06 September 2015

Classroom Setup

Here we are again.  A new school year.  You would think that by now (I'm beginning my 16th year), that I would be used to this. I have had fifteen previous first days; I should be somewhat of a pro but on some level, each new first day seems like the first ever.  I already know some of my students but there are many I don't.  How will they be? Will they be eager to learn Italian? Will we be able to establish a quick rapport like I've done with so many students before? How long before the newness wears off and we're all in a place we feel at home, where we belong?

Unlike previous years, my restless sleep wasn't entirely due to my impending return to school.  This year, my wife is joining me in my school district as a teacher in the elementary school.  Now, she's been teaching for longer than I have been but never in the same school district.  Because everything happened so quickly-- her interview and getting the job all in the week before school started- we were scrambling a little to get her classroom set up. As I drove to just about every Wal-Mart, Target, Dollar Tree and teacher store on Long Island, I realized just how important the setup of an elementary classroom is.  On the secondary level, I had always done a pretty decent job and had even tried to make my room look inviting.  It made me feel like I was welcoming the students as best I could even though many of these teenagers rarely took notice of the room.  The elementary classroom is a whole different ball game.  Not only should it be inviting and welcoming but it has to have purpose.  It has to be put together well in a way that will help facilitate learning. It has to attract the right attention at the right time.

Here's my best attempt at classroom decoration:

My wife has been using Pinterest for some time now, pinning away happily.  I have been trying so hard to become proficient at using Twitter for the past year or so and starting my blog that to even attempt to look at Pinterest could send me over the edge.  As it is, I am usually on information overload.  In these past few weeks, I have taken a peek at Pinterest and what it has to offer.  I am nowhere near proficient.  To say the least, I am overwhelmed just looking at it but... there are some really great ideas out there.  There aren't too many for a high school Italian teacher but maybe I'll just have to squirrel away a few minutes a day to add some of my own materials when I'm ready.  I wasn't really looking for myself so much anyhow. I really wanted to help my wife out because I am somewhat responsible for this very swift change in jobs.

Holy cow is there a lot of information out there. Some of these classroom designs need a whole team of architects, carpenters and possibly some elves to make it happen. Coming from the high school, I have to admit it was a little much. But, all the teachers seem to be doing it; turning their ordinary four walls into an oasis of learning just oozing with cuteness and happiness. As I tried to sleep the nights before school began, my brain started racing and I could see tons of Pinterest boards appearing before me with ideas of what to do the first days of school and how to decorate your room. I couldn't sleep. I started counting backwards from a hundred and inevitably something else would pop in and I'd lose my count.

I don't think I'm ready to really get into Pinterest and I'm almost afraid to. Seeing all of those ideas really gave me a new-found appreciation for the elementary teachers.  Kudos to you for posting some amazing ideas and also for having the patience to scour the Pinterest boards in search of setting up the perfect classroom.

10 July 2015

Italy and Switzerland Tour 2015

Italy and Switzerland Tour 2015

This year we had another very successful tour! This tour marked my 8th tour and it was one of the most successful yet!  On this customized tour, we visited Lugano and Bellinzona in Switzerland and then we were off to Italy to visit Milan, Parma, Florence, Sarteano and Rome.  

