The Summer To-Do List for First Year Teachers

The Summer To-Do List for First Year Teachers

You’ve probably got about 80,130 things swirling around in your head that you want to do before the school year starts. It’s such an exciting time!  

I remember the summer before my first year teaching obsessing over EVERYTHING #anxiety. I thought I needed to make my plans incredible and have my classroom looking absolutely perfect before the school year started… OR ELSE. And I had no idea where to start.

Here’s a Reality Check: You can keep working on your classroom and your plans even after school starts. Like organizing your classroom library, putting up decorations, or creating a great newsletter for Parent Night.  

And here’s Reality Check #2: The number of Pinterest decorations you put into your classroom won’t change the lives of your students… but your teaching will.  

That’s good news. Because you’re ready–you’ve got spirit, enthusiasm, and passion.  

You have training from your program and student teaching under your belt. So what’s the most important thing to do before the school year starts?  The key is to design systems that will put your classroom run on autopilot as much as possible – leaving you free to focus on the reason you’re there: HELPING KIDS LEARN THINGS.

Many first-year teachers tell me they don’t know where to start with summer preparations, so I’ve put together this list of priorities. 

It’s a given/accept the fact that you won’t get everything done, so it’s important to keep your priorities straight and invest your time where you’ll going to get the biggest bang for your buck later.

How to Prepare as a First-Year Teacher:

What to REALLY prioritize during the summer before your first year teaching: classroom management, organization, and setting up systems to get to know your students.

1. Design your Classroom Management Plan

First of all, I wholeheartedly recommend Wong & Wong’s, The First Days of School – in my opinion, it’s the go-to reference for any first-year teacher. It was a complete game-changer for me before my first year.  

I spent hours listing my ideas and plans for every conceivable behavior that might happen in my classroom.

I designed efficient ways to handle routine classroom needs like bathroom passes, paper flow, and grade and behavior documentation.

Once the school year started, s*** still happened (kids are still kids, after all) and my life was crazy, but I had a plan for EVERYTHING.

Compared to many other first-year teachers, I was almost never caught off-guard.  At the end of the school year, administrators told me they couldn’t tell that I had been a first-year teacher.

What’s the moral of this story?

In the summer before your first teaching year, things like classroom management planning is WHERE IT’S AT.  It’s the key to keeping your sanity intact while having the freedom to do all the awesome, life-changing lessons you’ve been dreaming about this year. And it will save you a lot of stress down the road.

I’ll cover the basics here, but in the meantime, you can download my FREE Summer To-Do List Guide here. You’ll receive a seven-day email course that will walk you through setting your own “nobody-will-ever-know-you’re-a-first-year-teacher” classroom management system.

So let’s get down to the basics of planning your classroom management system.

There are essentially six aspects to brainstorm and design:

1. Classroom Procedures

What will your kids need to know to navigate your classroom?  If you don’t tell them how to do things, they’ll invent their own way. Clearly set procedures will minimize the number of bad inventions and ensure everything is done in a way that maximizes instructional time.

Some examples of procedures to brainstorm and teach are:

  1. How to get a pencil
  2. How to sharpen their pencil
  3. How to ask to go to the bathroom
  4. How to come into or leave the classroom
  5. How to know when to become quiet
  6. How to ask for help

You can see all 35 of my own procedures in the Summer To-Do List Guide, which you can download for free here.

2. Classroom Routines

Routines are your lifesaver when it comes to lesson planning. The more you can put on auto-pilot, the more energy you can put into awesome things. Routines can be within a lesson (what a typical lesson structure looks like — see mine in the guide you can download here) or perhaps a weekly routine (every Wednesday is ____ Day). Some examples of routines might include:

  1. Typical lesson structure
  2. Typical week structure
  3. Expectations for transitions
  4. Beginning and end of the class expectations (your true headache savers!)
3. Classroom Rules:

Despite what they say, kids feel safer when they know what the boundaries are.  Knowing the limits before school starts helps you communicate them to your students before problems arise, and deal with them in a fair way.

