Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Back to School

A new school year is a clean slate, for students, as well as teachers.

Here is my list of back to school tips for getting your classroom & yourself ready for your best year ever:

1. The classroom itself:
Look at the room arrangement. Since my tables stay in the same place all year because of the computer cords and the need for access to electricity, making certain the placement works well is crucial. I like students to be able to talk to elbow partners, work in small groups, and have room for large projects, so grouping tables together makes sense for me.

I use bookshelves to block places I don’t want easily accessed by students, like my storage cupboards. I surround my own desk with shelves of professional reading materials so they are easy for me to grab, in addition to giving the image to students that I read and learn as well. Shelves with places for assignments to be turned in, absent work to be collected, paper, pencil sharpeners, art supplies, etc... need to be in easy traffic areas for students.

Another consideration is ability to easily see all the boards as needed. On the back wall of my classroom is the Daily Assignment Board, where I write the day’s lesson, any work due today or upcoming reminders. On the side wall is the small board with today’s date. In the front, the main board where I teach, use the projector and document camera. Students obviously can’t see all of these at the same time, but I try to ensure all three boards in easily in range.

While I am far from the type to have exciting up to date bulletin boards, I do like to start the year with something eye catching and worthwhile.
My favorites include:
· Why Do I Need Math – with pictures of a variety of occupations showing math skills at work
· All About Me – pictures of me throughout my life, including those dorky middle school pictures, my family, dog, house and yard
· Pictures and cards from past students
· Newspaper Collage – This is the most difficult. One summer I clipped every picture out of the local newspaper that had students in my incoming classes – playing softball, showing animals at the fair, at the 4th of July Parade.
With a little thought and planning, you can tweak your classroom to best suit your needs and the needs of your students.

2. Curriculum:
· Aside from the obvious aligning your curriculum to the state expectations, start thinking about integrating other subjects and topics into your lessons. For example, Talk Like a Pirate Day is each year on September 19. What a fun, engaging beginning of the year way to hook your students, regardless of your subject matter! Students will love the corny pirate one liners and you will have the opportunity to teach them about maps, language, travel, morals, unexpected outcomes… the possibilities are endless.
· Beyond incorporating fun topics into your curriculum, strategize your attack plan. Rethink how you grade, assess and report learning to students and parents. Set up your plan for test retakes, extra study sessions before/after school, and how you will accommodate students with Individualized Education Plans.
· Talk to your librarian or media specialist to get ideas on how you can best utilize their services.
· Dig through the support materials that come with your textbook series. Chances are, there are some cool, easy to use ideas in there you’ve overlooked in the past.
· Work on generating one unit you’ve never taught before. Find websites, interactive online activities, and support materials, NOW, while you have some extra time.

3. Communication:
Think about your plan to communicate with parents and students. Does your website need some fine tuning? What changes do you want/need to plan?
Think about:
· Daily assignments
· Long term projects/tests
· Contact information
· Online links for materials, both daily work as well as supplemental materials

4. Yourself

If you are like me, every school year, you say this year you are going to eat healthier, exercise more, all those good things you know will make you feel better. Plan NOW. Buy that refrigerator for your classroom to keep cold drinks and healthy snacks close by. Make a list of healthy snacks to pack for school. Cook a few dinner entrees and freeze them so those first few weeks won’t be so overwhelming when you come home at night.
Plan to use part of your lunch or prep period to walk outside. Use this time to regroup, clear your head, and get ready for the next period. Strategize your mental health!
Take care of any last minute doctor or dentist appointments before the school year starts so you don’t have to write sub plans! Come back to school polished, healthy and ready to go!

It really is a clean slate for you as well as your students. Make this year your best teaching year! Get off to a great start, before the students ever walk in the door.

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