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It's All Downhill From Here

January 24, 2020

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The beginning of your first year is pretty overwhelming, and you have to focus on just getting your bearings and routines to work for you. It’s possible to feel like you’re barely keeping your head above water during that time, but sometime in January, you may start to feel things sort of “click”.

This is the time to start thinking about how you want the rest of the year to go. Armed with everything you’ve learned so far, take some time to think about the next few weeks and months. 

It may seem unreasonable to start thinking about the end of the year when you’ve just arrived in the middle, but as you may have already experienced, time flies by quickly when you’re teaching. 


Start Anytime

1. Make a Record of Your Accomplishments

What’s gone well so far this year? What things have you done that you want to repeat or continue?

Start with practical things. What routines have you put in place that have made your time in the classroom easier? What materials have you found to be most useful? What things are in the perfect spots in the classroom? 

2. Make a List of Areas That Need Improvement

While your goal in this area is to record things that haven’t gone so well, focus merely on the recording of the information for now. Once you’ve recorded the information, solutions are more likely to work themselves out. You may be able to find solutions in your successes that you can replicate in areas that need improvement.

If solutions don’t present themselves readily, don’t stress about it now. Just list what needs improvement. You’ll have much more problem-solving creativity and freed-up mental capacity to find solutions during the summer after you’ve had time to distance yourself for further reflection.  

This is a good habit for all teachers to get into, and it’s helpful to keep a running list of successes and struggles. You’ll find that routine reflection on both will help you keep those areas that you struggle with in focus so that when you see other people succeeding in these areas, you’ll be able to ask for help or observe what they’re doing well and apply similar strategies. 

Recording what is working well is a great boost. It’s good to see what you’ve done right in the past and build on that. 

Remember that even the most seasoned teachers still struggle with some things. No teacher, no matter how long they’ve been in the profession, will be without weaknesses. The key to longevity and long-term success is to constantly evaluate your own progress and keep a growth mindset, allowing yourself to change and improve in time.

3. Keep a Running List of Things You Need

Start a list of books, materials, and resources you need or want for your classroom. Keeping this handy will help you find items on sale or at garage sales in your area. Retiring teachers often start getting rid of their classroom things in April or May.

4. Organize and Stay Organized

As you use resources, receive copies of things other teachers use, and work your way through your materials this year, find where you want things to be stored long-term. Teachers tend to “nest” as we go, organizing and reorganizing to adjust to our teaching needs and the needs of the students in the classroom. 

Set aside one conference period or afternoon specifically designated for organizing and upkeep each week, and use that time for that purpose as faithfully as possible.

Make notes as you use things about how the lesson went if you’ll be teaching the same content in years to come (or even if you aren’t sure what you’ll be teaching the following year). As you plan next year it will help to know what needs to be altered.  

Pay attention to physical areas of the classroom, and rearrange for better flow when needed. 

Store like materials together. Teachers commonly store things by subject area in elementary, and preps, periods, or classes in middle and high school.  

Paper is usually the biggest beast to conquer, so make files for any hardcopies you keep right away. Label the file and stick it in the filing cabinet as you teach, if you must, but try to stay on top of it. It takes longer if you “pile” instead of file.

Organize your email and any electronic copies you’ll need in the future so you won’t have to spend unnecessary time searching for the things you need later.  Save them either on a jump drive or on a cloud service if you haven’t already so that you can access them during the summer as needed.

Don’t leave things unsaved on your classroom or school computer because during the summer, computers may be replaced or moved to different rooms. 

5. Paperwork and Grading

These are two of the most time-consuming parts of teaching, depending on what you teach. 

Whenever possible, try to grade as you go. As the first few students from a class hand in their work, grade it quickly to get a head start on it. Record grades as soon as possible and get rid of the hardcopy of the work either by handing it back out, filing it, or appropriately destroying it (many schools require work and personal student information to be shredded for privacy when getting rid of it). 

Keep I.E.P.s and any documentation for special populations (ESL students, at-risk, GT, etc…) updated daily. There are a lot of templates available on www.teacherspayteachers.com for very reasonable prices, but check with your fellow teachers and the special education department on your campus as they may already have resources that they can share.