I recommend coming up with four non-negotiable rules–these are the rules that, if broken, will send a child to your discipline plan. For the sake of simplicity (for me and the kids), I limited this to three broad rules:

  1. Listen and follow directions and school rules.
  2. Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
  3. Respect your classmates and your teacher.

Of course, rules need to be explained and modeled, so expect to plan that in to your first week or two of teaching. Many administrators and teachers recommend creating class rules –and I fully support that. However, you need to know where you stand, especially because these are the grounds you’ll use for more serious disciplinary measures like calling home or writing a referral.  

To set the tone for your own boundaries in the classroom, it might be helpful to explain that these three rules are very important to you, and then have students brainstorm adjustments or additions together.

Another idea might be to have students come up with rules, and during your discussion, guide them toward something that resembles your three or four non-negotiables.  

4. Discipline Plan:

This is your plan for when someone disobeys the rules. Rules are useless without a way of enforcing them, and you’ll want to avoid sending kids out of your classroom for as long as possible. I’ve seen first-year teachers lose the trust of their principal right away because they had no plan in place to handle the classroom behavior, and they used the principal as their first line of defense.

There’s no reason to be nervous about it as long as you’re prepared. Misbehavior is bound to happen, and when it does, you’ve got a plan and can execute it calmly.

It’s best to keep your discipline simple, fair, and versatile. Here’s an example of my discipline plan:

  1. 1st Infraction: Warning
  2. 2nd Infraction: Loss of privilege (something that makes sense for the behavior – move seats, lose item, etc.)
  3. 3rd Infraction: Contact home and assign individual work (in the hall, if appropriate)
  4. 4th Infraction: Write-up or sent to principal’s office

If the behavior gets beyond the 1st infraction, I will (unofficially) have a private conference with the student, usually in the hall.

This should cover most of your bases for interventions. For me, very few kids ever got to Step 4, but if they did, I was able to communicate to administration every intervention I had already tried.  Boom! Organized.

5. Policies

What are the parameters for your boundary-testing students? Kids are born line-crossers – so it’s just best to know where the line is, communicate it right away.. and then expect someone to cross it anyway.

These aren’t so much about your non-negotiables as about simple, day-to-day expectations. Where are your lines, and what will you do when a student crosses them?  For example…

  1. How many times can students go to the bathroom during the day?  
  2. What happens when students don’t bring in their homework?  
  3. Will you take off points for late work?  
  4. What happens when students don’t bring their materials to class?  

This is just a sample–my free Summer To-Do List Guide has many more suggestions.

6. Rewards and Incentives

Kids love to work toward goals, and goals are great for boosting classroom morale at the beginning of the year. One awesome first-year teacher I worked with started off the year playing Beat the Teacher, and she’s played it all year ever since.  

I can’t overstate the importance of having a list of incentive ideas and reward ideas ready at the beginning of the year–especially those that go beyond candy and cookies. You might also search for lists on Pinterest and make notes on what you might be interested in right at the start of the year. Then give yourself a reward for being a proactive teacher!

Again, check out my guide for more ideas.

2. Plan your first couple of weeks

This will both calm your nerves and allow you to focus your energy on what will really make the biggest impact on your year — How you launch your classroom.

What to do in your first few weeks?

If you’ve already completed all six parts of your management plan, you know that you have much of what you’ll need to communicate to your kids.  

You won’t communicate every single thing you’ve brainstormed, but believe it or not, getting-to-know-you activities, pre-assessments, and your procedure/routine/discipline lessons will completely take up your first few weeks.  

This was mind-blowing to me as a first-year teacher… it almost felt wrong.  

But TRUST ME!

You’re spending a few weeks now so you don’t lose MONTHS of instruction playing classroom management catch-up later in the year, then going home and crying yourself to sleep after a few glasses of wine.

It’s definitely easiest when you set the stage from the beginning of the year.

