Back to School: The Good, The Bad, + The Ugly

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Listen up. Back to school season has always been a favorite of teachers all over the world, but we’d be lying to ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge the challenges that also come along with this exhilarating, exhausting time. The first two weeks of school is the hardest part of a teacher’s year. Let’s change that today. BUT FIRST: I totally get how back to school season can be utterly overwhelming, so I’ve created the ultimate back to school checklist that you can access for free. Just click the image below! You can also grab it at the end of this post if you want to stick around for a bit.

back to school checklist

Back to School : The Good

Yes, let’s start with all of the good things. Truth be told, I could list about 100 good things about back to school; however, let’s keep this short(ish) since your teacher time is valuable.

Back to School : School Supplies

Is it any wonder this is first on my list? Since I was a child, school supplies have been my JAM. I have a literal lifetime supply of pens, sticky notes, and other goodies at my house, yet every time I enter a store, I find myself in the school supply aisle. I don’t know what it is, I am just a total sucker for shiny, new notebooks and fresh erasers.

back to school supply guide

Here are a few of my favorite things [cue Sound of Music soundtrack]:

Sharpie pens: Not to be confused with the overly hyped Flair pens, these pens just make me swoon. They write so smoothly, don’t bleed through the paper, and are a real beauty.

Pencil sharpener: This is, hands down, the best I’ve ever encountered. Easy for students to use if you choose, and makes those pencils so perfectly pointy. Very efficient!

Mr. Sketch: This requires no explanation, but I do think there is a strong correlation between huffing compulsively enjoying Mr. Sketch markers in elementary school and becoming a teacher when you grow up. These are pure magic anytime you have to write on chart paper!

Dry erase sleeves: Want to save an entire rainforest in one year of math stations? Only half kidding, but in all honesty, these sleeves save way more than just paper. No more stacks to grade at the end of each week, and half-finished, no name crap littering your classroom. I cannot recommend these enough. You’re welcome.

Fine point dry erase markers: These go hand-in-hand with the dry erase sleeves because they are fine enough that students can use them to write in smaller spaces and don’t have to write on a standard-sized sheet of paper with an awkward, chunky chisel tipped marker. These also last a long time, and you can get them in other colors.

Honorable mention goes to: All of the other school supplies

Back to School : Classroom Set-Up

I don’t think I’m alone in this when I say that a blank slate of a classroom gives me butterflies. In every school I’ve taught, the custodians clean the floors and carpets during the summer. This means that all of our furniture ends up in a big pile in the middle of the room, and it’s our job to put it back together. This is a mission I am all too willing to accept, since it encourages me to change and try new things year after year based on my prior experiences.

One thing that doesn’t change is:

A. My love for group desk arrangements. I will only ever put my students’ desks in groups, so that part is easy to decide.

B. My admiration for and steady use of Spaces by Debbie Diller. Debbie is a classroom phenom and I’ve adopted SO many of her pearls of wisdom in my math and literacy stations. Her classroom setup tips do not disappoint. I highly recommend getting Spaces as your classroom set-up Bible of sorts. I’ve used it year after year and still glean so much value from her brilliant advice and ideas.

Of course, there are loads of Pinterest suggestions for classroom set-up to wade through over the summer. Don’t forget to save your best ideas to Google Keep!

google keep on iphone

Back to School : Getting to Know Your Students!

I definitely saved the best for last here. The idea of meeting 20-something new people who you will spend your year with produces a million different emotions; however, at the front lines of those emotions is giddy anticipation. It’s SO EXCITING! Even as an adult, I am plagued by the nervous energy that makes it hard to sleep the night before the first day of school.

I am totally and completely a sucker for back-to-school icebreakers in the classroom. This is especially ironic since most adults I know–myself included–actually loathe any kind of ice breakers. It’s not clear why this is; perhaps we are forced into so many as kids every year for back to school? Either way, icebreakers during back to school are my jam and I am HERE FOR IT.

I love 2 Truths, 1 Lie where a student tells the class two true things and one false statement, prompting the class to guess which one is the lie.

back to school survival kit slide image two tr 

If you are interested in icebreakers that require no prep and you can project onto the board for the first 2 weeks of school, check out this back to school survival kit that is chockfull of icebreakers.

Back to School : The Bad

Yes, it’s true. While many Instagram feeds portray teaching as shiny and perfect, there is a very raw edge to teaching that is not acknowledged often enough. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Back to School : The Ever-changing Class Lists

Perhaps it’s just my school experience, but one of the most frustrating things in existence was never knowing just when our class list was truly final. My first few years were spent creating name labels and then ultimately having to pitch or change certain labels when my list was altered yet again. But then I started using magic numbers for any and all student items in the classroom and my life was forever changed. Simply put, you assign a number to each student and use that number for all the labels. No names, just numbers.

book bins labeled with magic numbers

Back to School : The Repetition

This is very much a Catch-22 situation. Back to school time is wrought with the need to practice, practice, practice and model, model, model those routines until we are blue in the face. Necessary? YES. Fun? Um. NOT QUITE. But it doesn’t have to be awful. I recommend finding a fun way to practice classroom routines like walking in the hallway or entering the classroom in the morning. Alternatives to the teacher directing the class can include choosing a group of students to role play routines, picking a “secret” student ahead of time and then rewarding that student if he modeled the task appropriately, or creating student-made class books or posters to further explore the routines. I also highly recommend taking photos of these routines in action so you have meaningful visuals for your students to see year-round! See what kind of routines I am talking about in this ultimate back to school checklist (it’s free!).

back to school checklist to do list

Back to School : The Ugly

I hate to even go here, but for the sake of transparency and honesty, we are forging ahead. I’ve limited this section to only one topic, but it’s a big one.

Back to School : Teacher Exhaustion

It’s real, it’s severe, and it is a beast. There truly is no tired like back to school teacher tired. After years of facing this monster, there were a few things that helped.

  1. Set limits. For the love of all things holy, please don’t stay at school every night until the sun goes down. Set a time and go home and sleep.
  2. Limit your screen time. Once you are home, try doing other activities like reading a (non-teaching) book, listening to music while you journal or color, taking a bath, or listening to an audio book or podcast. This will help your brain feel less scrambled and help you sleep better.
  3. Prepare as much as you can before the first day. I’m not talking about copying piles of paper, but rather, knowing what you will be doing and how you will be doing it. The back to school checklist will help you organize your mind and tasks so you aren’t doing unnecessary prep filled with meaningless activities.

Okay, friends. That’s all for now. If you know any teacher friends who would like this checklist and even more free goodies throughout the year, please share this post on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter using the buttons below!

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