During the year, you’ll have meetings to attend for these students, and work collected can often give insight to their progress, their continued needs, and their deficits. That information can then be used to further determine the goals set for the following year. 

Keep all student records and portfolio materials for at least two years unless everything is digital and there are multiple digital copies available, especially if the student struggled academically or you suspect an issue may come up later (possible abuse, neglect, behavioral issues, etc…). 

Your district or state may have their own time requirements for how long you keep student records, so be sure you check. 

In addition to paperwork for the students, be sure you are keeping a record of all the things you are responsible for as far as testing, turning in paperwork, and attending meetings. Keeping a record of when things are due during the year will help you when you are planning for next year. 

There are many things that you won’t know about until a week or two before they are due (and unfortunately, in some schools, even closer to the due date). Your first year, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out acronyms and determine which priority should be taken care of first. Having a record of this year’s requirements with notes in the margins will really help you next year. 

At the end of the year, many schools do awards or certificates. Files and records are often updated by hand before you can leave for the summer, and there may be lists of documents that you will have to turn in for each student.

In addition, many schools do a lot of fun activities at the end of the year, which will involve your schedule being altered considerably. When planning ahead, be sure to keep these things in mind so you aren’t surprised by them. 

About Six Weeks Before the Last Day

6. Cleaning and Preparing to Close the Building

This is a great time to start cleaning out all the lockers, cubby holes, boxes, and cabinets. Take everything out, one storage space or shelf each day. Throw things away that you haven’t used and don’t think you’ll need. Give things away (many schools have a designated spot at the end of the year for things teachers don’t want, like a community “give and take” table). 

Check to be sure you are organized according to need throughout your year. You may even want to jot down a few notes to yourself so you’ll remember next year where certain things are and why you put them there.  

Many schools hand out a “checkout list” that tells you the things you are required to complete before leaving for the summer. If your school does this, you’ll likely get the list in the last week or two of school.

If you’ll be returning to the same school next year, make a copy of this list before you start filling it out and file the copy so that next year you can start working on it a bit earlier, if you choose to.

The list usually has instructions for everything you’ll need to do in the building before leaving for the summer including turning in keys so maintenance workers can deep clean, how to store and organize furniture in the room, reminders to unplug everything, and how to shut down your computer.

You’ll also probably have detailed instructions about the information and documentation to include in physical files, as mentioned above. 

7. Plan for Improvement 

Go back over your lists of strengths and areas where you need improvement. Pick three areas - and ONLY three - in which you want to improve next year. Find books and order any resources on those topics for light reading and studying over the summer. 

Once you’ve collected the materials you want, put them away until at least the third week of summer.  

Schedule any conferences or training sessions you’d like to attend (the sooner you schedule these, the better - all the really good training sessions get filled quickly!). 

8. Deciding on and Arranging Summer Storage

You never have to leave your own personal things in your room over the summer, although many teachers do. Check with your school, too, as some schools require teachers to take everything home. 

When considering whether or not you should leave your personal things there, remember that valuable, irreplaceable things can get lost or damaged in the classroom, and districts will not usually compensate for your lost or damaged personal items.

Many things get moved out of classrooms when maintenance and deep cleaning are done over the summer, and if they aren’t labeled clearly (even excessively), they may get moved to another classroom or even clear across the school. There is often a scramble at the beginning of the year with teachers looking for their missing classroom items.

Labeling, locking things away, and bringing home anything personal of value keeps you from having to participate in finding things that have wandered off during the summer. 

Collect containers and decide where things will be stored over the summer months.

Ask your administrators if your classroom will be used over the summer break for summer school or other classes. If your room will be used, there may be things (that were purchased by the school or district) that the visiting teacher will need.

9. Make Spending Time with Your Students a Priority

Your first year is special. Take pictures, put away things that you don’t need, and really try to enjoy the remaining time you have with your students. You’ll never all be together in this exact same grouping again. Take the time to get to know them and enjoy commemorating your year together. 

Make memories together.

And then get ready to do it all again! 


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