Here’s how I recommend going about planning:

  1. Collaborate: Try to talk to another teacher who teaches the same subjects as you do (or a mentor teacher) over the summer. They may have materials and tips that can give you a head start.
  2. Skim and get an overview of the year’s curricula (if available). What are your goals for your students’ progress by the end of the year in each subject?  What things might you do in the beginning of the year to help you figure out where they’re starting?
  3. “Backwards plan” your first couple weeks:
  4. Set learning goals both for yourself and your students:
  5. “By the end of 2/3/4 weeks, I want students to know [insert procedures], _[number]__ of peers, and understand ___ about the year.
  6. “For myself, I want to know _____, ____, and _____ about my students, and have contacted ____ guardians.”
  7. List out steps that would help you accomplish those goals (getting-to-know-you activity ideas, specific procedure lessons, specific pre-assessments)
  8. Break up that list of items over the first few weeks of school. You may be surprised how much time it takes… and that’s okay!  
  9. Start at the first week, and start creating your scripts and materials!
Psst! I’d love to help you with this. Find out how here!

3. Select and Plan Get-to-Know-You Activities

I have made this a separate step to encourage you to make an effort to include some good get-to-know-you activities because it’s easy to get wrapped up with procedures and curriculum. There are many ideas for this online, and you seriously cannot do enough of it.

If you’re nervous, think about how nervous your students will be, walking into a classroom with a couple dozen peers they may have never met before. Providing some low-stress activities to help them ease into the new year and find some friends will go a long, long way.

4. Create Paperflow and Material Systems

Decide where students will turn in papers, where you’ll put stacks to grade, where you’ll file away important paperwork, and where your “to-do” pile will be. Angela Watson has some ingenious systems for this.

Figure out what resources you’ll need to make available to students, including systems to make them independent (but accountable) with using them. Extra paper? Textbooks? Classroom library?  How can your students interact with all of these in an organized and productive way?

5. Create data collection systems

What kind of student data — personal, academic, and behavioral — do you want to track?  How will you track it? Where will you track it? And where will you keep those papers?

Pinterest has a zillion ideas for this, though you’ll need to sit down and consider your priorities.

In my Writing classroom, I wanted an efficient conference log, a behavior log, and a way to record progress towards standards for all my students. I also wanted to include some information about my students’ home life, for which I created a “Class Application” at the beginning of the year, and kept the information electronically.  

Your system will evolve as the year goes on, but it’s really helpful to have something in place from the beginning. That way when you’re in front of the kids and realize “Oh! I should remember that about them,” you can pull out a binder with a place to write it down all ready to go.   

6. Bonus: Shop school supply sales like mad

During the year, you’re going to have kids who either never brought a notebook and pencils, or who run out. You are also probably going to go through Expo markers like there’s no tomorrow. The summer before my first year teaching, my beautiful teacher of a mom showed me the ropes by buying BOXES of school supplies for less than $10 by shopping the penny sales.  If you have the sanity to look for the sales, or if you find yourself in an office store, BUY ALL THE CLEARANCE SCHOOL SUPPLIES!

Things New Teachers Should De-prioritize:

  1. Pinterest-Perfect Classroom Decor

I know you’ve been dreaming about your classroom décor forever. The problem is, that stuff takes a lot of time and energy, and in the end, it won’t have the effect on your kids’ learning as much as the above priorities will.  You’re anxious right now, so you’re going to be especially vulnerable to perfectionism. There are more constructive ways of channeling that perfectionism than on things that won’t help your kids learn.

Think of it this way – you’re not going home each day pulling your hair out about non-coordinated stool covers. Instead of worrying about trivial things, you can focus your energy on figuring out why Danika isn’t getting it or why Nick won’t stop blurting out during class.

Here’s the point: The kids are going to love you for yourself and your amazing lesson plans, not your polka-dot theme. Besides, wouldn’t it be awesome to have them help you design and decorate your classroom over the first couple weeks? And it’s a great way to get to know your students.

  1. Planning out ALL the units

As you get to know your kids and your colleagues during that first month, your ideas about what’s best are likely to change. I recommend focusing on getting your first month straight (probably mostly procedures/get-to-know-you and some introductory content). It’s okay to start out with a cursory understanding of the rest of the year and wait until you know your kids better before planning the rest.

