September 4, 2017

The Chronic Classroom: Strategies for Teaching With a Chronic Illness

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Having a chronic illness stinks! Whether you are dealing with something like arthritis, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, etc., it really makes your life tough. Trying to work with a chronic illness makes life even more complicated. Now when you are a teacher, add in the fact that you can't take breaks when you need to and you have to be "on" from the moment you walk in the door to the moment you leave, and things get even more difficult.

I was diagnosed in 2004 with an autoimmune disorder, Sjogren's Sydrome. It didn't really give me a ton of problems once I got my medication straight but immediately when I started student teaching in 2005, I had problems with my voice. I assumed for many years it was the typical teacher voice problems. After years of infections & voice therapy, I had my tonsils out in 2011. Sadly, this didn't improve things. I continued to get constant throat infections that wouldn't go away. Ultimately I ended up at an immunologist in January of 2015 that found I had two different types of immune deficiencies. Two years later, I am still struggling from time to time but am doing much better thanks to multiple medications & doctors.

Over the last two years, however, I have spent quite a lot of time googling, "How to Teach with a Chronic Illness." There are a few helpful posts. There are all sorts of ideas on how workplaces can accommodate a worker with a chronic illness but most of what I have found about teaching says basically, you end up leaving the field. This just makes me awfully sad. I don't see why we can't find better ways to make things work for teachers. So I have been brainstorming over the years to find ways to help myself.

These are just things I have personally done that I have found helpful. Try them & see if they help you out!

1. Tell students about issues

I debated for a while about whether or not to do this. However, I do teach older students & I felt like it might be beneficial because of the nature of my disorder. I am HIGHLY susceptible to viruses & bacteria so I felt it would be good to let my students know how important it is for them to stay away from me &/or let me know when they are sick. This has actually been quite a blessing. My students have been very protective over me & make sure to let me know if they are sick so I can kind of stay away and also clean their desks.

Whether or not to tell your students is obviously a personal choice and really depends on the age of the students as well as the nature of your illness. However, I do think that explaining the situation in vague and age appropriate ways can teach our students a lot about life. Letting students see your weaknesses and humanity can teach them about hard work, determination, & resilience.

2. Ask for reasonable accommodations

My doctor recommended that I take the entire school year off work. Needless to say, I didn't do it. However, I did find a way to help myself. I took every Wednesday of the Spring Semester of 2015 off. I made a point to schedule the same substitute & explain how important this was for me & my health to my students. They were amazing & this day really enabled me to rest from Monday & Tuesday and prepare for Thursday & Friday. Having that extra day to nap & even catch up on schoolwork was so helpful.

What would help you in your struggle?

Would it help to have a specific planning period so you can take your medication or schedule your doctor's visits? Would moving your classroom closer to the faculty restroom help? Would creating a paperless classroom make your life easier?

Really evaluate what your struggles are and see if there is something REASONABLE that you might be able to ask your administration for or accommodation that you can make for yourself.

3. Tell important colleagues that need to know what is going on

Some people are very private & I understand that but people can't help or understand what you are going through if you are silent. I made a point to let certain key people know about my conditions & ask them for help when I needed it. For example, after having an emergency surgery in August of 2012 (Why would any teacher have surgery in August otherwise?!), I needed to be able to take more frequent restroom breaks. Although my administration didn't seem to think they could help me out, I was able to work out with an awesome colleague on my hall to come relieve me for a few minutes during her planning period every day. She was wonderful about doing this every day! I felt bad asking but I had to remind myself that if she had asked me to do this, I would have done it for her. Sometimes you have to allow yourself to be helped. Remember to be grateful and show appreciation for this help in some way. Also, remember to help others during their season of struggle as well!

4. Organization

Now, I have to admit, this is my biggest weakness. I try hard to be organized but I really struggle with it. However, I have tried to find ways to help myself. For example, I now keep pretty much everything on Google Docs because I can access it easily at school & home without having to update it. This just makes life easier for me. I also LOVE using Google Classroom because I can have my students complete their assignments & turn them in online. This means I don't have to carry a ton of papers home every night to grade. I can click on my laptop & grade as I can. This also eliminates all the germs that come home with these papers as well!

