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Wednesday / November 21

Prep Where It Counts Before the Start of School

Before the start of school, there is a window of opportunity where we can prep where it counts to help us hit the ground running. In fact, if we use these last few days before the students return to school effectively, it could make a big difference for our entire year as far as time management, lower stress level, more productivity, and more engaged and happy students.

I didn’t always know this.

I completed my student teaching in an 8th grade ELA classroom in a Native American Boarding School. Luckily, we were there before the start of school and had a few days to help the teachers set up their classroom. I remember a big chunk of my time was spent tasked with making a bulletin board reflect the reading we would complete first semester, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone. I was so excited. I layed out the colors and spent hours making trivia questions that were under flaps of paper that students could use to quiz themselves on their Harry Potter knowledge. A neighboring student teacher even offered to help me. We were so proud of our finished purple creation and spent a few minutes smiling in our Potter glory. When the students arrived, they spent a few minutes flipping open the questions and then the excitement soon wore off. Looking back, I wish I had spent some of those hours planning with my master teacher and learning how to make engaging literacy curriculum. That year, we only planned week by week and were constantly “flying by the seats of our pants” to come up with engaging curriculum.

In my fifth year of teaching, I had a phenomenal co-teacher. Before school began, I used my first ½ day organizing our classroom and doing anything but planning the first unit. During our first planning session before the school, my co-teacher walked into my classroom and was ready to plan the first six-week unit. I thought, “What the heck? Why so early? Let’s get to know the students first.

 Despite my hesitation, we planned our first six-week unit in a week-by-week outline. We had a model final project trifold made, and we planned out the first week, day by day. Before the start of class we had copies made for every class, separated by different colors of printer paper, our parts where we each lead instruction marked on the lesson plans, and all that was left to do was the execution of the lesson. Our first week was engaging, the students were learning, we were relaxed and had fun with the lessons, and used our preps to plan the next week’s lessons. We were always one week ahead. We hit the ground running. Soon enough, we had extra time to do our bulletin board and even had a few students help. Prepping where it counts BEFORE Day 1 with the students helped us stay one step ahead, keeping our stress level down and our productivity up all year long.

I’m not saying decorating a bulletin board or using before Day 1 prep time to worry about the aesthetics of a classroom is a waste of time for a teacher, but there are so many ways to use the prep time at the beginning of a school year more efficiently than hours hunting for Harry Potter trivia. In simpler terms, prepping where it counts can create long lasting systemic results to help your classroom run like a well-oiled machine and give you more time during the school year.

Here’s some practical advice that can help as a roadmap:

Before the start of Day 1 with the students:

  • Plan your first unit with your co-teacher (if applicable) *** Important!
  • Set up your Google Classroom (or other digital platform) with student names from your roster
  • Set up your gradebook with student names from your roster
  • Set up your classroom behavior modification system (if applicable)
  • Have lunch/coffee with your co-teacher to start forming a strong relationship before the students come–this will help immensely with communication down the line
  • Have copies made for your first week of school (Note: Expect the school copier to break in the first week – every other teacher is making copies. Plan early to avoid stress and wasted time waiting in line)
  • Set up a Donors Choose page for your classroom to get materials donated for future units. (Donors Choose may take a few months)
  • Have your sign in/sign out sheet ready for classroom technology
  • Have your class website up and ready

Do not spend much time on:

  • Bulletin Boards: You can even start the school year with empty bulletin boards with a simple and nice background. Student work can go on the bulletin boards as the year progresses.
  • Door decorations: You’ll have time for this later

The ratio I like to use is ⅔ to ⅓. Two thirds of your prep time before the start of school should be related to setting up the academics of the classroom, making it logistically functional, and getting the curriculum ready and prepped for the first few weeks—at least. One third of the prep time can be for decor, relationship building, and making everything look nice.

Good luck and happy teaching!

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Written by

Serena Pariser currently works as Assistant Director of Field Experience at University of San Diego. She spent 12 years teaching in the classroom, and was Teacher of the Year in her fifth year teaching. She also instructs graduate level classes on the topic of classroom management at USD. She is the author of Real Talk About Classroom Management by Corwin Press (2018).

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