My Favorite History Resources

History Faves

Happy new school year! I have four sections of ELA and two sections of Ancient History this year, and I am loving only having two preps! I’m trying to post more information for you here on this blog platform since it holds more links than Instagram, and is sometimes easier to reference than a YouTube video. But check out both of those platforms for daily tips as well!

Here are 6 of my favorite resources to use in my history classes:

Flocabulary

I started using Flocabulary about six years ago to teach the Bill of Rights to my 8th grade students with a rap song. Since then they’ve added every subject area to their site that you could ever need, including Social Emotional Learning and Financial Literacy. I currently use their Ancient History units, the Week in Rap current events videos, and of course all of the amazing English curriculum in my ELA classes.

For years I paid for a subscription and had a teacher account. I played their videos for my students and printed quizzes and Read and Respond assignments for my students. They absolutely loved the videos and learned concepts so quickly because they could memorize the songs. The quizzes and other activities were such high quality and so convenient that it was worth it to me to pay monthly for the subscription.

Now I have a school-wide subscription which is perfect since all of our students have Chromebooks. My students each have an account, so they can watch the videos as many times as they need to, and I can assign quizzes and activities for them to do online. No more printing and making copies! Talk to your administration about purchasing a school-wide subscription because it can be used in every single content area.

Our favorite feature is the Week in Rap, and we won the Shout Out contest last year! Check out this video to see how it works!

Newsela

Newsela takes current news articles and levels each article so that is accessible to students at reading levels all the way down to 2nd grade. You can assign the same article to whole class, and if they are on a personal device, no one will know if they are reading it at a different lexile level than their neighbor. It’s so great for differentiation!

This is another resource that I’m able to use in both my English and history classes, but I especially love it for history. All of the articles are from reputable news sources, so I like to send my students here to do research. Newsela has amassed thousands of articles now, and also partnered with Biography.com to provide more history content. They have text sets and primary source documents that are perfect for building background knowledge.

I also love using Newsela for writing instruction. See this video for more information on how to use it for revision and editing.

Newsela has both a free and a paid version.

iCivics

iCivics is free but I donate to them once a year because I absolutely love what they are doing. They have incredible, engaging games that teach students complex topics about civics and government. Your students can argue Supreme Court cases, run for office, and be a virtual immigration officer. This is another site that works especially well if your students have their own device, but I also love to pair them up and have them work together on one device.

Facing History & Ourselves

This summer I had the opportunity to attend a week-long training with Facing History on Race & Membership in American Society. It was incredibly powerful, and I loved learning the strategies and content firsthand. If you want to give your students a solid foundation in topics such as democracy, immigration, anti-Semitism, and human rights, check out this free site. All of their resources are based in primary source documents and solid historical research, and they have dozens of impactful and effective teaching strategies for reading, writing, and thinking. If you only have the time and resources to go to one teaching conference this year, make it one by Facing History and Ourselves.

Here is a video about my experience at the training.

Document Based Questions (DBQs)

Start bringing your administrators cookies this week so that next week you can ask them to purchase some DBQ curriculum for your department. If your school is in the process of phasing out history textbooks, make sure that they understand that this curriculum is much cheaper than textbooks, and several teachers can share one set. I would gladly teach all of my content through DBQ’s and give up traditional curriculum.

Document Based Questions are the closest curriculum I’ve seen to what real historical work is actually like. Students are presented with a historical question, engaging (and often conflicting!) primary source documents, and tasked with making a claim that they will defend with evidence. The curriculum provides detailed note-taking, outlining, and writing instructions, so if you have no experience as an English teacher, you’ll still be fine. I find that students like this kind of purposeful research so much more than traditional memorization and multiple-choice tests, plus they learn those dates and places so much more quickly in context. Students truly put content into practice, and they learn skills about consuming information that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

Additionally, if you teach high school, DBQ’s are excellent preparation for AP tests. They’re also excellent preparation for college, and democratic life in general.

