August, I swear, is the shortest month of the year. The 1st rolls around, and all of the sudden it hits me that I have 22 days left to get my classroom, curriculum, children, and myself ready for the new school year. Adding to the mayhem of this year, my beloved husband, who spends most of his time as a stay-at-home papa, is gallivanting off with the Marine Corps for two and a half weeks, right as the school year is set to begin.
I thought it might prove useful to you all to share some of my personal strategies and tips for getting ready for the new school year. I have had the good fortune to learn some things from some amazing teachers and moms – advice on how to stay balanced and establish smart routines in my home and classroom. These strategies help me to stay sane during the start of the school year, and I want to share 10 of my favorites with you:
- Make a List. Before the end of the day I grab a sticky note and jot down the five most important tasks I need to do first thing the next morning. If I don’t write them down, all important tasks dribble out my ears during the night. That sticky note jump-starts my day, when I am at my most productive. I am also less likely to forget those really important details, like making copies!
- My Desk Is a Springboard. When I adopted this mantra, the days of forgetting to turn in important papers were over. I have even gotten into the habit of carrying a pen with me, so that when I am handed paperwork, I fill it out on the spot. That way, it never has to go on my to-do list. If I don’t do it immediately, it gets sucked into the vortex that is my desk, rarely to be seen again.
- Time Is More Precious Than Gold. My time is my greatest asset, and I guard it as such. From an intentional use of warm-ups to spiral back to previously taught material, to organizing my lesson so that it presents the most critical item first, I am constantly asking myself: Is it worth the time? With seemingly millions of state standards my kiddos must master over the course of the school year, I have to treat each minute in our room as a precious jewel. Every lesson, project, center, or investigation must pass muster. I personally love guided math and all it has done to give me so much face time with my kiddos.
- Just Leave It at School. I don’t schlep home a giant bag of papers to grade. I have three children ages 5 years, 2 years, and 5 months, plus an amazing husband. I want to spend that time relaxing with them. Honestly, even if I did bring it home, it would only serve to improve my arm’s muscle tone, because it would inevitably stay in the bag next to the kitchen door.
- Don’t Wait to Grade. This seems to contradict my previous statement, but I am always surprised by how many papers I can look through in just 10-15 minutes. This strategy saves my weekend from turning into a grading bonanza. It also gives me valuable, timely information on my students' progress, which will guide my instruction the following day. Plus, I am able to give the class some immediate feedback with praise, or correct a misconception. So many wins!
- Ten Sacred Minutes. I treat the last 10 minutes of each lesson block as though they are sacred. Ten minutes before the end of the lesson, teaching stops and the students begin transitioning to the next subject or next class. I have to use a timer to stop my teaching, because it’s the only way I am able to accomplish this goal. This gives my students time to properly and neatly put their materials away (and that saves me clean-up time after school). Those 10 minutes also give me time to readdress my objective, discuss ‘aha moments,’ and set goals for the next day.
- Use Your Students. I assign students genuine jobs that assist in the running of my classroom. Do you forget to take attendance, like, every day? Teach a student how to be respectfully persistent. Forget to read your objective? Offer a group tally to the first group to get you back on track. My kiddos LOVE catching me in a forgetful moment, and I love that it gives them genuine ownership over the running of the classroom.
- Don’t Procrastinate. I have access to my curriculum and content calendar, and I start reading it now, before the new year. I like the reflection and contemplation time I have available during the summer, because it leads to a year planned holistically and with intention. Once the school year starts, my life will be an exhausting whirlwind, and the last thing I and my husband want is a late night cuddle with my Teacher’s Editions.
- Be Intentional. Some of my most amazing lessons have been a serendipitous flash of ideas that resulted in a beautiful learning experience. However, an intentional focus on the curriculum facilitates a more efficient use of time for both me and my students. Coupled with an interest inventory on how my parents use math in their daily work, I can organize and use parents as a genuine asset to my classroom environment. For example, for our money unit I might invite a parent who works with money to lead a center on how they count back change. Planning with intention creates a true team between teachers and parents.
- Lay It All Out. To survive the morning chaos in my house, I must have all lunches packed, breakfasts prepped, backpacks ready, coffee prepped – the whole nine yards – before I hit the hay. That’s because things happen: the baby won’t let me put her down, my two-year-old has wet his bed, and my five-year-old has gone on a clothing strike. My morning minutes seem to slip by the fastest, so I aim to give myself the gift of calm in that pre-coffee haze.
As I careen towards my first day at school, I will be working on honing all parts of my top 10 list. I will also be thinking of each of you, as you begin the countdown to the start of your school year. But I have to say that even though this time of year always sends me into hives as I stress about all the details, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love what I do.
Good luck with your 2016-2017 school year!
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