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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
As I gear up for my 11th school year, I start to get the same butterflies in my stomach that I did getting ready for my first. The uncertainty of the type of students I'm about to get and the inevitable administration curve balls hang on my mind as each day passes. Over the years, though, I have learned to do a few things that make the nerves rest a bit. Here are some simple tips to cure the pre-school butterflies as the school years draws closer.

1) Prepare

I know this seems silly, but I feel that too many teachers think they can wing the first couple of weeks because they have "been there and done that." Well, that is the worst approach to starting the school year. I tried to do that when I thought I was a "veteran" teacher, and it caused me the most stress before a school year I had ever experienced. Take some time, sit down and map out the first few days or weeks of the school year. This doesn't need to be a rigid, set-in-stone plan, just a nice outline of where you want the class to go.

2) Accept Not Having Control Over Everything

I'm a bit of a control freak. I want to know everything that's going on as soon as possible so that I can make arrangements to deal with it. This is not how our educational system works -- in fact, it's never worked that way -- so I have no idea why so many teachers expect it to. Once I learned to accept that there would be things outside of my control and that I was a good enough teacher to adjust on the fly, I was much calmer. The stress of the unknown faded over time as I became more comfortable letting go. It's also a trust issue. I had to learn to trust my admins and colleagues to support me if things got crazy. That trust has saved me countless hours of worrying.

3) Communicate

Teachers tend to scatter to the four corners of the world when school is over. Most don't see each other until the mandatory reporting day. I used to worry about what my fellow department members were working on and what units they had planned out. Only recently did I start to think about reaching out to them during the summer to see how the planning is going. A simple exchange of email put me at ease regarding summer assignments and unit planning. Communication is key, even during July and August.

4) Have Fun

I would spend so much time worrying about the start of school that I would miss the end of vacation. Last minute stress would ruin my final weekend with family and friends. It is crucial to enjoy the last few days before school starts, because over the next ten months there will be plenty of time to stress over exams, units and parent meetings. Make a deal with yourself to not worry about any school planning the last weekend before school starts, and concentrate on the family and friends that support you during the long school year.

By working these four tips into our summer, all educators should be able to enjoy the final days of vacation before we start directing our energies toward inspiring the children we get to see every day. Please share your tips on how you'd help teachers get the pre-school butterflies out of their stomach.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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Carmela Curatola Knowles's picture
Carmela Curatola Knowles
Instructional Technology Specialist

Your post resonated with me immediately as I've been reflecting about the beginning of school. This will be my 9th year of teaching. I spent many years in business before transitioning to teaching. The major life lesson that I have learned in this journey is your topic #2: communication.

I have been so fortunate to have a colleague with whom I've bounced ideas - good and bad - and developed unit plans, lesson plans, activities. So far this August, we've had 2 major telephone meetings to plan out the sequence of curriculum for the year (we're Tech Teachers), to identify first day of school plans (being Special Area Teachers, we have 6 first days of school), and to talk out strategies meshed with pedagogy. Some of our best ideas are those that we've discussed at length, because they have gone through a natural vetting process of bouncing pro's and con's between us and planning for any clarification needs. From that process we come up with a hybrid idea based on both of our thoughts.

So my additional comment, particularly to new teachers, is to locate at least one colleague with whom you can partner and communicate. I have found that the butterflies are much easier to handle because this shared planning empowers me to do my best and enjoy the start of school!

Jennifer Finn's picture
Jennifer Finn
First grade teacher. I teach in Takoma Park, MD

Just so you know, I'm about to start my 23 year of teaching. The butterflies are still there and you are right. It is the last weekend before teachers report back. I'll admit that I cleaned out a couple of binders today. By the way, where I teach is still accurate, but I am very happy to be returning to pre-k after four years in other grades. That age is my most favorite!

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