13 Must-do’s to get You & Your Classroom Ready for Back-to-School
By Karen Salsbury, M.S.Ed/Rdg
BE PREPARED! The key to starting out on a positive note! It’s much easier to start the school year on a positive note than to find yourself months into the year and trying to get your systems set up and dealing with students who are disconnected and confused. Students need to know where and how things get done, or you will find yourself “pulling your hair out.” Listed below are 13 must-dos to help you get your classroom and your students optimized for learning.
As a teacher, we are so engrossed in lesson planning and teaching that we neglect the fundamentals of classroom management. If we don’t stop to think about these, we may find ourselves searching for papers that were turned in on our messy desk, re-arranging desks, and constantly re-inventing the wheel. If you use the suggestions below and fine-tune them to suit your classroom needs, you’ll have a set routine that you can use year after year with only minor adjustments as needed.
- Set a theme for the year
I didn’t realize how important this is until I started doing it. What a great way to focus student attention and get them to relate lessons to their own lives. Last year we did Americana. I integrated the history of America into close reading, writing and literature lessons. This was fun! We did personal stories about George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pocahontas to name a few. It was a great way to bring cultural diversity into the mix with the Sons of Liberty, Underground Railroad, etc. It also was a great cross-curricular strategy along with personalizing history so students could understand why things are the way they are.
This year with the onslaught of media hits about violence, our theme will be kindness and respect. Think of all the different ways to integrate this into your lessons. We will be reading personal stories of people helping others who might be culturally diverse, and teach students about respect. We will use this in every aspect of our classroom with student behavior. As a middle school teacher, hormones are rampant. We’ll be learning writing at the same time we’re learning how to treat each other with respect. I figure it will be a great lesson for me as well as students learning from other students. There are countless literary works about this from Charles Dickens to C.S.Lewis.
Whatever you decide, your theme needs to be broad enough to incorporate into your math, social studies, science or language arts standards depending on your subject. For math, you could use a broad theory that encompasses all math, such as “balancing act.” You get the idea. Write your ideas in the comments below. I am sure there are other teachers who could use some ideas.
- Consider all the procedures you will use for the year
This can be quite time consuming, and it’s easy to forget things you wished you’d have told students. Some of the ideas could be: where are supplies located; what do I do when I enter the classroom; what should I bring to class; where should I turn in my papers to grade; how will you get their attention when they’re working…or talking; and what is the dismissal process. Luckily, I have done a lot of this work for you. Download your free PowerPoint that is classroom ready. All you have to do is read through it and make any changes that are appropriate for your classroom. Classroom Procedures for Back to School. This will take the guess work out for both you and your students. If you’re a new teacher, it will give you a chance to think through all of these things so that you’ll be ready with the answers when your students arrive.
- Check last year’s test scores and set up seating charts to maximize students-helping-students (bonus…goes with kindness and respect theme)
We teachers do not have time to get to every student that needs our help. Using students-helping-students is a great way to maximize your student’s work time as well as your own. I research students’ standardized test scores from the previous spring to give myself an edge. Since I don’t know my students yet, this will at least start things out on a positive note realizing that not all students test well, or some test better than they actually are on any given day.Once you know your students better, you will want to make changes, but until then this is a great way to get started. You can also talk with last year’s teachers, but there may not be time. I set up seating charts by organizing students into 4 categories for the 4 desks I have grouped together in the seating chart. Advanced, proficient, basic and below basic. I will place one student of each category into each group. I set the advanced next to the basic and the proficient next to the below basic. I don’t like to group the advanced students together at the beginning of the year because they will finish way too early; however, I have done this later in the year and given them a problem to solve once they have finished their lesson. This also works well. Then, I can spend most of my time with students who are struggling. I will shake this up throughout the year because each scenario can be beneficial.
- Develop your own personal discipline and rewards system
At our school, we’ve developed a team approach to discipline. It’s great because students understand the system since it is practiced in all classroom. We have a series of etickets where students can purchase things with them. It’s an economic system that works pretty well. Students are given etickets when seen doing something special, unique, kind or anything that merits a reward. We’ve set up a system where they can purchase erasers, pencils, free homework pass, sit by their friends for a class period, bathroom or hall pass, markers, and other items. The nice thing about this is they will always have a pencil with them if they have etickets.We have developed a free ebook on how to handle discipline in your class. You can download it for free here: https://www.teacher1stop.com/. We have a 3 strikes system that students understand. First you must make clear correct classroom behavior (see #2 above), then if they act up, I simply look at them quietly and say “strike 1.” Once they get to strike 3, we send the students out to a “buddy room.” This is another classroom, or it can be a safe spot in your classroom. Our core team of teachers are all on board with this, as well as our whole school. If a student gets a buddy room, we call parents and explain the situation. Most parents are very supportive. This helps to alleviate problems such as this. Again, we’re focused on kindness and respect this year. A calm tone and practical approach will glean respect and help to mitigate students who act up. Your attitude will make all the difference.
- Set up desks for your largest class…you may have new students so some extras will help
Look through your class rosters and pick out your largest class. If you’re an elementary teacher, this won’t apply, but for students who go from class to class this will set the tone. Remember that there are always late enrollees. You’ll want to figure out your largest class and add 3-4 more desks. I’ve noticed that this occurs during the day before school starts, the first day, and so on throughout the first week. I’d rather have a couple of desks shoved into a corner rather than students sitting on the floor. It draws attention to their newness and the fact that they probably do not know anyone. Custodial staff is so busy this time of year that getting their attention and getting more desks can become quite challenging.
