4 Things Teachers Absolutely MUST Do During In-Service Week—and 4 Things That Can Wait

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Illustration of teacher overwhelmed by the dos and donts of in-service week

I always try to explain to family and friends who aren’t fellow educators that one of the worst weeks of the year is in-service week. It’s a shock to the system after being off for almost two months, and it’s exhausting and overwhelming. The to-do list always seems endless. Not only are we trying to put our classrooms together, but we have to attend numerous mandatory (and often unnecessarily long) meetings, PD sessions, plan lessons, and more. All of this while attempting to balance our busy personal lives. Just the thought of it makes me want to cry! Here are dos and don’ts for in-service week to make your life a little easier.

DO: Prioritize what needs to be done immediately vs. what can wait. 

When you first enter your classroom, or the building for that matter, trying to figure out where to start is overwhelming. Trying to remember meetings and PD sessions you need to attend all week on top of it all can make your head feel like it is about to explode.

I suggest making a physical list of everything you can think of before starting. Running through the list of tasks in your head can be daunting. You probably will find yourself starting with one thing, only to move onto something else that pops into your head before finishing. You will most likely forget to do something important, waking up at 3 a.m. remembering it, and thus disturbing your precious sleep.

A written list helps you see the big picture more clearly, and then you can put things in order of importance. You can handwrite your lists on paper, type them into your notes on your phone, or use a planner. There is no right or wrong way; do whatever works for you! As you complete your tasks, check them off. This helps you feel an even bigger sense of accomplishment, and it’s quite satisfying.

DON’T: Fixate on aesthetics, decorations, and cutesy projects.

Trust me, parents are not focusing on your room decor and setup at Meet the Teacher. (I’m speaking especially to YOU, elementary teachers!) Everyone is too busy meeting you, chatting with other parents and kids, dealing with a year’s worth of supplies, and finding their child’s desks. At the same time, the students are busy running around the room, exploring their new digs, and seeing many of their friends for the first time in two months. It is total chaos every year, no matter how hard you try to keep the peace. I always find the whole hour goes by in a blur, TBH!

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Obviously, make your room look presentable, but don’t stress yourself out and feel like everything must be done during in-service week. Your room does not have to look like those over-the-top classrooms you see on Instagram!

DO: Overplan for the first two weeks with students.

Now here is an area where you do want extra activities and materials on hand, just in case. The first few weeks are a get-to-know-you period. Some activities you did in the past may take more time with the new group, or vice versa. Some groups are higher level or lower level than previous years. You just don’t know yet! The last thing you want is a bunch of idle time where you are scrambling for another activity. That often leads to misbehavior and students trying to get the upper hand. Remember, even the most well-behaved children are testing you, too, to see what they can get away with. Keep those kids busy!

DON’T: Overextend yourself or volunteer for extra activities. 

Don’t sign up for extra professional development sessions if they are not mandatory. The same thing goes with volunteering for extra committees or projects unless you truly are passionate about them. The beginning of the year is not an easy time, so why add extra pressure for yourself? Unless you are getting paid a hefty stipend to do these things, which I sincerely doubt, let it go. This also goes for your personal life, BTW. Your plate is already overflowing. Set those boundaries now.

DO: Take inventory of supplies and create a wish list.

Parents want to help you if you are in need. Nobody wants their child to go without supplies and special materials to enhance their child’s school year. A wish list is your best friend. Share it with your students’ parents, family, and friends. Your PTA is also there to help you however they can. There are lots of national and local organizations out there that want to assist teachers by providing donations. Help is on the way!

DON’T: Decide now is the time to clean out your entire room and start from scratch.

You literally have 10 months to do this whenever your heart desires. Do it all year long. Or never. Who cares? This is a self-fulfilling project. It will not impact your first few weeks back on campus. It never hurts to purge and reorganize when you have time, but this is not the time!

DO: Remember to take care of yourself.

Eat. Sleep. Exercise. Breathe. Meditate. Relax. (Even if it is just for a little bit.)

If you are in poor health, exhausted, hungry, or generally unhappy, you will not be at your best. If you are not at your best, the students will also suffer, creating a negative environment. You can’t be your best if you aren’t taking care of YOU. Your health and family are more important than anything else.

DON’T: Sweat the small stuff.

I know it sounds cliché, but a school year is a marathon, not a sprint. Do what you can. Less is always more. There is always tomorrow. You aren’t going to win a prestigious medal or suddenly receive a pay raise because you put in those extra hours doing whatever it is that you stayed late to do. If it sounds like too much effort, especially at this time of year, it is.  

You aren’t going to get fired if you don’t get everything done overnight, or in the first few days for that matter. The parents will love you no matter what. Their main concern is how their child is treated and succeeding.

Have an amazing new school year, and remember these tips to help keep your sanity. Last but not least, remember to breathe!

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