It’s that time of year again…you’ve had a bit of a break and now your mind is going wild with ideas for the new school year. To keep your time and efforts focused (and your stress levels down), I’ve created a list of 20 things to do to prepare for the new school year.
- Create a rough pacing guide for the year.
Without an idea of where you need to be by the end of the year, you will have a tough time adequately spacing out the remainder of the year. Maybe you have a unit that you LOVE to teach and want to spend more time on it this year–plan for it by figuring out where you can save time elsewhere. If you’re teaching the same class this year that you taught in the past, reflect about what went well, what didn’t. Did you feel like your students needed more time on any units in particular? Also! Don’t forget to add a few buffer days in at the end of the year! I can’t tell you what they will be, but unexpected things will happen and you need room left in your pacing guide to absorb the unexpected. Maybe there’s a surprise assembly that gets thrown in at the last minute or someone in the staff lounge burns their popcorn (…for the 3rd time…) and sets the fire alarm off. Maybe you have a particularly bad weather year and lose time to snow days. You’ll be happy to know that you have room to push things back a day or two with no stress about having to cut something else at its expense. When you’re making this rough pacing guide, you don’t need to list out what activities or notes you’ll be giving–just think about what topics you’ll be covering in the unit and how many days you expect to need. This is what mine looked like for Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 last year.
- Create a rough pacing guide for the year.
- Review and reflect upon your classroom procedures and policies. Were you happy with your classroom management from last year? If not, this is the time to figure out what you’d like to do differently in the upcoming year. I also like to remind myself of my behavior management philosophy and protocols that way I’m mentally sharp when a situation might arise. It is of the utmost importance that you are consistent from day 1. You also want to consider the day to day procedures you’d like your students to learn and how you’d like to manage the general flow of paper throughout your classroom. Do you have a plan for what a student should do if they were absent? What if someone needs to make up a test? Where will they turn in work? These are just a few questions to consider. Really think about how you want your classroom to operate. Out of everything on this list, this “to-do” is the most important because it sets the tone for your year. Whether you’re a new teacher or a veteran, I would suggest reading my blog post that covers 6 things you can do to stop wasting your own time in the classroom. You can read it here.
- Decide on your desk arrangement.
At first this may seem like a superficial “to-do,” but hear me out. The way you arrange your desks has a lot to do with the type of classroom you want to run. For example, if you plan on doing a bunch of group work, then having your desks arranged in rows is probably not going to allow the type of discourse you’re looking for. On the other hand, if you run a study hall class, then rows could be perfect! I really like arranging my desks in pairs so students always have someone to bounce ideas off of or in U-shapes so I can easily crouch down in the middle and talk to the group or an individual student. That being said, I have a colleague who loves arranging her desks in horizontal rows of three. She loves it and it works great for her. I tired it and hated it because it was difficult to get in and out to talk to individual students. There’s no specific arrangement that’s guaranteed to be your classroom bliss, so don’t be afraid to switch it up if you don’t like it after the first few days.
- Make a seating chart and label your desks.
Whether or not you assign seats or let students pick their own, it’s essential to make a seating chart because it will help you learn those 100+ names SO much faster. I like to label each desk with a number (bonus: it makes forming groups for activities really easy!) and I have a set of popsicle sticks that have the same numbers that students draw from on the first day to find their new seats. Once they draw a number, I record their name on the seating chart and refer to it often in the first weeks of school. Learn more about how I save time creating seating charts here.
- Let go of old things.
Something about teaching seems to really bring out the inner pack-rat in us all. Go through old papers and RECYCLE things that you haven’t used in years. If it’s really something you think you might want to use in the future, scan it and then file it in an appropriate folder in your computer (I always have a folder for each class, then semester, then unit so things are easy to find). At the very least, put all of the paper and old student projects in boxes labeled by semester (or quarter/trimester) and store the boxes away. If you haven’t gone to the box by the end of that semester, it’s time to LET IT GO! There’s probably a reason you haven’t used the stuff anyway.
- Paint/mark calculators and other school supplies.
Are you a fan of getting your stuff stolen? No? Didn’t think so. Buy a can of yellow spray paint and spray the back cases of your calculators. Or, do what I did last year and use metallic sharpie on the tops of each calculator. I like to do this every year because the paint or sharpie rubs off over the course of a year from frequent (and not always so gentle) student usage. Also, spend 5-10 minutes sharpie-ing in your school initials on any other supplies you expect students to use frequently and actually want to get back. Bonus points if you add annoying stickers, tape, flags, etc. that ensure no student would want to keep it unless they really needed it! Last note, this is also helpful for when another teacher needs to borrow some of your supplies because it makes it a lot easier to make sure they return everything to your classroom.
- Create weekly agenda region in your classroom.
This is a bit of a 2 birds/1 stone item. Not only does having a weekly agenda displayed in your classroom help you stay focused during the week, but it helps your students stay organized, too. I like to teach my students to self-advocate if they will be gone in advance or if they were absent, so having a weekly agenda posted is huge for that.
- Organize your teacher space.
