August 15, 2017
Maybe you saw the first one in mid-July, or just a few days ago. Maybe you saw it in early July, even, just running an errand or relaxing on the couch, and there it was: a back-to-school commercial. (Eek!)
Now, while I think most educators could probably agree that July is far too early to start thinking about back-to-school shopping, but, once August rolls around, it is helpful to start doing some thinking and pre-planning about the upcoming year. If you’re anything like me, you might approach the summer the same way every year: in June, you tell yourself enthusiastically how much you’ll get done over the summer, saving yourself the stress and anxiety in September. But once summer starts, time gets away from you and all of a sudden, it’s the week before school, and your to-do list is just as long as it was in June!
Plan ahead. Really ahead. Some advice posts on getting reading for the year will advocate planning out your first week in detail. But if you’ve been in the game for a few years, you know what the first week often turns into: phone calls, staff meetings, emails, grading, back-to-school nights… Planning just the first week isn’t enough. Instead, do a rough plan of the whole year. Design your units and sketch out how much time each will take you. Take these weeks to align your activities and standards, to think out group projects and to tweak the lessons that didn’t work quite how you wanted them to last time. Of course, things will change (nothing is constant in teaching!), but having a framework for the year will help you know what’s coming, even when the day-to-day starts to bog you down.
Set some goals for the year. Each year, I’ve tried to get a little closer to the kind of superteacher I’ve always wanted to be: organized, involved, responsive, creative, effective. But I’ve learned that getting there takes time, and you can’t do it all at once. Instead, I try to set just a couple of personal growth goals for the year, things that feel achievable while still maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Maybe it’s staying up-to-date with missing work binders, attending at least five student events in the year, or calling parents once a week. It doesn’t have to be major, and you don’t have to set more than one! But if you pick a goal that you think you can achieve, it will raise your confidence and help you feel motivated and productive throughout the year.
Gather materials. This is where those ads will actually end up being helpful. Almost every teacher I know does at least one round of back-to-school shopping before the year starts, so this probably seems like a no-brainer. But don’t forget to plan past just paper, pencils, markers, and glue. This is also a good time to think about bigger items: Do you need different furniture in your classroom? Are you planning big projects that require special materials? Take a look at your yearly plan, and anticipate what you might need. If you need anything bigger and your school can accommodate it, this is also a good time to check in with your janitors or building administrators about moving or acquiring furniture.
Plan for next year. As the year kicks off, I always realize that there’s a whole other list of things I wish I’d done or wish I’d done differently. But by the time the year goes by, I get distracted by other issues and forget all about that list. One way I’ve tried to combat this is to keep notes on what I want to change next time. Then, when next fall rolls around, I can plan around those forgotten challenges.
Take time for yourself. While it can save stress to work ahead of time, don’t do so much that you end up stressed out anyway. It’s still summer! Don’t work every day, and don’t put in so much work that you end up sacrificing time for yourself and your family. Allow yourself a couple more weeks to relax--you’ve earned it!
Article by Alison McCartan, regular contributor to The Heritage Institute's Blog, What Works: Teaching at Its Best.
Alison McCartan is a high school teacher in the South Puget Sound region of Washington State. She has taught English and history in high schools across the country, and when she's not orchestrating re-enactments of the Industrial Revolution in class, she can usually be found with a cup of tea, her cat, and a book.