Stanford History Education Group (SHEG)

This project by the Stanford History Education Group is quite similar to DBQ’s but it is free once you make an online account. I use the Reading Like a Historian section the most often, which contains quite a few inquiries based in ancient history. Like DBQ’s, these text sets provide conflicting primary and secondary source documents, which are incredibly fun to teach because students have to decide which evidence is the most credible. The research and investigation is purposeful because students are trying to solve a mystery. My 6th grade students especially like the unit about how Egyptian pyramids were built, and they build historical research skills in addition to knowledge about ancient Egypt.

If you teach English and history together, or if you collaborate often with your English department, this would be excellent curriculum to take on as a team.

My fellow history teachers, I hope these resources are helpful to you! We are teaching during an exciting time when historical thinking skills are beginning to be valued over trivia, and WE get to pass on those skills. It’s an honor and, truthfully, a whole lot of fun!

Structured Academic Controversies

**I wrote this post to accompany this video. They will make more sense if you use them together! **

My absolute favorite way to teach controversial topics is through an activity called a Structured Academic Controversy. I learned about this method at a civic learning seminar at the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which I was fortunate enough to attend with several of my colleagues. We participated in our own Structured Academic Controversy (SAC) and we were instantly hooked.

What I love about SACs is that they require students to practice three important skills: researching, listening, and articulating evidence. This isn’t a debate or an argument, but rather, an opportunity to present evidence from two different sides of an issue and eventually, discuss the merits of both sides.

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I find the topics and evidence for SACs mainly on two sites: Stanford History Education Group, and ProCon.org. I either print out the evidence for my students to study, or provide links so that they can read it on their Chromebooks. In order to keep the process moving, I put each step on a separate slide in a presentation so that students can follow along.

Here is an example of a Structured Academic Controversy I did with my sixth grade History students this year. We had just finished our unit on Ancient Greece, and I gave them the printed resources from the Reading Like a Historian website, which is free to use when you make an account.

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This was the first time I had tried a SAC with this group of students, so we went over the expectations for the activity. My students are already arranged into mixed ability groups of four, so it didn’t require any prep work on my end besides printing materials, and organizing the instructions onto slides.

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The sources provided through Reading Like a Historian are excellent, and they can truly be used to argue either side of the question. Since there are so many high-quality sets of documents on this website and ProCon.org, I haven’t made my own SACs with my own research. If the research is poor in quality, the discussion will not be nearly as deep or engaging, so I’m letting the experts take the wheel here!

I gave my students a whole day to read through the documents and look for evidence to support their side. This was the fourth or fifth time during the year that we had worked with sets of documents from the same website, so they were familiar with the format and how to analyze the sources.

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In the documents I gave my students there was a graphic organizer to list four pieces of evidence from each side. Since this activity requires such deep thinking and the best of their communication skills, anywhere that I can provide scaffolding to free up my students’ attention for more important tasks, I will.

The next day, we had our Structured Academic Controversy. I always hype it up and make it sound like more of an intense debate than it really is. So many students came to class excited to pretend to be lawyers.

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And, go! In my class, eight or nine students begin speaking once I set the two minute timer. Students have to lean in to hear one another, and I walk around the room to make sure that everyone is paying attention to the speaker.

Each teammate on Team A should talk for about one minute. If they run out of things to say, I tell them they still need to keep talking until the time is up.

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The first round is really exhilarating for students. Team B is ready to burst because they haven’t gotten to speak yet, and Team A is giggling with relief now that they articulated their evidence before the timer went off. You have to slow them down a little bit and make sure that Team B is only clarifying at this point, and not moving on to their side of the argument.

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Now Team B gets to speak, and Team A gets a taste of having to sit silently while listening to the evidence from the other side. Again, they should be writing down this evidence in the space provided on their graphic organizer.

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Reset your timer and allow Team A time to clarify Team B’s points. If either group has any misinterpretations, the other group is sure to set them straight. They only have one minute to do this though, which is just enough time before they begin to launch into a full debate.

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Even partners who were apathetic at first are usually excited to turn to each other at this point and figure out what they want to say back to the other team. I tell them there is an invisible wall in between the two groups; they should only be talking to their partner, not the other group.