I chose Lugano and Bellinzona because in this canton of Switzerland, they speak Italian and so it was completely relevant for my students.  Crossing the border from Italy into Switzerland was as easy as going through a toll booth in America! Once across, we were so excited to explore.  Our hotel, the Hotel Walter Au Lac could not have been more inviting!  It was right on Lake Lugano and had stunning views.  Almost all of us had balconies overlooking the lake!
The location was about as central as you could get and made it easy for us to explore the area right away.  There was a park nearby and the students even got to go on the lake in paddle boats!  Nearby, we found a funicular that would take you to the top of Monte Bre but we were not able to go to the top because of time constraints.  However, the initial ride (part of the way) was free and even gave a beautiful view! 
The next day, we were off to visit the three castles of Bellinzona.  They were incredible and offered some breathtaking views!  If you are going to be in Northern Italy, near Milan, I highly suggest you cross the border into Switzerland and enjoy!
Leaving Switzerland, we headed back into Italy towards Milan. In Milan, we visited the Duomo and even went to the top!  Make sure you wear good shoes and are ready to climb a lot of stairs!  The views from the top are worth it.  Plus, it lets you get an even better view of the Madonnina statue on the top of the church.  We visited the famed Teatro La Scala Opera house and the Castello Sforza, where the kids even had time to take a break from sightseeing and play soccer, right on the lawn behind the castle! 
On our way out of Milan, heading towards the Cradle of the Renaissance, Florence, we made a pit stop in Parma.  Parma is the home of prosciutto and of course, parmigiano reggiano cheese! I asked our tour director, Paolo, if he could arrange for us to see how the cheese was made and we were able to stop and get a tour (and buy a ton of cheese!) 

After we sampled the cheese and bought it, we headed into town to check out a local market and eat pizza.  I couldn't help but get my pizza with prosciutto di Parma
After eating, we were on the road again towards Florence.  I hadn't been to Florence in years and was excited to be able to show my students everything that Florence has to offer and to make them walk all the way up to the Piazzale Michelangelo to enjoy a panoramic view of the city and then up even more stairs to San Miniato al Monte.  Although they were exhausted, everyone agreed that it was well worth it!  The next day, we took a walking tour with a local guide and while she was very good and informative, my students couldn't help but comment that I practically did the same tour for them the day before, why did we even need her! Maybe next time, we'll skip the local guide and I can step in!  

We said Ciao to Florence and headed south to Rome.  On our way, we made a stop in a town called Sarteano. I had read about this town a while ago, remembering that they had found some very interesting finds dating back to the Etruscans.  The Archaeological Museum of Sarteano is closed on Mondays, but somehow, we were able to get a private visit!  The museum had many Etruscan artifacts, including  many items related to their burial rituals. After we toured the museum, our guide took us out into the fields to visit the actual tombs of the Etruscans! We were lucky to be able to visit one where they had found some original artwork in the tomb.  This particular tomb is known as the Tomb of the Infernal Chariot or Tomba della Quadriga Infernale.  This was an amazing opportunity for us. 

 After our visit, we ate in a local restaurant, La locanda dei tintori.  We had a special tasting menu that included two different types of pasta (one was their homemade pici - you must try these!) , a few different types of grilled meats and salad. It was arguably one of the best meals we had the whole trip!

This was one of the best stops along our route! Then we were headed for the Eternal City, Rome.  While we only had a few days in Rome, we were able to take in many of the sights. We ventured to the top of St. Peters Basilica where we had sweeping views of the city and a great workout climbing all those steps!

We toured the Colosseum, the Pantheon and more.  And then it was time to head back to New York.  We had a great time and shared some awesome memories. Memories I hope will inspire my students to return to Italy and to keep traveling.

09 July 2015

Pre-departure meeting

Pre-departure meeting

Once your groups are made and rooming assignments are taken care of, you'll need to do a few more things before you have your pre-departure meeting.  Here are a few things to consider:

Travel to/from airport: You'll need to decide whether it is each man for themselves, carpooling or arranging for a charter bus.  There are pros and cons to each.

Each man for himself:   This way is probably the cheapest for your travelers, depending on how far you are from the airport.  This also allows parents who are not traveling with their children to extend their goodbyes a little longer.  The downside to this is that someone can be stuck in traffic, get lost or just run late which could cause you to worry as the group leader.  Also, it's not the most eco-friendly way to travel.

Carpooling: This way is more eco-friendly and can be less expensive than a coach bus or even individual travel.  In order for this idea to work, you have to make sure that each car has enough space for the people/luggage.  Here again, though, people can be late, stuck in traffic or get lost.

