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September Thoughts + Favorites

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september thoughts + favorites

Hi friends,

Yes, I know it’s a week into October already 😛 but I still wanted to share my September thoughts and favorites with you before we get too much farther into my favorite month!

September was really busy for me - I tried to teach as much as possible, create some fall things for my shop, and also pursue a bunch of other other side hustles (blog post about that coming later this week!) I feel like the upcoming time change and the back to school feeling always encourage me to work a little harder somehow. I’m looking forward to going hard again for October and then slowing down a little in November and December.

I was sick for the last few weeks of September with a cold that turned into a more serious flu, so I had a lot of teaching days where I basically just dragged myself out of bed 😢 I’m thinking of writing a whole blog post about managing online teaching while you’re sick, but things that got me through included keeping a heating pad on my lap and a humidifier close by, drinking tons of tea between classes, and resting as much as possible. I would love to hear how you guys handle teaching with a cold!

in my shop

In my shop this month, I mostly focused on fall and back to school themed items! Fall just might be my very favorite theme to create things for, followed closely by rainbows! 😊

Mid-Autumn Festival

Lots of you used the Mid-Autumn Festival Mooncakes, Vocab Cards, and Find-a-Star Game back at the beginning of September! I’m so happy I could help you celebrate with your students. I had so much fun with Mid-Autumn Festival this year, and I took lots of notes for next year. The word I found myself teaching the most this Mid-Autumn Festival was “rabbit!”

Pumpkin Numbers

I drew these a while ago with my digital pen and made them into some number props to use throughout the fall in my classroom. I love having something seasonal to hold up every time I ask “How old are you?” or help a student count to 10. These could also be used as a cute classroom decoration! By far my favorite things

Maple Leaves

I created these realistic maple leaf props from real photographs I took of maple leaves from my yard. I made medium and mini sizes! This was good practice for me in using Photoshop and different settings on my camera, and I learned a lot in the process. I hope to make a lot more realistic props from my photographs in the future, since I find they work well for a lot of my students, especially those who don’t like “cute” props.

Fall + Halloween Vocab Cards

These were maybe the most satisfying thing to create this month, since my students have been loving them and I was looking forward to building on my Mid-Autumn Festival Vocab Cards. It feels great to be slowly building a set of vocab cards based around my own classroom experiences and the words I’ve found myself teaching the most over the last year and a half. If you’re collecting them along with me, the Fall and Halloween Cards and the Mid-Autumn Festival Cards don’t have any of the same words. I’m looking forward to releasing more of these soon and learning more about how they work for you guys!

Mini Flashcard Sets

This month in celebration of back to school I released lots of mini flash cards: Alphabet, Numbers 0-10, Months of the Year + Seasons, and Days of the Week. I made a demo set in pink, blue, and green, but I’m also making personalized sets in your favorite colors! Pastels, rainbow, black and white - custom orders are my favorite because often you guys think of awesome combinations I never would have thought of!

in my classroom

This month, I was on the lookout for allll the cute fall props and decorations! Plus the back to school sales make it hard to resist

Fall Photo Booth Props

I’ve always found photo booth props work well in an online classroom setting, and these fall themed ones are really cute! I love the maple leaves and the different types of pumpkins.

Giant Pencil

I fell in love with this giant orange pencil this month! (It comes in other colors too.) My students always laugh when I bring out my giant sunglasses or anything remotely oversized, and this giant pencil would really make the class special for them.

Rose Gold Microphone

I’ve been thinking about getting a real microphone for my online classroom for a while now, and I love this rose gold one! I’ve seen it recommended by several teachers, it can be a speaker, player, or recorder, and it comes in lots of other colors too.

Emoji Sticky Notes

I showed these on Instagram and got some questions so I figured I’d repost them here! I recently bought more since they’re pretty inexpensive right now. They’re a cute, easy way to teach emotions, and you can easily laminate a bunch of them, attach them to popsicle sticks, or glue them down to some cardstock to make them more durable.