Maybe it’s just me, but something happens to my desk drawer in the last two weeks of school. It’s like all of my pens conspire to run out of ink at the same time. My whiteout has turned into a goopy mess and I have 6 rulers. SIX! Spend a few minutes sorting through your supplies and making sure that you actually have supplies that work. You don’t want to find out that all of your pens have dried out or you don’t have what you need. It’s one of those small things that allows your day to day to run a bit more smoothly. Having to track down a pad of sticky notes is the last thing you need to worry about when you have 5 students trying to get your attention. Also, if it needs tweaking, make sure that your teacher-space (desk, podium) is set up how you like it. Think of all of the things you’ll need and that will come across your desk during the year. Will those things have a space? If they don’t, it’ll just end up in a pile, or worse…lost! I have a spot to keep my copies of the notes I give (sorted by period) and a pre-worked key of the examples I plan to give that way I don’t have to go searching for it as a new class is coming in.
- Plan out your first day(s) of school.
Now that you have the basics out of the way, it’s time to think about how you’re going to set the tone for the year. The first days of school are so important. I would suggest telling them a bit about yourself letting them know what to expect during the year (your classroom structure, etc.), and show them that your subject can be FUN! Don’t forget to be incredibly consistent with all of the rules and routines you’ve decided upon for your classroom. During the first few days, students will notice everything.
- Update your syllabus and review your grading scheme.
My first year teaching, I had a pair of twins in my Algebra 2 class. The class was given an assignment to write about the similarities and differences in the process of graphing each of the three main trig functions and, when I went to grade them, the two twins’ essays looked remarkably similar–almost as if they filled out a Mad Lib and just picked different adjectives. Turns out, one twin snuck into the other’s room and copied her work. I took this to the administration but since I didn’t have a plagiarism policy in my syllabus, not much happened. Lesson learned. Long story short, think about the last school year. Was there anything that happened that you wish you would’ve had a specific policy stated in your syllabus? I find it can be incredibly helpful when dealing with parents to be able to say that the policy was fully detailed in the syllabus…which you signed and were aware of. I, for example, need to be much more specific about the late work and test retake policies for my college credit classes and how those policies differ for students who take the class for college credit or not. Also, this is a great time to reflect upon your grading scheme. Is there anyway you can spend less time grading, but still give impactful feedback? If you only give one quiz per unit, did you find that was enough feedback for students along the way? Maybe you give 2 quizzes per week–were students exhausted or did it motivate them to stay on top of things? Reflect. Change what didn’t work and keep what did.
- Set up your class website/Google Classroom site.
For years I had a regular classroom website (I used Weebly), but this last year I had a Google Classroom site for my Statistics classes, and I must say that I’m a convert because it took much less time to update. Whatever platform you plan to use, make sure it’s set up and ready to go that way you can explain it to parents at open house night and show it to students at the beginning of the school year. I use my classroom site to share review keys with students, a PDF of our textbook, the syllabus, and other useful links.
- Create an Open House flyer or presentation.
I love to use Open House as a way to share the spirit of the class with parents, but also let them know all of the basic information that will help their student be successful in my class. I include things like supplies they’ll need, how and when to get help, what to do if you’re absent, etc. Here’s the flyer that I use each year (you can download it for free!).
- Prepare emergency sub plans (x3).
If you have kids or elderly parents, this “to-do” goes double for you. Most of the time when we need to get a sub, we can adequately prepare sub plans and (most of) our students will be able to engage in some sort of lesson or activity that will move them along in their learning. Unfortunately, to make sub plans like this for all of the different classes I teach in a day normally takes a good hour or two, for me. If you are ever in a true emergency situation, then you will not have 10 minutes, let alone an hour to work on sub plans. I have a binder I keep on a bookshelf in my classroom labeled “Emergency Sub Plans” and inside of it I have general classroom policies and expectations and I have three sub plans along with a key for each one. Next to that binder, I have 200 photocopies for each of those three sub plans put into large, labeled expanding file folders (they expand to 6 inches wide!). Luckily, I have never had to use my emergency sub plans, but I feel better knowing that I have them if I need them. Here’s what I have for emergency sub plans:
- Emergency Sub Plan 1: Logic Puzzles
I have a packet of logic puzzles from Weatherly and emoji logic puzzles from Mrs. E Teaches Math. I love including logic puzzles because it reinforces group-work norms, paying attention to detail, and the emoji puzzle is really solving equations in disguise.
- Emergency Sub Plan 2: Person Puzzles
I have a ton of “Person Puzzles” that I got from Clark Creative Math that are perfect for an emergency sub plan. I typically Person Puzzles for a few different topics that I know will always be good to review and revisit. Students enjoy doing these because they get to learn something new about someone famous, or they get to prove that they were right about them all along.
- Emergency Sub Plan 3: Pattern Sheets
I have a bunch of Algebra coloring sheets from Aric Thomas that cover every Algebra topic you can imagine. These are great because they end up being fairly self-checking. The way it works is depending on what answer you got, you shade a box with a particular pattern. If you’re doing it right, the overall image ends up having a cool pattern to it. Students can easily compare with others to see if their patterns are coming out the same and then can fix any mistakes. Just like the last emergency sub plan, I pick a few of these that I know my students will always need review on, and use this as an opportunity to keep their skills fresh.