Coach bus (charter): This is my personal preference because while it may not be the cheapest route for your group (depending on size), it is eco-friendly and it ensures that your group will arrive at the same time and check in together.  There is no waiting around for any latecomers. Parents will have to say goodbye at the school which might be difficult for some of the more clingy parents but they can always use FaceTime from airport before departure.  This involves more work on your part because you'll have to research companies and then collect money for the bus from participants.  Another upside is that you will have the bus time to review some important information with your travelers.  At this time, I usually assign a number to each participant so that when we come back together as a large group after free time, I don't have to walk around doing a head count.  We just count off as loud as we can! I use this bus time to practice!


Here again, you'll need to make a decision.  You can have each participant be in charge of tipping their guides, tour directors and bus drivers or you can collect in advance.  My recommendation is to do the latter. It is much easier for you and more efficient than collecting on tour.  It also gives the travelers one less thing to worry about.  I usually go with the recommendation of the tour company on how to tip.

Email or send a letter to your group

Once you have made your decision regarding the travel to/from the airport and the tips, you are ready to draft an email or letter to your group.  In the letter, you should let them know when you'll hold your pre-departure meeting and what they should bring with them to the meeting.  If you travel with EF, they usually send you a backpack and luggage tag for each participant, which I like to give out at this meeting.  For an idea of how to draft your letter, click here.

You're ready to have your meeting!  Good luck!

Your group is set!

Your group is set!

Once your group is set (meaning you will not be accepting any other travelers for the tour), you should meet with your student travelers and maybe send an email to your adult travelers.

Student Travelers

There are a few details to work out with your student travelers, like who they'll room with and who will be in their small groups.  I am a bit of a control freak and so I never allow students to roam around during free time on their own. They are always with a chaperone in a small group.  I try to have no more than 8-10 people per group. As for the rooming, it is hard to know in advance how the rooms will be broken up in a hotel.  Some can accommodate four in a room, some three and some students will be really lucky to have a double.  This is all up to the discretion of the hotel and of course, the number of students you have.  What I can do to ensure they have the best time is to allow them to choose who they'll be spending the majority of their time with. Here's what I do:

- I call a meeting after school for all student participants.
- I have students fill out a request form that tells me their rooming preferences for rooms of 4,3, and 2 (just to be safe) and for larger groups and chaperone choice.

Based on their input, I will sit down and try to give them what they want.  I always let them know that depending on the group size (I have taken up to 87 people on one tour), they might not get everything they want but I will be sure to do my best.  I will then create groups for chaperones and then a rooming chart for boys and girls with all rooming scenarios (quads, triples and doubles) to be as best prepared.  Sometimes, you will have to break up rooms because the hotel might not have all quads or all triples. This is where you have to be creative and just go with your gut as to how to separate.  Remind students that they will only be in rooms to sleep because you are on tour to see as much as you can and rooming is just a few hours of sleep and getting ready for the day.

For myself, I create multiple spreadsheets- one with the rooming and chaperone groups, one with an alphabetical list of travelers and their passport information (date of issue, number and date of expiration) and one with emergency contact information.

Adult Travelers

The adults are usually roomed in doubles unless they request a single room.  There is always an up charge for a single room, so make sure they know about that.  If they choose to room with their child, the child will normally pay the adult rate (check with your travel agency).  I would just send an email to them asking what their preference is for rooming (single, with child or another adult).  Once they let you know, you can make arrangements for them as well.  As far as the chaperoned groups go, I include the parents in a chaperoned group with their children but always let them know that they can of course go off with their child only on their own and meet us back at the designated time/place. 

Once you have all the student/adult requests, you should then make your spreadsheets and prepare for a pre-departure meeting!

22 February 2015

Recruiting for your trip

So you've got your tour all set up.  It's been approved by whomever needed to approve it and now you need to recruit. What should you do?


Advertise your upcoming tour around your school, through school announcements, on the school website, through a message sent home to parents and of course, in your classroom! Let everyone who might be eligible know that you are leading a tour and set a meeting date. Initial meetings should be held at a time when parents can attend, since it is ultimately up to them if their child will be allowed to travel.  Students of course are welcome but parents are the decision makers.  

