I teach 7th grade and consider myself unbelievably lucky to have found my forever school.
Still, I’ve noticed that one of my biggest stressors during staff development in August is not having nearly enough time to be fully ready for the first day, let alone the first month.
In a two-week in-service (80 hours), we’re expected to:
- Attend back-to-back meetings, assemblies, or panels on all but one day: 72 hours
- Prep our rooms: 12 hours (more like 48 if you have to move rooms)
- Plan first unit: 6 hours (this is an optimistic estimate while on Summer Brain)
- Prep materials for lessons: 6 hours
- Mentally transition from summer to school again: roughly 10 hours (1 hour per day lost to simply wondering who you are and what it is you ever did in this building)
Total: 106 hours. I’m no math teacher, but I do know that 106 is more than 80.
The reality is teachers just aren’t given enough time to prepare for back to school.
After a decade of letting back-to-school time stress me out, I decided to take action. Here are three things I started doing in April to be kind to my August self:
1. I get my first two weeks of school completely ready to go.
I’m talking lessons planned, copies made, any technology component I need ready to go, the whole nine yards. I also leave very clear, detailed instructions and a calendar for my August self. The goal is to not even have to think about the day-to-day part just yet.
It’s almost like making sub plans. Except the person who is a stranger to my job and classroom is me.
2. I start putting together my One Big Box for when I return.
At my school, teachers have to pack up everything in their classroom at the end of the year, even if they stay in the same room. (Horrible, I know.) Instead of breaking my brain trying to remember where I put my supplies, my One Big Box has anything I need during the first week or two. It’s a big tub that has my essentials: stapler, scissors, tape, a few Expo markers, a few pencils and pens, my copies for the first two weeks, and anything else that I know I’ll need or that my students will need.
Coming back to an empty classroom in August, it’s a huge relief to know I don’t have to open all those boxes just yet. I don’t have to scramble around every time I need something. I just need to worry about my One Big Box, which is gigantic, hard to miss, and big enough to hold awkward-shaped stuff.
I actually take my One Big Box home over the summer because the thought of it “wandering off” and leaving my August self high and dry makes me break out in hives.
3. I have my students write an encouraging note for me to read when school starts in August. (And I do the same for them.)
You can save this activity as something to do on one of those “dead days” when the schedule is all wonky from standardized testing. You can do it for just one class or for all of them if you teach at the secondary level. The assignment is this:
“It can be hard to get back in the swing of things in August—for students as well as teachers. You’ll be writing a short letter for me to read that I’ll keep sealed and in a drawer until my first day back. You can put whatever you want in it—fun memories, quotes, drawings, a random story, whatever. The goal is to help me remember that you all are the best part of my job, and to pump me up for another school year doing a job I love. P.S. If you turn in a letter, you just might get a letter in return sent to your home address the week before school starts.”
Stick the letters in your One Big Box and read them before you do anything else when you get back to school. You’ll be glad you did.
P.S. These bulk postcards on Amazon are perfect to send to your students.
P.P.S. Go ahead and address the postcards or letters before the end of the school year—student information systems often repopulate over the summer and you’ll cry if you have to hunt them down.
P.P.P.S. Does this assignment sound terrible? Get a coworker or loved one to write the note, or write it yourself!
OK, I know what you’re thinking:
How do you have the time to do this in April?
April is a slower time at my school than other months, but I don’t think any teacher anywhere has a month of the school year they wouldn’t categorize as “hectic.” Here’s how I fit in this prep without taking it home:
- I break it into chunks. I definitely don’t do it all at one time. But by doing a little bit each day and chipping away at a giant task, I’m done in half the time it would have taken me as a zombie in August.
- I take advantage of standardized testing days. A mandate to walk around the room silently is a great opportunity to be planning for the first week back. When you get an idea, flip up the official documents on your clipboard and make a quick note for yourself on the blank paper underneath.
- April is often a big project month (again, due to standardized testing). When students are working independently, I work on my August prep.
- I get students to help me organize supplies and help pack up the room. You would be surprised at how many students love establishing order in a supply closet or file cabinet.
The first August that I came back to a fully prepped classroom (especially if you believe in starting with a blank classroom) was such a relief I almost cried. Right then and there, I set an iPhone calendar reminder to take care of my August self every April.
Do you do any back-to-school prep in the spring? Let us know in the comments!
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