This is the perfect time for students to bring in new evidence, restate evidence they already brought up, or respond directly to arguments the other group made. They are taking evidence, arguments and rhetoric, and adapting them to the situation at hand. This requires very high level thinking, even if they don’t realize it in the moment.

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Everyone takes a deep breath! This is similar to the very first round, but each partner will only speak for about 30 seconds, and there is no clarification round in between the two groups’ statements.

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At this point the two groups become one larger group of four. They can speak candidly now and talk openly about what they learned, and what they really think about the issue. It’s going to get loud in your classroom during these five minutes, but the conversations are great!

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I usually have eight or nine groups of four in my classes, and I ask one person in each group to report out about their conversation. That person stands and addresses the class, and I usually ask a few questions about the process and their conclusions.

With this group, most students concluded that Athens wasn’t a true democracy since so many people couldn’t vote, but there were still several students who insisted that Athens was a democracy. They explained the evidence that led them to this conclusion, and I validated their conclusions. Some students were frustrated with each other, but I reminded them that it’s okay if we disagree, as long as we’re able to listen to each other first.

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The reflection piece is incredibly important to this process, and to building the skills that I want students to learn from a SAC. I always do it the day after the conversation portion, and I give students about ten minutes of quiet time to answer these questions.

This is also how I give them a grade. The fourth question is, “What grade do you deserve on a scale of 1-10? Justify this grade.” Most students give themselves a fairly high grade, and that’s fine with me because simply going through the process is valuable, whether or not they have mastered the art of rhetorical and evidence-based argument.

They’ve researched. They’ve listened. They’ve practiced self-control. They’ve spoken respectfully and concisely. They’ve weighed two arguments against each other. They’ve reflected upon this slightly uncomfortable way of communicating. I think these are all such important skills to learn while students are young, and I pray that they carry them into adulthood.

My goal for next year is for all of my classes to participate in one SAC per quarter. The topics can be based on our content, or on current events. This activity incorporates so many standards-based skills, as well ask skills that simply make us good humans. Make sure to watch this video along with this post to hear more about why I think bringing controversial conversations into your classroom is so important!

 

Literary Response One-Pager Activity

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I was going to save this post until August when I had been properly AVID-trained, but I get so many questions about these One-Pagers on Instagram! They turned out so beautifully, and it’s such an easy strategy that I think we can all implement it with or without the full training.

A Literary Response One-Pager is an AVID summarizing strategy in which students use evidence from the text as well as graphics to convey the overall idea or theme of a story. It’s a very versatile strategy, and I’ve seen teachers use it in history and science classes as well. My co-worker had her class do this assignment for The Diary of Anne Frank and I loved how hers turned out, so I used the same strategy. I came up with my own instructions and posted them on Google Classroom for my students to refer to.

Literary Response One Pager

(I use LucidPress to create most of my digital flyers instructions, and the flat lay graphic is from Laine Sutherland Designs on TeachersPayTeachers).

The examples here are from my 8th grade English class, using the Anne Frank play from the HMH Collections Curriculum. We had engaged in so many discussions while reading the play, and my students had written so many shorter, focused writing pieces, that I didn’t want to assign another long essay at the end of this text. But because Anne Frank’s story is so powerful and so profound, especially to readers who are her same age, I knew we needed a reflection piece.

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Before we started working on these One-Pagers we talked about tone. Color choices would reflect students’ understanding of the tone of the story, and would allow them to express their interpretations of the story. I love using Flocabulary’s video and resources on Tone & Mood to introduce this topic.

Similarly, the excerpts that students chose to use from the story also demonstrated both their understanding of the main ideas and theme, and allowed them to choose the sections that they connected with the most. I love when an assignment offers choices to students, but also keeps them focused on a specific task.

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Clearly, the graphics on these projects are stunning! We have an amazing art program at our school, and I also just happened to have a class full of some of the most artistically talented students I’ve ever met. I also love that calligraphy/hand-lettering is kind of a thing again, and these students like to make all of their hand-written assignments look extra amazing. It isn’t necessary that all of your students have professional drawing skills in order to do One-Pagers, but it is nice if they put a little bit of effort into the details of their graphics. These girls (yes, they were all girls), looked up what the actual cover of Anne’s diary looked like, and they studied pictures of her to make sure that their drawings were accurate. I gave them two days of class time to complete this assignment, but the students who did these examples took them home to complete and spent extra time and effort.

