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4 Ways to Prepare for Back to School

Amanda Hall  |  August 06, 2021
Back to school can be a frenzy of excitement and nerves for new and veteran teachers. Going into my seventh year as a teacher, I still have feelings that bubble up every year. I remember my first day as a teacher. Maybe not fondly, but definitely vividly. Fortunately, it gets a bit easier as you get more comfortable with yourself as a teacher, and there are four key pillars that you can focus on to help make this back-to-school season your best one yet. 

1.Back-to-school shopping.
Shopping for school supplies is so fun, especially as a new teacher. You can be tempted to buy anything and everything, especially when you aren’t sure what you’ll actually need. Before you accidentally overbuy, think about your organizational strategy – how you’ll have students turn things in, where you’ll store supplies, etc. 
Keep in mind the size of your classroom, too. My first year, I thought it would be super cool to have a futon in my reading nook. While it was beloved by my students, it took up a ton of space without a necessary purpose and it didn’t come back for a second year. 

Then you can consider the aesthetic or theme you’re going for. I like a clean looking classroom without a ton of bright colors, but every teacher is different. Decorate how you want. You’re going to spend a lot of time in your classroom, so you might as well like it.

One thing to be on the lookout for is perfection traps. Don’t fall for it. Your room doesn’t have to be Instagram perfect, but it does have to be functional. Making a Pinterest-perfect room can get expensive, and you might be sacrificing what makes sense organizationally for perfection. 

Buying for your classroom will get easier each year, and it’s something you really need to trial an error. Once you have a routine down with students, you’ll start to understand what’s a necessity and what isn’t. 

2.Management and organization.
Kids are so much more capable than you might think. Be open to allowing them to set the pace at first. It’s not just your classroom, it’s theirs too. Try letting them have a say in how they turn in papers, what classroom jobs they’ll have, or where they sit. Let them play a role and see what happens. It took me a few years to figure out that you don’t have to be the one to do it all – let your students take part. It was terrifying at first to think about giving up some of that control, but it's something I really focused on in grad school. You can read more about student-led classrooms here.

3.Building relationships.
A major tone is set in the first couple of weeks of school. It’s a great time to get a head start on getting to know your kids and how you can best connect with them. I try to get all my students names down the first day, which isn’t easy, but it’s important to me. 

Talk to your students at lunch. Non-structured times of the day are magical, and you’ll have quite a bit of that time the first couple weeks of school before you dig into curriculum. Eavesdrop on their conversations and be open and receptive to anything they’ll give you that will let you know who they are as people. One of the most important parts of building relationship with your students is listening. Listen, ask questions, and show that you care. Kids love to talk, so take this time to get the inside scoop. 

You can try letting them pick their own seats. This exercise is very telling. Some students will go right to the front or back of the room, you’ll find out who is friends, and more. Pay attention and look for trends. Once you recognize trends, you can start peeling back the onion.

My team makes it a point to send a positive note home to every family in the first two weeks of school. This is a great way to show your students you care and start building trust with parents by proactively communicating. Read more about how to proactively communicate with parents here. 

Remember that not all kids show up to school excited to be there, though. Some experience real dread. The secret is to get them to buy into your vision. Find out what they like and try to weave it in. Try to get to the root of why they might not want to be at school and work with them. You can read more of my ways to build relationships with students here.

4.Plan, be flexible, and ask for help.
Plan more than you need to and remember that it’s okay if your plans fall through. Once you know your curriculum, you’ll get a better handle on how much time things take. If you’re a new teacher, rely on your team – they know things from experience that you might not know yet. 

My first year, I relied on my team a lot. By the second year, I was able to start contributing. It may be scary to ask for help at first, but it’s worth it. You’ll be a better teacher for it.

While you can plan and plan, sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. I learned this quickly during my first week of school as a new teacher. My pants ripped front to back, forcing me to email my new team and ask if anyone had an extra pair of pants (which they didn’t). I was prepared, I had plans, but my pants ripped and instead of following my plans, I was stapling my pants back together and asking people I barely knew if they had extra pants I could wear. After that, asking for help was no biggie, and I now have a sense of humor about the importance of being flexible.