicken breasts and are out of meal ideas that night, this one can save the day! I also love that you can add all sorts of toppings to it-- my favorites are avocados and Fritos instead of tortilla chips. Growing up, my grandparents always had Fritos in their house as a snack, so it takes me back and puts a smile on my face.

Tacos Al Pastor by Evolving Table


See? I told you I love Mexican, and Tacos Al Pastor is my default order whenever we go to a restaurant. This recipe is great in that you can prep the night before or day of and marinate the pork so it's ready to go for dinner.

I also recommend prepping the pineapple at the same time. It's honestly so easy to cut a whole pineapple, I couldn't believe I was spending so much money for the pre-cut spears before! Take a look at this VIDEO for a quick tutorial and hopefully you'll agree.

*This recipe does take more time than some of the others, but I just had to share my favorite dish. The sweet and savory together makes this a delicious break from the traditional.

. . .


I love sharing recipes, so be sure to leave links to some of your favorite Instant Pot meals if you have any to add. Cooking these meals is quick and easy, plus the leftovers for lunch or future dinners really helps relieve stress during these busy back-to-school months. I have found that when I rely on my Instant Pot, I eat out much less and can enjoy a home-cooked meal with my daughter without dirtying up the entire kitchen. This is just the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to IP recipes-- take some time to look on Pinterest or Google to see just how many thousands of ideas are out there! Happy cooking!





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