Three Tips to Plan a Smooth Start to the School Year

The first day of school should be the most structured day of the yearWant a smooth start to the school year? Plan for these three things now.

One: Plan for interruptions. Your main goal the first day is to set a serious tone so you can teach with minimum drama the rest of the year. This can be harder than it sounds because teachers often have to meet, greet, and seat existing students while new kids show up at the door and the PA crackles with last-minute office requests. For this reason, the first day of class should be the most structured day of the year, not the most exciting. Your first day lesson plan should be more like a checklist, and should include plenty of quiet activities that students can do at their desks without much help. One possibility is to have students make flash cards with their names, seat numbers, and one identifying detail so you can learn their names while they are working. You should also include a backup activity in case your lesson ends early. Take any steps you can to minimize first-day surprises. Any materials not in your room the Thursday before school starts won’t be there on Monday – unless you put them there on Friday.

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Two: Plan for paper. You know your students will turn in plenty of papers once the year starts. What you may not realize is you’ll also get lots of paperwork from your school early in the year – including some things you may not need to look at until May. Set up a box to file papers such as inventory lists that you don’t need to fill out now but can’t afford to lose. Otherwise, these can quickly turn into a tower on your desk that covers more urgent work. More detailed filing systems are described in the “Piles and Files” chapter of See Me After Class. (You’ll get one of them in a couple of weeks if you get my emails). but you can start off on the right foot by having a clean file box and hanging folders ready to go inside it. You’ll also want a box in your classroom closet that says “ideas for later,” where you can put the binders, folders, and workbooks full of potentially awesome teaching ideas from professional development sessions and colleagues. Then, be ready to turn your attention to grading students’ work. Get at least two grades into your grade book the first week… and every week after that. Otherwise, ungraded papers can pile up and lead to a crisis when your first set of grades is due.

Three: Plan for sleep. There can be a macho culture among young teachers regarding the number of hours put in – for the kids. After all, don’t kids deserve someone who will work tirelessly to make sure they reach their full potential? Sure they do, but they also deserve a mentally healthy adult who wants to be in the room with them. A teacher sleeping three hours a night and making up for it with a double-dose of energy drinks is not that person. Work hard, but also set a teacher bedtime for yourself and stick to it – for the kids.

Note: A version of this first appeared in Education Week’s Classroom Q&A column, by Larry Ferlazzo. Click here to read the full column, which also includes first day planning tips from other educators.

P.S. You can now get your copy of Adequate Yearly Progress: A Novel!

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Sign up for the School Year Starter Kit

Three days of (totally free) emails to help teachers cut through information overload and prepare for the first day of class.