Wednesday was my first day back in my classroom for the 2015-16 school year. I’m not being paid to be here, but I’m here because I’m redoing a lot of my classroom, and want to put it back together before we are required to be here next week. I like doing this for lots of reasons, but mostly because I can work at my own pace, turn up some music, and get to cleaning.
For those of you who aren’t teachers, lemme catch you up. At the end of each school year, most teachers get anywhere from two to five days, called “post-planning.” In that time, we have to pack up and put away everything. And by everything I mean anything that was out of a cabinet, decorating a table or wall, storage tubs and bins, empty or cover all the book shelves, desks, computers, everything. Then we move it out into the hallway so the floors can be cleaned.
Think about the packing you did the last time you moved. We pack like that at the end of the year, and unpack like that at the beginning of each new year, during pre-planning. This year we have three days of pre-planning. Three days to deep clean a room, unpack, prep lessons and materials, and get ready for open house and the first day of school.
Not at all. It is stressful for a lot of reasons. The physical stress of the work is one thing, but then add the two months of dirt and dust on top of everything, the not knowing what your teaching assignment will be, the pressure to get it done before open house, and the normal startup jitters.
Yes, experienced teachers do get the start up jitters just like the newbies do.
Teaching is like starting a new job once a year, and job changes are listed as one of the top five most stressful life events. It IS that big of a deal. And after fifteen years or so of this, I have some suggestions for new teachers, and veterans alike.
1. Purge, purge, purge, then purge again. Teachers as a species are pickers and borderline hoarders– we collect and hang onto things because we might be able to use it in our classrooms, and we are used to living and working on an ever-shrinking budget. I am not exaggerating here. I just threw away worksheets and lesson plans from my student teaching. From 1996.
I finally threw out curriculum guides from the curriculum we used three new curricula ago. I even tossed out its followers from the last few changes. Now, I have empty binders, which I will not purge, because there is always that one kid who needs help getting supplies. Or because I’m saving other stuff.
2. Pack up with the unpack in mind. Thank you Pinterest for this one. At the end of last school year, I kept in one drawer the following things: Two board markers, a board eraser, a few pens and pencils, my Sharpie collection, stapler, highlighters, tape dispenser, hole punch, and the cords and accessories I’d need to reassemble my computer work station. I also kept a package of cleaning wipes in there. This has made my return so much easier this summer; I’m not digging through random boxes trying to find that one cord, or the pink jump drive, and I can get to work much quicker.
In addition, I made sure I packed all my materials for each subject together. All my ninth grade materials were in two crates. American Lit stuff was in one crate. The cool thing about milk crates (the ones I was able to get from our school’s cafeteria) is that they are much more durable than the ones you get at Wal-Mart or Target. They also may be heavy when full, but they aren’t so heavy that I can’t move them.
3. Find a happy place. Teaching often feels like you’re locked in a room with
crazy people strangers, breathing the same air over and over, and you know that the air is probably what will finally actually set off the zombie apocalypse. Sometimes you need to escape and breath somewhere else. You MUST find that place. My last two classrooms have been ideally placed by an exit door, which means I could get away from the locked-in feeling and go outside for some (sort of) fresh air. You have to make time during the day to take a deep breath, hold it for seven seconds, and slowly let it out. My happy place is just outside that exit door. I can’t close it, or I’d have to hike around the building to the front entrance, but I can stand there for a minute or so, breathe, pull myself back together, and get back to my job.
4. Let it go. I have kids, so I can sing the entire Frozen soundtrack, but I’m telling you, if it’s eating at you, Let. It. Go. Try to let go of feeling responsible for things over which you have no control. It’s above your paygrade, not on your evaluation, and NOT YOUR PROBLEM. You can only do so much, so do what you can, and come in with a positive attitude the next day. And even if it is your responsibility and on your evaluation, all you can do is the best you can do. Period. Sometimes we have moments of awesome, but most of the time, good is just that: good.
5. And on the flip side, get involved. If teachers don’t start speaking out about work conditions, incessant crazy levels of testing, and professional disrespect, we will continue to be scapegoated for societies problems and we will lose. We will lose what little control we have left in our classrooms, and will continue to be held under the thumb of corporations who are getting big bucks on the backs of our children. (Can you tell I’m upset about this? Good, because this is an issue I’m actually working on, instead of just complaining about it.)
6. Redecorate. Sometimes you need a fresh perspective. I learned this at the end of last school year. I needed to get rid of some of the old posters and signs in my room, and make it less sterile and businesslike, and more comfortable and welcoming. I did not get a grant, or an invisible donor of lots of money. But for less than $100, I am now lighting my classroom solely with lamps, I have exercise balls for chairs at my computer stations, and some comfy pillows kids can use to relax on the floor to study or read. I even got several really awesome old frames to put on my walls around memes and posters I want to post. Once I’m done, I’ll post some pictures of what I’ve done, and the approximate costs of them. Like Cheryl Crow said, “Some change’ll do you good.”
7. Get organized. I am the original absent-minded professor archetype: forgetful, scatterbrained, and often way over-committed. This year, in addition to my class schedule, I am in charge of our school’s new teacher induction program, our Advanced Placement program, my student organization Nerd Corps, a Daisy Girl Scout troop, my family, church commitments, and my personal goals. This year, rather than try to keep it all in my head (which I always tried to do, and always failed at), I am going back about fifty years, and I have a binder. It is a happy light sky blue color, and it has everything in it. I have monthly and weekly calendars, my lesson plans, and sections for every area in my life. I have a zipper pocket up front that has post-it notes, and pens. I have note paper for meetings and a master to-do list. I’ve been using it for a month, and I LOVE IT. I purposely carry a purse large enough for it, and it fits in my backpack. It goes everywhere with me.
No matter how you do it–digitally or old fashioned paper, find a way to manage your life, all in one place, so you can actually run your life, and not the other way around.
Here’s why. Last year, due to circumstances mostly out of my control, I was forced to stop and take more time to take care of myself. In that process, I have learned that I can do a lot more than I was to take care of myself, including how I manage both my personal and my professional lives. My pretty blue binder is my big step in that direction. There are several places on Pinterest with suggestions for organization and contents; that’s where I got my ideas from.
If you’re a teacher, what do you suggest for making the beginning of the year easier?
I look forward to hearing your ideas!