5. Let Students Help You

I realized two summers ago that I was not in the shape to handle putting my classroom back together after they waxed the floors. The room is always a disaster & I just knew I wasn't well enough to do this alone. I came up with a great idea! Since I teach seniors, I allow them to add me on social media once they graduate. So I created a Facebook Event entitled, "Help Mrs. Cullom Out!" I set a date & time asking students to come during the summer to help me get my room back together. I let them know I was bringing lots of snacks & ordering pizza. I will have you know that I had at least 10 kids ultimately show up to help me. They stayed all day helping me get my room together. OH MY GOSH!!! This was such a blessing!! I did it again this past year on a smaller scale just asking a few girls that I was very close to if they could come help & I had three girls come join me for a day of working in my room and then we went to lunch. You have NO IDEA how helpful this was!

Additionally, I have learned to let students file, clean, & help grade when I can. At the end of the year, I had several students that spent the day with me (because they exempted their exams but were still required to be at school) helping pack my room up & file. I feel like this really benefits both of us. My students are helping me tremendously but at the same time, we kind of develop a cool bond having spent so much time together working. The students seem to enjoy being able to help me & BOY, do I appreciate it!

6. Take sick days but do so wisely

I am not naturally an advocate of taking sick days. Most teachers try to avoid them because it is often more work to get ready for a sub than it is to just be present. Having had multiple issues over the years, I realize how precious they are & how quickly they can be gone. I try really hard to take my sick days wisely. However, my doctor has really pushed me to take sick days before I start getting sick. I recently realized how right he is. He says that when I feel myself starting to get sick, THIS is when to take the day off. This helps my body fight whatever it is & potentially it keeps me from either getting sick or the sickness being as bad.

One of the best things that has helped me be able to take sick days is using an online program like Google Classroom or Edmodo so I can load a quality assignment from home for my students to complete while I am not there. I can even video tape myself (using either my phone or Screen-cast-o-matic) explaining what to do! How great is that?!!!

7. Let people that love you help you

My mom is the greatest. She used to come by my house regularly & just clean my kitchen for no other reason than because she knew I was having a rough time. I honestly was very defensive about this feeling that she was saying by doing this that I couldn't handle taking care of my own home. I was absolutely STUPID! Now, I realize how valuable the people I love are! When my husband brings home dinner because he can hear the exhaustion in my voice & wants to be kind, I just hug him a little tighter! When my mom offers to do a few errands for me, I thank her like crazy! I have realized that the people I love want to be there for me & I need to let them.

8. Pay for help

I realized that as much as I appreciated my mother stopping by every now & then to straighten my house, it wasn't enough. I ended up hiring someone to clean my home. I never thought of myself as someone that would do this. My mom was a full-time stay at home mom & did it all. I assumed I would be the same way minus the staying at home & mom part. I felt at first that I should be ashamed that I couldn't care for my own home, especially since we don't have children or animals. It is just the two of us. But I have learned that it really helps me. To just have someone come in once a month means that no matter what is happening with my health, my house gets cleaned thoroughly once a month. Yes, I could clean it & I do still clean but this is just one more thing I can take off my plate. If this enables me to teach full-time and do a part-time online business, then why not?!

I know that not everyone can afford to have someone clean their home but what about other ways you can pay for help? What about taking your car through the car wash instead of washing it yourself? How about getting someone to do your lawn care? What about just ordering pizza once a week to give yourself a break from cooking?

9. Balance

Okay, so I said that organization is my biggest weakness but I will have to add this in too. Resting properly, eating well, & exercising is SO important. Also, having a social and spiritual life is essential to a happy life in my opinion. I'm not great at balancing it all. I try. The biggest thing I try to remember is that my school & classroom will always be there & there will always be more work to do. Sometimes a nap or a good workout can help me be more productive than if I spent an hour grading!

