Thursday, July 31, 2014

Back to School Share

What is your favorite back-to-school teacher hack?  What do you always forget about until you step foot in your classroom in the fall?  I'm compiling a list for a new teacher (and hope to give it out to all of my student teachers and for free on as well), and I hope to have a "Teacher To-Do List for Back-to-School."  Please share your thoughts in the comments below to help other educators.  I've put some questions in bold to think and share on, but I'd love to hear input on any back-to-school subject.  Here are some basic ideas that I've come up with so far:

*Organize the furniture.  Usually having large furniture up against the walls will open the room the most and make it seem bigger.  It will also make for easy flow of student traffic.  How do you like to arrange the furniture in your classroom?  More specifically, where do you place your teacher desk?  Check out this site that has a bunch of different layouts & styles of classroom decorations- 

*Set up your student desks how you plan to teach.  If you want a lot of silent, independent work time with lots of teacher lecture/instruction, separate all your desks and have them all face the main board of instruction. If you like more student interaction, peer learning, and cooperative work, I suggest making long rows of students facing each other so that everyone in the classroom need only turn their head slightly to face the main instruction area. I usually have three long rows, split into six cooperative learning groups with a bout 5 students in each group (heterogeneously grouped with talkers near quiet students and my ELL's, and behavior/attention students near the front or with an empty desk nearest them, etc). Above and below are a couple pictures from a few years ago, when I still had each table group separated instead of in longer table rows:
*Hang up your emergency folder in a visible area near the emergency exit.  Mine is a red pocket folder that has a student roster and what to do in case of each type of emergency on one side, and all of my students' emergency forms on the other (with where to send them in case of an early closure).  Make sure you/someone on your team has an emergency kit to take out with you during a fire drill/ real emergency.  What's in your emergency kits at your school?
* Put up posters. Decide what you want up for the students to read on the first day when they walk in where you want to put posters you'll create with them and display.  I've organized my posters by unit of study, and I'll get a blog up about that one of these days! :)  Make sure to leave room for necessary postings, like the map to the nearest emergency exit, what to do in a Lock Down drill, etc.  What posters do you display on the first day of school?  What posters/visuals do you make with your students during the first week?

*Plan your first week of lessons.  I always plan more than we could possibly do, because it's better to have too many things planned and knock some of them off/save them for the next day than to have too little planned.  

*Plan what you're going to say in the first 10 minutes of class.  They will set mood for the whole year.  Harry Wong's First Days of School is a great place to start if you're a new teacher.

*Prepare all the worksheets/books/materials you will need for the first week of school.  Dust off the text books, send homework to print, and ready the manipulatives!

*Put students' names/numbers on everything.  I just write their names on little address labels (you could easily print them too).  I put names on:
-backpack hooks/cubbies
-student work files
-name plates for their desks
-my teacher pensive with all of their writing & reading conference notes/running records/goals/etc

I put their student numbers on:
-a dry erase marker (to keep inside their desk. If they lose it or ruin it, they get a new one, but it costs 5 Pioneer Dollars, which is the money they earn in the token economy we do in my class)
-an editing marker (also kept inside their desk for writing)
-the homework chart (along with their name. This is where we keep their name & number posted throughout the whole year so they can look up their own number in case they forget, or figure out which student the editing marker they just found on the ground belongs to).
-their clicker/smart response remote for answering questions on the Smartboard.

*Write your back-to-school/welcome letter and send it to print.  What do you include in your letter to parents?  I'll get a copy of mine on TPT, or I can email it to you if you leave your email address in the comments below.

*Organize your classroom library.  For tips, see my post about it here-

*Decorations/theme-  I'll need to write an entirely separate post about decorating a classroom, but I generally like to choose a color theme rather than a specific thing.  Instead of doing owls, cupcakes, a popular movie, etc, which will be slightly awkward to repeat the next year and will undoubtedly go out of fashion in the near future, I chose to go with a blue and purple theme and selected different timeless decorations, classroom furniture, accessories to match.  (I do love owls, cupcakes, movies themes, etc, and I've seen many of my colleagues have absolutely darling rooms with these themes, but I also see them spending at least $20, if not hundreds, every year or two as each popular theme loses popularity.

*Write a grant on  The best time to get a grant funded is in August & September, because those are generally the months that large corporations want to get some time in the spotlight for their generous contributions to the schools.  Think about what you still need/want for your classroom in the last few weeks of summer and take an hour to write up a grant for it.  It's one of the easiest things that I've done to gain over $5,000 worth of products for our classroom in a little over a dozen grants.

*Think about a class pet. If you want one for free (or nearly free) visit and fill out the easiest grant you'll ever write in your life!  It is literally TWO sentences long!  See my post about the many benefits of having a pet in your classroom-

*Write your back-to-school/welcome letter and send it to print.  What do you include in your letter to families? I'll get a copy of mine on TPT, or I can email it to you if you leave your email address in the comments below.

*Bring in some oxygen when you bring in some plants.  Read my posting about how you can increase the oxygen levels in your room and implement some educational ventures with some green leafies as well here-

*Prepare a substitute folder. I created emergency sub plans for mine, ones that any sub could whip out and employ on any given day in the year if some emergency came up where I couldn't make lesson plans. Make sure it's somewhere easily visible, and include any health plans or notes on particularly challenging students.

Okay, mastermind teachers!  What are your other tips for preparing the classroom for the first day of school? Please leave your advice, ideas, & questions below!