Here are some teacher tips for preparing your classroom and mind for a calm, efficient, and enjoyable back-to-school season. These back-to-school tips will help you set up your classroom, decorate, and organize.
Let’s talk about Back-to-School.
Do you worry you’ll forget to do important things?
Do you make checklists of things to do, only to lose them? (Haha! That’s happened more times than I can count!)
We know strong beginnings are essential. Starting a school year on the right foot promotes a calm, positive atmosphere for students and teachers.
Teachers are scouring the internet and Pinterest for the best back-to-school tips this time of year – that’s what teachers do!
Every single year (especially these last few!) I had a few moments of panic as my to-do list spiraled out of control. Can you relate?
I’d feel horribly overwhelmed when my to-do list got too long.
But I’ve found the more prepared I am, the better I feel. Feeling prepared frees the brain space to focus on the most important stuff.
Mantras like “I’m flexible,” “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” and “I’ve got this!” are positive messages you can repeat over and over (and over and over) to yourself. Try it. The more you say it, the more your brain believes it!
Focus on the things you actually CAN control. I have to remind myself of this every single day.
Deep breaths and positive mantras can help, just like positive support systems and healthy habits.
Take time for the things you enjoy, and always remember to laugh often. Keep your sense of humor, and try not to take everything so seriously. I’m talking to myself here, too! I get caught up in my own little problems and don’t always see the big picture. I’m trying to do better!
Here are the Back to School Tips Every Teacher Needs:
And they’re pretty easy. . . but they do make a difference!
1. Learn students’ names
Read over your student list many times before meeting your students. If possible, check with last year’s teacher about how to pronounce challenging names.
Practice saying the names out loud if necessary. I had a student one year whose name I could not remember how to pronounce 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 never to let that happen again.
I also 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 their names as they’re out of their seats and moving around.
Name tents are quick and easy to make. I do recommend using thick cardstock so they stand upright. Fold them twice to make three sections (see the picture below), then use tape to secure them. I’ve also used arrow up and arrow down in the past. Students can use an arrow up to indicate they understand and don’t need help. They can use an arrow down (on another side of the name tent) to indicate they don’t understand and may need help. Students enjoy personalizing their name plates, and some tape secures the name tent to the desks.
If you’re into labeling, you can use packaging or book tape to make simple desk or locker labels. But, of course, you’ll have to instruct students not to pick at the tape.
And while you’re labeling, you can use name tags on lockers and coat hooks, etc., and students can wear name tags (sticky ones or on strings around their necks) for the first several days.
If you want something fancy, printable and editable name tags are available on Teachers Pay Teachers in lots of cute, fancy, or functional styles. But they do help me get through the first few days.
Some teachers assign each student a number – usually alphabetically.
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.
You need to know right off that it’s risky – there will be students who don’t show up and new students placed in your class at the last minute. Some teachers don’t assign numbers until the second day of school. There are pros and cons to each method. But don’t change a number once a student is assigned. The confusion isn’t worth the effort.
2. Teach Daily Routines and Procedures – This is truly a sanity saver!
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 wrong, and then have a student model the proper routine again to cement it.
Students recognize and learn class expectations by seeing the correct version, the incorrect version, and then the correct one again. Plus, it provides approval of positive behavior to the student doing the modeling.
Hint: When choosing students to model the procedures, pick kids who may struggle to perform them correctly. They’ll receive instant feedback and maybe (hopefully!!) get the negative behavior out of their 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, etc.
Write out a list of your expectations so you remember to discuss 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 videos and music
- how to turn in assignments
- finding a quiet place
- how and when to contact you
You don’t need to recreate the wheel here. You can purchase rules, routines, and procedures teaching resources on Teachers Pay Teachers for a couple of bucks. Many are editable to personalize them for your particular situation and needs. Worth their weight in gold!
3. Make lesson plans – write or type
I function best when I know my goals, where my lessons are heading, and the topics I plan to teach for at least the first two weeks of school.
That said, my first few days of plans always allow lots of wiggle room to pencil in extra stuff I forgot.
Also, keep your papers, lists, and notes for reference next year. My lesson plans from prior years are so helpful with remembering lesson sequences and what went right and wrong. Plus, things slip my mind, and my lesson plans from previous years help me remember.
I’m a paper and pencil person, and my first few days of lessons usually don’t fit in the little squares on a lesson plan book. However, I try to write out (in general terms) plans for the first couple of weeks because it makes me feel calm.
Having a clear plan relieves a lot of my stress. Of course, these plans WILL probably change . . . sometimes several times – but I try hard not to sweat the small stuff!
Hey Upper Elementary Teachers!
Grab the “No Stress” Back to School Checklist –
FREE when you sign up for emails!
About the checklist ~
The checklist is filled with ideas for starting the school year – and it’s made especially for upper elementary teachers.
Keep in mind there are so many variables with schools and precautions, so you’ll find an editable version included so you can change and add tasks.
At the very least, this No Stress Back to School Checklist will make your back-to-school planning a bit easier.
Speaking of lesson plans, I have a set of teacher binders you can purchase once and reuse yearly. My set includes printable lesson plans and all the teaching forms and pages you’ll need to organize your classroom for the year.
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.
*Need an Icebreaker for the first few days with students? You’ll find a free Icebreaker activity at the end of this article!
4. Hang a list of your students outside the classroom door
Students feel warmly welcomed and love seeing their names on doors or walls. Everyone needs to belong- this one sets the right tone and makes a classroom feel more inviting.
Plus, some students get nervous about walking into the wrong room. So I usually decorate my classroom door with students’ names for a bright, cheerful, 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 entirely 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 at my desk. I’ve seen some teacher desks with so many papers and piles 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 suitable for your class, either throw it away or pass it on to someone who can use it – DO NOT CLUTTER YOUR DESK WITH IT!
Honestly, 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 you attend and use them. List everything you must remember to do.
Don’t you love brightly colored ones?
Write down the names of the new people in your building so 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 keep my lists from one year to the next because I know I’ll forget something on my list next year.
When I have too much on my mind, I do a “Brain Dump” where I write every single thing I have to do on paper. 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. But, of course, you’ll 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 incredibly important. Unfortunately, I don’t have sub plans for sale at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store, but I’ve purchased some from other teachers who 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 need to read over the IEPs of students in your classroom. I always read through IEPs (and 504s) with highlighters and bright-colored Flair pens. It helps a little! 😉
I make notes on the IEP cover and 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 directly into my lesson plan and grade book.
Because IEPs are legal documents, we teachers can’t make mistakes with accommodations, modifications, and special circumstances. Therefore, we have to follow IEPs precisely the way they’re written. Ask your intervention specialist to answer questions or find out the answers if you have questions. 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. Above all, keep high-traffic areas clear of clutter and keep workspaces tidy and clean.
Above all – KEEP SMILING – You can do this!!
Looking for that free Icebreaker activity? It’s right here!
Grab this FREE icebreaker by clicking the image below:
9. Complete bulletin boards and get your room decorated
It feels so good to check this off as completed. Plus, you’ll make the other teachers green with envy!
Plus, this is where you can enlist help. Use your friends, family, and kids.
Decide what you want on the bulletin boards and slap-up colored paper or fabric.
Enjoy the freebie, and sign up for your FREE set of Back to School Checklists to get organized for your BEST SCHOOL YEAR EVER!
Those are the Best Back To School Tips Every Teacher Needs – what are your best tips? I’d love to hear about them!
Need a NEW strategy for teaching Multiplication & Division?
I’d LOVE to hear from you!