With the Beginning in Mind . . .

   Welcome to the first real post in my Teaching Blog. In my 19 years in the classroom, I’ve picked up some ideas (and have invented, out of necessity, even more) on how to be as successful as I can, which is defined in numerous ways. At this time of the calendar, which is the end of a traditional school year, I thought it appropriate to share some ideas on how to pack up the classroom and still be able to find items two and half months from now.

   My experience is all at the high school level, but I’m sure other grades will be able to glean a little something of what I have to offer. Because I teach Special Ed., we have a list of students at my school that we monitor. This means I keep tabs on the students by checking their grades online every couple of weeks, and if there seems to be an issue in a class with missing work or excessive absences, I take time during the day to seek out the student and have a chat with them in the hallway. Sometimes the conversation is me explaining to a freshman the importance of credits at the high school level that move them towards graduation, or other times I hear stories ranging from illness to homeless. Depending on the explanation for the reason for my visit, I’ll know whether I can put away the fire extinguisher, or call in the ladder truck (depending on the severity of the ‘fire’ or crisis). I add these notes to their file, and include any conversation we’ve had regarding classes that they request or career interests. This makes it easier to check in with the student at the beginning of the next school year, as well as follow up with the counseling office on schedules changes that need to be made.

   Throughout the school year (I teach Senior English and Algebra), I’ve made notes in my lesson plans on what works or what needs to be changed. Drastic ideas, like dropping a novel or making sure to add an extra week for linear equations, need to be recorded somewhere that I can easily put my hands on them at the beginning of the new school year. To make it simple, I keep a running list at the front of my lesson book. The book then is placed on the top of the pile of stuff I lock inside my desk drawer. So, the first thing I see when I open my desk the following school year, is the plan book from the previous year.

   At faculty meetings, and via email, important information is disseminated. Sometimes it pertains to whatever new online grading or email system the district has adopted, or a list of clubs and their sponsors, or which administrator handles which issues. These I post on the wall next to my desk during the school year, and place them inside a file folder that goes, you guessed it, on top of the items locked inside my desk drawer. A few of the papers might be obsolete, but oftentimes, I use them as a refresher for how to post grades or check the attendance of a student.

   As a way to help organize the materials that I consistently use, I’ve dedicated one file cabinet drawer and one shelf on a bookcase for each subject. That way, I’m not searching at school, or at home, for that elusive ‘book of ideas’. Every successful teacher has to be organized (and flexible, and caring, and mature), and sometimes it is the difference between a file folder marked “math quizzes” and one marked “real numbers practice activities” that allow lesson planning to go smoothly, or not, with rewriting or recreating materials. It will require a few more file folders, but the time it saves in searching through an entire drawer, or cabinet, is worth the extra effort to label the file as succinctly as possible.

   Those of us who teach, run our lives on two calendars: Gregorian and school. If your district posts the following year’s calendar online, in an email, or a hard copy in your box, take a few minutes to fill in the holidays, testing days, professional development days, Winter Break, Spring Break, finals, and parent-teacher conferences on the calendar you use to plan your personal life. As invitations to weddings and family reunions arrive, you’ll have an easy way to check your availability. It also allows you to plan family vacations, or an extra day away for an anniversary, without canceling because you didn’t know that you would need to be at school to proctor state tests on that date.

   If you usually do the same ‘first day’ activities, such as a “Let’s Get Acquainted” sheet or an ice breaker for your class, it will save you time to make the copies or fold the name tents now, rather than when you come back from summer vacation. It may even keep a few of you from returning to your rooms a week before you are required to, in order to take care of those first day or first week activities.

   This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. However, I hope you were able to pick up something that you didn’t think about before. If you’d like to see what I do when I’m not in the classroom, I invite you to visit my web site www.myjoyenterprises.com