10. Comfort

As I have noted in one of my previous posts, I have made a special point to make my classroom comfortable, not just for my students but for me! Check it out here to read more!

If you are a teacher and have a chronic illness, please know that you aren't alone.  You can do this! I would love to talk with you if you are in this situation. We definitely need to help each other all we can.

Please comment below if you have any other ideas that you would like to share. I love feedback and connecting with my readers! 

August 1, 2017

Grading Done in a Zip! Using ZipGrade

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I don't honestly remember how I heard about ZipGrade but I wish I knew who told me because I want to give them a HUGE hug!! The ZipGrade App has to be one of the BEST programs I have ever used for grading. It is so simple, easy, cheap, and organized! I honestly don't know how it could get any better!

Click HERE to see a tutorial on how to use ZipGrade.

Why do I love ZipGrade? 

  • It makes grading objective tests so simple & easy. All I have to do is make a key on either the paper answer sheet and take a picture of it or I can enter it in on my phone manually. Then, I literally snap pictures of my student's tests and it grades them for me. It shows me what they missed and their score so all I have to do is write on the test. No more walking to a machine in the teacher's work room to grade my papers! I can actually grade them as they turn them in as long as the test is purely objective.  
  • It is cheap. It is free for up to 100 papers a month. Since I teach about 150+ students, this wouldn't even get me through one test. However, it is only $6/yearly for unlimited. I bought it last year and plan to continue to renew it. The answer sheets (3 different versions) are FREE online. No more buying answer sheets from companies that charge a fortune! All you have to do is make copies of them. Here is a link to them.  You can also make a custom answer sheet. This is a new feature so I haven't tried it yet. 
  • Everything is so organized. All my data is on my one little app. I can see each test average. I can see the item analysis showing me how many students missed each question. I have everything there in one place, my phone. I can quickly tell if a student has taken the test by looking at my phone. I can also quickly tell a parent during a conference what their child has been making on their tests without having to sort through all that paper. 
  • Students can use pens or pencils. If you have ever dealt with needing students to only have pencils for a test, you know how big of a pain this is. It doesn't matter on these answer sheets. They can use a pen and can even use correction fluid without it messing the system up. 
  • You can easily make questions different point values with one click of a button. 
  • You can easily change an individual grade or an entire class's grades if you need to throw out a question. 
  • Only the teacher needs technology in order to use ZipGrade so no worrying about your students needing technology. 
I have to say that ZipGrade is one of the best programs I have EVER used in twelve years of teaching. I will never go back to grading objective tests by hand or using a separate machine. 

What do you think? Like ZipGrade? Have questions? Comment below. 

EdPuzzle: Make Your Videos More Interactive

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I enjoy using videos and video clips in my classes but sometimes they can be boring. Well, I have found the solution to this. I use EdPuzzle. It enables you to cut videos, include voice notes, and incorporate questions INTO the actual video. How can you get better than that? Click HERE for a video tutorial that will hopefully help you get your EdPuzzle account set up and help you to create your first interactive video. I hope that you will find this helpful! Please comment below with any questions you might have.

Polling and Questioning Made Easy with Slido

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I recently discovered this really cool tool and I am excited to try using it in my classroom. I had the opportunity to use it during a presentation I gave at the SREB Conference in early July and it was a hit with the teachers. I can't wait to see how it goes over with my kiddos!

Slido enables you to create surveys for your students to answer but you can also use the other feature that enables your students to write questions to you. 

Step 1

Obviously, the first step is to go to

Step 2

If you click Create An Event, it will take you to a Signup/Login page. At this point, of course, you will enter your personal information. 

Step 3

Then you can click on Create New Event, which lets you title your event anything that you want to title it. At this point, you can click the green right arrow key that will actually start the process of creating your event. 

