Category Archives: Beginning of Year

I survived my first week. Can I take the weekend off?

teacher relaxing on weekend

You made it!  Friday afternoon brings  a great feeling–even when you love what you do! There’s the hope that with the weekend ahead, you can go back to doing the normal things you did before the school year started–shopping, cleaning, reading, watching TV, hanging out with friends, sleeping in.  And, yes, you can do some of those things.  But, no…you can’t really take the weekend off.

This was one of the biggest surprises I experienced as a new teacher.  I lived at home with my parents for the first year and a half of teaching before I got married.  I remember my mother asking me, “Does every teacher sit at the kitchen table working on school work until bedtime each night?”

“I don’t know.  I guess so,” I answered.  I really didn’t know what else to do.  Thank goodness I wasn’t responsible for taking care of a household.  I don’t think I could have done it.  Not that others have not done so.  Many new teachers move to a new community and live on their own.  But I, as a new teacher, did not have the fortitude to keep my head above water…mostly because I had not been properly instructed on how to manage my first year.

You, on the other hand, have an advantage!  You have blogs and internet helps unavailable to me in the 1980’s.  So here I am to tell you this:  You MUST use part of your weekend to stay afloat with the demands of teaching. 

Personally, I choose not to do any work on Friday nights.  I’m simply too tired.  Saturday has its own set of obligations.  There is laundry to be done, rooms to be cleaned, grocery shopping to do, and household tasks awaiting me that simply have to be dealt with unless I want to live in squalor!

What you need to do—and what I have done—is to choose a block of time that you know will be devoted to  working on the following next week’s school responsibilities.  You will need to do lesson plans for the next week, grade papers, and perhaps develop assignments.  Carve out a block of time, and then hold yourself to it.  If you think that 3:00 til 6:00 on a Sunday afternoon is adequate, then for that period of time work only on school things.  Sadly, three hours may not cut the mustard.

There are some educators who refuse to work outside of the contracted school hours, but I have never been able to operate on that principle.  For the most part, I begin working between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon and continue working until bedtime. No, I am not OCD.  I’m just trying to stay employed. :)

Whatever the case, do not work past your normal bedtime.  I deliberately end my work an hour before bedtime.  I have to have some time to relax and to get lunch and clothes ready for the next day.

Whatever you decide to do, DO NOT LET SCHOOL WORK CONSUME YOUR WHOLE WEEKEND.  As important as blocking out time to do school work is, the time you block out for rest, family, and household tasks is equally important.  Trust me on this…

And while you’re at it, I would make sure that you are eating properly, getting exercise, and getting enough sleep.  If you don’t, you are going to catch every bug that comes along. Remember, you’re in a new germ pool this year!

Above all, remember that this first year is the hardest.  It won’t always be this difficult and the hard work you put in this year will pay big dividends the next year!


Reflecting on the First Week

School and office accessories on wooden background

I just finished my first full school week--for  teachers, not students.  My students started on Wednesday.  Just between you, me, and the gatepost, this is how I’ve been feeling:

  • Exhausted–Every year I have to reset my sleep cycle.  You will probably feel the same need.  Cut yourself some slack.  You may need to nap after school.  You may need to go to bed an hour earlier.  Your body will adjust in 1-1 /2 weeks.
  • Excited–I love all the new faces and new relationships.
  • Overwhelmed–there are so many forms to fill out; IEP’s to read; names to learn; grade books to fill out, lesson plans to write, e-mails to respond to
  • Forgetful–did I turn that form in?; did I answer that parent request?
  • Disorganized–I started out with everything clipped together and labeled with a sticky note; somehow in the “throw everything in the book bag after school and get home”, I messed up my organizational system :)
  • Hungry–teaching makes me hungry, but my supper plans fell apart this week!
  • Achy–my feet are really hurting; I went to school this week with a piece of CARDBOARD in my shoe (they were new) and I told my student teacher, “These are the most UNCOMFORTABLE shoes I have ever worn!” :)  I found the cardboard when I slipped the shoes off for the evening.  I had a great laugh…and it makes a great story!