Happy teaching, friends.

Em 💖

Props & Rewards I've Been Loving Lately

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props and rewards I've been loving lately

Hi friends,

I’ve been mixing things up with my props/rewards recently and thought I’d share a few of my favorites. I’m always looking to repurpose items I already have or introduce new things to my classroom that can serve lots of different purposes.

ENVELOPES & HAPPY MAIL

I got these mini envelopes to include in all my Etsy shop orders, and one day I filled a few with little 2D props, stickers, etc., wrote numbers on the front, and gave them to my students as rewards. It was a total hit! Something about watching me “open” their presents is apparently totally riveting! 😊 I’ve done something similar before with little treat bags, jewelry boxes, etc. (How cute are these macaron boxes?!) If you like making advent calendars or sending snail mail then maybe this would be fun for you and your students too. I might upgrade to these cute felt envelopes to make a more durable reward system in the future.

Some days I fill the envelopes randomly and sometimes I put in things according to a theme, upcoming season or holiday, or the lesson content. For example, this morning I put a little robot, ball, yo-yo, doll, and blocks inside for one of my level 2 students; yesterday I filled four bigger envelopes with items related to the four seasons to help prompt a student to make full sentences (like a snowman eraser, 2D snowflake prop, Frozen stickers, flashcards with the word “cold”, etc. for winter) As I pulled out each item she was reminded of words she could use to make a full sentence and practice the vocabulary for the unit.

Some ideas for things to put in the envelopes:

Erasers

Charms

Stickers

Felt diecuts

Scrapbooking stuff (try searching for ephemera, diecuts, cardstock shapes)

Little artificial flowers, butterflies, etc.

Cute barrettes, hair ties, and rings

Postcards (I like these baby animal ones!)

Pinback buttons

Flash cards

Little notes (write your own or snag some cute ready made ones)

Toy animals

CLOTHESPINS & DIY MAGNETS

I recently found these breakfast food clothespins at Bed Bath & Beyond and was inspired to make my own clothespin rewards! Somehow everything is a little bit cuter on a clothespin or a magnet, and you can more easily attach them to a background, headband or headphones, name tag, whiteboard, etc. This is helping me repurpose a lot of my 2D props that just sit in a box most of the time. Now I can clip a bunch of different veggies or animals to a laminated piece of scrapbook paper or to my necklace and reference them throughout class. It adds a little more fun and visual interest for the students.

PLACEMATS

I got this animal/ABC placemat at Kmart over the summer and it’s quickly become one of my most used props! Placemats are often sturdier than posters or cardstock manipulatives, and some of them can be written on with whiteboard markers. I like these animal ABC placemats too.

BEADS, CHARMS, AND ERASERS

I used to use wooden stringing beads like these in another job, and I recently saw some at a friend’s house and was reminded of what a great prop/reward they are for online teaching! Buying a set of beads or charms can be an inexpensive way to get a ton of rewards systems and props. I also love eraser packs for the same reason. I don’t have kids so I don’t have toys around my apartment to use in my classroom, but little things like charms, erasers, and jewelry work well for my mobile setup because they’re so easy to store.

I’d love to hear about how you’re using props/rewards recently - join this conversation on Instagram!

Happy teaching,

Em 💕

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5 Things I Didn't Anticipate When I Started Teaching English Online

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Hi friends,

Today I’m sharing five things I didn’t anticipate would happen when I started teaching English online. I’ve been teaching for over a year now, so it’s been interesting to look back and see how reality matched up with my expectations! While my experience has been overwhelmingly positive, especially in terms of professional development and personal satisfaction with my work, I’ve tried to identify here a few things that truly surprised me.

EYE STRAIN

Pretty much the first unexpected consequence of working online I noticed immediately was an increase in eye strain. I have pretty poor eyesight to begin with, and bright sunlight and screens have always affected me, but I was still surprised that even spending just a few hours a day teaching online made a difference in my eye health! Over time, I realized that there are actually lots of factors at play, like the early morning hours, the bright lights I turn on while I’m teaching, and the fact that my allergies tend to be worse in the morning.

