Wasn’t it just yesterday we were putting away all of our school supplies so the janitorial staff could get into our classrooms to clean? And wasn’t it just yesterday we made a big summer to-do list? It sure seems like it. We teachers are lucky because we get to start fresh every year—a new school year in many ways is like a new calendar year!
As you enter the mad back-to-school rush, here are some tips to keep yourself sane:
- Get Organized: This is probably the most important thing you can do to start the school year off on the right foot. This may sound strange, but before school starts, I just peek into my room. I don’t really do anything but look around—I secretly call this my “assessment phase.” It gives me a fresh look at all I have to do.
This is a different look than at the end of the year, when I cram everything in closets or drawers to race out and start my summer. This is my “I have just had two months off and am ready for anything” look. I go about my business with school in the back of mind, then I get organized. I make lists, get some shopping done, laminate, copy, and cut. I take home curriculum, add important dates to my calendar, and write out exactly what needs to be done before my students walk through the door on the first day.
- Time Management: This is probably the hardest task to accomplish. There is never enough time. Every teacher knows that the first week you report back to school is full of meetings, staff development, catching up with old friends, meeting new friends, and more meetings. All the while, we are chomping at the bit to work in our classrooms. So just calmly tell yourself that you are only really going to get one full day to work in your classroom, with maybe a few minutes here and there between all those meetings.
If you tell yourself you only have one day, it won’t let those negative feelings fester as you sit in yet another meeting. And unless you are some kind of magician, there is no way you can get your classroom finished in one day—which means either working late or coming in before your actual start date. I know, I know, this isn’t in our contract and you want to enjoy the last bit of summer. But in order to manage your time effectively, you need to put in some extra hours and make those hours count. Don’t check your phone. Better yet, leave it in the car. Bring in your list of things to do and dive in. If you need to use the copy room but hear a lot of people in there, turn around and get some things done in your classroom instead. Go back later when no one is around or arrive early. The saying “work smarter, not harder” really applies here.
- Collaborate: Working with your team can save you tons of time and help immensely with the start of the year. Divide and conquer those long-range plans or beginning of the year copying. Save socializing for lunch or breaks during meetings. When you meet as a team, use an agenda to stay focused. Also, pay attention to the time so you can talk about what needs to get accomplished and then set out to do just that.
If you don’t work with a team in your school, find others in your district or on an online educator community who share the same role. This is an excellent way to learn new things to bring to your own school, as well as some time-saving ideas. In addition to this, going online can be an excellent resource. Be careful, though—it can also be a huge time suck. I don’t know how many hours I have wasted on Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers. I have resorted to setting a timer on my phone so I won’t spend too long collaborating with my online resources.
- Growth Mindset: Multitasking and change always seem to be a constant in education, but it is so important to have the right attitude. Having a growth mindset allows us to open our minds to change and new possibilities. Without a doubt, you will walk into your meetings the first week of school and your principal/school district will have an entire list of things for you to implement this year. Our plates are already full and adding something else can feel very overwhelming. This is where prioritizing is key.
Obviously, we need to accept the change, listen to our boss, and add it to our plate. But something will have to give; maybe you get rid of your beloved unit on marine wildlife or condense the unit and co-teach it with a colleague. Teachers are naturally creative folks, so you may have to stretch yourself to figure it out, but you will!
One of my favorite parts about the new year is what I have come to call the teacher “pep rally.” Nothing will get your mindset growing faster than attending one of these! You know what I am talking about—your district hires someone to come and speak, giving an inspirational delivery and leaving you ready to take on the year. They may be a little smarmy, but I truly love them. It reminds me of why I teach, giving me encouragement and fulfilling my desire to be a lifelong learner. If your school district doesn’t have one of these “rallies,” go online or watch an inspirational movie.
- Self-Care: It’s so easy to forget about your own needs as you get immersed in the upcoming year, but don’t forget to take care of yourself. Eat right, exercise, meditate, and spend some time doing things you love. It is extremely hard to carve out any time during the first few weeks of school, but do it—even if it's just 10 minutes a day or every other day.
Giving yourself some “me time” will keep you grounded and ready to meet your students’ needs each and every day. Teaching is a challenging job, and in order to be the best we can be, we have to fill ourselves up first before we can give to others. This will not only help at the beginning of the year, but will keep you relaxed all year long.
So Happy New Year to all the teachers! And for more teaching tips all year long, be sure to subscribe to the Educator blog.