Once you've advertised and you've set a date, you should put together an agenda.  Your organization will speak volumes about how you will be as a tour leader.  Remember that you are asking parents to trust you with their most precious possessions. If you seem nervous or poorly organized, they might be hesitant to let their child participate.

Here's what I would include in my agenda:

I. Introduction -- Introduce yourself, giving any pertinent professional information like how many years you have been teaching and how your supervisory skills are.  Tell parents who the chaperones will be (if you know) as well.  If they are in attendance, a brief introduction would be appropriate.

II.  The tour - If you like, you can put together something very easily using PowerPoint or other presentational software to show pictures of the places you plan to visit.  Go over the itinerary with them in some detail.  What will you be doing there? What will you see?

Next, I would go over what a typical day on tour might be like.  In my experience, we usually wake early and are out early on guided sightseeing tours.  From lunch to dinner time, is free time.  How will you structure your free time? Will you allow students to go off on their own and meet back at an agreed meeting spot or will you structure even the ¨free¨ time?  I personally prefer to break up into small, pre-assigned groups led by one of the chaperones.  Within these smaller groups, you will decide where to have lunch and what they would like to do : shop or take in some more sights or both.  Then all smaller groups meet up at a designated meeting point to go on to dinner where they can all discuss what they did during their free time.  I prefer pre-assigned groups to avoid confusion as to who is with who today. Another great way to make sure you have everyone is to assign everyone a number and have them count off each time you all get back together as a large group and before you move on to your next stops.

III.  What is included? Let parents and students know exactly what is included in the tour price.  Usually, tour price will cover airfare, hotels, some meals, admission to some museums, guided sightseeing, transportation within the country of travel and a tour director.  Some typically non-included costs are: tips, transportation to/from airport, some meals, passport fees, insurance and souvenirs.  Once you've covered this, you can tell them the pricing.  There are usually payment options available.  Check with your tour operator for their payment options.  I do like to plan about 2 years in advance so that the payments seem more manageable.

Here is also a good place to let parents know about currency exchange rates, how much you recommend per day for spending money, if you will arrange for transportation to/from airport (your best bet to make sure for a smooth check-in at airport), when/if you plan to collect tip money ahead of time (highly recommended).

IV.  Passports 
For all foreign travel, students will need a current passport.  Check with the country where you plan to travel.  Many countries require that passports be valid for up to 6 or 7 months after you return.  Passports can generally be obtained through your local post office and can take up to 8 weeks to process.  If a student is under 16, both parents are required to be at the post office at the time of application and their passport will be valid only 5 years.  After 16, passports are valid for 10 years.  For more passport info, click here.

V.  Miscellaneous
Here you might want to discuss school rules regarding the trip.  I have students and parents sign a behavior contract so that they know what type of behavior is expected and what consequences there can be if they do not adhere to rules.  

VI.  Question/ Answer
Ask parents if they have any questions about anything they have seen/heard.  Answer the best you can.  If you don't have an answer, ask for contact information and tell them you will be in touch with answer.  Offer your professional contact information because many will think of questions afterwards.  Remember, this is a huge decision for many and knowing that you are available will ease their minds.

Good luck with your recruiting! I'll be back to talk about other important travel topics like choosing your chaperones, how to handle the enormous responsibility, customized vs. book tours and more! Stay tuned!

So you want to travel with students...

So you want to travel with students... 

Leading a student tour to a foreign country can be exciting and rewarding, if you do it right. It will require enormous responsibility. It will be very demanding and can be exhausting but all the positives for me outweigh the negatives. 

Where to begin?

