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As a first-year teacher, you are probably counting down the weeks until the first day of school and dreaming about the most amazing classroom and students that you know you’ll have. You’re thinking about how beautifully decorated the walls will be, how organized your desk is going to stay all year round, and how much knowledge you’re going to share with all of your future students. Though the first day of school may seem like a long way off, you’ll be surprised how quickly it will approach, and you want to ensure you make the most of your summer so you’re as prepared as possible come fall.
You probably have notebooks upon notebooks full of suggestions and ideas for your classroom, including everything from decorations to classroom management to organization tips. The priority this summer should be to get the most important things taken care of first and get them set to run smoothly as best as possible before the new school year begins. Once you’ve nailed down the must-haves, you can then shift your focus to fun decorations, Pinterest-worthy organizational setups, and the little extras that are going to make your students feel right at home and create the most conducive learning environment.
Get Your Textbooks & Start Your Lesson Plans
The bread and butter of teaching come through your lesson plans. What do your students actually need to learn this year? What are they going to be tested on and what do they need to know to successfully complete the grade you teach and be prepared for success in the next grade? If you already have a job, you likely already have access to your textbooks and curriculum. Take those home as early as you can and start on your lesson plans right away. When school rolls around and you are already done lesson planning, you’ll be thanking yourself for following this summer preparation tip. It will also bring you relief that you don’t have to be constantly creating new lesson plans throughout the year when you’re already busy grading papers, writing tests, and doing other school activities.
Plan Getting-to-Know-You Activities
This is probably going to take up a good portion of your first week of school, if not longer. First-year teachers are often shocked at how long the logistics can take at the start of the school year. You should have some short activities prepared to fill up some downtime if you need them, and it’s likely that your pre-assessments, paperwork, and getting-to-know-you activities will take up more time than you expect. Try your best to find some activities where students can share information with just you, such as about their home life, how they feel about the subject you teach or anything else they may want you to know. It’s likely that many of your students will already know each other, but it’s always good to plan some group games or icebreakers to help everyone connect with other students. Keep in mind that some students are extremely shy and introverted, so try to have some games or activities that will help them be comfortable. Avoid any icebreakers that may embarrass students or push them too far out of their comfort zones.
Design Your Classroom Management Plan
This is hugely important and probably one of the first summer preparation tips you should take care of. First-year teachers tend to believe the best about their students and their behavior, which is great. But it’s also important to be realistic and set some high standards right from the beginning. An important bit of advice often given to first-year teachers is to start strict and loosen up as appropriate as the year goes on. You cannot raise the standards halfway through the year and expect your students to follow suit—you need to start with the highest expectations and require your students to meet them before you give them any leeway or freedom. Start by imagining different possible discipline problems in your classroom and come up with a plan to deal with them. Go through your protocol for handing bathroom passes, nurse visits, absences, make-up tests, homework policies, behavior documentation, and more. Having a plan for dealing with all of these things will help you avoid being caught off guard and will help you stay consistent in dealing with issues that arise. Be sure to cover classroom procedures and establish classroom rules, and make them all very clear at the start of the school year. Be sure to include consequences for breaking these rules as well.
Create Your Organizational System
Most first-year teachers embrace a trial and error system when it comes to organization in the classroom. You may think that right near your desk is a great place for students to turn in homework, but two weeks into the school year, you discover that having students constantly at your desk is distracting and overwhelming. Read some ideas online and talk to some colleagues to get some ideas for how you’re going to organize your classroom. Make sure you have a spot to file important papers, a place for make-up work, a place for “need to be graded” papers, and a spot for papers that need to be returned to students. You may also need a spot to store extra textbooks, extra paper, spare pencils, and more. Will you have a classroom library or computers in your room? How will these be set up and how will students access them? Check out teachers’ blogs for ideas and spend some time in your classroom thinking about possible options for your organizational system.
Spend Time with Veteran Teachers
You’ll obviously spend a lot of time with other teachers once the school year begins, but if you know any veteran teachers who will meet up with you over the summer, embrace the opportunity to pick their brain! Ask them what they wish they had known as a first-year teacher, what summer preparation tips they utilize each summer, and if they have any specific advice for you. Ask about classroom management, school policies, lesson planning, organization, and more. Ask about the best deals on classroom supplies and the must-haves in the school supply aisles, and how they communicate with parents. Any information they can give you will benefit you, and you will be thankful for their wisdom and advice as you begin your teaching journey.
Shop School Supply Sales
Most teachers spend far more of their own money than most people realize, which is unfortunate, but it’s always better to be over-prepared than struggling to find a pen, dry erase marker, or notebook during the year. Look up school supply sales or talk to local teachers about where they get their discounted supplies. Some schools allow teachers to make wish lists to give to their parents at the open house, so if you can do that, begin making a list of what you really want or need for your classroom so you’re prepared for that. You can always stock up on more supplies during the year, but the back-to-school season usually has the cheapest prices on school supplies and it’s usually easier to find a large selection of what you’re looking for.
Don’t Stress Too Much About Decorations
We know that it’s every teacher’s dream to have an awe-inspiring, Pinterest-worthy classroom that brings “oohs” and “ahhs” from every parent, student, and teacher than enters your room. While some decor can make your classroom feel more comfortable and homey, what you put on your walls is most likely not going to change your students’ lives. However, what you teach them can, in fact, change their lives. Focus on the most important parts of being a teacher and know that once you get those taken care of, you’ll feel far more confident beginning your first year of teaching than you would if your classroom looked perfect but you were otherwise unprepared.
Follow these summer preparation tips for first-year teachers and you are sure to have an amazing first year of teaching!