July is almost gone and so it is officially time to start (or continue) thinking about going back to school. For a long time, the first day of school was one of my most dreaded days. It isn’t just the students who have the nightmares about forgetting their pants and their locker combos! I worried and stressed about making a perfect impression, coming up with the perfect activity and forgetting to cover all the procedures that would set us up for a perfect school year. I also felt some pressure from the administration over the years to enforce and reinforce school rules on the first day. Luckily, over the years the first day has gotten easier and I have learned what doesn’t work for me. I am sharing my list below and I’d love to hear what you will or will not be doing on the first day of school! Leave a comment in the comment section below. 😉
On the first day of school, I will not be:
1. reading my syllabus. I give a pretty detailed syllabus and I really want the students to appreciate all the hard work that I put into creating it; however, I have to realize 3 things about said syllabus.
- Reading this detailed document is boring and sometimes insulting to their intelligence. I do not want either sentiment to be my first impression.
- Referring to the syllabus continually over the semester is a much more practical and effective way to teach students about the value of a syllabus in a long-term way that will help them succeed in my class and beyond. I can also fall back here on the old adage about college professors expecting students to read and understand the syllabus on their own, but I do plan to discuss it at length through small conversations throughout the semester since they are not in college yet.
- The highlight reel is plenty for the first day of school. I can spend a maximum of 5 minutes enthusiastically going through the overview of the semester’s content and most engaging projects to whet their appetite without overwhelming them or causing them to tune out.
2. going through every rule. I used to think that if I didn’t outline the rules specifically, I would have no control and things would spiral out from there. As it turns out, students know the basic rules about being on time, being prepared for class, and being respectful. 5 minutes about the most important things followed by a general air of high expectations can go a long way. The other rules and procedures can be discussed over the coming weeks.
3. spending the whole period on non-subject related icebreakers. I enjoy the process of getting to know my students. I like to know their stories, their hobbies, and their motivations. These authentic relationships develop over time. There is also a pretty good chance that they are doing icebreakers in multiple classes, which can leave them feeling like it was a throw away day. Instead, I think it is a better plan to jump into a high interest, high participation lesson that is content specific and will leave students with a sense that their time was well-spent in meaningful curriculum.
4. talking a lot about myself. I want the students to know and respect me, and I LOVE to tell a humorous story when the moment is right, but I also don’t want to distract from the real reason we are gathered together, which is to discover the beauty of Fitzgerald, argumentation, MLA, and so much more. I’m ashamed to say that not talking about myself is one of the most difficult lessons I have learned over the years.
5. doing all the back to school set up. Yes, books must be passed out, seating charts must be made, other work must be done, but it does not all have to happen on the first day. I will not let the first day be overtaken with all that busy work! I will prioritize it and spread it out with real curriculum!
What will you be doing or not doing on the first day of school?
Every year in September, teachers at my school are required to submit emergency lesson plans, which are to be used in case we are absent and unable to complete regular sub plans. In 10 years, I have only used my emergency lesson plans once, but on that day, boy was I glad they were there! Whether emergency lesson plans are a school requirement or if you are just making them for your own piece of mind, today I want to share a couple of tips for making the most out of emergency lesson plans.
1. Keep it simple. Remember that this emergency plan can be used at anytime during the school year so it is usually best not tie it to a particular unit so you don’t have to update it during the year. I also think it is best to avoid a lesson that includes a lot of photocopying because you don’t want to waste paper if the lesson never gets used and it is not likely that an emergency sub will have time to copy on the morning of said emergency. Finally, remember that you will not be there to give lengthy explanations, so keep all directions clear for both sub and students. It is also helpful if you include a seating chart and roster for attendance/notes. Seating charts should be updated monthly, quarterly, or semesterly if they change.
2. Think about things you wish you had time for. With all of the standards and areas of focus in our classes, we run out of time for some of the fun stuff. This can be an opportunity to bring that in.
- Poetry: You can give students the characteristics of a sonnet, haiku, villanelle, or other type of poetry along with a couple of examples and then ask students to write their own poetry following the models.
- Articles from The New Yorker, Time, or other interesting source: You can make a class set, half set for partners, or have the sub read the article out loud to the class. Then leave a few thought provoking questions to be answered by students or groups.
- A fun grammar, vocabulary, or frequently made mistakes activity: Remember that cute idea or handout that you pinned on Pinterest, but you never have time for? Here’s the time!
- A short story, poem, or informational text in your textbook that you don’t have time for usually. Students can read the selection and answer the questions at the end individually or in pairs. This is as simple as possible with no copies needed!
