Back to School: Teacher Survival Guide

As the summer days wind down, teachers across the country are gearing up for the much-anticipated back-to-school season.  As exciting as a new school year can be, it also brings a wave of emotions and challenges for all educators – regardless of how many years of experience you have in the classroom.  Mentally, you are already wondering about your incoming students, the right classroom structure, what instructional strategies to adopt, and how the year will progress. 

Breathe!  Be confident!  Don’t worry!  Here’s a survival guide to help you get through back-to-school season.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!
This guide really focused on two things:  instructional planning and organization.  For instruction, remember that the earlier you start planning, the less stressed you’ll be in the long run. Take some time, right now, to think about your curriculum, lesson plans, and classroom management.  Maybe you’ve learned some new teaching strategies or identified new resources, so figure out where and when they can best support students.  Remember, a prepared teacher is more confident and better equipped to handle whatever may come during the year. 

The second part to this is organization.  A well-organized classroom is a happy classroom, so that welcoming environment is vital for student engagement and well-being.  You can decorate the class with vibrant and inspiring posters, set-up flexible seating options, and create a workflow for student data.  Make sure your filing system is clear for your paperwork and teach that to your students.  The time invested in preparing them will provide significant returns later.

NOTE:  if you are reading this and are a school administrator, here’s a piece of advice for you – give your teachers TIME TO PREPARE their rooms and plan before school starts.  Don’t fill their weeks before school with meeting after meeting after meeting.  They need time to get everything set-up just the way they want while not using their weekends or personal time to finish their preparation.  If you want them confident and rested on day one, then resist the urge to fill their days with endless meetings. 

Self-care Matters!
We all know that teaching is a rewarding yet demanding profession.  Back-to-school season can be stressful, so it’s essential to take care of yourself. If you do not prioritize you, then you will be hard-pressed to pour into your students.  Make sure to do the things that feed your soul and keep you energized.  A few ideas include getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and taking time away (yes, that even means during the school year!).   

One way to do this is to create “accountability groups” with other teachers.  Your collaboration with them can provide valuable support and insight.  This network can be professional BUT it needs a personal side.  Here is an example – create a group of 3 to 5 who openly share their struggles and planned solutions.  Meet weekly so each of you can “check in” with the other.  For instance, if you are a stress eater and sweets are your weakness, then ask the team to call you out should they find you grabbing a doughnut or soda.  Believe it or not, this is a big part of self-care!  

Remember, if you focus on caring for yourself, then you can better take care of your students.

Celebrate Often!
If we are honest, educators are our own harshest critics.  We see things that we could have or should have done differently, and we fail to recognize our accomplishments or those of our students.  Create a plan – right now – for major milestones in the year that you will want to celebrate personal (yours) and professional (students) accomplishments.  If you plan it and lock it in, then you are more committed to it.  

If you need ideas, feel free to ask how others celebrate and when. Many resources exist from your teacher colleagues, administrators, and parents.  One consideration is important here and that is to not wait for “big” things to celebrate – be looking for the small, easy “wins” that can encourage and motivate your students (and yourself).  

As an idea, create a “Celebration Board” in your class where you write down a celebration about a student.  Then, share it with the entire class and have that student go place it on the board.  That way, the entire class hears the celebration tied to that student AND they get the opportunity to display it.  Now, here’s the fun part – you can even write a celebration for yourself!  Share your goals with your students (e.g., running 100 miles during the year) and then put progress aspects there as a celebration.  

Remember, what is celebrated gets replicated! 

Enjoy the 1st Day!
The first day of school is always a special day, so enjoy it!  That first day is about building relationships with students as the foundation for a successful year.  As you get to know them, their interests, their strengths, and their challenges, you have wide open potential ahead of you for the year.   Let them see who you are as well.

One idea is to do something fun that they can turn to later.  For instance, you could do one of these two things: (1) take a photo of them on day one and then meet with them individually on the last day of school.  This would give you a chance to show them their physical growth AND give you the chance to talk about their academic growth.  What a great way to have a one-on-one conversation on the last day of school.  (2) Get them write themselves a letter that they will read on the last day of school.  You could use a variety of prompts such as what are you thinking/feeling right now OR how do you think you will change over the next year. 

Remember, this day sets the tone for each successive day, so make the most of the first impression.

With these few tips in hand, you can tackle the back-to-school season with ease.  The time, right now, is about creating conditions that will translate into a successful learning journey for students.  In closing, a well-supported and motivated teacher is the key to inspiring young minds and making the upcoming year a resounding success.  

Keep coming back to reach additional topics in our Back-to-School series and make this year the best yet!

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