New Teachers

A Little Prep Goes a Long Way

A bit of logistical work in the classroom can help new teachers wrap up for summer—and ease the back to school crunch as well.

An empty classroom
©Shutterstock/Vereshchagin Dmitry

At this point in the year, many new teachers are just trying to make it to the end in one piece, eager for summer break. They’re not planning or preparing for anything aside from handing in their keys and walking out the door. With little to no prior experience, they assume that’s what teachers do.

Veterans can tell them that if they truly want to head out that door right behind the students, feeling carefree and blasting Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out ” from the car stereo, they must plan ahead.

So here are four areas new teachers—and veterans—can start taking action on now in order to have a stellar end of the school year.

Backwards Planning and Calendaring

We know we need to backwards plan our lessons starting with the standards—the same principle holds true for activities. If we take a close look at the school calendar, we may see some dates that, at first glance, seem insignificant.

We may have events calendared in our own calendar but haven’t yet considered how the school’s calendar will affect them. Or we haven’t taken into account a field trip for a group of kids that could thwart our plans for an assignment or project.

Starting now, planning with the end in mind is the first step we should take, figuring out which events we must attend and which will disrupt class time.

Evaluating Classroom Systems

Our class policies and procedures never have to be set in stone—even those things we borrowed from a respected colleague. It can take a couple of years to know for sure if a system works for us, but it’s essential to continually evaluate the way we run our classrooms.

Following a mentor makes sense for any new teacher because it’s best to try out what someone else knows will work and then adapt it to your style and philosophy.

When I switched from teaching band to English, I followed the policies and procedures of my mentor. I mimicked her grading, late work, and homework policies. Points were awarded were based on completeness, late work triggered automatic deductions in points, and homework composed of a large chunk of a student’s overall grade.

However, six years later, my classroom runs very differently than it did when I started, particularly since I’ve moved to standards-based grading. Always a teacher-learner, I’ve reflected year after year on what felt natural and right and what needed improvement.

Just after the school year ends, we can sit and reflect on our classroom management, grading, seating arrangements, procedures for getting supplies, etc. If something in the way our class runs isn’t quite right, this is the time to figure out what to change so that we can plan to implement it next year.

Organizing and Packing

I spent too many summers coming back to school early to organize my classroom. Too exhausted to even think about cleaning at the end of a school year, I’d throw everything into a few boxes and lock them in a storage cabinet. At the end of summer, I’d drag my poor husband and daughter in as manual labor to help me organize my mountains of mess.

Because I had failed to plan and organize, I wouldn’t remember which supplies I’d run out of. This inevitably led to being stuck in those dreadful back-to-school lines with my future students, which was doubly frustrating because I had brought it on myself and because I already had enough to think about with my curriculum to get the new school year started right.

Making time at the end of the year to take an inventory of supplies, put together a shopping list, and carefully pack and label boxes will save us stress and frustration in those first days back.

Preparing the Room

Newer teachers often overlook this one. Aside from packing up your stuff, what else is there to do?

Many schools have their custodians do a deep cleaning over the summer since there are no students or staff in the way. Each school I’ve taught at has gone so far as to remove all of the desks and as much furniture as possible from each room in order to mop and wax the floors or shampoo the carpets with nothing in the way.

If we want to ensure that our carts and our chair come back to our room, we need to prep by labeling all of our items, wrapping cords directly around their source, and otherwise making it as easy as possible for the custodial staff to put the room back together the way it was.

And if we’ll be changing classrooms, we want to make sure that we carefully pack and label all of our supplies and belongings, and leave the room ready for the next teacher.

Spending a little time each day for a couple of weeks will set us up so we don’t have to stay late on the last day of school to clean up—or haphazardly throw everything in boxes. We’ll be ready to enjoy summer and then start the new school year off right.