By Teachers, For Teachers
The trick to running a race is not to begin in a full sprint and then slow down; it’s to begin at a confident pace and hit your groove right away.
The days leading up to the beginning of a new school year can feel like a sprint. They are filled with work and anticipation. Prepping rooms, lesson plans and first day of school activities feels exciting: In just days, new students will occupy your class and the learning process will begin again full tilt.
The start of every year is exciting, nerve-wracking, and admittedly taxing. So how can you be sure that you will truly hit the ground the running at the right pace this year, and that you’ll keep running energetically without burning yourself out? Try some of these tried-and-true methods for staying strong as a teacher as the school year opens and progresses.
Read some books: You know, some teacherly books. Read books such as “Teach Like a Champion” that will get your pedagogical engine revved and inspire you to up your game this year. It’s never a bad idea to start the year with your head filled with loads of ideas and examples of how to really make a mark in students’ lives this year.
Plan out those opening days: The start of the year is the time to lay the foundation for the tone and direction of your class. Showing up the first week without solid plans is like showing up to a bullfight without your cape: You might just end up running around avoiding disaster. Your students – and your peace of mind – deserve a strong, well-thought-out start. Plan out those important first day of school activities.
Don’t schedule too much work for them or grading or you: The absolute best way to overwhelm yourself and your students from the get-go is to bury them in homework and assessments. These tools are important to integrate, but you don’t need to overdo it. Implement them strategically, and eventually you will know that you (and they) can handle the load.
Get excited: Get excited about meeting your students. Get excited about what you’re going to teach them. Get excited about your new ideas, your first day of school activities, your new materials, and even that new poster you can’t wait to hang. The more passion you have, the more contagious your passion will be on your students.
Get to the good stuff and teach right away: As you prepare your plans, it can be tempting to begin with days’ worth of “Get-to-Know-You” activities to break the ice. These are fun and appropriate in moderation. However, understand that students are here to learn, and they respect teachers who set a firm academic tone early. So don’t hold back on cracking into that set of knowledge and skills they came for.
Anticipate the holdups: Of course, you can’t “hit the ground running” and not experience a few hurdles that might trip you up. Although you can’t necessarily control these hurdles, you can sometimes anticipate them. Maybe there will be some students who require extra attention or accommodations. Maybe your plans will need to be modified as you learn the character of your class. Maybe you’ll be asked to join a committee that you don’t feel you have time for. If you predict some of these in advance, you won’t be as jarred by them when they occur.
Get the simple things out of the way right away: There are countless “little tasks” to take care of, especially at the beginning of the year. Making seating charts, setting up materials, filling out forms, planning other first day of school activities, and on and on. Do as many of these as early on as possible. Sometimes taking five extra minutes up front means saving yourself hours later on.
Establish a schedule for yourself and stick to it: OK, so if you really want to stay level-headed and avoid feeling overwhelmed, make a daily schedule for yourself of how you’ll organize your work. Consider when each week you’ll be teaching, when you can plan lessons, make copies, grade homework, meet with students, call parents, and so on. A schedule helps you take care of the tasks you need to without getting distracted by the other tasks that will consume your attention later. Hello, time management.
Take care of yourself: Another great way to feel bogged down is to cut down on how much you sleep, how healthfully you eat, and how well you take care of your own needs. It’s amazing how quickly you can go from feeling great to feeling miserable when you stop caring for yourself. So prioritize the sleep, diet, and exercise you need to feel great. It’ll make everything – even your quality of teaching – better.
Have a good attitude and keep it: Decide to be a positive person and don’t let anything get in your way of that. No matter what your students say, no matter how poorly you feel a particular lesson goes, no matter what mistakes you make, keep telling yourself, “I can do it. I can make a difference.” A positive attitude leads to positive results over the long haul!
Plan some time for yourself: Do you find that you’re constantly counting the days until winter break, or spring break, or summer? We love these days off, don’t we? Too bad they’re so far away. You can give yourself something closer to look forward to by taking your own days off throughout the year. Plan in advance a few days you’d like to spend just on you, put them in your calendar, and look forward to these little treats you’ve earned.
Set some goals for yourself: Avoid entering the school year with the desire to repeat everything you did the previous year. Of course, build on your successes, but also consider what areas you’d like to improve in. These goals will energize your focus at the commencement of the year and help remind you of who you want to be as the year continues.
Everyone will agree that the beginning of the school year is one of the most exciting moments on the calendar. Capitalize on your excitement by determining to hit the ground running with your goals, enthusiasm, and ideas. After all, you don’t want to try to start from a dead stop, sprint, and then try to hit your stride someplace into the school year. You want to begin at a confident pace and keep yourself chugging strong all through the year.