Back to School: Classroom Prep

Back to school is an exciting time, but also an exhausting time!  All of the things that teachers do to prepare for the new year can be taxing - physically and mentally.  You are making a million different decisions, climbing up and down, reaching for this and that, and lifting more than your usual load.  Is it any wonder that teachers collapse a weekend of two into a new school year?

Everyone prepares for the new year a little different.  I think this is a little like developing your own teaching style.  With time and experience, you eventually figure out what system works for you.  Keep in mind, there is not one system that is better than another.  It is figuring out who you are and how you work best to prepare for the new year.

Super Efficients: The S.E. teacher can walk into his or her classroom and within a couple of hours have it completely whipped into shape.  Bulletin boards are a tool  - the style is often modern or minimalist. Materials are neatly organized with no extraneous "stuff" sitting around.  S.E. are often found in leadership positions because they are usually efficient in all areas of their life.

Marvin or Martha Stewarts: These teachers see their classroom as their "home".  As such, they spend all summer planning the perfect theme, color, and/or arrangement for their "home". If you aren't a "Marvin or Martha", you don't understand what would possess a person to spend so much personal money on your classroom.  While "Marvins and Marthas" realize that the way they decorates doesn't make a difference in the academic achievement of their kids, they don't care because it makes them happy!  And a happy teacher is a good thing! 

OMGs:  This group enjoys every moment of their summer vacation.  They are at the lake, by the pool, enjoying their family, and having a great time.  Then they get the letter from their principal about the upcoming new year.  That letter is their OMG moment. I have been friends with several OMG teachers through the years.  Every faculty needs to have a few OMG teachers because they don't get stressed about too much and are a fun friend.  The good thing is this group works very well under tight deadlines.  In fact, I would go so far as to say they thrive on deadlines.

These are just a few of the styles I have seen through the years.  I'm sure you could name a few more.

If this is your first year of teaching, you may be wondering what you need to do.  I always recommend talking to mentor first.  Your mentor will be your best source of advice.  Here are a few things that I do:

Big Stuff
I like to start with arranging the big stuff first.  When arranging furniture, you need to consider:

Whole Group (desks/tables)

  • Where will you teach when your students are sitting at their desks/tables?
  • Can everyone see the white board or Smartboard from their desks/tables?

Circle Time / Carpet - Whole Group Lesson

  • Where do you sit?
  • Do you have an easel or whiteboard?
  • Where will the students sit?
Small Group (teacher's table)

  • Can you see the students who aren't at your table?
  • Where will you store the materials you need to use when you teach here?

  • I personally think it is better if centers are scattered throughout the room.  It is noisy when all of the students are in one small area.  I try to alternate areas for centers - noisy / quiet.  If two types of centers are quiet (Example: computers with headphones and library) I would put one of these on the east wall and the other on the west wall.  Put the two noisy centers on the north and south walls.
Teacher's work space (desk/table/computer/file cabinet)

  • Granted, you may not get to actually work at your desk or table during school hours, but you may work on it before or after school.  Mine was usually in a corner near the closet.  This is probably a teacher preference thing, though.
Bulletin Boards
If you are a Marvin or Martha, you can skip this next part.

For non-Marvin and Marthas, you do not have to have every single bulletin boards completely decorated before the first day of school.  It is nice if you have a welcome to my class bulletin board with your students' names.

I DO think it is welcoming if you have all of your bulletin board covered with paper and border.  Otherwise, you give the impression to students and parents that you aren't prepared.  You can put up a sign like the one below on your bulletin board:
Click HERE to download the under construction bulletin board freebie.

Seating Chart: Assign or not?

  • Assigned: Sometimes I assign my students seats before they arrive.  I usually assign them alphabetically so it is easier to distribute materials at the beginning of the year.  Plus, if teach a grade 1st grade or older, parents may request that their child not sit by so-and-so.  I don't get this request as often when I assign them using this method.  When I do get a request, I explain that students will sit alphabetically in the beginning when we are distributing materials. Later, I will move my class after I get to know them a little better. Usually this is enough to satisfy them.
  • Choose your seat: If you have been given a heads up that you have some anxious students or parents, I would highly suggest letting the students choose their seat.  The years I do this, I hand the parent and student a name tag and Sharpie.  The student wrote his/her name on the name tag after choosing where he/she wanted to sit.  This didn't create any discipline problems like you might think, even though I ended up with all boy or all girl tables.  It was harder to distribute materials though.
Once you get the big things arranged and bulletin boards set up, it is time to organize.  How do you prepare your room?

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