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Do you want (or need) to cut down on paper? Is there a paperless initiative at your school, a harsh photocopying limit, or new 1:1 technology in your classroom? (Or, are you simply tired of hauling 60+ journals to and from school?)

Whether you’re already a digital native or are terrified of letting go of hard copies, here are 12 baby steps to start taking if you want to tiptoe (or cannonball) into a paperless classroom. Joining me today is Christina, who blogs at The Daring English Teacher.

Like any first-time-parent rookie, I foolishly imagined that prepping my sub binder wouldn't take THAT long to prepare, and that during my leisurely six-week maternity leave, I would serenely cuddle the baby while getting caught up on blog posts, reading, PD, and other "me" tasks.

Ha. Very funny.

Though my maternity leave was joyful overall, it was a lot harder than I anticipated. Between crashing hormones, sleep deprivation, and moving physically slower than usual, it wasn't just lounging around for six weeks. (It didn't feel like "spring or summer break plus babysitting", as others had told me.)

Bottom line? You REALLY want your school life to be fully prepared for your absence, because you can't perfectly predict what you and your baby will need, and you won't want to put your newborn down to pick up your laptop instead.

Please learn from my mistakes (AND the things I'm SO glad I did) by reading this post and thinking about how you can survive AND thrive through this happy, messy new chapter in your life. Even if your situation looks different than mine, take the spirit of this list to heart to be proactive and ready for anything.

PRINT THIS FREEBIE: There's some overlap between the advice below and this checklist! You might also like my related blog post, Tips for Pregnant Teachers.

There are three kinds of teacher-decorators: those who were born for Pinterest, those who can’t, and all the ones in between (such as the broke, the tired, and the I-have-no-time-to-decorate).

However, making a classroom appeal to middle and high school students doesn’t have to involve serious crafting or expensive, time-intensive projects.

Check out these tips from me and Bonnie from Presto Plans as you prepare your classroom for the fall (or at any time of year that you want to give it a boost!)

Sometimes teachers get assigned - or voluntold - to teach a class that's not their particular area of expertise. What do you do when you've been assigned to teach something like journalism, newspaper, or speech and debate? This blog post, co-written by two English teachers, goes into detail about teaching an effective English class. Click through to get all of their tips!

Congrats! You found out you've been assigned (or “voluntold”) to teach an elective. Maybe it's a course taught during the school day, or perhaps it’s an after-school extracurricular.

...but, what happens when that elective isn't something YOU did as a student, or your college degree(s) didn't really prepare you to teach it? How does one survive and thrive in an elective class that you have the passion, but perhaps not the training, to start?

Below are some tips to help you begin. Sara has taught speech/debate before and coaches an award-winning creative writing team. Julie Faulkner has taught journalism and yearbook for 10 years!

The good news: by senior year, many teens ARE good writers who can crank out a thoughtful essay that answers the prompt.

The bad news: a majority of the rough drafts I see cross my desk (as a tutor) are really NOT submission ready. Not even close.

While I don't pretend to speak on behalf of admissions officers here, my inner English teacher is cringing while reading my students' work, the drafts that are supposed to not only gain admission for them but should ideally also win scholarships and/or admission to honors programs (and the like).

What's worse is that, at least in my area, my students are telling me three things:
1. My English teacher doesn't talk about admissions essays. We are on our own.2. Yeah, we wrote essays for school, but there was only one short comment on it. My teacher says that (he/she) doesn't want to grade or judge my life.3. I'm in an (AP/IB/honors) English class, so my teacher says we don't need help writing our essays. We are already good writers.

Here's my struggle. With all due respect to hardworking, overloaded, fantastic teachers of high school English, most of whom have limited freedom in their curriculums... this is arguably the most important essay that students will ever write.

Regardless of what they "should" be able to do by now (and the fact that it's not our job to be students' personal editors), this essay merits our attention. It's a special genre that most teens need help completing, and more importantly, this essay is an equality issue. Many students won't get help at all, or the right kind of help, to do it.

So, what reasonable steps can English teachers take, and why?

1. Encourage out-of-the-box thinking.

One of my biggest pet peeves is that so many essays sound the same. One year, I swore that if I read ONE MORE essay about why a volleyball or football coach was inspiring, I was going to quit tutoring forever.

Even when students have to answer a very specific prompt, they need to EITHER write unique content, have a unique answer, or put a unique spin on a common answer. Instead of telling me why your football coach is so wonderful, how about telling us that your football coach actually taught you more about academics than sports? (Just an example.)

Preach uniqueness to students. The readers need to see what is different and interesting about the applicant, or there will be nothing memorable about the essay.

2. Talk about blending genres.

Yes, this is (usually) an essay, but how about a narrative, storytelling hook? What about mixing informative and persuasive?

With some exceptions, a lot of colleges want to read essays with anecdotes, that flow more like a TED talk than a five-paragraph snooze fest. They want to be drawn into the story of who you are and see for themselves why you should be admitted. Bending genre is the new name of the essay game.

3. Discuss how to sell yourself appropriately.

Too much self-talk can sound arrogant, especially since admissions officers love honesty and humility... but not enough of it means that the essay may not reveal why the student is acceptance-worthy. 

Even if you don't have time for full lessons on tone and word choice, perhaps mention to these well-intentioned students that this IS a spectrum that they'll want to fall in the middle of.

4. Preach the RIGHT revision strategies.

Besides editing those essays to be grammatically PERFECT (obviously), I want students to actually revise their drafts.

But believe it or not, their biggest struggle isn't usually a lack of revision skills: it's knowing which friends and family members' feedback to listen to. Peers may or may not know what they're talking about, and parents sometimes have an outdated (sorry) vision of what this essay is supposed to be. (I once had a parent get angry with me because he was concerned that his son's essay structure wasn't traditional enough.)

Have an appropriate conversation with students, based on their skill level, about how to revise and who to ask for help. (You do NOT have to volunteer to be their reader; discuss who else is a good idea to ask!)

5. Ask if their draft makes a point.

This is a fun one. A lot of essays answer the prompted question... but do nothing else. No real thesis statement, no sneaky subplot, no revelation of their personality or uniqueness (see #1). Yes, students need to answer the question, but sometimes they answer it SO directly that the essay feels clinically impersonal and neutral.

The question I like to ask is: "If you forgot to put your name on this, would I be able to tell it's yours, or would it sound like everyone else's?" If the latter, then they need to weave  themselves in more somehow.

6. Check their organization.

We all know that some students are, um, "less organized" than others. Give them a hand by passing out this free graphic organizer to help them get their prompts, deadlines, word counts, and other details in order. 
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