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The “Personal Response” section is always my favorite to read. Ideally the response will be connected to the quotes that the students chose to emphasize from the story. They can comment upon these quotes, make connections between them or to a larger topic, or provide their interpretation of the text. This is great with a long text like the Anne Frank play, but it also helps students to think more deeply about short stories. I haven’t used this strategy with poetry yet, but I have a feeling it would lead to some outstanding projects, and I’m definitely going to try it next year.

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One requirement that instantly improves the quality of everyone’s project is banning white space. (“Fine, except for clouds and eyeballs,” I always end up saying). It forces students to think about the background of their scene, or fill in blank areas with items or symbols from the story. I tell them to add a border if they don’t know where else to start. This also helps to emphasize mood and tone since students have to make decisions about color choices and cannot just leave blank space. We are not Taylor Swift here.

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My students know that I am not a fan of pencils (I always use pens!), and in my class, pencils are for practice. A project in pencil is not complete, it’s just a rough draft. For One-Pagers, students need to go over pencil in pen or marker or crayon or whatever other tool they’d like to use. When students show me their work and it’s just a few things written or drawn in pencil I say, “Oh that’s a good rough draft, I can’t wait to see how it turns out when you finish it!” I spend a lot of my own money and time acquiring plenty of art supplies for students to use because I really value good tools to help students produce work that looks high-quality and that they can be proud of.

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I was so impressed with the effort and thoughtfulness my students put into this assignment, and I’m so glad that they have inspired so many teachers to use this strategy as well. I’m looking forward to participating in the full AVID training in August, and I’ll be sure to update you on other effective strategies that I incorporate into my class. Be sure to tag me on Instagram if your students create their own One-Pagers. I’d love to see them!

How to Help Your Students Improve Their Writing

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The editing process was not my favorite thing to teach middle schoolers. It was a struggle to pull a rough draft out of many of them, and then going through another lesson on editing at the end of a project used to feel like too much. I couldn’t possibly give all of my students in all of my classes sufficient feedback, and often, when they peer edited (even in guided stations), I wasn’t sure that they were truly receiving useful or applicable critiques.

Enter Newsela. I’ve used Newsela for a long time now as a reading resource. It’s great because each article is rewritten at various lexile levels, so it provides access to information for all of your students. I’d often assign the same article to a class, and then walk around the room as they read on their Chromebooks, noting the difference in vocabulary, syntax and structure between the different level of articles.

I decided to use this feature to help my students analyze and improve their own writing. I chose a high-interest, current article from Newsela (which are easy to find!), and had my students read this article at the lowest reading level, usually around the 2nd grade mark. We summarized the article and noted the length of the sentences, the vocabulary used, etc.

Then I raised the lexile level of the article up a few hundred points. We re-read the article and noted that now, the sentences were more complex, some of the vocabulary words were more sophisticated, and the author included more details in each paragraph.

Finally, we read the article at the maximum reading level and again noted the differences. I had my students choose any other article they would like to read on the site and repeat the same activity, observing the changes as the lexile level increased. I asked them to observe 3-5 specific improvements in the article, and then apply those improvements to their own writing project.

Before we tried this activity, my students would always default to vocabulary as a way to improve their writing. They would simply plug each word into a thesaurus, pick the word that sounded the most complicated, and shove that word back into their essay. Often, the connotation no longer fit the purpose of their essay, and the tone would become clunky and indirect.

I realized, however, that this was really the only strategy they had been taught to improve their writing. I’m a big fan of mentor texts and giving students as many concrete examples of good writing as I possibly can, but I tended to only use these as a jumping off point for writing projects. I see now that they are perfect resources for editing, and I no longer dread the editing phase of my students’ writing projects.