The very first thing you should do before even contacting a tour operator or even looking at catalogues is to know all of your school's policies regarding these types of trips.  Some schools have very strict rules about who is allowed to lead a tour, how a trip is to be approved, when you are permitted to travel and even down to who the chaperones are allowed to be.  If you are the first to ever propose a trip of this nature, I would consult your administration and ask how you would go about setting a policy together.  If anyone has done trips like these in your district, reach out to them and pick their brains.  They might be able to give you feedback that will either encourage you to go ahead with your plans or not.

If you should need board approval or administrative approval, my recommendation is to gather all of your materials before approaching them.  So where to begin?

If colleagues have led tours before, ask them what tour company they use.  This will be great for consistency within your school district.  If you are starting from scratch, consult some of the following tour companies:

EF Tours - They are probably one of the most used travel operators for students and can offer a great value for your money.

Explorica - A little less popular that EF but usually of similar quality and offering similar pricing.

ACIS - A large tour operator for students that retain they offer exceptional tours.  For my groups, they have consistently been on the pricey side.

WorldStrides  I think they were formerly NETC Travel.  I did travel with them once. A good overall tour but a bit pricey.

These are just a few of the companies that I have had some contact with or have traveled with. My suggestion is to start here and see what they offer and then price out your tours.  If price is an issue for your group, your choice of company might be more obvious.  Know that all of these companies are very reputable and you should not think that a cheaper tour will be terrible.  Yes, it can be that you get what you pay for but know what you are paying for.

Price differences

Some tour operators are able to offer better pricing because they are offering a basic meal plan or have hotels that are not centrally located. Others have higher prices because they offer only centrally located hotels and offer different experiences that a basic tour might not like a cooking class.  Always ask the tour companies exactly what their tour includes and does not include.  Try to compare apples to apples as best you can because once the tour differs greatly, so will the price differential.

Hotel choices and meal plans

Usually, the base price of a tour will include hotels that can be a good distance from all the action of a city center.  This can be very cost efficient for those on a tight budget.  These hotels can often even be a bit better quality than those that are centrally located.  I have done both types of hotels and my preference is to pay a bit more and stay central.  My reasoning for this is that when you are 45 minutes from the city center, you won't be motivated to take an evening stroll to show your students something different.  This can also mean that students will be looking for something to do for the few hours after dinner and before light out. I have seen other groups of students who ride the elevators for fun, play ring and run with other rooms and can be downright disruptive to other hotel guests just because they have nothing better to do.  I like to keep my students busy and turn in tired. 

As far as meal plans go, the basic meal plans can be just fine.  If you are looking for fine dining or very traditional meals, you probably won't encounter them with this meal plan. Many countries will serve what they think Americans eat, which can be less than exciting.  I remember bringing my first group to Italy and our first dinner was chicken cutlets and french fries! Really?? We're in one of the gastronomic powerhouses of the world and that's our meal?! Typically, with a basic meal plan, most of your meals will be in your hotel.  However, you can also request upgraded meals.  The upgraded meals, to me, are worth it, although can still be lacking.  Save your adventurous spirit for lunch and go to town! 

Whatever your choice, your trip will be an amazing, life-changing experience! If money is tight for many, basic may be the way to go.  The fact that your students are in Italy or wherever will be enough to give them an unforgettable experience.  If you feel that you want the centrally located hotels and upgraded meals, then you can always think about fundraising!

After you've got your approval and have gotten your tour picked out, next step is to recruit!

26 January 2015

Letting go

Being that we are now facing the Blizzard of 2015, I thought it would be a good time to get back to Te@chThought's January Blogging Challenge.  I was going to go to the gym but I don't think anyone's going anywhere. (Good excuse, right?)

Anyhow, the prompt for today was to share a lesson that you have learned from a student.  Almost everyday, I learn something from my students.  Most of the time, it has to do with student culture, often student lingo, which is great for someone who loves language as much as I do.  Sometimes, I will use the new words in an exaggerated way to get their attention, or to make them laugh at this old guy using teenage slang or just to show that I pay attention to them (hopefully they're paying as much attention to me!).  

