By Ada Collins
After a relaxing summer that ended too soon, it’s safe to say that back to school season is back in full swing. I am torn between:
After seven successful school years teaching public elementary school, it’s safe to say I do enjoy going back to school. And by successful I mean I physically, mentally, and emotionally survived. Not successful as in let me write a book about it. A school year is a marathon. Not that I’ve ever run one of those nor plan on it, but I can only assume. You prepare, you run, you love it, you hate it, and you love it some more. You get tired, you get discouraged at times, and then you realize you’re not running it alone. You wonder when it’s going to be over, and then you cross the finish line. You can’t believe what you’ve accomplished and you want to do it again (after a summer’s recovery time of course).
Surprisingly enough, I do not have all the answers when it comes to how I prepare for the beginning of a new school year. Why is that surprising? Well, most of my friends and family would say I am soft-spoken, organized, dedicated, focused, and structured. I like to always have a plan and try to stick to it. I like to keep my expectations high and clear, something I have learned works well for my students. My kids (school, not personal ones I have birthed) would say Ms. Collins knows what’s going on at all times and doesn’t settle for less. You know how some teachers dance and dab with their kids? Yeah, I do not. At least, they wouldn’t expect me to because I’m always too busy thinking of what to do after our dance party.
Before writing this post, I did not have a set of strategies to help me get ready for a new school year. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized there are some very general things I do. So here are some “pro tips” (don’t take that term so seriously please) on how I get ready for a new school year:
- Be flexible
So when it comes to planning for the beginning of the year, I first try to keep in mind that flexibility is key. Floors may not be cleaned yet. Teachers may be moving classrooms. There is a leak in the hallway. The principal gets a call from the higher-ups that domino effects the entire staff, which includes you. The air is out in your room. The air is out in the whole building! The scope and sequence needs to be changed. Your partner teacher is sick the first week of school. You get sick. The projector bulb blew. Ants.
I was very inflexible my first couple years as a teacher. I wanted everything set in stone. I wanted everything in my control. I wanted a step-by-step plan of my day from reading lessons to bathroom protocol to how I use my planning hour. Needless to say I stressed myself out more by having those expectations in my head. I learned that when I’m not flexible, it shows in my teaching, my interactions with students, and my relationships with my colleagues.
I have to be flexible, but I also have to relax! It will all get done. That is what veteran teachers have been saying to me for years, and I have finally come to believe them. There is no need to worry and gain gray hairs over it. There is no doubt I will be prepared and work as hard as I can. However, stress can take a toll on you. So finding that balance is important.
This summer, I have been balancing school preparations and enjoying actual summer. I have been traveling with my husband for a couple weeks and enjoyed a few (or lots of) lazy days. However, I have also attended a couple of PDs, did some mapping out of our math and reading standards, and built some new classroom additions. Yes it does help to prepare for the new school year, but you have to give yourself a break. And maybe schedule a pre-school year massage!
Pro Tip #3 is to read. Isn’t that what we tell our kids to do all year long? The past couple of years I have tried to read at least one professional text in the summer. It’s not an intimidating goal; you can read it during your summer vacation on the beach, during that long airport layover, or just when you have a free afternoon. As we teach our children, reading should be enjoyable. So pick a topic you might want to brush up on for the upcoming school year! I have two this summer: Disruptive Thinking by Beers & Probst and DIY Literacy by Roberts & Roberts.
Finally, prioritize! So I can’t get into my classroom just yet…but what can I do without physically being there? Do I really need to get into my room ASAP to set up all those student computers? Like right this minute? I have shifted my focus on things I can do well right now. I have looked at the district-given reading and math scope and sequence, reviewed the changes in standards, and made my school to-do list. Most of which took an afternoon in a coffee shop (that environment works for me because I have no accountability at home when I want to lay on the couch and watch TV!). I also thought about additional things I wanted for my classroom like a rolling caddy for my reading group instruction and some stools for my reading table. I assembled them all at home whilst watching some Friends reruns, knowing I’ll just bring them to school in a week or two and be ready to roll!
Stools for my kids during reading groups…thank you Ikea!
School-related to-do list!
Another Ikea purchase: rolling caddy that I can use for organizing materials for guided reading groups.
All of this is wonderful for my teacher sanity, but I know there will be things I will have to do as they come. I need to prioritize what is important and what I can do right now in the present that is the best use of my time.
Although all this may seem like I have it all together for the new school year, I assure you that is not 100% true. I have a plan, but it is not perfect. It is what works for me, which may or may not work for you. The most important thing is to try to enjoy the moments you have both leading up to the first day and during the first week. Remember why you are doing what you’re doing. Remember why you chose to be a part of this wonderful profession.