3. Consider meaningful test prep. I teach mostly juniors so SAT and ACT test prep is ever present in our minds. For other grades and situations, you can substitute other kinds of appropriate test prep. I have tons of SAT/ACT multiple choice test practice booklets that show up in my school mail box every year and so I used to use those. Now, we are moving to a one to one iPad school so I can make use of the SAT prep site number2.com. I also leave an SAT/ACT essay prompt and give students half the period to brainstorm ideas and half the period to write.
4. Know your sub pool. Think about the people who are likely to sub for you in an emergency situation. If you work for a large school or district, you probably don’t know the subs as well as I do in my small school situation. You want the plans to be clear and easy to execute for any sub that opens your door. Be careful of overusing technology or content specific instructions if your subs are not equipped with the necessary skills, passwords, or jargon. In my case, one of my fellow teachers on his or her prep period will probably get roped into covering me. Because I know how stressful that can be, I leave a little thank you note and a $5 Starbucks card in my emergency sub plan folder as a sign of good will.
5. Post prominently. If your emergency sub plans are in the third drawer in the fourth file cabinet, they are not likely to be utilized in a sticky situation so post them where the sub/admin will see them. You may also have a buddy teacher who can point them out if the sub is having trouble finding them. I have mine behind my desk labeled in big, bold letters (see image above).
What questions, suggestions, or tips do you have for leaving emergency lesson plans? We’d love to hear from you!
Hey teachers! We hope that you are having an awesome back to school season! Here’s a fun little chart you can share with your teacher friends for a little back to school giggle. Don’t forget to check out the Secondary Solutions store for all of your teacher resource needs this year!
In 10 years, I’ve learned that long-term planning is the #1 way to manage the crazy stress and overwhelming to do list faced by teachers. I’m sharing my process for planning below. If you are reading this as a new teacher, I cannot stress enough the need to come up with some system for organizing your long-term goals and curriculum. If you are a fellow veteran, I’d love to hear your process. Either way, join the discussion in the comment section below!
Start with Goals and the Big Picture by Quarter, Trimester, or Semester: For each grading period include required literature, major projects, and other must do items. Tip: Add district and state assessments also! Here’s an example:
- Quarter 1:
- Summer Reading
- Short Story Unit (list specific stories here)
- Vocabulary: lessons 1-5
- Grammar: Verbs- transitive, intransitive, linking, basic sentence patterns (lessons 1-5)
- Writing: Intro to MLA and 5 paragraph essay + 1 process essay
- Quarter 2:
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- Vocabulary: lessons 6-10
- Grammar: Parts of Speech
- Writing: 2 process essays
- Video Project
- Quarter 3:
- The Odyssey
- Nonfiction Unit (list specific selections here)
- Vocabulary: lessons 11-15
- Grammar: Phrases and Clauses
- Writing: Research paper
- Quarter 4:
- Poetry Unit (list specific poems here)
- Vocabulary: lessons 16-20
- Grammar: Sentence types
- Writing: Infographic project
Move to a Broad Weekly View: This step is primarily meant to double check that you will have enough time to fit in everything from step one. For example:
- Quarter 1:
- Week 1: Summer Reading (with vocab lesson 1 and grammar lesson 1)
- Week 2: Intro to MLA and 5 paragraph essay: Writing Architect (with vocab lesson 2 and grammar lesson 2)
- Week 3: Elements of Short Story + “Short Story 1″ (with vocab lesson 3 and grammar lesson 3)
- Week 4-5: Freytag’s Pyramid + “Short Story 2 and 3″ (with vocab lesson 4 and grammar lesson 4)
- Week 6-7: Conflict and Characterization + “Short Story 4 and 5″ (with vocab lesson 5 and grammar lesson 5)
- Week 8-9: “Final Short Story” + Essay (incorporate vocab and grammar from the quarter)
Pencil in a Monthly Calendar: You can buy one or print it out/save it from this website. I love technology, but for some reason, it makes it feel some much less overwhelming to literally use a pencil on the printed calendar. You can just as easily type into the calendar template.
Work with Lesson Plans on a Weekly Basis: I have a couple of co-workers who stick to the long-term plan exactly as written, but I usually need to reassess weekly based on formative assessment and flukes in school schedules. When I have done the long-term planning outlined above, my weekly lesson plans only take a fraction of the time. I also feel like I’m going to meet my benchmarks without forgetting any of the many strands of my class!
Are you drowning in weekly lesson plans? You are not alone! Do you have ideas for managing long-term and short term plans? We’d love to hear from everyone in the comment section below!
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