About six months into online teaching, I discovered blue light filtering glasses from Zenni, which I think have really made a difference! (Psst - you can get $5 off a pair of glasses with my referral code by clicking here). I also make more of a concerted effort now to rest my eyes from screens for a few hours after teaching, and limit my blue light intake throughout the day. Other things that have helped are wearing glasses instead of contacts, not wearing makeup, closing my eyes for a few moments in between classes, and getting up early enough to shower before I start teaching. In the winter especially, I use a light therapy lamp to help myself feel more awake.

TAKING CARE OF MY VOICE

It sounds silly now, but I hadn’t realized how important my voice would be for every aspect of this job! When I first started, my voice would be very hoarse by the time I was finished teaching, even just from a few hours of speaking at a normal volume. During most lessons I sing, change the speed and tone and volume of my voice for variety and pronunciation practice, make silly voices, etc., which quickly adds up! I have started paying much more attention to how my voice feels, and researching ways to keep it healthy, like doing little warm-ups before I start, using my breath to support my voice, and keeping a humidifier in my teaching space.

BODY FATIGUE

I didn’t anticipate that working online could cause fatigue just like any other job! I’ve actually never really had a “desk” job before, and I’m used to working with kids in more active environments. Teaching online results in a different kind of fatigue for me, where my upper body and neck feel sore and my lower body and legs feel restless or fall asleep. My arms get a mini workout every morning from all the TPR, and my legs get tired from sitting in the same position. I’m still figuring out ways to manage this, but I try to work in much more physical activity throughout the rest of the day, teach from different positions, and do little ankle or calf movements while I’m teaching. I also try to resist the temptation to sit back during my breaks and take a walk around the room or do some stretches instead. I have tried teaching everywhere from my yoga mat to the couch. I’d really love to try a standing desk!

FEWER PROPS, BETTER TECH

When I first started, I really focused on the props and rewards and decorations side of things rather than the tech, which I feel like I’m still figuring out over time as requirements change or as I understand my own preferences better. I got lucky and already owned a touchscreen laptop, which ended up being so incredibly helpful for writing and drawing and circling on the slides! I don’t have an iPad, so my laptop is the only way I teach. I don’t know what I would do without the touchscreen feature!

I quickly learned the importance of having good lighting, a comfortable headset with a mute button, backup power and backup wifi, a way to cool down my laptop, and a digital camera for good profile photos/intro video. I have heard really good things about a selfie ring light and an external webcam, as well. I think having a more professional looking photo helped me get bookings in the beginning, so I really recommend borrowing a digital camera or having a friend take photos when you start, if you can! Public libraries are also a good place to look for tech to borrow for the interview or setup process.

CONNECTING WITH STUDENTS

I had heard teachers talk about this before I started, but I honestly never expected that I would feel so connected to students I’ve never seen in person! I am so grateful for this chance to meet so many different students and hear about their lives and experiences. It has really broadened my worldview and continues to be one of the best parts of my day.

Thanks for reading! I would love to hear what surprises you about working online. Let me know on Instagram!

Happy teaching,

Em 💕

June Highlights and Favorites

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July already?! I know everyone says that but I really can’t believe it. We are really in the swing of summer. I am so grateful for longer nights, our farm share, the nearby lake, and fans!

Highlights of this month were visiting my family in three states and opening my Etsy shop! I was able to launch with coloring pages, flashcards, star rewards, and some digital art downloads. I also started working on a Teachers Pay Teachers page and a Patreon account. It feels good to have done all the work of setting up each platform, syncing social media, etc. so now I can focus on adding new products!