Step 4

Now, you must decide if you want to do a Question or a Poll. The poll section allows you to give your students questions to survey their answers. You can select both multiple choice questions and open-ended questions for your poll. If you pick the Question section, this will allow your students (with a key, which I will show you how to use later) to enter in questions they have in real-time. For example, I used this during my conference presentation and it allowed attendees to write in questions while I was talking and not interrupt me. I was able to check the questions at the end of the presentation and see what I needed to address. One of the best features I like is that it lets participants/students to upvote different questions so you don't get the same question asked 15 times. Students can simply show that they also have this question by upvoting it. The question most asked will show at the very top of the question list. 

Step 5

Once you have set up either your poll or your question event, you will need to give your students the code. This code will be located at the top of your screen and the middle of the screen on your Questions Event page. It will be located on the top of your screen on the Polls page. All students have to do is go to Slido and enter the code into the box to join your event. 

Other features:

  • Analytics, which will enable you to see the results of the polls as well as the engagement on the questioning part. 
  • It also allows you to put the screen up with the code as well as the results or questions so that students can view them on a projector screen. 

I was very excited to find this handy tool. I can see the Questioning feature being very helpful during videos or at home assignments. I would definitely make sure you set rules about what is appropriate to enter. I also love the idea of using the polls as entrance/exit tickets. 

So how would you use Slido? I would love to hear your ideas! Please post your ideas in the comments below. 

July 31, 2017

Make Using Multiple Sites Painless with OneTab

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Have you ever looked up & realized that you had like 10 tabs open on your computer screen and you needed to save all of them? What about needing to have them all available for your next class? I know I have. Teaching several preps, I hate having to switch back and forth between all the tabs I may need for a day. I could have open a Google Slide presentation, a couple of YouTube videos, a website, a photograph, etc. and I need them all for a class period. Then I have the same amount for the next period because it is a different class. UGH!! Well, OneTab makes this super easy!

Check out the instructions below or this Video Tutorial to see how to do this! Never again will you get frustrated about having to switch websites!

Step 1

This is a Google Extension so you will need to be on Google Chrome in order to benefit from this application. Go to the Google Extension site & add it. You will notice that mine says "Rate it" because I already have the application. You will click the "Add to Chrome" button like the one below it.

Step 2

Step 1 should then put this icon on the right top of your screen.

Step 3

Now in Google Chrome, open all the tabs that you need for this particular situation. Once you have the ones you want, click on the icon in Step 2. This screen will then appear. (I used Social Media Sites as my example.)

Step 4

Next, you will want to name your tabs so you know which set of tabs you will want to restore. To do this, you will click on the words 4 tabs and a box will appear for you to rename it. See below how I named mine Social Media.

Step 5

Now that you have everything set up, you can close your browser. When you need to utilize these tabs again, all you do is open your browser & click on the icon from Step 2 in the top right-hand side of your screen. This screen will pop up & you will click on "Restore All."

Step 6 

After clicking on "Restore All," all your tabs should be restored on your browser like the screen below.


Step 7

If you want to be able to keep using these same tabs day after day, I highly suggest that you lock your tabs so you don't risk deleting them. All you need to do is click the MORE tab on the screen you used in Step 5. After you click MORE, you will have the option to click "Lock this Tab Group." I suggest you do this. You can also Star your group if that helps you organize them as well.
Also check out the OneTab Help Information HERE

When I saw OneTab for the first time, I was hooked. I LOVE being about to make tabs for each class period as well as for those sites that I need to visit every morning. I hope that OneTab helps you as much as it has helped me! 

Comment below & tell me how you plan to use OneTab! I would love to hear some creative ways to make all of our lives easier!!!

July 30, 2017

Tech Talk Week with the Secondary Series Crew

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Oh my goodness, I am SO excited! I feel so honored to be a part of such an incredible and knowledgeable group of teachers that are all joining together tonight for, "Tech Talk Week." Every night this week, starting tonight at 7 CST, we will be bringing teachers from all over the world together to talk about great technology they can and should be using in their classrooms. Not only will there be great discussions to be had and learning galore but there will be a gift card giveaway (2 to be exact!) and professional development hours earned. What a way to start the 2017-2018 school year?!