  1. Anything else that distracts you from setting up a smooth-running, welcoming classroom or getting to know your students

I know it feels like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders right now.

But the reality is–if you’re reading this post right now, you are in GREAT shape.

It means you care and you’re proactive.  

It means you’re resourceful.

And it means you’re well on your way to an AMAZING first year!

I wish you the best of luck with preparing for your first teaching year. I hope you’ll stick around for more posts about classroom management and getting off to a great beginning!

Still feeling a little overwhelmed?

Download your FREE Summer To-Do List Guide here. You’ll receive a 7-day email course that will guide you through the steps to setting up a smooth, nobody-can–tell-you’re-a-first-year-teacher classroom management system that will pay dividends for the rest of the year with examples, explanations, and places to create… all in a simple-to-use guide.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Don’t waste your time on things that won’t matter this summer…  Download the guide today!

If you found this post helpful, you might find these helpful, too:

Classroom Management Toolbox here, which can help you brainstorm classroom management ideas.

New Teacher Resources Pinterest Board, where I pin resources I wish I had seen before starting teaching–including innovative lesson strategies as well as lists of tricks from seasoned teachers.

Classroom Management Pinterest board, where I’ve been curating some of the most clever management ideas I see on Pinterest.

 <–This book, ya’ll.  Seriously, check it out.

A List of What to Prepare for Parent-Teacher Conferences

What to Do for Writers Who Refuse to Write

Why Your Self-Care is More Important than Your To-Do List

And PLEASE, feel free to drop me a line. I would love to hear from you–whether about a question you might have or about if something was helpful to you.  It helps me churn out more resources to help teachers like you!

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2 thoughts on “The Summer To-Do List for First Year Teachers

  1. Hi. I’m a first-year teacher going into 4th grade, and I’m required to have all my lesson plans outlined and turned in for the entire year before the kids even arrive to school. They’ve given me a format for very vague, concept-oriented lesson plans.
    In this article, you say only to plan out the first couple months and not to worry about the whole year, but I’m kind of freaking out.
    Advice?

    1. Hi Rosalie,

      Wow! It’s no wonder you’re freaking out! That’s a tall order for any teacher, especially one that hasn’t been able to meet the student population yet (and is trying to set up their first classroom!). I do not teach elementary, but I asked a friend who does and has a district that requests lesson plans a week or so in advance throughout the year. Here are some tips:

      1. Ask whoever will be looking at the lesson plans what they want to see. Do they want them just to know your scope and sequence and standards for the year, just to make sure standards are being covered? Or is it to make sure you actually have detailed plans for every day (that would be crazy)? Knowing WHY they want them will help you stay focused on what details to focus on for these concept-oriented plans.
      2. Reach out to a teacher in the building or in the district that teaches the same subject as you and see if you can sit down go over the year with them. Chances are, they already have this ready to go, and since you need it vague and it’s going to change anyway, it may be that you can use much of their stuff (and learn about your curriculum in the process). You can find teachers by asking your administrator and/or instructional coach, as well as by looking for emails on the school site. Even if you can’t find anyone that will respond from your grade level at your school, usually you can from another grade level or at another school.
      3. Approach planning from a backwards planning mindset. Look at what guidance the curriculum gives (if any) over the standards and units, and break it up across months, then weeks, then days. I teach 6th grade Writing, so my months would look like units, like “Personal Narrative” or “Information Books.” Weeks would be something like, “How to add details.” Each day would be something like, “Lesson: adding sensory details.” and “Lesson: adding dialogue details.” Backwards planning will help you pace and come up with lesson ideas. Your days will and should change as you get to know your kids, but it will be helpful to get a rough idea on what skills you hope to cover and how long it might take.

      I hope that gives some ideas. Hang in there! That’s an intimidating request from the school–remember that you are certainly not the only one overwhelmed at the thought of it. Usually by talking to other teachers at the school you can figure out how people make admin requests manageable. I know I found myself overshooting the bar many times, and if I had just asked what other people were doing, I would have relaxed. No matter what, I’m sure you’ll do GREAT. Once school starts, you’ll be rolling.

      Let me know if you have follow-up questions!

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