Small moves that will help you hold on to that fresh teacher start a bit longer.
We have all seen memes of teachers beginning the school year versus teachers finishing the school year. The September teacher is energetic, cleancut and almost joyful; the June teacher looks disheveled and desperate. Think Michael from The Office on his best day compared with “Prison Mike.” It’s a funny meme, and relatable perhaps for our students, too.
But the truth is I never really feel that organized and ready for September. While I know I will never be that Pinterest teacher who has everything just so, if I spend a bit of time early in the school year planning, I can create the type of positive and organized learning environment that leads to a successful learning partnership.
Start with community building
This is a non-negotiable. I can imagine you are reading this and rolling your eyes. And frankly, I’m with you. There is nothing more irritating than community building when nobody is into it and the task feels superfluous. But hear me out: in order to have those discussions where students feel safe enough to explore and share their thinking, or feel comfortable enough to ask a question, we have to find a way to help students get to know one another. And we have to start somewhere, even if it's with just a few ice breakers that can be tweaked to fit your needs and the ages of your students. It may feel silly, but explain to your students that in order to do the hard work throughout the year, they need to know who is in the room with them, who their classmates are. Another way to think about this to help your students develop their emotional literacy within your classroom. Teaching students to talk to each other in honest and respectful ways is an ongoing and complex goal, but starting with some type of community building is the way to go.
Create or systematize the days of the week
As much as you can, of course. For instance, perhaps every Friday is a discussion day or a day to read and discuss current events, with the ask that your students connect it to your curricula. Perhaps every Tuesday and Friday are homework collections days, so students know what to expect and you can plan accordingly. You can make changes as the year progresses, but begin the year with a system to make your life and your students’ lives more predictable. My colleague Ashlynn Wittchow refers to this concept as making a plan for material management.
Sketch out the year with the end of marking periods in mind so you have a strong sense of the perimeters of your curriculum. Look at weeks where there are no breaks and consider planning a field trip or asking a speaker to visit during those long stretches. The more you can sketch out your year and plan specific events in your classroom, the less anxious you’ll feel. I say this as a compulsive list maker, and Harvard Business Review will back me up on this. Again, your schedule or plans may change, but you can start plotting different elements of the year as a way to frame your backward planning.
The beginning of the school year can be overwhelming — new procedures and mandates, the mental and physical preparation of getting your room ready — and there are always new people to learn how to work with and get to know. But there is so much possibility at the beginning of the school year, which acts as a clean slate for teachers and students. Starting the year by building community, creating systems and structures, and determining a few key dates in the timeline are small moves that will help you hold on to that fresh teacher start a bit longer.