- Emergency Sub Plan 1: Logic Puzzles
- Make a teacher binder.
A teacher binder should be an extension of you. What do you need on a daily basis? How will you keep everything together? My teacher binder includes a section for my rough year-long pacing guide, weekly plans, PDU log, parent contact log, meeting notes, meeting handouts, CCSS power standards, a mapping that shows how much each standard gets tested on SBAC, and our school schedule (we have three different schedules each week, so I like to have it handy). It doesn’t need to be fancy, just functional!
- Plan out your first two weeks of content instruction.
This is a big time investment (unless you have already taught the class for a few years), but it is so worth it and you’ll thank yourself later. If you can stay a bit ahead from the beginning, your year will run much more smoothly and you won’t find yourself scrambling when something pops up that eats up all of your after school time. The first weeks of school are exhausting enough, so having a solid plan all worked out will lessen the stress and make the transition into the school year much easier.
- Run copies for the first week.
Spend a quality hour with the copy machine and print everything you will need for the first week of school. Aside from having a game-plan for the first week, nothing reduces my stress levels like having all of my papers printed and ready to go. Have you ever had that gut-sinking experience where you NEED those copies for your first period class only to find out that the copier is broken, out of ink, or out of staples and there’s only 45 minutes before school begins? Just thinking about it induce a feeling of anxiety. To sleep easier at night and not have to worry about whether or not I’ll be able to make my copies before school starts, I like to get the first weeks worth of copying done well before any of my students ever show up on the first day.
- Revise materials from last year.
If you still have energy at this point, try and review the materials you used last year and see if anything needs revised. Personally, I’m just way too busy during the school year to fix things as I go so this gets left as a summer task, but I do leave notes to myself or I highlight things I need to change in orange as a note to my future self that something wasn’t right. You don’t need to fix everything at once, but look through the first few units and see if there’s anything glaring that needs to be changed (like when I wrote “assment” instead of “assignment,” or when I gave my students about 1 vertical inch of space to write something when they really needed 5).
- Find ways to use your walls as a resource for students. If you’re not utilizing your walls as a resource in your classroom, then you’re missing out! Think about what your students need frequent reminders of or common themes that continue throughout your course and think of ways you could create a reference section on your wall. My favorite sections on my wall are the perfect squares/perfect cubes area, my special right triangle area, and then the parent functions area. I use these three sections in Algebra 1 through Pre-Calculus nearly every single day. My wall almost becomes a public record of our learning and the common themes of math. Whatever it is that you teach (from English, History, Science, Math, Art, etc.), think about what’s essential to your subject. If you teach math, here’s a few free wall displays to get you started! One last thing on this topic: don’t worry about making it super pretty. Your first priority should be function. If you have the time to make your classroom walls #pinterestgoals worthy and doing so would make you happy, then go for it! Otherwise, make it functional and your students will get the exact same use out of it either way.
- Prepare a few freezer meals!
Okay, so my last two “to-do’s” aren’t about school, but they are important. I like to prepare a few freezer meals (meals that you pre-prepare and store in the freezer until you’re ready to just pop them in the oven or crockpot) before the school year starts. Teaching can take a LOT of our energy and time, and taking care of ourselves can easily fall to the wayside. I don’t know about you, but some nights I come home and am just not up to cooking. Luckily, I know I have a few back-ups in the freezer that I can just transfer straight into the oven for an hour and then we’ll have a nutritious dinner ready with about 1 minute of work (take out of freezer, put into oven, done!). If you search Pinterest for freezer meals, you’ll come up with more recipes than you could ever possibly make.
- Relax, seriously!
Like I touched on in the last point, teachers have a tendency to overwork themselves and not take enough time to fully recuperate from the previous school year. You can’t be your best teacher if you’re not feeling your best, so take care of yourself. Enjoy your summer vacation! Do something you love, spend time with your family, have a few lazy days (or a lot, you’ve earned them!). Don’t feel like you have to do everything on this list. Feel free and take my permission to treat it as food for thought and pick and choose what works for you.
If there’s anything else that you make sure to do each year, let me know in the comments! Also, if you’d like to know more about any of these “to-do’s,” let me know and I’ll gladly make a separate post!
This post is part of a back-to-school tip series designed to help get secondary STEM classrooms set up for success! To read more amazing BTS tips check out these links:
- Jean Adams from Flamingo Math is writing about setting high expectations from day 1.
- Sandy of Weatherly is blogging about engaging students from the start.
- Kristin from Sampson’s Shoppe is blogging about how to make meaningful anchor charts to decorate your classroom.
- Rachael from Rise Over Run is sharing with us an interior designer’s guide to classroom design.
- Jennie from 8th Grade Math Teacher is writing all about how to manage your classroom calculators.
- Randi from 4 The Love of Math is sharing her 5 tips for setting up your math classroom.
- Katie from I Heart Teaching Science is sharing her tips for managing lab supplies.
- DocRunning is sharing how she thinks outside of the box for day 1.