Here is a more thorough example of the kind of lesson I did with my students:

 

Vegan Black Leather Jacket

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Every woman needs a sleek, well-fitting black leather jacket to wear with skinny jeans and a t-shirt, or draped over a dress for a night out. Black leather jackets are so versatile, effortless, and they instantly make your look so much cooler. In this case, the jacket is vegan leather, which is even better!

Brevity’s  Do Anything Jacket is the most comfortable jacket I own. It’s made of soft, vegan leather, and it molds to your body like it was custom made. With a slight lift in the back and expertly placed darting and paneling, it is so slimming and flattering. I usually have a hard time finding jackets that don’t overwhelm my narrow shoulders, but this jacket fits me perfectly.

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I began my journey to build a wardrobe comprised of only fair trade clothing, or clothing made in the United States about a year ago, and one of the first places I looked was Kickstarter. I found so many amazing small companies looking for help financing ethical, beautiful products. These designers took care to produce their products sustainably and with great respect for the humans making them, so it was more difficult to find investors than it would be for many “fast fashion” retailers.

I found Brevity’s Kickstarter campaign through a Facebook friend and immediately fell in love with both their product and their mission. As you can see, the jacket is gorgeous. It is also produced in a women-owned factory in San Francisco, CA. The owner is a young woman who wanted to create a polished jacket that looked professional, but felt like leisure wear. She knew that women needed a sleek jacket that could take them from coffee with a friend, to campus, to a business meeting, to a night out.

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I immediately donated to the Kickstarter campaign, and when I received my Do Anything Jacket I filmed an unboxing video for my YouTube channel. This piece was one of my first steps toward investing in a more ethical, sustainable wardrobe. I love that it is vegan, and it supports female business owners and employees. I’m so glad that the weather is finally cooling down in Southern California so that I can wear it everywhere!

It’s just as comfortable as a hoodie, but infinitely cooler. It completely elevates my look every time I wear it with a more casual outfit, and I recently wore it to a wedding with a fancier dress. It was perfect to throw on during the outdoor reception. I love the classic look of this black jacket, and now it’s also available in a light grey and blush pink.

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My friend who got married was the Facebook friend who had shared the Brevity Kickstarter campaign. The owner and designer of Brevity, Dara Elliott, was a bridesmaid in the wedding, so I actually got to meet her! I was so excited to take a picture with her in my jacket, and I loved hearing from her first hand about the company and the production. She is an incredible businesswoman and I’m so impressed by how she runs her company and produces her amazing pieces.

Check out her gorgeous jackets from Brevity Brand and definitely put one on your Christmas wish list!

My Favorite Fair Trade T-shirts

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Sometimes several of your passions collide into one super, amazing, jumbo passion. Like Hamilton, for example. I remember showing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s White House performance to my 8th graders a few years ago and explaining Hamilton the Musical and one kid said, “Wow, it’s all of your passions in one thing: history, hip hop and musical theater.” Truer words were never spoken, kid. (And he totally got an A).

Anyway, I just found my t-shirt version of Hamilton. Pan Clothing makes fair trade, totally cute t-shirts, and donates five textbooks to classrooms in need for every product sold. Ethical business, relaxed style and support for education all in one!

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Pan Clothing was founded last year by two college students who have a heart for overseas service missions. Jacky and Tanner helped to build schools in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, but as they spent time with the teachers and principals, they realized that some classrooms literally only had access to one textbook. They wanted to do their part to support literacy and education in these schools, so they started a t-shirt company with a mission to donate five textbooks for every piece of clothing sold.

They also make men’s t-shirts, but I’m obsessed with their women’s line. These shirts are soft, comfy, and come in three muted, wearable colors. They have a scoop neck, a pocket detail, and they are cut slightly longer in the back. They are perfect everyday t-shirts, and they’ve become weekend staples for me.