- Optimize space for collaboration and discovery
I like to spread student learning out using various teaching strategies: working in pairs, working in groups of 4, working independently and whole group discussion. Finding the right desk arrangement to cover all these basis is significant. I found a handy little website that has done this for you. You will click on the number of students at the top of the page, and it offers several suggestions under each.: http://www.classroomdeskarrangement.com/ClassroomDeskArrangement/Welcome.htmlIf you are the creative or analytical type, here is a neat tool you can use to design your own layout by moving desks around digitally before settling on your perfect arrangement: http://classroom.4teachers.org/If you have a small classroom with a large class (26-33 students on average) like I do, your options are considerably lessened. I have decided to go with groups of 4, with 2 side-by-side. In this way, students can partner with one other student who is sitting beside them (not across from), or be in a group of 4. It’s not too creative, but it can be effective. The down side is when students are working independently. Their closeness incites talking when I’m trying to get them to think critically and independently, close read, or an assessment. If this happens, you may want to download my free Classroom Management eBook that spells out effective ways to manage student behavior. You’ll find it easy-peasy by clicking on the above link. It’s located at Teacher1stop.com’s front page.
- First two weeks of lessons and Unit Plans
This goes without saying that you need to plan, but you may not think you need 2 full weeks plan to start your year. It sounds crazy to plan 2 weeks in advance because we don’t know how long it might take a new class to accomplish a task, but it will reduce your stress level, free you up to get to know your kids and make for a smooth start to the year. These can be changed and adjusted as necessary, but at least you have your basis. Also, have your unit planned out so that both you and your students know where they are going and why. Students perform better when they see why they are learning what is being taught.
- Bulletin boards that inspire
Take some time to decide what you want your students to feel when they walk into your class. Haphazard bulletin boards that don’t tie together with your classroom theme don’t get much play. In addition, showing student work attracts students’ attention, whether their work is up there or their best friend’s, they like to see how others are accomplishing the same task as their own. Besides, putting up student work keeps the board fresh and new and you don’t have to do all the work!
An organized classroom is a happy classroom for both you and your students. If they know where to get supplies, they won’t have to ask you for them. Lots of color attract students to them and draws their attention. We have some great organizers here that can help. For example, check out these gems:
- Who is the focal point ….your space or your students?
What’s the first thing people notice when they walk into your classroom? Can students tell what subject your class is when they walk in? Does your desk space real estate take up a huge corner? Are desks arranged for optimal learning? If the first thing you see is your real estate, then you might want to think above moving your desk to the back of the room in an obsolete corner in order to maximize student learning space. I’ve heard of teachers doing away with their desk, but this seems extreme. You have to have space for grading papers and lesson planning along with files, but try to minimize it the best you can.
- Get to know your students activities
The faster you can get to know your students, the better your rapport and the quicker you can get down to student learning. I have several activities that are fun for students and help me memorize their names as quickly as possible. In addition, there’s a bonus in that you can structure lessons to meet the interests of your kiddos. Here’s a great lesson that I use to get to know my students better. Its free, so download it today. https://www.teacher1stop.com/product/get-to-know-my-students/
- How will you do your point system when grading? Percentage? Raw scores? Tests?
Some schools require a set way to set up their grading system, but most will allow you to either use the point system or percentage. There are advantages to each system. For instance, if you have a small exit ticket that you want to use just to gage student learning for the day, you can give a small point number, such as 5 or 10 points. Tests, then might be worth 75 points, and a larger project could be worth 50. Parents and students can easily see which assignments are more important and it allows you to “weight” the assignments. If you like things more uniform, percentage works well. Every assignment is worth 100 percent for example, and tests are weighted at 5 times as much as a regular assignment, so they would be 100 percent, but be figured at 5 times the assignment. Many of the grading systems used in today’s school will do this naturally. Just set your defaults to the system you plan to use.
- Check supplies
Make you a list of supplies that you use frequently in your classroom and keep this in your back-to-school folder. It might surprise you to know that many teachers forget about this because they’re too busy setting up their classroom. Depending on the grade you teach and how much technology is available, you will need plenty of pencils, scotch tape, extra staples for the stapler, 3-hole punch, construction paper, markers, crayons, scratch paper, a supply of copy paper, items for special projects, classroom set of glue and scissors, chart paper and markers, whiteboard markers in several colors, extra notebook paper, file folders, sticky tack to put stuff on the walls with, magnets for your white board to hang things, thumb tacks, and the list goes on depending on your individual needs. Get ahead now, and get those things.
The beginning of school can be stressful, but it’s also very exciting and fun. Being prepared and ready to go on your first day will set the stage for a fabulous year. If you feel prepared, you’ll be less stressed and more ready to take on the world, plan fun lessons and enjoy your students. Teaching is a wonderful profession. Enjoy.
Print this article now and keep it handy as you head back to work. If you like this article, please share with others. Caring is sharing! Do you have some helpful tips to add? Please comment below. Stay tuned for more great articles from teacher1stop.com.
Karen Salsbury is a veteran teacher of 7th grade English Language Arts. She holds a Masters degree in Education/Reading, is a member of the leadership team at her school as well as teacher of AVID™ strategies.