I just can't wait to be a part of this exciting experience! If you aren't already a part of the Secondary Series Facebook Group, you need to be! Just click HERE and ask to join. Be sure that you fill out the questions we ask. This is a way to survey what you are interested in and also make sure you aren't some weird creeper! :)

In order to be entered into the giveaways & get Professional Development Credit, you will need to click the image below. You can share out about this awesome series to receive more chances to win as well as answer questions for each module (the questions will be asked in the videos) to receive Professional Development Credit.

The giveaways end on Saturday, August 5th but you can receive Professional Development hours all the way until September 5th!

I hope to see you all there!!!

July 6, 2017

Celebrating Patriotic Holidays in ANY Classroom!

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I have always loved the 4th of July celebration that my home church does every year. They play the US Military Medley and ask that all veterans and active duty military within that branch come down to the front to be honored when their military anthem is played. I love the fact that we take just a few moments to honor these great men and women for their service. As the wife of a U.S. Navy Veteran and a Social Studies teacher, I feel like we cannot take enough time to celebrate these special people and the history of our nation.

I have always made a special effort to incorporate patriotic holidays into my classroom but any teacher in any classroom can do this. Just because you don’t teach Social Studies, doesn’t mean that you can’t take a few minutes to incorporate a patriotic holiday into your curriculum for the day.
Here are just a few ways that I have done this:


Music is probably my favorite way to incorporate patriotic holidays. There are so many awesome patriotic songs out there from the old songs like Yankee Doodle to the more modern songs celebrating our nation.
  • I like to have music playing when students walk into class or while they are working on independent assignments.
  • Sometimes I will play music and just ask students to write their feelings about the songs or the words. This would work well in an ELA class but would be a great change of pace for a Science or Math class too. Plus this doesn’t take very long either. I usually only do this for maybe a minute more than the time it takes for the song to play. Typically then I would ask for a volunteer or two to share their writing with the class.


I love to have students write in my classroom and patriotic holidays are no exception. Here are a few writing prompts I have used over the years with students to celebrate patriotic holidays:
  • How does your family celebrate this holiday?
  • Why do you think it is important to celebrate this holiday?
  • What does this holiday mean to you as an American?
  • Give students a patriotic quote or show them a photograph and ask them what it means to them or how it makes them feel.


I think visuals are especially helpful to students when they aren’t very familiar with the meaning of a holiday. I have used a variety of videos, both commercial and homemade over the years to help me
  • The History Channel usually has short clips about each holiday sharing the history of it. Typically these are less than 5 minutes and could easily be incorporated as a warm-up or prompt for a quick write. For example, here are their July 4th videosthey just posted.
  • I love to show music videos if they tell a story. You could do this as a quick write as well. Here are just a few of my favorites: Letters From Home, Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning, If You Are Reading This, 8th of November, Born in the U.S.A., and God Bless the USA (9/11 Tribute).
    • I like to play several of these music videos so I usually create a YouTube Playlist and let it just play from one to the next. If you have no idea how to do this, check out Amanda Write Now’s post that explains how to do this.
  • My new favorite way to use videos is to interview people that my students know. This past year, I interviewed about 5 different teachers to ask them what they remembered about September 11th and their feelings. I uploaded these to YouTube and had my students watch them. They absolutely loved watching them! I am planning to add to this compilation each year with the goal of getting as many teachers to share their, “9/11 Story,” as I call it.
I don’t think that teachers need to spend all class period discussing a patriotic holiday (outside of Social Studies class) but I think it is a great way to show students how important it is to be an American citizen and support your country. It is also great for them to see their teachers incorporating other content areas into their classroom.
If you would like some additional ideas, I have several items in my store that you might like.


This item was originally created for K-5 teachers but can easily be incorporated into secondary classrooms. This product includes a bulletin board/poster template, a Pledge of Allegiance Writing Assignment, & a Veteran’s Day Web Assignment. It can also give you some ideas of ways you can easily incorporate patriotic holidays into math, ELA, and science classrooms.

Additional Patriotic Products!