Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How to Make Your Own Font (For Free in About Ten Minutes)

I'm so excited about this!

Using the website you can create a font of your own handwriting for free in about 10 minutes and it actually works well.

But what does this have to do with teaching? Nothing! I've decided teaching isn't too interesting, so I'm going to dedicate this blog to fonts now. Everything you could ever want to know about fonts! Fonts this and fonts that!

New blog title ?

Or rather, nope, this is still a teaching blog. So here's how it relates. For one, you can pretty quickly make a few fonts to use for worksheets and presentations besides the ol' Comic Sans and Papyrus standbys. But also, you can use this as an incentive for your students to improve their handwriting.

I think 99% of students could have better handwriting if they tried just a little bit harder. Just a itsy bit more. Or just a itsy bit at all. A lot of kids (especially boys) just don't care what their handwriting looks like, and I can't seem to motivate them.

Now I finally have a good incentive to get them to improve. When a student shows improvement in their handwriting and you can tell they are actually trying, they get their handwriting turned into a font. Once a student improves their handwriting enough to get a font, you could showcase it to the class and use it throughout the day (if you have a projector). It's true I'm a little more fond of fonts than most people, but I still think this would have motivated me as a kid.

Here's how it works.

1. Go to and download the template.

2. Print and fill out the template with your handwriting. It's hard to tell from the picture, but there are faint marks to show you which letters go where.


3. Scan the file as grayscale with 300 dpi and save as a JPG, TIFF, or PNG.

4. Upload the file on the website and give your font a name, and click send.

5. Wait for it . . . then click on the name of your font to download it. Don't accidentally hit that big green download button, it's for something else.

6. Open the file and click install.

7. It should now appear as an option when choosing a font.

So that's about all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Breaking News: There Are More Fonts Than Comic Sans

If there's anything I've learned from my teaching experience, it's that there is a pervasive misunderstanding that if you teach elementary school you are required to use Comic Sans for all your documents.

After years of thorough research, I've concluded that kids can read documents written in Times New Roman just as easily as those written in Comic Sans.

But I get it. Times New Roman is boring. And lots of fonts just don't seem "cute" or "fun" enough to give to your students. However, I do think we can expand a little. Just a little. Not everything has to be in Comic Sans. Not all of it. Please. 

I can't figure out where this original image actually came from.
Is this really what we want? It's a slippery slope, my friends.

So as it turns out there are tons of other "cute" free fonts out there. In fact, if you go to Font Squirrel, there is a category specifically labeled as cute. These fonts are all free, even for commercial use (if you plan on selling worksheets you've made).

Here are some examples of a few that I like.

Dafont is also a good website for free fonts, although most of these are just for personal use. And if you still don't find one you like, you can also make a font of your own handwriting for free, pretty quickly and easily. But that's for another post.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Should You Quit Teaching?

A valid question. One that I'm sure every teacher comes to at some point, and possibly revisits frequently.

So. Should you quit?

Maybe, but probably not.

I think it's natural for anyone, at some point, to wonder whether they should quit their career and start a new one. Jobs aren't always fun. I'm really skeptical of those people who "totally love every second of their job all the time it's the best wish I could work more hours!" I think it's human nature to not enjoy everything all the time, and that's okay. So while this post is about teaching, feel free to replace words like "students" and "lesson plans" with "clients" and "projects" and . . . synergy. Or something.


There are genuine reasons to quit teaching. If you never once liked it, you should probably quit. But for a lot of the other reasons, the answer might not be to quit, it might just be to rediscover why you started teaching and make some sort of change.

Teaching really isn't so bad. I do love it a lot of the time, but sometimes it can feel like I'm just wading through each day, tired, frustrated and feeling ineffective. And then comes a moment (usually just in time) where I'm blown away by a sense of purpose and gratification from some small teaching moment.

Holding onto these moments can keep me going through the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. Here are some I like to remember, and I'm sure you have similar ones.


Preface: I work with students who typically have a very difficult time learning. It's hard for them. And having to do something that doesn't come easily all day long is pretty rough for these kids.
To sympathize, I like to picture someone forcing me to play baseball for 7 hours every day. I can't hit that dumb ball. I can't do it. Stop making me try. 
Please let me stop.

By the time they've come to me, in resource, they can be pretty dejected and not very enthusiastic about learning. Would you be? So this moment, and similar ones, generally bring me to tears when it happens.

The Moment: I finished teaching a multiplication lesson to some students who have had a notoriously difficult time in school, math, and specifically multiplication. They got it! They got it! They were very excited, and so was I. They finished their worksheet and earned a few minutes of free time at the end of class, so what did they choose to do with their free time? They all turned over their worksheet and created more multiplication problems to solve. I can't tell you how I felt. I got them excited about learning!
This is akin to me saying, "No, I don't want to eat chocolate, I'd rather play more baseball!" 
 I submit that there are few better teaching moments than this.


