July 27, 2018

16 Unexpected Tips for Starting the School Year Off Right

New and seasoned teachers alike will benefit from these 16 unexpected tips for starting the school year off right. Besides advice on what to do and not do during the first days of school, teachers will find words of wisdom about what to wear and how to eat healthy during this hectic time of year.
1. Call all parents on the first day of school.
If that isn't feasible, shoot for at least the first week. This allows me to introduce myself (even if it is just in a voicemail message) and create a positive relationship before any problems arise. This is also how I figure out which students' phone numbers don't work and can start working on finding ones that do work. The first week of school there isn't much grading to do so I have more time then to make a large number of phone calls than I will as the year goes on.
Brynn Allison, The Literary Maven, blogs about teaching and books, and co-hosts the #2ndaryELA Twitter chat and Facebook group.

2. Don’t go over the syllabus on the first day.
Do stations instead. Do a syllabus scavenger hunt, student information sheet, poem analysis, a bulletin board with goals for the year, and other fun stuff. The students will appreciate the opportunity to move around after listening to teachers all day and you can get to know the students better by talking to them as they rotate around. Plus, you’ll be less tired.
David Rickert is a high school English teacher in Columbus, Ohio. He blogs about education.

3. Just be ready for the next day.
When I first started teaching, I would get overwhelmed by all the little things that just seem to add up. My Dad, a veteran teacher, told me that when I feel like this to "Just be ready for the next day," which took some of the pressure off. Once I knew that I was ready for that, I could tackle other little things one at a time.
Lisa blogs at Mrs. Spangler in the Middle about ELA time-savers to reach all learners and creates resources to help others do the same. She also co-hosts the #2ndaryELA Twitter chat and Facebook group.

4. Brush up on your grammar & research skills.
If you’re like me, being an ELA teacher unconsciously signals to colleagues that you know ALL the answers to anything English-related. A few years ago I found myself needing to teach the entire faculty how to use MLA citations during workshop week, with less than a day to prepare for it. It’s flattering that they think we’re experts, but it’s worth a quick review before workshops begin!
Gina from AP Lit & More is a mother of three and full time teacher of AP Lit and other ELA courses for over 12 years. She specializes in producing engaging and creative customizable teaching resources.

5. Always have a plan B, and C, D, and E, if possible.
Lessons flop. Schedules change. Emergencies happen. It's just a part of being a classroom teacher. Being prepared to shift into another lesson can help make your classroom less stressful for you and for your students.
Michele Luck, creator of Michele Luck's Social Studies and author of A Lesson Plan for Teachers, creates resources to help transform classrooms into engaging learning environments and blogs to help teachers learn to make that transition with ease.

6. Have your copies for the first two weeks of school already made.
Those first weeks back can be incredibly exciting, but also stressful, especially if you're switching grade levels or are brand new to teaching. We like to have all of our copies (syllabi, first week activities, all lesson plan materials, etc.) finalized two weeks before school starts. Most of the time, the week before school is dedicated to faculty meetings, retreats, and other various activities, so having your copies all set to go is a huge time saver!
Caitlin + Jessica of EB Academic Camps love sharing ELA ideas for grades 6-8.

7. Get to know your students before the curriculum.
I always start out the year getting to know my students. Short activities that let me in to their personal life and remembering those details will hook your students for the remainder of the year. Students need to know that you care about them more than the curriculum.
Kristin Muse, Samson's Shoppe, blogs about all things teaching and classroom related to make life easier for the busy teacher.

8. Read The First Days of School by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong.
The First Days of School has practical advice that you will actually use. This book is essential for first year teachers, but I also think veteran teachers could benefit from reviewing it before heading back to the classroom. I re-read parts of it every year. Like the title suggests, it explains out how to be successful in the beginning of the school year, and gets very specific about routines and procedures. If you need help with organization and general classroom management, check out this book.
Emma Oliver, teacher author at Read Relevant, blogs about teaching ELA and creates resources that help connect kids to meaningful content.

9. When in doubt, just play music.
Music is magical. Always have a list of school-appropriate songs on hand for transitions and student work time (because unexpected and inappropriate surprises in lyrics or commercials are the worst!). Playing music during class can help students make connections, develop language and vocabulary skills, recognize fluency and harmony, build imagination and creativity, and stay engaged in learning activities. When you're stuck in a funk, when you need an exciting lesson hook, when you're buried under a stack of papers, when you have five minutes to spare, or when you need a pick me up - just play music, and be inspired.
Melissa Kruse, Reading and Writing Haven, blogs about best practices and meaningful, differentiated learning in the secondary classroom.

10. Learn all your students' names on the first day.
Print your students' names on name cards. Then run around the first day and take everyone's pictures with their cards. It's SO MUCH easier to learn names as you scroll through at night than to try to learn them with a million other things going on in class.
Betsy Potash of Spark Creativity hosts The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast, runs the Creative High School English Facebook Group, and blogs about creative teaching strategies for ELA.

11. Smile and acknowledge students.
You are the leader in the classroom and the halls. Students may not have a friendly face at home, and they might not see many smiles at school. Be that reassurance that students need.
Lauralee Moss blogs at LanguageArtsClassroom.com and runs the Facebook group Grammar Gurus.

12. Be hardcore as you train your kids on routines and procedures. 
In October, you will be so glad you did. Classroom management starts with routines and procedures. If students know what is expected and when and you enforce that with every fierce bone in your body, students will learn the rhythm of your class. Discipline issues will be easier to resolve when the expected behaviors for each of your class routines is established. For example, I expect the first five minutes of class to be silent and working on bell work. When two kids are whispering during that time during the second week of school, I march the entire class back out in the hall and we try again. It feels silly and elementary, but I'm telling you, every single day after that I have them trained to be silently working on bell work for the first five minutes!
Amanda Cardenas is the author of the Mud and Ink Teaching TpT store. She writes creative curriculum for high school ELA and hosts the Adventurous Teaching Academy on Instagram #adventurousteaching.

13. Prioritize your passion for students.
If you want students to collaborate and think critically (like me!), make sure your first week is full of opportunities to do just that! For me, that means introducing my course through an Escape Room. For you, maybe it means doing a Peer Interview Project to build empathy and classroom community. Maybe STEM is most important to you and you fill your first week with a project. Whatever it is, speak your passion loud and clear in week one.
Danielle designs teaching resources to foster collaboration and critical thinking. She also loves books and hosts the YA Café Podcast!

14. Wear comfy shoes.
The temptation to wear cute shoes is strong. After all, you're making your first impression too. Just be sure those shoes are comfortable. You'll be up and walking all day more than you might normally. Don't break in a new pair of shoes on the first day of school. Go for comfy.
Rachel Cummings creates curriculum for teachers, often for YA books that have a connection to history or current events.

15. Keep a stash of snacks in your classroom.
Teaching is busy, and you never know when you will have time to eat! Keep a stash of healthy snacks that you can munch on when you need a little energy. I try to keep small bags of trail mix, granola bars, and apples in my desk drawer. Sometimes I prep refrigerated snacks at the beginning of the week so I have easy access to individual portions of carrots, fruit salad, and breakfast items. These snacks are also handy for hungry students who may not have gotten something to eat at home.
Kim, the OCBeachTeacher, creates instructional materials for educators and blogs to share best practices in the secondary classroom.

16. Learn to love your crock-pot.
Dust off that Crock-Pot or Instant Pot and get cooking. The first few weeks of school are busy, but you still need to eat. Both of these options are low on prep, high on healthy eating.
Kristy Avis, 2 Peas and a Dog, blogs about teaching and creates resources for middle school teachers.

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