“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,which God prepared in advance for us to do. “
-Ephesians 2:10 NIV
When I look back on my summer before my first year of teaching, I had a lot to do, but was not exactly sure where to start. I sometimes feel that way with even more than a decade of teaching under my belt. Some things never change I suppose. Today we are exploring a few items that teachers can accomplish before the first week of school begins. Teachers should have an understanding of what classroom systems they want in place, a welcome letter to students and parents, as well as finishing up some odds and ends with paperwork before the start of the year. If you are able to tackle some of these key items, the start of the school year will be less stressful as you can spend more time building rapport and building meaningful lessons.
A Student-Owned Classroom
Think about what a friendly, student-owned room looks like and let the students “decorate” their space. Their fingerprints should be everywhere! (This takes much of the pressure off of the teacher as well)! Websites like Pinterest, etc. have many great ideas to liven up a classroom. I have put many posters up at the beginning of the year, but it is the student work that helps to make your room feel like their own. You can also go back to the activities on your wall throughout the year to build background knowledge on new content that you are learning in class. There will be many students in your class that are very creative and others that are not. Involve all of your students in some way to make them feel like they are a part of the class. Create a wall of fame of some sort to display student work and/or information about the student. Some classes have a “Student of the Week” which involves students sharing out some information about themselves and lets everyone get to know them. Afterward, the student can put their information on the wall so everyone can read it throughout the year.
Send letters to the students welcoming them to your class. Invite them to visit their classroom. Kids love getting letters and postcards in the mail. If you have a little bit of time in the summer, write a short note or send a postcard to your students. Tell them that you are excited about having them in your class and maybe give them some details about how your summer is going. If you teach middle or high school, it might be good to target some students that others have had a hard time within the past. Reach out to these students and parents with a positive greeting. Students will remember the kind gesture. There will be some students that may benefit from a tour of the school and/or your classroom before the year begins. I always encouraged students that I worked with (students with an IEP) to come to visit the week before school starts to walk around and get a feel for the classroom and the building. Offer up a map of the school to help orient them around the building. The parents and students will be very appreciative of you taking the extra time to get to know their child .
Create a classroom setup that lets systems run themselves. That way you can concentrate on the most important people in the room – the students and their families. Get to know both groups and your year will be much more successful. Have students do the talking for you! Have students work collaboratively in groups and give students each a job in the group. For example, one person could be the manager, timer, recorder, and spokesperson. You could rotate these jobs each week, so each student has a turn. There are many online programs such as Google Classroom, Schoology, etc. that are great Learning Management Systems (LMS) to help students manage their own assignments and keep track of work. There is always work to be done in the classroom, and it should not always be you after school doing it. The class should be student-run so putting things into place to allow students to have ownership of the classroom is essential. Some students can be in charge of passing out papers, stuffing Friday Folders, and all students can and should help you clean up the room at the end of the day. The custodians will much appreciate it!
Finish Up Paperwork
Complete any compliance work in the summer (Bloodborne Pathogens, etc.). There is some nuts and bolts housekeeping type of items that you may want to get out of the way before school starts. After you are hired, ask your administrator about any certifications you may need to start the year. Frequently a new teacher will need to be CPR/First Aid certified. Also, if you are a special educator, you will most likely need to be trained in Crisis Prevention Intervention (CPI) training. This is an 8 hr or so training so doing this in the summer will help free of your time and will not cause you to miss school during the first part of the school year. Usually, this compliance work such as bloodborne pathogens, concussion, etc. that is provided by the district is online a week or two before school starts. I usually watch the videos and answer the questions while I am at home and have some extra time. You could even sit outside in the sun and do it! By completing these early, that is just one less item that you will have to worry about during the first quarter of the school year. There will most likely be some other new teacher orientation as well so trying to organize all of that in the summer will help you to have a better start to the year.
Take Time for Rest
As you are finishing up these last items along with getting your classrooms ready for open houses and school starting up, remember to take time for yourself to recharge before the start of the year begins. Take one last trip with family or just relax by the beach. Enjoy the last few weeks of summer break!