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Gemma Clancy January 26, 2019 7 min read

Back to School Tips and Tricks- For beginners, experts and everyone in between

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When that long-awaited Summer break comes to a close and we start to think about the school year ahead, this can bring up a multitude of mixed feelings! Whether these are feelings you get every year as an experienced teacher or perhaps these are new if you’re a beginning teacher. However don’t worry, here are some tips and tricks to calm those nerves so that you can enjoy the year ahead!
 
The week before
 
Plan your week ahead - Don't wing it
Write down a list of ideas that you want to do with the kids in the first week eg, introductions, going over routines, getting to know me activities etc and then loosely order them. I use to create a rough, first-week plan and then plan the first 2 days in more detail (as things would often change throughout the week). Think about how much time each activity will take (add another hour haha) and allow room for flexibility. Print off your activities before the school week starts (as the photocopier is bound to break down the first day back) and have extra activities for early finishers or in case you need to abort an idea (which don’t be afraid to do if you need to).
 
Laminate labels
I’ve always found it useful to have labels ready and laminated for the beginning of the year ready to pop up when you need them. If you’re an experienced teacher, you’ll often re-use the ones from the year before - hence the beauty of laminating! I also laminate any resources that they will use again and again eg, hundreds table, writing cards etc. Having their names laminated always comes in handy for seating arrangements, jobs lists, bag hooks etc. Keeping them separated in little zip lock bags is a life saver.
 
Keep the room bare
When I first started teaching I had no idea how to even begin setting up my class! I often wondered what displays I should put up and how much I should do. With experience behind me, I definitely now know- Less is More! Allow the classroom to be a blank canvas for your children to mould and create into their own space. You may want to put up headings for key areas such as Reading Corner etc. to begin with, or you may wish to establish these areas with the children, for example, you could do this as an activity “design your own classroom.” If you’re a new teacher, sometimes having a browse around other classes will put your mind at ease, they will often be relatively bare - Don’t rush into making it look perfect or spending lots of money, it's a work in progress.
 
Have your own teaching resources ready
Brainstorm or talk to other teachers in your syndicate/pod about what you will need for the term. Eg, whiteboard pens, cellotape, stapler, laminating pouches etc. Find out what you already have and get the essentials before school starts. If you buy them out of your own money remember to keep the receipts to claim back the expenses (check your school's policy around this first before spending up large!)
 
 
First Day
(Take a deep breath, it’s never as scary as you think)
 
Welcome the children.
Both parents and kids can feel nervous about entering a new classroom. Introduce yourself and welcome them in, this will help remove some of those anxious feelings. Have your name written clearly on the board and repeat your name aloud so children can hear it. Also, parents may only know you by your last name, let them know your “real” name too so that when they address you, it can be more personable (if they choose to).
 
Keep it fun and simple
Remember the kids have had a long break, they’ll be tired and out of routine. Allow for imperfection and retain flexibility when things may not always go to plan - laugh about it, don’t stress! Getting to know your class should be enjoyable.
 
Smile and be relatable
Show the kids that you are not a robot and that you don’t just teach during the day and sleep in the resource room at night. Joke around with the kids, tell them about yourself, show them pictures of your pets or family. Write them a letter introducing yourself and get them to write one back. Perhaps reveal to them what some of your quirks are...some great discussions begin around quirk sharing.
 
 
First Week
 
Plan activities that allow children to express themselves as well as get to know each other.
There are sooo many of these activities out there which are easily accessible via the internet. Check out ideas through Twinkl, Google, Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers and other great teaching websites. At a school I worked at we set up a Google Folder with “First week activities,” when we came across an activity we liked, we would add it to the folder. Collectively we had a large resource bank to choose from and would adapt and tweak to suit our own class.
 
Choose activities that cover a range of curricular areas
Avoid doing activities that require the same skill all day (eg colouring). Look for activities that involve PE, drama, craft, science. This is a great way to start observing where each child's individual interests lie, which will be extremely useful for planning engaging content later on.
 
Do a class & / or school walkthrough
The key here is to get the kids to notice where things are and kept, especially fire exits, toilets, key resources they’ll use daily etc. You could work this into a scavenger hunt and get children to find things in the class/school so they become familiar with where everything is. Set the expectation of using and putting resources and activities away properly - visuals on boxes are great for this!
 
Create and display class expectations
I would suggest hitting these up early and making it a positive and engaging experience. I found setting expectations or class rules with the kids works a lot better than just telling them what you expect of them. One idea I use to do was make a class Treaty. As a class, we came up with 10 rules/expectations (I would suggest keeping these brief and in kid speak) and we would sign it and hang it on the wall to refer to. We use to make ours look like an old scroll for effect but there are loads of cool ideas on the internet for this type of activity. Also setting individual or class rewards with the children can make a big difference if they can work towards goals they have chosen.
 
Introduce them to their new routines
These can be introduced slowly. Start with easy, day to day tasks the children will carry out, such as putting down the chairs when they come in, hanging up their bag etc. Write daily schedules clearly or display them as pictures for kids to refer to. This helps reduce any anxiousness some kids feel when they don’t know what lies ahead.
 
Teach kids how to take care of their class
This follows on from setting routines and I highly recommend spending time specifically teaching this, otherwise, you’ll end up spending precious time after school tidying up the class and putting resources back correctly. I use to have a job list with kids names assigned to them. During the first week, I would go through each job individually and talk about the importance of completing it and working together to keep the class tidy. A great way for kids to take ownership is when the jobs are rotated, whoever was on a particular job would teach the new person who would be taking over. (Do keep an eye on this, otherwise, it could end up being the blind leading the blind). Trust me, it makes life so much easier once it’s all set up!
 
End of the week
 
Breathe!
You made it and it was not as stressful as you thought. The kids are excited to be back and there’s a buzz in the staff room - your refreshed workmates are human like again!
 
Before the kids go home I like to give them a letter to give to their parents, it introduces a bit about me and how to contact me. I also include a questionnaire for the parents about their goals for their children and other information they think would be important for me to know. If you’re using SeeSaw or another App for communicating with parents, get your class onto it asap and start sending some pictures of their cherubs home. This helps to open up the communication lines between school and whanau and can help diminish any anxious feelings parents may have.
 
Remember to enjoy these first few weeks. Don’t stress, keep it simple and have fun. Be prepared but flexible and take each day as it comes!
 
Happy New Year everyone, go and nail Term 1!