There are always little moments of learning each day for me but I would say that the biggest lesson I ever learned took me almost four years to learn.  I can remember it vividly.  One of my students, Nicholas, said to me, ¨It really upsets me that you don't trust me to make the right decisions.¨ Now, youŕe probably thinking, how could something that sounds so negative be such a profound learning experience?  Well, we'll need to backtrack a couple of years to Nicholas' freshman year.  

I had been teaching only two years at that point and was barely wet behind the ears.  Nicholas' class was a very special class for me. As any teacher can attest, I am sure, the first years can be dreadful and intimidating and exciting all at the same time.  Students who knew I was new tried to push every button they could. They stretched me to my limits and beyond.  It was hard not to give up some days.  Enter the graduating class of 2005.  They had put aside any prejudices they might have had in my regard.  Whatever had trickled down to the middle school was forgotten and they had formed their own opinions over time of me.  This was to be one of the first classes I would would follow for four years - from the beginning of their high school career to their end.  We would even have our last class of their last year together.  

This class and I just seemed to click so well. They were into what I was teaching.  They were respectful and they wanted to please me.  I was able to try out so many lessons with them and I learned a lot about teaching from them.  As a result of our time together, I had a very strong rapport with them.  Many of them even came on my very first overseas trip to Italy.  To say that I was close with many of them was an understatement.  We would spend a lot of time together over the years and not just in class, but also during our X-time (an extra period at the end of the day for extra help) mostly chatting about their lives.  I became more than a teacher. I was a counselor, a second parent, a friend.  

Eighth period, the last day of the school year 2005 was a very difficult one for me.  I remember this vividly as well.  I remember Matt writing on my board over and over that he would never leave. I remember writing in Kristin's yearbook and not wanting to stop because I knew it meant it would all be over.  The day. The year. My time with this class. I looked up to see Kristin in my doorway, crying.  I never imagined being so moved by students to the point of tears. Graduation day was even harder.  I just remember being so proud of this class and wanting them to go out there into the world and do great things but at the same time never leave.  

Back to that statement by Nicholas.  I knew when he said that to me, not too long before the end of the year, that I had to find a way to create a healthy distance between myself and my students and not because this was a bad experience but because I had to find a way to still care about my students, help them in any way I could, be there for them but be able to let them go when it was time.  This was difficult for me and took some time but I can say now, some ten years later, that I have been better for that experience and have been able to watch my kids graduate with joy (ok- even a stray tear at times) and let them go.

19 January 2015


I'm still behind in the January Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge but I have decided that given my crazy schedule of teaching, tutoring and parenting, I will answer the prompts that pique my interest and do as many as time will allow. 

The prompt is: What changes do you envision in the next ten years?

The only major changes (other than some political ones) I see coming down the pike will be with regards to technology.  Technology is coming at us at lightning speed.  Some of these advances are very exciting but some overwhelming.  I have mentioned in other blog posts that I, myself feel at times very overwhelmed and wonder where I will find the time to maintain all this technology and integrate it into my daily teaching.  I have embraced some technology and have shied away from other aspects.  Some questions I keep asking myself are: 
1.  When will I have a good enough balance between technology and so-called traditional methods? 
2.  How many times will I become accustomed to something and then have to scrap it for the latest advancement?
3.  Is technology hurting us in some ways?
4.  Am I too old to move this fast and if I am, will I become ineffective at my job?

While I recognize that I have to be updated and tech-aware, I can't help but come back to the idea that some things about what I do everyday cannot be done by a computer, tablet or smartphone.  For one, the human interaction cannot be replicated.  I don't really know anyone who has a real relationship with Siri. But I do like to think that I have established good relations with my students and this is what I think is key in having them enjoy my class- or at least what keeps them from cutting my class.  Sure, everyone loves the excitement that technology can add to a classroom but can it replace human interaction? 

So, in answer to this particular prompt, I say that in ten years, I envision that I will have found a balance between technology and traditional methods. I will have learned to embrace and maintain what is necessary and discard the rest so that I don't feel overwhelmed.  I will not be ¨run over¨ by lightning fast technology.  I will be creating a love for my subject material by being me, by creating and fostering excellent rapports with my students. I will be sitting in my classroom after school, enjoying visits from former students and building relations with my current ones.  

