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Try This! Begin Now for a Better Back to School

With a little forward thinking, you won’t need a crystal ball to predict how ready you’ll be come next fall.

 Found in: Advice & Support


Organization and preparation are the hallmarks of a good educator, right?  Sure, but let’s be honest. With so many papers to grade and the end of the school year in sight, it’s all too easy to follow Mark Twain’s advice—never put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.

 Don’t be tempted. Just a little planning now can make your transition back to school a whole lot smoother.

Get Your Students In the Game

Ask for student feedback on lessons so you can fine tune them for next year, advises Kate Ortiz, a retired educator from Iowa with more than 30 years of classroom experience teaching elementary and middle school students in both general and special education.

“Rather than an end-of-the year survey, I tried to get feedback after each unit,” she says. “Students tend to be more clear and forthright if they provide their opinions without too much time passing.”

But if you didn’t ask for feedback after each lesson, you can still conduct an end-of-year survey for refining lessons. Ask students to list their favorite and least favorite lessons, and to explain what they liked or disliked about each of them. Ask them what they think worked in the class and what they feel needs improvement. And remind them to answer honestly and responsibly so you can take their evaluations seriously.

Ortiz also asked students to write recommendations for the class of students who would fill their desks the following year. “They’d write about what they thought those students needed to know to be successful and get along in my class,” Ortiz says.

She not only passed out the recommendations to the incoming students, she also hung excerpts, like “be respectful and you won’t get in trouble” on a beginning of the year bulletin board.

“Much of their advice was what I would have said, but it carried more weight coming from their peers,” Ortiz says.

Organize Your Files

“File notes about students and notes to parents in a folder marked with that school year,” Ortiz says. Then go through your existing files and remove any that are older than five years.

Ortiz also pulled out her lesson plan files and gathered up hastily scribbled sticky notes she stuck to them during the year with her ideas for improvement. Then she’d revise and reprint the lessons, and file them away again so they’d be ready and waiting for the next school year.

Lisa Kanute, a high school English teacher from Tucson, Arizona, organizes her files electronically.

“I keep a Word Document titled ‘Changes for Next Year’ on the flash drive I always have with me,” she says. “I make simple notes on things that didn’t work out as well and, more importantly, new ideas—which usually come to me a week after the unit is over.  When I’m gearing up for the next unit or spending time revising things over the summer, all of this information is ready for me in one place.”

Set Up Students to Succeed

Patty McConnell, a guidance counselor for Hillsborough County schools in Tampa, Florida,  notes what students will be repeating a grade, and keeps up with them over the summer, encouraging them to use the Virtual School software during the break to meet promotion requirements.

“I also note who had large numbers of discipline referrals, so I can select compatible teachers and maybe a mentor to head off issues,” she says. 

End With a Clean Slate

Avoid starting the new school year with fines or frowns from fellow educators. Return all library books and any supplies you borrowed from your colleagues. You can also enlist the help of your students with this task—ask them for help combing the classroom for misplaced items. But don’t start packing up the class before the last day of school. Empty bulletin boards and shelves piled high with boxes will signal to your students that you’ve already checked out, and they will follow suit.


Illustrations: Oleksiy Mark, Iconspro, Vieloryb, Julia Petukhova

More End-of-Year Tips from Our Facebook Fans

Organize Your Documents

I have a folder on my school laptop that has all my end of the year checkout documents (furniture inventory, books, other classroom particulars, and summer contact information). In addition, I have a notebook that contains all the class work, assignments, worksheets, and assessments, so that in the fall, I just have to find the ones I need to get started.
Jeff Walker

When I pack up my classroom, I put everything I need for the beginning of the year in a plastic tote. That way everything is in one place.
—Rebecca Jasman

Purge and Recycle

I’m a reformed “keep class sets of everything” teacher. At the end of the year, I’ll be sifting through files and containers for materials that I haven’t used in the past year. I plan to take the class sets and make “Recycling Ideas” packets for the teachers in my other departments and colleagues at other schools. I use green folders and stickies to organize the activities by unit and include a personal note to let them know how much I appreciate the many wonderful ideas I’ve taken from them over the year. Of course, I also keep one copy for myself, just in case!
—Val Smith

Make Copies Early

I send my fall copies in ahead of time so I have them ready to go the first week of school. I also keep a box of “first week” needed Items handy. Then when I find something I need for the first week or so, I put it in the box and I don’t have to dig for it.
—Gretchen Heil

Pack Well

I close out my room well. I am tired and just want to shove things in places and get the heck out, but when I do a good job of packing up, it makes coming back to school much better.
—Erin Cramer

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