Rookie Teacher FAQ: Should I try to plan my whole year ahead of time?

Time is scarce during the school year, so you’ll be grateful for any planning you’ve done ahead of time. Planning the entire year in detail, however, is not the best use of your time and probably not even possible. This year will be filled with surprises that could throw off your schedule. Here’s what to do instead.

First, start off with a general sense of what students should learn this year—and when they’ll have to take a big, high-stakes test to see if they’ve learned it. Then plan backwards with this information in mind. For this, I recommend using the giant desk calendar that was on your back-to-school shopping list, but any calendar will do. Map out important dates in pen or marker. Include school holidays, state test days, and any other information that is unlikely to change.

Also include progress report days and the end of each marking period so you know when grades are due. (More on this in the Grading Work Without Hating Work chapter of See Me After Class.) You will use this calendar to map out academic units so they fit into the rhythm of the school year. (i.e. You don’t want to start reading a novel or preparing a science experiment two days before Thanksgiving break.)

Plan in pencil, though, and plan only your first week in detail. By the end of your first week, you will have an idea of how the kids act, what they can do in a day, and whether big, last-minute changes are on the horizon. Then you can block out the next plan-able chunk of time. As you feel more comfortable, you’ll be able to plan further into the school year. Remember that all long-term plans should be simple overviews, not detailed, day-by-day lessons. The goal here is to avoid planning your entire year based on something that may change, but also not to be paralyzed by the fact that you can’t plan everything.

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