How I Teach: Elissa Miller

In the How I Teach series, teachers answer some questions on the tools and strategies they use to get stuff done in and out of the classroom. Each teacher will work off a set of questions (some of which are borrowed from the lifehacker series) and answer what they like.

Elissa Miller is another Day in the Life blogger contributing to the series this week. Not only does her room and work sound organized, they also sound pretty stylized as well.

Tamms, IL

Current Job:
9-12 Math Teacher

One word that best describes how I teach:

Current mobile device:
iPhone 6

Current Computer:
Lenovo Think Pad

What software or tools can’t you live without?
Remind, SMART Notebook, Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft Word, card stock, laminator, Plickers, Kuta

Screen Shot 2016-09-17 at 10.12.26 PM.png

What was the last tool that you adopted that was a game changer?
Remind: when you wear many hats, you are in charge of many events, meetings, deadlines, and students. I use the app to schedule reminders for practices, meetings, quizzes, tests, if I will be gone, school events, etc.

What’s your workspace setup like?
Clutter free and minimalist; my laptop, external hard drive, phone, and water; multiple tabs open, multiple Word docs open

How is your classroom set up?
Students sit in 6 groups of 3 with a cart of supplies next to them, I have 5 whiteboards, a SMART board, and my desk in the back. Everything is organized, clean, lime green or teal, and covered in chevron. I have 3 air fresheners so my room always smells awesome.

Where at your school can you hunker down to get stuff done?
At my desk in my classroom from 3:30-5:30 when everyone else has left {how do they do that?} and every full moon I might actually accomplish things on my plan period.

What non-math stuff do you do at your school?
Student Council Sponsor, Prom Sponsor, HS Cheer Coach, and anything that requires being organized or techie

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
Have everything ready for the next day before you leave school. If not, the copier will break, you’ll have to cover someone’s class, and you will end up unprepared. Get to school early to make copies. Bring your own lunch instead of paying for school lunch. Lay out your entire outfit the night before {including shoes, jewelry, bag, lipstick}. Pack your lunch, fill your water bottle, and have breakfast set out for the next as much as you can. Choose one weekend day and get as much work as you can done so your weeknights can be free and you can spend your plan period grading and copying. Keep a spreadsheet of changes to make or notes for each skill in each course; then you have a ready made summer to-do list.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
I just use e-mail and the sticky notes windows app.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
I’d have to say iPad because I use it for conferences and trips and I walk around with it at home so I can watch TV while I get my 12,000 steps in. Otherwise, my laminator. ❤

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
Color coordinating my outfits and organizing everything

When it comes to work, organization, teaching, what do you need to work on the most?
Teaching. My pacing is very slow and I never get far enough into the curriculum. I also never do rich tasks, or open middle, or low-floor, high-ceiling, or three acts, or any of that fancy stuff.

What is the key to good classroom management?
Building relationship with students and consistency. I had good relationships my first year but no consistency so I had a lot of problems. Once I just decided to start being consistent, I think students like me even more. It’s hard and scary but you just have to do it anyway. Just start. It gets easier and now I’m almost obsessive about it. It helps if you really like your job and really like your kids. I find many ways to invest in my students’ lives and I think I see the benefits of that on a daily basis. I’ve probably written 10 or less office referrals in my 8 years of teaching.

While you’re teaching, what do you have in your hand (if anything)?
A dry erase marker or SMART board marker.

How do you manage the flow of paper in your teaching? How do students hand in paper? How do they get it back?
Everything gets turned in to two baskets: the green GRADE ME! basket or the blue MORE TIME basket. The More Time basket has been a life saver! I have 2 Sterilite 12-drawer carts stacked on top of each other so each period has a designated drawer. Graded papers and copies go in each drawer. I pass back papers to student individually the next day. A place for everything and everything in it’s place!

What do you use to plan? Do you use a different tool for the bigger picture (unit/course)?
I can’t live without a pacing guide for the whole year {even if I only get halfway through it}. Each unit is on a different page in a Word Document. I list the skills, what problems they match on the final exam, the date we started and ended, what type of activities I used, what type of assessments I used, and what math practices we used. For each lesson, I plan notes to go in their INBs, an activity to use and reinforce the notes, and a quiz.

How do you manage your time in the classroom?
Time goes by really fast. I try to keep the bell ringer less than 5 minutes. I end 2 minutes early for students to clean up and put their binders away. Other than that I just go with the flow I have planned in my head, unless I feel like the class is getting bored or lost. I do try to alternate between me talking, them talking, and silence because I feel like everybody needs some of all of those.

How does your grading system look different from anyone else?
In my school, I’m the only person who only grades quizzes and tests. I don’t give grades for in-class assignments and I don’t give homework or daily points.

What do you listen to while you work? Do you play music in class?
No and no. I can’t concentrate with music and I don’t really listen to music much. The kids ask me to play music often but we aren’t supposed to stream music and I don’t want to listen to it anyway.

What are you currently reading?
The Bible

How do you recharge?
I take daily naps, watch Jimmy Fallon, go shopping and out to eat on Fridays, plan event free Saturdays so I can clean, work, and get everything done, and then use Sundays to relax and be lazy.

What’s your sleep routine like?
I go to bed around 12:30 and wake up at 6:00. Hence the daily naps from 5:00ish to 6:30ish.

I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Is what you’re doing now better than what you were doing before?”
“You can’t fill others up if you are empty.”
“Let your pile of good things grow.”
“Be less helpful.”


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