You may have heard of something called “long-term planning.” This is sometimes also called “backward planning,” because teachers work backward from what students need to learn by the end of the year and use that to map out their lesson plans for the year. The moment you first learn about long-term planning can feel like an aha! moment—so that’s what you’re supposed to do! The aha moment may then quickly devolve into heart palpitations—how are you supposed to do that?
Is long-term planning or backwards planning even possible as a first-year teacher?
Yes and no. Long-term planning—or at least longer-term than frantically wondering what you’ll teach tomorrow—is a wonderful target to aim toward. 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 unknowns and surprises that could throw off your schedule.
As is often the case as a new teacher, your goal is to navigate between two extremes that each have their own pitfalls. You don’t want to sink tremendous numbers of hours into long-term plans that may prove to be unusable. On the flip side, you don’t want to become paralyzed by the fact that you can’t plan everything and end up planning nothing.
So, where do you start?
Take an hour to set up a giant desk calendar with all the fixed dates of the school year.
This step-by-step, one-hour desk-calendar activity is something I recommend to all teachers, not just new teachers. This helps teachers get their heads in the game and develop a feel for the flow of the year to come. It’s also something you can do with limited information about where, what, and who you’ll be teaching this year. Think of it as a favor to your busier, less-rested mid-school year self.
Focus on your first day, then your first week—and work from there.
If you’re preparing for your first day of teaching, the best use of your focus is to plan your first-day lesson plans in detail, and attempt to map out your first week.
By the end of your first week, you will have an idea of how the kids act, what they can do, and how well they follow your lesson plans. Then you can block out the next plan-able chunk of time. As you feel more comfortable, you’ll be able to add more information to that giant desk calendar and venture farther into the future with your planning. Still, always write in pencil.
Keep long-term planning in perspective.
Remember that all long-term plans should be simple overviews, not detailed, day-by-day lessons. It’s also good to remember that, like your daily lesson plans, long-term plans are only one corner of the lesson-planning triangle. Each corner of this triangle is something you get better at over time. The first time you know exactly what you’ll be teaching two days from now is a victory to be celebrated as a new teacher. By the time you’re able to plan a whole year, you’ll likely be a few years into your career telling some other panicky rookie about long-term planning.
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