14 January 2015

So you want to be a teacher?

Te@chThought's prompt for today is:

If a young person told you they wanted to become a teacher, what would you tell him/her?

Honestly, I'd tell them to go for it! I know the climate now with Common Core, APPR and tax caps don't really make it seem appealing anymore.  To some degree, I even think that teachers have lost their perceived importance in society but every job has its pros and cons but I truly believe that the pros outweigh the cons.  It's really funny because my younger son used to say that he wanted to be a science teacher.  Then, one day a few months ago, he says, "I don't want to be a teacher anymore." When asked why, he replied, ¨You (my wife and I) are always working! I don't want to work that much.¨  It's true. We are always working on something related to our career.  However, when he's a bit older, I would tell him (and any current student) that teaching is not the career to go into if you are looking to be listed as one Forbes' millionaires.  It is not the career to go into if you don't want to work long hours.  It is not the profession for you if you want to become famous.

At this point, you might be thinking, wow, then why would I become a teacher.  I get to share my love for my subject material (Italian) everyday with a mostly captive audience. It's true that I will never be among the richest in the world but you cannot put a price on knowing that you have made a difference in so many lives.  Each and every year, many of my students come back and share stories about Italian and their lives in general.  Some even write letters telling you what an impact you've had on them. I have even been invited to college graduations of former students. Knowing that you had such an important role in their lives is worth more than any salary.  It almost makes you feel like you are famous, if even in a smaller world, but famous nonetheless.

There are other benefits of teaching.  If you plan on having a family, teaching does give you an opportunity to spend more time with them.  We do have a good amount of time off, although for me the only time that I really feel like I'm off is during the summer because on all my other vacations, I'm either leading a tour to Europe or catching up on grading or lesson planning. But that's me. This was my choice. I got lucky. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.

13 January 2015

On this page, I thought I would share my ideas, tips and experiences traveling with students. I believe that travel and education go hand in hand.  Travel can open your eyes to a world beyond your own and teach you about cultures, beliefs, foods and history.  I can't think of any reason that travel could not enhance every subject area, whether it be a foreign language, art, history or science.  

Just a little bit of a background.  I have been traveling with students since 2005.  This April will mark my eighth tour that I have led to Italy.  I have used a few different tour companies but have found that they all had merits.  In the end, you have to go with who you are comfortable with and what works best for your students.  I have been customizing my tours since my third tour and have found this experience to be the most fulfilling.  I have also led adult tours to Italy (completely different and the similar at the same time!) I have a few tours in the works and am excited to begin recruiting for those.

I look forward to sharing!

Improving my teaching through digital learning

Today's prompt from Te@achThought is:

What is one area of digital learning that you want to improve on in 2015? How are you going to do this?

I think that this post will go hand-in-hand with yesterday's post.  In my previous post, How do you do it?!, I have expressed my concerns about staying relevant and staying up-to-date professionally. My goal for 2015 is to get a handle on how I can maintain various formats (blog, Twitter, Google Classroom, etc) and come to some resolution as to which are the most important/effective.  The best way I can think to improve in this area is to do what I did in the previous post--ask for help! I have asked for comments/ideas from fellow teachers and I am enlisting the help of a student for my Google Classroom. It's liberating to admit that I need help and that I am not an expert.  Often, I think that teachers are expected to have all the answers and not just by our students.  It is something we place upon ourselves.  I'm learning every day from my students and from my colleagues. When and if I am able to achieve this goal, I promise to share! 

12 January 2015

How do you do it?!

How do you do it?!

