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Just for Teachers – January/February 2009

Message from the Commissioner

I would like to kickoff 2009 by passing along a message to you from your Commissioner, Dr. Eric Smith.

Happy New Year from Just for Teachers

If you are anything like me, you are a bit astonished that 2008 is over and that January is in full swing. Students are back, there are papers to be graded, e-mails to be answered, professional development workshops to attend, and spring assessments for which to prepare. Is there ever enough time to do it all? As we head into 2009 we should take a moment to assess our use of time. Are there areas that we can reevaluate in order to see if we are truly using our time wisely? As your liaison one of my most important tasks is assisting you. I am here to research and find answers for your questions, point you in the right direction, dig up resources, and hopefully save you a few steps so that you have more time for other tasks. Click on or for time saving tips and practical ideas on making the most of each moment.

I am continuously looking for ways to improve the Just for Teachers newsletter and Web site. With that in mind, I would so appreciate if you would take a moment to complete the Just for Teachers Quality Survey. Your insightful feedback will assist me in providing a service that truly assists you. To complete the brief survey please visit:

It’s Time to Sharpen Your Pencils for FCAT Writing!

As the week of February 10 approaches, the acronym FCAT can offer tips for success on the statewide writing assessment. Remind your students to:
  • Focus on the topic.
  • Choose an organizational plan.
  • Add specific words and details for support.
  • Take time to review and edit for conventions.

In addition, students may need to be reminded about the importance of writing according to the purpose (mode), which is stated in each prompt.

  • A narrative response should have an identifiable story line that moves through time. Cue words that may be used in the narrative prompt are tell about, tell what happened, or write a story.
  • An expository response should explain why or how. Cue words that may be used in the expository prompt are why, how, and what.
  • A persuasive response should convince the reader to accept the writer’s point of view. Cue words that may be used in the persuasive prompt are convince, persuade, and why.

As I have observed writing instruction in classrooms throughout the state, it is affirming to see Florida teachers teaching to the Sunshine State Standards. The application of these standards and benchmarks in writing prepare students to write for the state assessment and beyond.

Summer Professional Development Opportunities

It’s that time of year; time to start planning for summer professional development opportunities. Many have application deadlines in January and February. For a list of available workshops, go to If you have a workshop that you would like included in this list, please send your information to .

Encourage Your Students to Express Their Tobacco Free Speech

The Tobacco Free Florida Campaign, an initiative of the Florida Department of Health, is sponsoring the Tobacco Free Speech video contest where entrants have the opportunity to win prizes for submitting a short video telling why they have chosen to be free from tobacco in 2009. Students are urged to grab their video camera or webcam and, in 60 seconds or less, finish the following sentence: “I want to be free of tobacco in 2009 because…” The grand prize winner will receive an HD video camera and an iPod® touch and five runner-ups will receive an iPod® touch. Teachers are encouraged to share contest information with their students and to offer extra credit for students who create and submit a video. The contest ends February 27 and is open to residents of Florida age 11 or older. For more information about the contest, visit

Adopt-A-Classroom Program

Adopt-A-Classroom, an innovative not-for-profit program that provides donated funds to teachers for use in their classrooms, is an Internet-based technology that links donors with specific needs of classrooms around the country. Several Florida districts and many teachers are already affiliated with this program and have found success by using it as their sole community engagement solution. Once a district or school launches the program online, electronic resources are provided to help them promote this program to potential community partners. If you are interested in more information, please follow these step-by-step instructions:
  1. Go to
  2. Click on “Launch a Local Program” located in the upper right area of the home page.
  3. Complete the registration process
  4. Look for a registration verification email.
    Important: Make sure the domain is in your school or district email system’s safe-server list.
  5. Click on the link in the registration e-mail.
  6. You will be directed to your Adopt-A-Classroom Desktop Page.

For more details, contact Nicky Hommen, Adopt-A-Classroom’s Director of Communication at (877) 444-7666 or .

Black History Month

Each February we take time to remember the important people and events in African-American history. Americans have recognized black history annually since 1926. We owe this annual event, and more importantly, the study of black history, to Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Born to parents who were former slaves, he spent his childhood working in the Kentucky coal mines and enrolled in high school at age twenty. He graduated within two years and later went on to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. Because of Dr. Woodson’s vision we are now reminded of the importance of celebrating the contributions made by African-American citizens.

One way we honor this month is through the annual essay and teacher recognition programs. Governor Crist’s Black History Month Essay Contest is open to all grade 4-12 students in the state of Florida. Three winners will be selected: one elementary (4-5) student, one middle (6-8) student and one high school (9-12) student. For a complete description of the essay contest, go to Download Student Essay Rules and Waiver (PDF).

Art Contest - This year a separate program is being offered to K- 3 students. Our younger students are being asked to participate in an art contest to honor Black History Month. The rules, requirements, and deadlines can found by going to Download Art Contest Entry Form (PDF) and Download Parental Waiver (PDF).

Educator Award - Governor Crist’s Black History Month Excellence in Education Award Contest is open to all African-American, full-time educators in an elementary, middle or high school in Florida (must be a Florida resident). Three winners will be selected: one elementary (K-5) teacher, one middle (6-8) teacher and one high school (9-12) teacher. Go to for more information.

There is a wealth of material available on-line for your use during Black History Month. Go to and for a complete list of these useful lesson plans, activities, and informational resources.

Spotlight on Law Enforcement Officers

This month’s spotlight is on the amazing law enforcement officers from across the state who participated in Celebrate Literacy Week January 12 – 16th. These officers took time from their demanding schedules to model the importance of reading in all vocations. The promotion included:
  • at least 44 law enforcement officers
  • 56 schools in 15 counties
  • over 300 first grade classes & approximately 5000 students
  • 14 state and local agencies, including Florida Highway Patrol, 11 Local Police Departments, Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, and Suwannee County Sherriff’s Department

Homosassa Elementary School captured the thoughts of many when they wrote, “Trooper Cloud read to our first grade students. The students were very impressed to have a "policeman" read to them. Trooper Cloud not only read to the children, but talked to them about safety and answered their questions. It was a wonderful experience!”

It's Mardi Gras Time at Universal!

Universal Orland® Resort, in partnership with the Florida Education Foundation, is offering ALL Florida School Personnel (Pre-K thru 12th Grade) coupons for a free one-day, two-park ticket and deeply discounted guest tickets…AND the scheduled Mardi Gras festivities on event nights are included! Promotion dates: February 7 through March 27, 2009. Check the Florida Education Foundation’s Web site: for details.