Beyond the Red Pen: Joel, Middle School Math

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Introducing our newest blog feature, Beyond the Red Pen. Every Thursday, we’ll showcase awesome teachers, doing amazing things— and most importantly, their grading secrets so we can grow from each other. This is an effort to demystify teacher lifestyle and to pull us teachers out of silos and share trade tips and tricks!

Meet Joel, a veteran any first-year teacher would love to have as a mentor. From how to increase student motivation (hint: the candy man can!) and best places to find grading “zen,” Joel shares tips that all teachers can benefit from. Learn more about his classroom grading success! 

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What is your current location?
I currently work at an at-risk, Title I school in Las Vegas, Nevada.

What subject and grade (s) do you teach?
I teach Math 7.

What is your favorite teaching accessory?
I love all types of technology, including iPads, SMARTBoards, and responders.

Tips and tricks on making the best “teacher lunch?”
My lunch usually consists of something that I could eat or drink fast.  Maybe a sandwich, smoothie, or some days just a sugar-free Red Bull to keep going!

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Joel’s grading storage area. Students turn in their homework in their specific class bin.

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After assignments are graded, Joel stores student work in a filing cabinet for the grading period, just in case a student claims he/she turned it in.

What’s your favorite time to grade and why?
I find that I can generally grade the best in a nice comfortable chair or couch, or outside with a glass of wine!

What is your must have grading tool/utensil?
I like to use a pen that differs from the color that students use.  For math, students generally use pencils, so any pen is fine, though I prefer blue because my markings stand out.   A brand of pen that I really enjoy (though I am not opposed to any other cheap ballpoint) is the PaperMate Flair.

How do you find grading “zen?”
I will find a comfortable space, turn on background noise (TV or music from my phone), and keep something in my mouth to keep my senses occupied.  This may be gum or candy, fruit, or even some wine!

What is your super secret tip to grade faster that you wish all teachers knew?
Pick and choose items to grade, rather than feeling that ALL items need to be graded.  Also, don’t feel the need to grade ALL assignments that come across a student’s desk.   Teachers can save time by simply grading materials that they will use the data to base their planning and future lessons, or exams.  Assignments like homework that may be used for practice only can and should be graded or completion only. Students do not know that not everything is graded, and will still work hard!

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What is one strategy that has worked to increase student motivation?
The most valuable concept that has worked to increase student motivation is student self-accountability.   The students at my current site are able to access their grades, progress, and assignment scores from the tap of their iPads or smartphones.  Allowing students to access their own scores and progress helps them take more responsibility for their own learning.

What is the best teaching advice you’ve ever received?
Allow students time to practice!  Don’t lecture too much.  Engage students with colors, sounds, communication, and projects.

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Do you have specific teaching shoes? If so, what are they?
Ha ha!  Yes.  I like wearing Skechers shoes, from work shoes to fun colored running shoes.  Also, I usually wear funny socks to help build another fun bond with students who are into funny trendy socks this school year.

What’s the last thing you bought for your classroom?
The last thing I bought for my classroom were probably Jolly Ranchers as small, immediate rewards, or fun-sized bags of M&Ms for a math activity.  I have been told by my students that I am “The Candy Man.”  Ha ha!

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