Probably this is most useful for you teachers out there, but the rest of you can still read it. If you want.
Best thing I bought for my classroom: two cheap paper maps (US and world) that I laminated and hung in my room. Geography is a pretty abstract concept for my kids, many of whom really only deal well in the concrete. The whole city/state/country thing seems to elude them. Also, many of my kids have never left San Antonio, much less Texas. They don't really expect to either. So knowing the world beyond their neighborhood doesn't seem very important. I've felt like I was at least doing my part to try to combat this by pointing out on the maps any place we read about. Including today, when we were reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and one of the students asked me whether Kansas was a real place.
Best thing I did, instruction-wise: journaling. I used this with the college classes I taught in NY in large part to buy myself ten minutes to figure out which class I was in and what, if anything, I'd planned for us to do. I was teaching four subjects to seven classes in two different buildings with only a few minutes between classes. But it also helped me get to know my students and helped them build some confidence in their writing because they could write about subjects they had knowledge about. So I added it into my English classes this year. It showed me what we needed to work on at the beginning of the year (ranging from lining writing up with the margin to writing in complete sentences to idea generation, etc.) and has showed me the progress they've made since then. The kind of students who have me are mostly intimidated by writing. Giving them an easy topic to write just a few sentences about where spelling and grammar don't count can really help to unlock something in some of them. Plus it established a routine for starting class and getting calmed down and to work right away.
Best technology tool discovery: WordTalk. It's a free text-to-speech program that loads directly into Word. My students don't need to use a whole separate program to have things read to them. They can be in a computer lab typing a paper and look like every other kid, but instead of music playing on their headphones from whatever website they managed to get to around the filter, my kids can be hearing WordTalk read their paper back to them so they can check it. Or listen to the spell check read them the words it suggests so they can pick the one they were going for instead of whatever's first.
Best educational game website: Spelling City. Put in words for a kid to practice and they can play a bunch of games to practice them. HangMouse is a favorite in my room.
Best educational website overall: National Geographic for Kids. Here's the best commercial they could get: one of my kids, upon going to the website, said, "I'm going to learn about the world!" We used the Creature Features to do very simple animal reports. The kids like to play the games and watch the videos when I give them free computer time.
Best punt: My death plague snot invasion coincided with two days of reading standardized tests aloud, meaning that by noon, I'd have no voice. I used Storyline Online to show Knots on a Counting Rope. It's the story of an American Indian boy named Boy Strength of Blue Horses by his grandfather. The first day, I looked up meanings of the kids' names and had them make a thing with their name, the meaning and an illustration. The second day though was the one that turned out really well. The boy in the story is blind and asks his grandfather "What is blue?" His grandfather explains it by saying things like "You know morning, boy?" I had the kids pick a color and describe it using a feeling and other things like music, food, season, weather, etc. Overall, they did so much better at this than I expected. Their answers were fascinating and really very accurate-feeling at times. And I didn't have to talk much. (I was also pleasantly surprised with how they did writing their own versions of William Carlos Williams' This Is Just To Say as part of our work on adjectives.)
Best compliment from a student: "You look like a secret! Like a spy lady!" I was wearing a jacket that was vaguely trench coat-like, I suppose. No matter where it came from, it was awesome.
Best compliment from a coworker: When I told my boss that I'd considered becoming a librarian, her first comment was about she could see me doing that, working with kids and loving on them. I come off as somewhat standoffish, so it made me really happy to hear that she sees that in me. Because I do love my kids and there's nothing I wouldn't do for them. It just maybe looks different from how other teachers show it. It's not always easy to figure out what I, as a teacher, can do for kids who often come from rough situations at home, whether it's abuse, poverty, neglect, shootings right outside the apartment, or just general difficulty with being a preteen who's not like everybody else. All I can figure out is to be a stable and safe person in their lives, take an interest in them as people, compliment them anywhere I can, and make their lives better and easier by teaching them to read and write better. That may not look like loving on kids to a lot of people. I'm glad it does to her.
Best vaguely-related job perk: teacher discounts! I knew about Barnes & Noble and Borders. Then I found out that AT&T offers one, as well as Sprint. Then someone told me that Ann Taylor has one and when I told another teacher about that, she said they have one at New York & Company. So today, when I went to check out at the Container Store, I asked and sure enough, they offer a 15% teacher discount. But you have to sign up online, so I had to leave my stuff and come home to sign up so I can go back and buy my stuff. (I wouldn't have given you a fake email address, Container Store, if you'd let me sign up there. For I love your fancy organization solutions very much.) So now I will be asking absolutely everywhere.
Also good stuff: six school days remaining. If anybody has discovered the best way to de-crazy middle schoolers, please let me know. Otherwise I'll just be counting the hours until we can release these wild children into the summer they've already mentally checked into.