Preface: One thing that breaks my heart is watching students struggle with things that I just can't fix. Many students have trouble at home and it definitely comes out at school, in their performance and behavior. Unfortunately, some of the students that are most in need of love, can be the hardest to love. They might not have many friends, and teachers can get pretty frustrated with them. I know I'm guilty of getting frustrated with plenty o' students, but a few unusually difficult students have somehow worked their way into my heart. I can't tell you why, but I don't only care about them, I actually like them. And this might sound funny or mean, but for some of the students the fact that I like them seems to defy logic.
The Moment: When I can tell that this difficult student really knows I care about them, and I like them, even while I'm disciplining them. Realizing you are actually making a huge impact on a child's life is extremely fulfilling. This doesn't happen with all, or most, of my students. But with a few I can tell I actually made a difference. That keeps me teaching.


Preface: A student is behind.
The Moment: The student makes progress!  
Yes, this is less powerful than the first two examples, but much more frequent and helps keep teachers going on a daily basis. Small moments of progress can sometimes brighten my whole day, or week. 

But despite the fact that most teachers experience these rewarding moments fairly often, burnout is still incredibly high for teachers. I find this really sad, because generally these teachers really do like teaching. Or they did. And some of them are also very talented at what they do, and that talent is needed. It would be a shame for them to quit teaching all together. Here are a few more suggestions on how to avoid teacher burnout.

  •  Change Schools- Sometimes changing schools really is the best option. Some school environments are not good fits, for various reasons. Even if the school was a good fit, it can still be a good idea just to get some sort of change and start fresh. 
  • Take Vacations- Yes I know teachers get summer off and a few long breaks, but that doesn't mean you can't still use a few vacation days. If possible, I would recommend taking off at least one day each month. And don't feel guilty. It could be the difference between remaining a teacher for a long time, or burning out. If a few more teachers took some non-guilt-ridden vacation days, we'd probably have a lot more of experienced teachers.
  • Work at a Year-Round School- Year-round schools provide breaks a lot more frequently than traditional schools. Typically a teacher will teach for 9 weeks then get 3 weeks off. It does eliminate the long summer break, but generally you'll still get close to a month off for summer.
  • Work Part Time for a While- It might not seem possible to work part time as a teacher, but if you can handle it financially, it might be a good idea. Some schools offer 1/2 time positions where you share a class with another teacher. This can be split by  one teacher working mornings and the other afternoons, or they alternate days. Another option is to work at a Learning Center, or to provide private tutoring. 
  • Do Some FUN Lessons- The internet is full of ideas for fun and creative lessons for just about any subject. It might take a little more prep time, but I've found when I do a really creative lesson it makes the whole day more fulfilling and enjoyable. 
  • Take Breaks- It's so hard to not feel guilty about it, but I think it's good to take a few 5-ish minute breaks throughout the day. Have your students read for a few minutes or draw. Really, it's okay, especially if it means you will be teaching more successfully after the break. You could teach at 50% effectiveness all day because you really need a break, or you could teach at 100% effectiveness most of the day, with a few breaks.
  • Realize You Can't Please Everyone- Just kidding, I have no idea how to do this. I still get really stressed when parents or teachers get mad at me and want me to do things differently. I logically know I can't please everyone, because often two parents want me to do exact opposite things. But I still have trouble not getting stressed about this. If I ever figure it out, I'll let you know.

Monday, June 3, 2013

I Certainly Hope You're All Prepared: Writing Prompts

It's hard to just start writing about something. If someone gave you a blank paper and said, "Okay, write! Fill up the whole page!" your mind would probably go blank. The same thing happens to many students. They need a little nudging and a little direction, which is why many teachers will provide some sort of topic or writing prompt. But I've found that giving students topics like "summer vacations" and "favorite holiday" isn't all that helpful either. It can give them something to write about, I suppose, but nothing I really want to read. And if it's boring to read, it's probably boring for them to write.

Who else did you play with? I'm hooked!

Writing about what you did for summer vacation can only be interesting so many times. Once. Once times.

The problem with one-word topics is that they just don't spark much creativity. And kids are dying to be creative. Something that helps spark this creativity is a good writing prompt. Not just a one-word topic, but a scenario that can give them a chance to be creative and have fun. With the right prompt, you will be surprised by what your students can come up with. And the bonus is it's fun for you to read too!

Here's one that I love to do. It's sure to spark some creativity, even in the most reluctant of students.

When the students walk into class I post this on the board:

After the students have finished writing their excuses, I have them walk out of class and pretend that they are just coming into class and realize they don't have their homework. I switch what's on the board to say this:

Some of the students get really into the acting part. It cracks me up. I get into my part as well and start out all chipper saying, "Welcome to class! I certainly hope you're all prepared!" Then they all put on their best guilty face and say they all forgot. I pretend to be shocked and annoyed and tell them I want to hear their excuses for why they forgot their homework.

Then the presentations begin of why they forgot their homework. Sometimes I choose whose was best or most convincing, sometimes I have the students vote.

Probably my favorite excuse came from a student who said he did his homework but on the way to school he had to help a cat who was stuck in an oil spill and the homework was ruined. It was funny and topical (right after the BP oil spill), and listening to all of their creative excuses made my day of teaching much more fun and fulfilling.

Try it!

And if you have any good writing prompt ideas, please, please give me some!