Here we are in the middle of July hopefully feeling relaxed. If you are like me, you are hoping summer never ends but at the same time feeling secretly excited about the prospects of the new school year. Your brain might be exploding thinking about the idea of returning to your classroom wondering “How will I ever be ready for school?” It is a question we all ask ourselves yet somehow we are always ready on that first day. I am a firm believer that getting prepared and organized now will lead to a smooth first day and an awesome school year.
Before the new school year begins, here are a few things you can do to be prepared for the start of the year.
- Relax now. You are going to need it. Most people don’t understand what teachers do in the 10 months we are working and how much of our heart and soul and blood, sweat and tears we put into our jobs. They don’t know that we are still working without pay during the summer planning, organizing and analyzing what we need to do for the following year. But seriously do something to pamper yourself right before you head back to work. Read a book, go to the spa, do some yoga, lay by the pool or do whatever you need to do to decompress.
- Start your planner. Whatever you use to map out your school year, prepare it now. It doesn’t matter if you use an old school planbook or a digital version of a planbook start to fill it out. Get your school calendar organized by inputting important dates and determine how many days you will need for each unit. Get your test dates down on the calendars and be aware of your final exam schedule. Take into account days you will need to review, holidays and any special bell schedules your school will observe like testing, emergency drills, minimum days, assembly days, etc.
- Prepare pacing guides. Once you have set up your year and important dates, begin to set up a pacing guide for your school year. You should have already determined how many days you will need for each unit, now think about what you will need for daily activities, what concepts you will teach and what projects you want students to complete. Shorten or lengthen the days spent on a unit and adjust your planner if needed. Remember a pacing guide is not set in stone and can be changed and fine tuned as the year moves along.
- Have a classroom management plan. Know your rules, procedures and regulations and how you will communicate them to your students. This is so important for the first week of school and this will affect the daily classroom environment. It will control the entire tone of the year…it is that important. If you start off right, you will be thankful when the year really gets rolling along. Think through past problems and problems that might occur. Update your existing plan if you have one and if you don’t have one, create one now. Make sure to explain your policies to students so they comprehend and check to see if they understand by giving them a quiz or ask questions throughout the first week like “Tommy where does late homework go if you are absent?” “Juan where are extra books located?” “Diane where is homework posted?” “Kari what are the consequences for using voice during target language activities?” Go over your policies more than one time the first week of school and revisit throughout the term. Stick reminders in your windows or around your room. You can use this to remind students about what you expect of them. Remember that students have 5 – 8 teachers that all have their own policies. Communicate effectively and revisit…this is key for long term retention and classroom management. If you have wall space, post your rules around the room. You can see examples here or here.
- Update your syllabus. Hopefully you have a syllabus. If you don’t have one, now would be a great time to get one typed up. Make sure it is clear and concise and easy for students to understand. Your syllabus should have the class title, your contact information, the rules and policies you need students to be aware of, the books that are required for the course and your approach to teaching. You can also include other information you feel is important like the pacing guide, materials that will be covered, testing procedures, where to find additional study materials or online resources. Just keep it to a minimum so that it isn’t too overwhelming to students and families but covers what you need them to know. Remember the syllabus is a quick reference guide for students. Think of it that way when updating or creating yours. To save paper you can create your syllabus in a Google Doc as “view only” and place the link on your website. Then when you make changes to it, it can be viewed by all easily.
- Set up your room. Sometimes teachers get in a rut and we leave the same things up on our walls for years. I like to think about my classroom walls as the second teacher in my room. What are your walls teaching your students? If they aren’t teaching them anything, they could be a distraction. Use your classroom space purposefully by utilizing the space to connect with concepts you are currently teaching or as a place to remind students about your expectations. The wall space should be functional and inviting but don’t get too stressed about ii, we can’t all be Pinterest perfect right.
- Be first day ready. Most importantly be ready for the first day. You get one opportunity to make a good first impression. Make your first day count. Try not to overwhelm students with rules, policies and procedures. Rules can clearly be communicated throughout the week. Students are adding and dropping classes the first day or two of school and you will find you are repeating your rules and policies over and over again one on one to several students. Make the first day fun and memorable and save the blah blah boring stuff for another day. Visit Linda over at Teach 4 the Heart and see what she says to NOT do on the first day of school.
I hope you are enjoying these final days of summer and that you are filled with anticipation (in a good way) thinking about the next school year. I would love to hear about what you do to prepare for the school year. Share your thoughts with us.