Hopefully, if you’re an experienced teacher, you’ve been in your classroom for a while and have found a routine you love and an organized classroom to eliminate all of the paper piles! But, we all know people retire, switch grade levels, and sometimes we just need a change after doing the same thing for many years. Whether you know which grade you’re going to be teaching next year, or if you’re still waiting to find out, there are some things you can do NOW to get ready for back to school.
Last summer, I was beginning my 2nd year in a new grade level and spent most of my summer in my classroom. Though I am pretty much a workaholic and love the process of designing a warm and welcoming environment for my students, I spent way too much time getting everything ready!
For me, I went on a family vacation at the end of June. The rest of my summer was spent getting my classroom ready. I was putting up new bulletin boards, labeling everything, reorganizing my cupboards and filing cabinets. I thought long and hard about what I needed to change in my daily schedule. There were a few things the last school year that just weren’t working for me. It felt great to have everything just the way I needed it, so I could begin the school year organized and with a plan!
However, I didn’t get any of my to-do list done at home! It can be hard to find that work-school balance when we invest so much time in our classrooms. So, I decided to share with you my lesson learned, and some ideas to help make your summer a little less hectic. A few minutes put into extra prep now will make a HUGE difference when you step into your classroom to get ready for back to school.
Get Your Classroom Ready for Back to School
No matter which grade level you teach, there are some things you can do before the school year ends to make things easier.
1. Make Extra Copies
While you’re standing at the copy machine making copies, make an extra set for next year. Throw them into the filing cabinet and you have them ready to go!
At the very least, you can do this for your first month of school. Pull out all of the activities you know you do every year. When the time comes to plan, all of those materials are ready to go. Then, you can focus all of your energy on planning the activities that change from year to year.
For example, some of my first week of school activities I do with my students change from year to year. I use them based on what my classroom theme is that year. But, I already know what theme I’m going to do (like I said, decor is one of my favorite things!), so I can plan those things now and have them ready when I walk into my classroom in August.
2. Review Your Routines and Procedures
I tell myself every year that I’m going to write on my lesson plans what worked that week and what didn’t. I want to make life easier the following year, and…that never happens. However, looking over your plans for the first month of school will help you when you’re trying to decide what to do the following year.
This also works when thinking about your routines and procedures. Do you need to make more time for teaching procedures? Trust me, the more time you spend at the beginning of the year, the less you’ll be interrupted with behavior issues later in the year. And, the younger the students, the more time they will need to practice. We all have standards we need to cover, but it’s practically impossible if you’re constantly interrupted with statements like, “Nobody cares about me!” or “Can I go to the bathroom?” I’ve had a few years like that early in my career (and there’s always that one, isn’t there?)!
3. Revise Your Daily Schedule
Again, I know that some schedules work for some groups and some work better for others. It’s the same with teachers and their teaching style too. Whether you teach everything whole group or teach mini lessons with centers built into your schedule, it is something you can think about ahead of time. This will help you to plan what materials you will need to organize everything.
And I know we all feel like we don’t have enough time in the day to teach everything. Some of us have more control over our daily schedule than others. Some districts require every teacher’s schedule at each grade level to look the same. Other districts are a little more relaxed about their schedule. If you can create your own daily schedule, think about what NEEDS to be included and what can be thrown out. I’m getting rid of morning work next year and starting with a math fact fluency activity. Then, we’re jumping right into math to make more time for math centers late in the day. What this looks like will be different to everyone.
4. Prep Next Year’s Bulletin Boards
Are you using the same bulletin boards next year or do you like to switch things up? I have teachers in my district who have the same theme every single year, and I have some that like to change things up. I’m somewhere in the middle, and I talk about this later on. However, it’s worth mentioning twice.
Last year, I put up black bulletin board paper with 3 layers of border (1 print, red, and brown) to go with my forest theme. Then, at the end of the year I took out the print border and left up the black bulletin board paper, along with the red and brown border. A few weeks before school started this year, I added the print border to match my Eric Carle Classroom Theme and DONE!!
For next year, I plan to switch it all out. Then, I will put up new paper and border that I can use for several different themes over a few years. Thinking about this now gives you an idea of the supplies you will need to buy and how much. If I have to buy brand new everything, it’s going to cost me a lot more than if I only have to replace 1 print border. Everything else is a solid color that can easily be matched to many classroom themes. What a time saver and so cost effective on your teacher budget!
5. Classroom Setup
When thinking about your classroom setup for the following year, consider where students are going to work. Are they going to be at their desks or are there specific areas in the classroom for them to work? How much choice are they going to have in where they work, how they work, choice of center activities? It’s all about what works for you and your classroom management style.
Thinking about this will determine how you setup student desks and the other areas of your classroom. My teaching partner down the hall likes to have her students work at their desks and that works for her. I don’t mind if my students choose any spot in the classroom during centers, as long as they are working and they are quiet. Whatever works for you!
Also, think about flow of the classroom and how students access materials. Are all of the center materials placed in the same area or are they in different areas? Again, it’s how you plan to have students access materials and ease of use.
6. Classroom Decor
Use your classroom setup to help you decide on decor. There has been a movement to create themes that have natural, calm colors. The colors and themes don’t matter as much, as long as they are consistent to reduce distractions. Having too many different colors and prints can have a feeling of the classroom being cluttered.
However, I believe no matter what theme or color scheme you choose, you can make it work. Try to limit it to 2-3 colors or prints to help make things feel more organized. If you’re using a bright, colorful border or print, use 1 and accent with another solid border. I illustrate this in my Eric Carle Classroom Theme I did in my classroom.
Though the border is full of lots of color, I used other borders to help tone it down. The red and brown border were reused from the year before, which is also a time saving tip! I simply kept the black bulletin board paper from the year before and switched out the inside border for a whole new look!
Knowing that I would be switching out my decor, I’ve been watching the sales online. So, I already have my border and bulletin border ordered. Now I just have to take a day over the summer to put it up.
7. Get Ready for Back to School Night & Open House
Copy your sign in sheets and welcome letter, scavenger hunt, extra supply lists, and edit your PowerPoint if needed for the new school year. Most grades have similar rules and procedures. So, if you need to you can quickly change a few out if switching grades. The more you have done now, the less you have to do later.
8. Reorganize Your Teacher Desk (or get rid of it!)
Whether you want to keep your teacher desk or not, I personally find it becomes the place that keeps all of my piles. If this is the case, you may need some materials to organize everything. Folders, a filing cabinet, bins, SOMETHING close to your desk where you can quickly sort where things need to go. I like my desk because it feels like the only place in the classroom that is my own…much how my students feel about their desk being their own.
If you get rid of it, that’s great too! We all need tricks and strategies to help us stay more organized, and that just might be the way to go. If you don’t have a desk to place paper piles, then they HAVE to go somewhere else. How you get and stay organized is up to what will work for you!
9. Make a Supply List to Get Ready for Back to School
Every teacher has basic supplies they need to buy every single year to get ready for back to school. We need pencils, crayons, scissors, glue sticks, dry erase markers, etc. Make a list of back to school items you will need for the following year (I keep a list in a notebook and on my phone). If you don’t order them now, you can keep an eye out for sales throughout the summer. Then, while I’m shopping and spending way too much money in Michael’s or Target, I can look at my phone and get what I need.
If you’re looking to add a few things every teacher needs to make your day-to-day teaching life so much easier, check out my 10 Things Every Teacher Needs.