So,  I just learned that there was another blog challenge from my friends over at Te@chThought.  I'm a little behind so I've decided to choose the prompts from the first two weeks that inspired me the most and hopefully, I'll catch up!  Before I get into my first post of the January Blog Challenge, I'd just like to say that I am a firm believer that the universe really answers you.  I was just saying the other day that I needed to get back to my blog and was thinking how great it was that Te@chThought gave me so many great prompts through their past challenges, I didn't know how I'd get back to blogging.  Lo and behold, as I scrolled through my Twitter feed the other day, I saw that there was a January Challenge and I thought to myself, ¨How perfect!¨ And here I am...

The first prompt that caught my attention was: 

How am I going to update myself professionally?

This morning, while photocopying from my newest materials acquired through the grant I had mentioned in a previous post, (but definitely worth saying thanks again to IACE (The Italian American Committee on Education) -  GRAZIE MILLE!! ), I asked one of my students to help me with my Google Classroom.  David is pretty much a genius at these things.  He set up our Italian Honor Society webpage, our Twitter account and has been lending a hand to teachers with their sites.  As I was asking him for the help, I realized how overwhelmed I am feeling--and we've only just come back from a nice two-week break. 

I would like to appeal to all those teachers out there who might be able to help me with tips, ideas, or even just moral support.  I am new to blogging, Twitter, Google sites and Google Classroom.  The possibilities seem endless but inevitable if I am to be updated professionally.  I made a web page through Google sites -https://sites.google.com/a/comsewogue.k12.ny.us/sigdrucker/ and I'm pretty proud of it. I did it with some help through a training class.  My next focus was to try and get my Google Classroom set up and streamlined.  Well, the set up part sort of happened.  Then all the new materials arrived and I was so excited that Google Classroom fell to the wayside. The excitement of new materials made Google Classroom I would just get around to - eventually. Now I really want to because I have been using Google Docs and having my students share work with me and it occurs to me that things would just be easier to find, stored in neat folders if I had not been sidetracked and just set up my Google Classroom. Sigh.

So my questions are the following: How does one maintain a website, a Google Classroom, a Twitter account, teach, grade, plan, blog and have a family all at the same time and be good at all of it? Is it possible? What things should I choose that will help me the most professionally?  I want to be the best teacher I can be. I want to be relevant and updated but at what cost? What will suffer for it (if anything)? 

08 January 2015

Too much stuff?

It's been a while since I last wrote in my blog. Holidays and everyday life are two reasons for my absence. Another very good reason is that I have too much stuff. And by stuff, I mean, assorted materials and books that I consult in order to plan my lessons. My stuff is in almost every room of the house. It's in my bathroom,
There's plenty on my nightstand,
and here's my pile on the kitchen table. We won't even go into the living room or the office. 

       Part of the reason for these piles)some more neatly put away) is that in the fifteen years that I have been teaching, I have made plenty of purchases because I'm always looking for new ideas to keeps teaching fresh and exciting (sometimes more exciting for me than my students but these days, it takes a lot to impress them). I'll admit I have a little bit of a problem- and no it's not hoarding- I just need to be in the know. I need to be current. I need to find ways to reinvent the wheel. I need to be a better teacher. And how can I do all this?Stuff. Books. DVDs. Study guides. Stickers. Games. You know-- stuff.

    Recently, I was fortunate enough to receive a grant from IACE (The Italian 
American Committee on Education).i filled out the necessary information and placed an order with a favorite vendor of mine and voilà! Three large boxes filled with books, DVDs, games, etc. arrived at school. $5000 worth of stuff. I opened the boxes like I'd just won the lottery. 

   And then I brought some stuff home because now I have to review, read, and plan. My piles have grown like Big Anthony's magic pasta pot in Strega Nona. I'm finding myself overwhelmed. Is it possible to have too much stuff? When should I stop amassing materials? I still have at least another fifteen years to go. 

  I'm curious to know what my fellow teachers do. How do you regulate your stuff? When is enough enough? How do you find time to evaluate all your materials? I do a lot in the summer but I also do a little here and there (as you can tell from my photos) but I'm still overwhelmed. Ideas? Strategies? Aiuto! Help!