TEACHING HIGHLIGHTS

I mostly saw regular students this June. I got my Grammar Advanced certification, and have been enjoying teaching and making props for the grammar lessons (honestly, it’s a great refresher for myself, and a bit more of a teaching challenge). As always, with all the traveling I did this month, I was so grateful I could teach from anywhere with a good Internet connection. I had fun setting up a little classroom in my mom’s sewing room. I enjoyed hearing about how my students celebrated Dragon Boat Festival (and using these wonderful stars from Teacher Lisa!)

SOCIAL

I got back into the swing of things with Instagram this month, and it continues to be my favorite way to connect with all kinds of teachers! Although I could/do spend way too much time on there, I am trying to set limits with myself so it continues to be a place of joy for me. This month, I focused on creating posts about my new products, and making fun arrangements using things from around my house and classroom. I also started a new account with my shop name where I hope to mostly highlight my products. One of the best moments on social this month was when The Introverted Online Teacher colored my printable name tag! I am consistently inspired by her posts.

Also … I’m getting close to 1K on @englishteacherem and I’m looking forward to doing a giveaway, so stay tuned!

EVERYTHING I MADE THIS MONTH

Here’s a little list of everything I made this month and where you can find it. Eventually, I do hope to have most of my products available on Etsy and TpT, with both digital download and physical versions, but I’m still new to the TpT format (creating a good-looking preview of each item, etc.), so I just haven’t had time to make everything available everywhere yet.

Alphabet Song Printable - 2 Versions (Patreon)

Bloom Where You Are Planted Printable Art (Patreon)

Color Cards - 12 Colors (Etsy)

Floral Alphabet Classroom Decoration (Patreon)

Floral Coloring Page (free download on my blog)

Floral Inspirational Art Prints (Etsy)

Marble Stars Reward System (Patreon)

Paint Box 2D Prop for Teaching Colors (Etsy)

Pansy Patch Coloring Page (Etsy)

Pastel Rainbow Stars Reward System (Etsy)

Planner Stickers (free download on my blog)

Pool Floats Reward System (Etsy, TpT)

School Supplies Reward System (Etsy, TpT)

Succulent Garden Coloring Page (Etsy)

Vegetables and Herbs Flashcards (Etsy)

Watermelon Stars Reward System (Etsy)

Would You Rather Questions (free download on TpT)

JUNE FAVORITES

NEW WHITEBOARD MARKERS

I am still in the market for new whiteboard markers! If you’ve been following my #whiteboardlettering adventures you’ll know I’ve been using the same fine tip wet erase set since I started. I still love those, but some of them are starting to fade and I want to have more colors to choose from (and my boyfriend probably wants them back, lol - I originally borrowed them from him!). I posted a roundup this month of some sets I’m considering buying, like this fun double sided (!) set from The Board Dudes and this fine line set from Crayola that includes some pastel shades.

ESSENTIAL OIL DIFFUSER

I always use lavender essential oil on my wrists when I’m teaching (and, let’s be honest, all day long) and I’m finally getting a diffuser! I love this ceramic one and this white wood pattern with changing colors.

TEACHING SUPPLIES

This month I’m loving:

  1. The simple pastel look of these upper and lowercase letters (and the pretty wooden box!)

  2. This adorable pita pocket play set

  3. Beautiful play food in a market basket from Ikea

  4. Dry erase circles! I just discovered these and I’m dreaming of all the ways I could use them in my classroom - and of course I love the variety of color options. This set also comes with some hard-to-find whiteboard marker colors!

Goodbye June, hello July! Happy teaching, friends.

Em 💕

My Etsy Shop Journey: 1 Week!

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Hi everyone,

I thought it would be fun to document my Etsy shop journey here on my blog, both to keep myself accountable and to remember the little things. I hope you enjoy this peek behind the scenes!

It’s been a little over a week now since I opened TeacherHappyMail. I chose the Etsy platform vs. Teachers Pay Teachers because I’m just more familiar with Etsy, but I am hoping to sell things on TpT too. I’ve been thinking about selling my designs for a while now and everything just came together time/money wise over the last few weeks.

