Inside: Back to school time for teachers is the busy, chaotic season. Here are 7 teacher tips for preparing your classroom, your workspace, and your mindset for a calm, efficient, and enjoyable back to school season.
Strong beginnings are important, and starting a school year on the right foot promotes a calm, positive atmosphere for students and teachers. This time of year, teachers are scouring the internet and Pinterest for the best Back to School Tips – I know, ‘cuz that’s exactly what I’m doing too!
Every year I have a few moments of panic as I feel my To-Do List is spiraling out of control – the first week is sheer survival mode! But the more prepared you are, the less you will worry and sweat the small stuff!
Remember: “I’m flexible,” “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” and “I’ve got this!” are mantras that should be going through your head over and over (and over and over!)
Seriously – deep breaths and positive mantras are necessary! And always remember to laugh! Keep everything in perspective – this is not Life and Death!
Here is my list of 7 Back to School Tips Every Teacher Needs
1. Learn students’ names
Read over your student list many times before meeting the students. If possible, check with last year’s teacher about any names that could be mispronounced.
Practice saying the names out loud if necessary. I had a student one year that I simply could not for the life of me remember how to pronounce her name for the first few days. She was embarrassed, and I felt awful each time I stumbled over it. I felt like it reflected poorly on me – and it did, so I vowed to never let that happen again.
I also make sure to label student desks with students’ first and last names as a cheat for myself. Usually, I can remember students’ names based on where they sit in the classroom long before I can remember all their names as they’re out of their seats moving around.
Luckily, my school allows teachers to attach nameplates on the desks, which helps both students and teachers. I use packaging tape or book tape. Yes, you’ll have to instruct the students not to pick at the tape!
And while you’re labeling, name tags can be used on lockers, coat hooks, and students can wear name tags (sticky ones, or on strings around their necks) for the first several days.
Many printable and editable name tags are available on Teachers Pay Teachers – there are some super cute options! Cuteness is great, but I do rely on them to help me get through the first couple of days.
I typically assign each student a number – usually, the numbers are assigned alphabetically.
I know it’s risky – there will be students who don’t show up, and new students who are assigned to you at the last minute. Some teachers don’t assign numbers until the second day – it’s up to you. There are pros and cons for each method. But once a number is assigned, don’t change it! That leads to student confusion.
Students then use the numbers when they write their names on their papers (such as John Adams #1, Sue Bennett #2, etc.), which helps when putting grades in the computer or grade book!
2. Teach Daily Routines and Procedures – This is truly a sanity saver!
By explicitly teaching and modeling expected behaviors over the first few days and weeks of school, you’re setting the stage for positive behavior for the rest of the year.
Modeling expected behavior provides structure for teachers and students – especially at-risk students.
In my classroom, we model the correct procedure, then the incorrect procedure, discuss why it was incorrect, and then a student again models the correct routine.
By modeling correct, incorrect, then correct again, students can see that the correct procedure is more efficient. Plus, it provides that student (doing the modeling) with approval of positive behavior.
Hint: Select a student who may struggle to perform with that procedure to perform it correctly, incorrectly, then correctly again. He’ll receive instant feedback and maybe get the negative behavior out of his system right from the start.
Some procedures to practice include lunch count, what to do when the teacher calls for attention, pencil sharpening, lining up, walking down the hallway, proper manners, hanging up coats, getting drinks – and so on! Write out a list of your expectations and make sure that you discuss them and model them during the first few days.
You don’t need to recreate the wheel here – for a couple of bucks, you can purchase tried-and-true routine and procedures products on Teachers Pay Teachers. Many are editable so that you can personalize them for your class and needs. Worth their weight in gold!
3. Make lesson plans
I like to MUST have a rough outline of where I am headed for at least the first two weeks of school. That said, my first few days of plans are usually on typed out – with lots of room to pencil in additional stuff that I forgot. Be sure to keep these papers as a reference for next year.
My first few days of lessons usually don’t fit in the little squares on a lesson plan book. I try to write out (in general terms) plans for the first couple of weeks because it makes me feel calm.
Knowing where I’m headed relieves a lot of my stress. These plans WILL probably change . . . sometimes several times – but repeat – “I am flexible! Don’t sweat the small stuff!”
