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July 29, 2016

Prepping for the New Year

This last week I've been talking to many first year teachers, veteran teachers, and teachers that have changed job positions... we all have something in common... feeling overwhelmed!  I wanted to go through my mental process with anyone that wants to listen, how I set up my classroom and get ready for the new year.  I'm sure there are many other ways to do it, but this is what helps me...

1.  Think about your morning routine:  Kids come in and what do they do?  For me it's the same every morning.  They come in, get organized (put away backpacks and lunches), get out homework to be checked, and start their morning work.  Which means I need to make sure to put out my lunch tub, have a turn in basket, have homework folders ready, and figure out what kind of morning work I want them to do.

2.  Then I think about the subjects themselves.  For each subject I want to have a spot on the bulletin board to hang what we are learning in the subject either through student work, anchor charts, etc.  What do the kids need when we are learning that subject?  What do I need?  My students take notes so we need composition books (because I dislike dealing with spiral notebooks falling apart mid lesson).  I need anchor chart paper...  Where are they going to keep their textbooks?  Will they fit in their desk?  Maybe they need tubs, or do you want to store some of their notebooks?  Does your school have cubbies?  Here's what I do:
Math - kids have notebooks and textbook at their seat, need whiteboards...
Reading - kids have notebook, I'll pass out the novel when it's time.
Writing - kids have notebook and need a classwork folder to keep everything organized.  I have sheet protectors inside the classwork folder so we can add some papers later on.
Social Studies - kids have textbook, I'll keep notebook, will pass out during lesson.
Science - kids have textbook, I'll keep notebook, will pass out during lessons.
Pencil Box - kids need to have a pencil, colors (markers, crayons, highlighters?), glue, scissors, pens?

3.  Let's talk desks... Every student needs to be able to see the board.  I know that's a no brainer.  :)  Can I get to their desk easily?  Is there going to be a traffic jam anywhere?  I personally like having only a couple of rows in my classroom.  The less heads between me and the back row students the better.  At this point I get to talking with last year's teachers... I get their advice where to seat students.  Who needs to sit in the front due to hardship or behavior?  Who wears glasses?    

4.  Classroom library: How many books do I have?  How am I going to organize them?  Sort by AR Level, genre, alphabetical order?  Most of the teachers I know sort by AR so we can see from a distance where the kids are grabbing books from.  For years I've used plastic shoeboxes to sort the books, but this year I took all the books out and placed them on the shelf (like a real library).  Every book is still labeled with the levels, and each shelf is designated.  Just going for a new look that is easier to dust.  :)

5.  Think about the ground... My students play games on the ground, go into centers, silent read, partner read... it really doesn't work space wise to have us sit all together.  That's just me though.  I have carpet squares that make it a little softer.  What do you need?

6. When I get my keys, I usually walk in and survey the room.  There are students desks, a front cart, a teacher's desk, some bookshelves, a table, file cabinets, and some computers on a cart.  My storage are some rolling carts, and I've added another bookshelf and some storage drawers.  I place the furniture that is going to be on the perimeter of the room first, setting the area up as I imagine our routines.  Lunch bucket by the door, a ball bucket by the door, teacher storage by my desk.  Then I move to the front of the room, place my cart (since the projector only has one place it can be set up), and get those student desks in their right spots.  

7. After this point I start getting my walls ready.  I like having one board per subject, a big area for student work, and an information wall (behavior, calendar, jobs, etc).  This year I learned the beauty of a staple gun to hang fabric.  I always figure out placement first by using pushpins, then it's an easy staple/stretch to get it up.  It's okay to not have anything on your boards to begin the year.  There are certain things I know I will use, so I do get those things up before school starts - but that's only if I have time, it's not high priority.

8. Think about your classroom management... do you have a clip chart, or a color flip system?  Make room for it.  Need to do team points?  Put out some jars.

9. If I have helpers come in (aka my children), I get them busy passing out the notebooks, folders, pencil boxes, and textbooks.  Other jobs they do are to "clean" my rainy day game box... which allows them to get out of my hair when I'm running around the classroom.   :)

10. One of my last room projects before moving onto lessons are to take out those school supplies.  I want the kids to be independent when they need paper, community supplies, sharpen their pencil, get a staple, etc.  When I first started teaching I only had one station, the past few years I've had two paper stations (front and back of the room)... it means less traffic jams.

11. Then I move onto lessons... If you are brand new to a grade level, please ask others for help.  It's okay to not know everything. Our district has pacing guides for most of the subjects that point us in the right direction.  I pull out everything I will need the first week of school and I get a plan together for the first TWO weeks of school.  I've found that I am so tired by that first Friday that I can't think straight to plan out the next week, so I plan early.  When am I going to start that subject?  How am I going to teach that routine? Take it slow and know that there is a good chance you will need to bump back some plans.  Add in teamwork building games and activities.  I'll do an entire post about my first week plans next week.

12. The first week of school there is also the parent Back to School Night (at least for us).  Figure out what you want in your packet.  Make up a powerpoint of the important stuff.  For me, that is the most nervous night of the year.  Just keeping it real.  I'm fine talking to kids, but to a bunch of adult strangers... well my knees go weak and I tend to talk super fast.

It's okay to feel overwhelmed.  Everyone does, even if they don't admit it.  The more years I do this whole back to school sprint, the more I realize that it does get easier even if your work load doesn't get lighter.  Same stuff to prep, but every year you learn a couple more time savers that will help you in the future.  I'm sure I forgot some things, and when I'm really done with my classroom I'll post some pictures too.  I hope you have a great school year.  If you need any specific help and encouragement, feel free to email me at  :)


  1. Those are great ideas for preparation! I have always just had one station where kids get paper, pencils, staples, etc. but it's a great idea to have two! And planning for the first two weeks instead of just the first- Pure Genius! I am sure every teacher is super tired after the first week of school so having the first two weeks planned and taken care of will be a huge bonus! Thanks!

    Life As I Know It

  2. Great post... It was nice to read through this... I had a training with a teammate who is really on top of things and I kind of got overwhelmed. Thank you for making it all seem more doable.


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