NAME + LOGO

I’ve known I wanted TeacherHappyMail to be the shop name for the longest time! I just love the idea of getting happy things in the mail, from one teacher to another. I drew a few quick logos for practice when I was still in the dreaming phase, and ended up using one of them. I’m still refining it though - I think I want it to look a little more complementary to the logo I drew for my @englishteacherem profile pic.

HARDEST PART

For me, pricing has been the most difficult part of this process. I have used several online calculators to try and figure out the real cost of my own labor, and it’s honestly always more than I’m charging. Add to that the fact that I don’t own a printer, and I’m committed to using my local print shop (they’re so helpful and kind!) rather than a big box until I can save for a printer of my own. But at the end of the day, I am an independent contractor in the gig economy. I have several part time jobs, student loans, etc. I only want to charge a reasonable amount for my items - the kind of prices I could afford to pay every so often. So in short, I’m still figuring it out.

EASIEST PART

Creating! I have a huge running list of things I want to make, and it just keeps growing and growing. I decided to start with some things I already use versions of with my own students: the veggie flash cards, tools for teaching colors, and the star rewards. I also created two coloring pages, and it turns out those were my very first sales! That was really heartening for me.

GOALS

My goals for the next few weeks are:

  • Try to strike a balance of digital downloads / physical items (I have no idea if people prefer one over the other!)

  • Learn more about / offer some downloads on TpT

  • Host a giveaway

  • Create more designs of course!

Thank you for reading! I would be delighted if you checked out my shop and I would love to hear your feedback.

Em 💕

How I Style and Edit Photos for Instagram

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Hi y’all,

Today I thought I would share some behind the scenes: how I style and edit photos for Instagram! I’ve learned a lot over the past year about composition and lighting especially, and my approach has really changed since my first few posts!

Today I shot yellow props for my #proprainbow series. This series has been a really fun way to connect with you guys, as well as challenge myself creatively. I can’t remember how it started - I think I just wanted to create the kind of image I like to look at - bright overhead shots with lots of little details - and it went from there. So far I’ve done green, pink, blue, and purple!

PREP

I shoot anywhere in my apartment with good natural lighting that day. Usually this means the coffee table or the kitchen table, but lately we’ve had day after day of rain, so I ended up pushing two chairs together underneath a kitchen window to get the most light. Early morning is usually best for where I live, which works out great since I finish up tutoring at 10 a.m. and usually have lots of props out anyway. It’s been frustrating for me to accept that I’m always happier when I wait to take photos when the light is good. So often I just want to take something in dark or harsh light and post it, but then later I think oof, I want to retake the same picture in this nice light. Balance, right?

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SUPPLIES

Camera (I have had my Nikon D3300 for years and love it; they have since come out with a D3400)

SD Cards + SD Card Reader

Laptop (I love the touchscreen feature on my HP Spectre x360 for zooming in on photos)

Phone + Editing Apps

Props

Backgrounds (I love this double sided cardstock pack!)

Foam Core Boards

STYLING TIPS

BACKGROUND

I start by creating a background, usually by layering pieces of card stock or scrapbook paper randomly on a piece of foam board. It would be nice to work on big sheets of poster board so I wouldn’t have lines where the pieces of paper meet up, but I try to work with what I already have (although I’ve been eyeing these lately!) I create compositions on a piece of foam core board so I can easily move them from place to place when the light changes or if I want to take a standing overhead shot to get more into the frame.

PLACE BIG OBJECTS OR GROUPS OF OBJECTS FIRST

I place larger objects first, somewhat randomly, just to get something down and get the process started. It often works well to have three objects or groups of objects at first, or one central object with three smaller objects around it. In this case, I knew I wanted to emphasize the yellow card from my new color deck, so I started with that and built out from there.

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RULE OF THIRDS

Similarly, it can help create visual impact to divide your image into a grid of two parallel lines and two vertical lines, and placing objects at the points where the lines meet.

