Back To School Time


Wow, that time has rolled around yet again. Each and every year the summers seem to get shorter and shorter. The funny thing is, I’m not in the classroom any longer, yet I feel remorseful for my fellow teachers having to go back to work tomorrow. It seems like they just closed out the school year! I truly hope everyone had a restful and enjoyable summer break. But if you have to go back, here are a few words of wisdom I’d like to pass along.

 

(1) Have a Plan!

Have a plan for everything, from how you will greet the students that first time, to how students will interact with one another, to how students will complete assignments, to how you will manage students outside your classroom. Make these plans as simple as possible, with clear language for students to understand. Do not make a plan to simply say you have a plan for something. Make each and every rule, procedure, and routine purposeful and worthwhile. You should be able to justify to anyone why you do what you do, and how it positively affects the learning of your students. The plans you put in place set the tone for your instruction. Have a plan that promotes a positive and safe learning environment for all!

(2) Steal from New and Old

It is often thought that the “veteran” teachers have all the great ideas, the tried and true. I’ve met a few amazing new teachers in my time that are excellent counterexamples to that idea. During pre-planning time, roam the school, peek into a variety of classrooms, both within your content/grade and out. It’s amazing what you will find. Don’t feel awkward about going in and asking those teachers why they do what they do. They are more than happy sharing with you! It’s the best compliment a teacher can get. Any conversation that begins with, “I like what you have done with… How do you utilize that with your students?” It’s amazing what great ideas come out of conversations such as this, for both parties. It’s through this type of sharing and collaboration that teachers get stronger, communities within the school are built, and students prosper. It’s not a competition. Everyone is in it for the same end result….student success! So SHARE AND ASK QUESTIONS!!!!

(3) Get Organized

Take the time to think about what will be coming in, going out, and staying. By this I mean anything from papers (both from students, parents, and the school office), textbooks and resources, and classroom supplies.

  • Consider color coding the categories you have defined as the most frequent. I remembered that my system consisted of student related materials were in yellow file folders, administrative materials were in red, and parent documentation was in green. These certainly were not the only categories I had, but they were the most prevalent. Take the time to clear out a file cabinet, or even just a plastic file bin, to help to get the organization system under way. I recommend investing a few extra dollars in the box of 5-color file folders. Only use these for such organization, and not for other projects….that would defeat the color coding system.
  • I would also recommend a single manila file folder, one per student, labeled by last name, per class period, to store any documentation that may need to be collected. This could involve signed documents from parents, grade reports, discipline notes, and student work. These are amazing resources to have during a parent conference.
  • In addition to a single file folder per child, I would create a single parent contact sheet per student you teach, organized either by class period or by last name. This sheet should be populated with parent contact information, including names of parents/guardians, phone numbers, and email addresses. These can be easily stored in a small binder. Each time contact home is made, it should be recorded on that student’s sheet. This allows a running log to be kept throughout the year. Once a week, I would recommend making 3-5 additional positive phone calls to student’s parents/guardians randomly selected from the binder. This helps build that bridge between home and school for many students.
  • (These are just a few…keep posted for new entries to this section. I could write a book on just this aspect of teaching)
(4) Assign Seats
       Some may disagree with me on this one, but I did teach middle school. Seating charts are an absolute must for more than 3/4 of the school year, and in some cases the entire school year. Yes, they are a pain, especially if you don’t know your students just yet. Alphabetizing students the first few weeks does make learning names and accounting for all of your students easier, but realize that your peer teachers may be doing so as well. Your students may get quite familiar with each other sooner than you anticipate, thus increasing the chance of classroom disruptions. Consider an alternative method that makes things just as easy on you. Computer grading systems that can be set up to take attendance that has an editable floor plan capability are a great help, especially if these floor plans can be printed with the students’ names in the “furniture”. Other plans can be less-tech with the use of blank floor plan layouts and writing in students names, or with the use of post-it notes with student’s names on each so they can be moved around accordingly. (I’d suggest the super sticky ones!)
I’m going to pause here for this entry. I will be adding more details to these ideas soon.
You really can’t make a second first impression. How you begin the first 3-5 weeks really sets the tone for the whole year. Yes it’s difficult. I won’t lie. I encourage you to stay strong throughout the beginning-of-the-year period, stick to your plan, procedures and routines.
Please post your comments, questions, and suggestions. I’d love for this to be a community and a network where teachers are free share ideas and ask questions as needed. I wish you all the best as you prepare to welcome your new group of students. Good luck!
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