I turned the key to the well-used door and stepped across the threshold into my classroom. The blank walls, empty bulletin boards, and jumbled chairs and tables beckoned me. I was hesitant to walk on the neatly polished linoleum floor, but knew full well that the sheen wasn’t going to last long once the students arrived. I had but one day to get things ready for them.
I realized pretty quickly that there were fewer tables and chairs in the room than I needed for the number of students I was assigned. Oh no. Do I try to hunt down an administrator, I thought, or do I get started with the classroom setup and hope one comes along?
I heard a gentle knock on the door. “Hello, Dr. Johnson. I just stopped by to say hello and see if there is something I can do to help you.” I smiled, outwardly and inwardly, and thought to myself, “This is going to be a good year.”
Savvy administrators can meet the needs of teachers and, at the same time, set the tone for a wonderful school year by visiting classrooms those first days and weeks routinely and regularly, making sure teachers can focus on providing excellent instruction instead of having to hunt down, for example, five additional chairs or a working projector. With a few preemptive measures and some forethought, school leaders can eliminate many of the urgent needs brought to them those first weeks of the school year.
There are some challenges teachers often face at the beginning of the school year, and I have suggestions for administrators on how to solve these challenges even before they occur.
Challenge: Teachers have legitimate concerns at the beginning of the school year about not having enough paper to make copies and about finding supplies such as dry erase markers, staples, sticky notes, and pencils.
Administrator solution: You can prepare a box of common supplies for each teacher, with enough paper to get them through the first few weeks or month. (Include a nutrition bar and a bottle of water and you’ll make a great impression even better.)
Challenge: While teachers are checking their rosters, they may notice that they don’t have enough desks, chairs, or tables for the number of students enrolled. Additionally, they might be wondering about the steps for distributing or ordering textbooks and ancillary materials for all of their students.
Administrator solution: You can request a survey of each classroom in the summer and make sure there’s enough furniture. You can work with the department chairs to reach out to each teacher in their department regarding his or her textbook and workbook requirements and make sure orders are placed for any ancillary materials so that those are available.
Challenge: Teachers have to keep track of the multiple processes that have to happen on the first days and weeks of school, and make sure they attend the multiple meetings scheduled during this time. They also have to make time for required online training or in-person training for district and state compliance.
Administrator solution: If you haven’t yet, put together a planning calendar (consider digital, such as a Google calendar) that has all of the meetings, due dates, and professional development and training requirements in one place. Not only will your teachers appreciate this tremendously, but it will improve their ability to meet all of the requirements and be fully prepared for their students.
Challenge: Problems will naturally occur with technology, but nothing is more frustrating to a teacher than to not be able to use the technology that has been provided. During summer cleaning, things may not get returned to the right room. There could be missing cables, power cords, remotes, or other components that prevent teachers from using projectors, computers, a printer, etc. Additionally, the technology itself may not be working—the batteries for the clock may be dead, the light bulb on the projector may be burned out, or the computer may refuse to turn on.
Administrator solution: Make sure your tech staff check in with all teachers routinely and have a solid system of communication so that repairs and replacements are handled promptly and seamlessly.
Teachers need to know that administrators care about them, so if you haven’t yet, do make the time to check in on each and every teacher as soon as possible, especially the new ones. A ready smile, a handshake, and a “Do you have everything you need?” will go a long way toward starting the school year off on a good note.
The more cared for and supported teachers feel at the beginning of the school year, the more equipped they’ll be to support their students throughout the year. So resist the temptation to focus only on your to-do list, and spend some time with your teachers at their most critical time of the year.