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My favorite thing about Pan Clothing is that even though they are a small, startup company, run by two friends who are still in college, they made a commitment to producing their clothing ethically. I had the opportunity to speak with Jacky and Tanner personally, and they told me that they researched Patagonia’s manufacturers and built relationships with some of the same factories. The teacher in me was thinking, “What great problem solving skills! They refused to be limited by the fact that they were a new company and used established businesses’ models as a template for their own business.” They get an A also. 😉

Another impressive aspect of their company is that these t-shirts are only $24. I’ve been getting pretty deep into the fair trade fashion world recently and I don’t think I’ve EVER come across a $24 fair trade t-shirt. Not only are you getting an affordable, ethical t-shirt for $24, but you are also donating five textbooks to a classroom in need with your purchase. Just a win-win-win all around.

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To incorporate yet another of my passions, Jacky and Tanner also have a vlog channel where you can follow along with their travel adventures and see your dollars in action as they bring textbooks to schools around the world. It’s amazing.

I definitely encourage you to order a t-shirt or two for yourself, but you also have the opportunity to win a gift card to Pan over on my Instagram. Follow my account, Pan Clothing, and let us know in a comment where you would like to travel next. Tag the friend you want to travel with! Best of luck to you on the giveaway–now I’m going to go listen to the Hamilton soundtrack…

 

 

*I am not being sponsored by Pan Clothing. They graciously gave me clothing to try, and I genuinely love and support their products and mission! As always, all opinions and reviews are my own.

 

Necklace by The Giving Keys (another ethical company that I love)

Photography by Joyetic (a husband and wife photography team who also strive to be ethical consumers)

(Check out my YouTube video about Pan Clothing!)

Tieks Review: The Best Teacher Flats?

The number one most-hyped teacher fashion item has got to be Tieks flats. If you spend fifteen seconds on Pinterest looking for anything teaching related, you will definitely see an image of a beautiful rainbow assortment of ballet flats somewhere in your feed.

I’ve had my eye on a pair for a few years now, but they’re quite pricey (some will set you back over $200). One of my teacher BFFs bought these chestnut beauties a few months ago though, and they looked so cute on her that I just had to try them! Here are a few of my thoughts on my Tieks:

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The packaging they arrive in is GORGEOUS. I’m a sucker for packaging.

They are only available in full sizes. I usually wear a 7 1/2. The website suggests sizing down since the leather stretches, so I bought a size 7. I wore them around the apartment for about an hour and they felt way too small, so I thought I would try an 8. Tieks sent me the 8 right away so that I could compare the two sizes, and then I sent the size 7 back. I was happy with the larger size and with the customer service on the exchange.

They are very comfortable. At this point in my life I have worn too many cheap, uncomfortable pairs of flats and I’m just not doing it anymore. I would rather invest more money in a quality pair that doesn’t give me blisters or pain in my arches. They are the kind of shoes that you just don’t really have to think about. Sometimes after a day of teaching I can’t wait to get home and kick off my shoes, but I haven’t felt that way with my Tieks.

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They ARE really great for teachers. We have to stand on our feet for most of the day, plus we have to maneuver around roller backpacks and lunch boxes and then climb on a chair to hang the top row of student work on a bulletin board. These are perfect shoes for the that. I wouldn’t choose to wear mine on a long outdoor hike, and they aren’t well-suited for cold weather, but they are great as a casual, indoor, comfortable, classroom flat.

They look cute! I remember loving the little black flats that Cinderella slips into before she goes to feed the animals, and these simple flats remind me of that. I copied my friend and ordered the neutral chestnut pair, but another teacher friend of mine ordered the gorgeous rose gold pair, and I love this printed leopard pair. The teal sole is also totally adorable.

Lastly, I was under the impression that Tieks were made in the US, but from what I can now tell, only the last stage of assembly is done in Los Angeles. They contribute to a women’s empowerment fund called Kiva, but do not claim to be a fair trade company. I consider these an investment piece (they are the most expensive pair shoes I own!) and I will incorporate them into my increasingly fair trade and American-made wardrobe.

However, I am interested in trying out other boutique flats companies that have a stronger mission and purpose. Rothy’s are made from recycled plastic and are slightly less expensive than Tieks, Oka-B flats are made in the state of Georgia, recyclable and affordable, and The Root Collective has gorgeous fair trade flats. I’d like to try give one of these companies a try the next time I’m in need of a pair of teacher flats.