CREATE AN S CURVE

Another photography rule of thumb is to style objects along an imaginary S curve. You can literally picture a big S over your setup if that helps! I also included ribbon throughout this shot to create a sense of movement.

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INCLUDE VARIETY (COLOR, TEXTURE, SIZE, SHAPE)

There’s not too much variety color wise in my #proprainbow, but typically I do like to have contrasting colors in my shots. The little pops of blue in this image are doing so much work to create resting points for the eye. You’ll also notice that there’s variety in the height and size of objects, but not too much. If I had real bananas, for example, or yellow flowers in a tall vase in the center of this image, the rest of the props would go out of focus. Sometimes that’s the effect I’m going for, but here, I wanted subtle variety to force the eye to look at lots of different objects at a similar height. Similarly, it can be really striking to layer and overlap objects, and place them at random angles.

PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

ADJUST YOUR WHITE BALANCE FIRST

Before I take any photos, I adjust the white balance on my camera. I think this is the single most important thing you can do to make images that look true to life. You can adjust the white balance in editing, but it’s just not the same. On my camera, manually adjusting the white balance means taking a photo of something white or light gray as a reference image.

TAKE SHOTS FROM VARIOUS ANGLES

Zoom in tight, zoom out wider than you think looks good (you can always crop later), take shots from straight above and from the side, focus in on the center of the composition and on random spots. For whatever reason, I often end up using shots I take towards the end of the process, and I’ve just kind of accepted that this is how my eye works, so don’t be afraid of taking tons of shots and then batch deleting later. It’s nice to have a variety to choose from during the editing process. The bird's eye or flatlay view still tends to be really popular on Instagram, but I also try to include other angles in my feed.

CLEAN YOUR LENS REGULARLY

I always forget to do this and it makes a big difference!

REFLECT LIGHT BACK ON YOUR IMAGE

As you can see in the pictures above, my white refrigerator was doing this for me today, but usually I prop a piece of foam core board up to reflect light back over my image. It’s amazing how many shadows you can eliminate doing this. Even holding up a piece of white paper next to something you’re photographing with your phone can make a huge difference.

BORROW A DIGITAL CAMERA

Before I got my DSLR, I tried out a few friends’ cameras, and then I was hooked. It’s a big investment, and it’s a big game changer. Also, my phone just isn’t that great at taking photos! I think there are definitely better camera phones out there. Here’s the same shot with my phone. A lot of that stuff, like the glare and the grainy green tint, I just can’t edit away.

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EDITING TIPS

After transferring images to my Google drive so I can access them across my devices, I use VSCO and Lightroom on my phone for pretty much all my editing, although if I’m adding text or otherwise manipulating product photos for my Etsy shop I might use Photoshop too. Although I almost never use them, VSCO has a ton of great free filters. Lightroom is an Adobe product that lets you do a lot of the same editing functions as Photoshop but for free. A lot of photographers create their own Lightroom editing presets, which can be fun to play with.

MAKE IMAGES BRIGHTER THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED TO

Pretty much the first thing I do when I’m editing is up the brightness/exposure, even more than I think I need to. Obviously I’m going for a really bright, colorful feed, though!

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CROP IN INTERESTING WAYS

Pretty much all the images I post to Instagram are cropped to squares or portrait mode - landscape tends to never work, at least on my phone. After I decide the general orientation I want, I like to zoom in in an unexpected way, like leaving corners off or tilting the entire image along a diagonal. I think this is just more fun to look at, and also makes straight overhead shots look more striking when I do include them in my feed. There’s a limit to how big of an image you can share on your Instagram feed, so often I show you guys the bigger image in stories.

That’s about it! Sometimes I will adjust the white balance in editing too if something seems off, or increase the sharpness or contrast a little bit, but exposure and cropping are the main things for me. My only other tip would be to take breaks! Stare at the same image for long enough and you start to lose the ability to make editing decisions.

Thanks for reading and see you on Instagram!

Em 💕