Here are 8 teacher tips for preparing your classroom, your workspace, and your mindset for a calm, efficient, and enjoyable back to school season. These Back to School tips will help you set up the classroom, decorate, and organize.
Back to School this year will be very different in a lot of ways. We know 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 single year (especially this one!!!) I have a few moments of panic as I feel my to-do list is spiraling out of control – it feels like sheer survival mode. But the more prepared you are, the better you’ll feel. That gives you time to focus on the really important stuff.
Mantras such as “I’m flexible,” “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” and “I’ve got this!” are the positive messages that you should be repeating over and over (and over and over) to yourself. Try to focus on the things you actually CAN control.
Seriously – deep breaths and positive mantras are necessary, as are positive support systems, and healthy habits. We need to make sure we keep our bodies and minds in tip-top conditions.
Take time for the things you enjoy, and always remember to laugh often. Keep your sense of humor as best you can.
Back to School Tips Every Teacher Needs
1. Learn students’ names
Read over your student list many times before meeting your 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.
Name tents are quick and easy to make. I do recommend using thicker cardstock so they stand upright. I fold them twice to make three sections, then use tape to secure them. I’ve used Arrow Up and Arrow Down in the past. The up arrow can indicate that the student understands, or that they don’t need help. The arrow down can (on another side of the name tent) can indicate that the student needs help or doesn’t understand. Students enjoy personalizing them and a couple pieces of tape secure them to the desk.
To make simple labels, 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.
If you want something fancy, 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.
Some years, I assign each student a number – usually, the numbers are assigned alphabetically.
You need to know right off that 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 to 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!
Whether online or in-person, decide on classroom procedures and rules ahead of time and plan to teach them early and teach them often. 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.
Model the correct procedure, then the incorrect procedure, discuss why it was incorrect, and then a student should again model the correct routine.
By modeling correct, incorrect, then correct again, students can recognize that the correct procedure is more efficient. Plus, it provides approval of positive behavior to the student doing the modeling.
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 (hopefully!!) get the negative behavior out of his system right from the start.
Some classroom 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.
Some online procedures to practice include online etiquette and being respectful to others online, keeping comments and questions school-related, being on time, no phones or other electronic devices – including television and music, how to turn in assignments, finding a quiet place, and how and when to contact you, etc.
You don’t need to recreate the wheel here – for a couple of bucks, you can purchase rules, routines, and procedures teaching resources on Teachers Pay Teachers. Many are editable so that you can personalize them for your particular situation and needs. Worth their weight in gold!
3. Make lesson plans
I function best when I know exactly where I’m headed and what I’m covering for at least the first two weeks of school. That said, my first few days of plans always allow lots of room to pencil in additional stuff that I forgot. Be sure to keep your papers as a reference for next year. That’s usually where I get my best ideas – plus it helps me remember everything that I forgot!
I’m a paper and pencil kind of person and 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 I try really hard to not sweat the small stuff!
Speaking of lesson plans, I have a set of teacher binders that you can purchase once and reuse over and over every year. My set includes printable lesson plans and all the teaching forms and pages you’ll need to get your classroom organized for the year. CLICK HERE (or on the image below) to read about setting up your Teaching Binder and how to keep track of the important papers you’ll be needing.
I’ve tried online, digital lesson plan books, but I still prefer to write my lesson plans by hand even though I end up drawing arrows, scratching out, and revising. At least that gives me a reason to buy those pretty colored markers to make my scribbles and scratches.
4. Hang a list of your students outside the classroom door
Students feel truly welcomed and love seeing their names on doors or walls. Everyone has the need to belong – and this one sets the right tone and makes a classroom feel more inviting.
Plus, some students get nervous about walking into the wrong room. I usually 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 and bulletin board decorations.
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. I’ve seen some teacher desks that have so many papers and piles of papers that the teacher can’t even use the desk. (Of course, MY desk would NEVER look like that. 😉 )
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 your computer uses Windows, 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! And this year, more than ever, you need it. You’ll actually feel better when you’re finished with it. Being sick is NEVER fun, but being sick and having to deal with lesson plans – UGH!!! But it doesn’t have to be that way!
Do it today – you won’t regret it! I’ve written a longer article about an easy-peasy way to keep a Sub Tub filled Click Right HERE.
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 IEPs 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 to 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 and keep workspaces tidy and clean.
Above all – KEEP SMILING – You can do this!!
Those are my 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.
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