Speaking of lesson plans, have you seen the incredible options on Teachers Pay Teachers? I’m looking over the options myself because I’m finally going to buy myself a Teacher Planner from a fellow teacher who’s been there, done that!
I still write my actual lesson plans by hand even though I end up drawing arrows, scratching out, and revising. (Truth be told – at least by hand I have a reason to buy those pretty colored markers to make my scribbles and scratches cool looking!)
4. Hang a list of your students outside the classroom door
Students and parents will appreciate knowing for sure if they are or are not supposed to be in that room.
Some students get nervous about walking into the wrong room. I like to decorate my classroom door with students’ names for a bright, cheerful, and warm welcome! You know Pinterest can help you find just the right door décor!
5. Organize your teacher desk
Being unable to find what I’m looking for drives me CRAZY! I figure that having an organized desk is completely in my control.
I can’t control many things that happen in the first couple of days, but I can control the chaos on and in my desk. Get it put together and move on! I’ve seen some teacher desks that have so many papers shoved inside that the teacher can’t even use the desk.
When I have piles of papers, I try to be honest with myself – will I really use that worksheet?
A former boss once taught me to touch each paper only once – “Put it away or throw it away, right away!”
If it’s super cute, but just not right for your class, either throw it away or pass it on to someone who can use it – DO NOT CLUTTER YOUR DESK WITH IT!
Truly, there have been times when I’ve sat down to work and had to move to my small group table because there’s no workspace on my desk – UGH! NOT GOOD!
6. Sticky notes are your friends
Take them to every meeting that you attend and make a list of things you must do but will forget if you don’t write them down!
Write down the names of the new people in your building so that you don’t have to ask (Yep, I’m bad with names, so I learned this trick fast!)
I have them sticking to my computer, my purse, and the wall beside my desk. If you have Windows on your computer, you can right-click on the desktop and get a sticky note right there on your computer!
If sticky notes aren’t your thing – old-fashioned lists work just as well – except that I have to make lists of my lists to keep track of my lists! I do keep my lists from one year to the next because I just know that next year I’ll forget something on my list!
When I have too much on my mind, I do a “Brain Dump” where I write down on paper every single thing I have to do. It magically makes me feel so much better!
7. Make a Sub-Tub! Do it now!
I’ve learned the hard way that preparing basic lessons for a substitute teacher is ESSENTIAL! Even if you don’t think you need it – you do! Being sick is so much work that I’m often tempted to show up anyway (I’ve done that many, many times!) but it doesn’t have to be that way!
Do it today – you won’t regret it! I’ve written a longer post about an easy-peasy way to keep a Sub Tub filled Click Right HERE.
You think you won’t get sick, and often you’re able to suffer through it, but occasionally we get so sick that we’re simply UNABLE to make it to school.
I’ve learned (through experience) that basic sub plans (Emergency plans) are so, so incredibly important. I don’t have any sub plans for sale at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store, but I’ve purchased some from other teachers and they truly are lifesavers! Invest (yes – it’s truly an investment!!) in a quality set that suits your grade and subject. You won’t be sorry, you’ll be relieved!
8. Carefully Read Your Students’ IEPs!
You really do need to read over the IEPs of students who are in your classroom. I always read through IEPs (and 504s) with highlighters and bright colored Flair pens (we’ve gotta make it fun!).
I make notes on the IEP cover and I add sticky notes if needed. I store my IEPs in a special binder that I keep handy by my desk. I also list students and their accommodations and modifications on a separate sheet that goes directly in my lesson plan book and grade book.
Because these are legal documents, we teachers can’t make mistakes with accommodations and modifications and special circumstances. The IEPs must be followed exactly as they’re written. If you have questions, ask your Intervention Specialist who can answer questions or find out the answers. It’s waaaay better to ask than guess!
Well – those are my top jobs for preparing myself and my classroom for the first few days. If time allows, continue working on the classroom, library, and making your classroom as efficient as possible. Keep high traffic areas clear of clutter, keep workspaces tidy and clean.
Above all – KEEP SMILING – You can do this!!
Those are my 7 Best Back To School Tips Every Teacher Needs – what are your best tips? I’d love to hear about them!
Write to me in the comments below or reach out to me through email at Caffeinequeenteacher@gmail.com.
For even MORE Back to School Tips, Tricks, Strategies, and Ideas, check out this blog article:
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