You are probably feeling these things and more!  If you’re already thinking, wow!–how can I keep up with this…take heart.  Many of these first week feelings are temporary.  You will adjust to a new sleep/wake cycle in the next week or two.  The first of the year “getting everything ready to go”work will run its course.  You will fall into a pattern.  You will establish routines for getting your work done.  Keep in mind that some of the tasks you must do at the beginning of the year are one time only:

  1. Setting up the classroom
  2. Putting student names in the grade book.
  3. Establishing classroom routines like lunch count, bath room break, traveling to and from music and P.E., etc.
  4. Reading all the IEP’s and 504’s for the first time.
  5. Learning all the new names
  6. Adjusting your seating chart so that all is well
  7. Filling out beginning of school year forms

After my first week of school in 1982, I felt tired, but really excited.  I think that is when I let down my guard.  Are you thinking that now is a good time to forget about school for a couple of days and hit the mall?  Think again.  You’ll need to read my next post, I SURVIVED MY FIRST WEEK.  CAN I TAKE THE WEEKEND OFF?

And as a side note…I was informed Friday afternoon that I’m getting a new student on Monday.  There aren’t enough desks in the classroom…sigh.

If you saw the picture of my classroom on August 10th–not ready to go–here’s a couple of photos of the end product.  Keep in mind that I’m not fancy, and I teach high school biology.  Also keep in mind that I don’t have to change decorations every six weeks…one of the perks of teaching high school.  But my room will look like this all year.  It will be neat and tidy EVERY DAY (at least at 3:30 p.m.).  It is clean and functional, pleasant, and colorful.  If you have already decided that yours isn’t as “cute” as the next teacher’s room…press on.  What happens IN the classroom is more important!





















How to Create a Substitute Binder

Substitute Today #2Creating a substitute binder doesn’t rank at the top of my fun “teacher things” to do, but the benefits of a well laid out sub binder are priceless.  If you’ve ever been a substitute teacher before, (I have many times), it is easier to foresee what information a substitute needs to have. Try to imagine yourself walking into a school that you have never been in before and facing a classroom of students you have never met.  Sound exciting?  Yes, in some ways it is.  In other ways, it is rather frightening.  If you want a sub to do well in your classroom, and you want  him/her to return, you need to plan for their needs to be met in your absence.

Steps to Setting Up a Substitute Binder:

1.  Purchase a binder with a plastic sleeve on the front cover.Insert a page into the plastic sleeve that you have created on the computer that says something like this:  “Mrs. Barnes’s Sub Binder”   Feel free to decorate it any way you please with clip art, stickers, etc.  There are also online substitute packets you can purchase at Teacher’s Pay Teachers, but they are not absolutely necessary to get started.  

2.  Include the following pages in the order that you deem of greatest to least importance.

a.  Class schedule with times for each subject.  It is important that the substitute have a bell schedule.  I once subbed for a teacher who did not leave a record of the bell schedule, and I had to depend on the students for information.  (not always a reliable source)

b.  If you teach elementary school, be sure to include the times for special classes such as PE, music, band, and art.  Indicate whether you must lead the students to another classroom (and where it is located), whether the students go there on their own,  or whether the teacher will come to escort your class.   Also indicate if they need to take something with them such as gym shoes, a music notebook, etc.

c.  Class lists and seating charts.  If you have a computerized attendance program and it is possible to print out a seating chart with student photos, do so.  This can prevent students from trying to claim they are someone else.

d.  Emergency medical information–You do not need to indicate every medical situation, but if you have a child who is diabetic, one who has seizures, or  a student with any condition which may need attention in your absence, indicate that in your seating chart or attached notes.  Give directions for how to contact the nurse or to get help in an emergency.

e.  List the names of several students in the class who can give reliable information to a substitute.  Choose carefully.  It may take you a few weeks to discern this.  Add their names as soon as you are able.

f.  Be sure to include if you have recess duty, bus duty, hall duty, etc. and when and where these duties take place.  Tell the substitute exactly what their responsibilities are.

g.  Let the substitute know what your rules are about restroom and drinking fountain use. Does the student need a pass?  Where are the passes?  Do you allow students to go to their lockers if needed?

h.  Will the substitute need to take a lunch count, milk count, or collect any other kinds of notes or forms? Leave forms in your binder if you can.

i.  Include school emergency drill schedules:  Fire, tornado, evacuation, etc.  You should receive a list of dates and times for all drills at the beginning of the school year.  Make copies.

j.  In case of an intruder, what are the lock down procedures for your school?  It is imperative that you include this information.

k.  If you have video equipment or a Smartboard, do you have specific instructions for operating the equipment, or do you have a colleague who can help with this?  Name that person.

l.  The location of key materials such as your plan book and teacher manuals.

m. The location of the cafeteria, vending machines, and the nearest restroom.

n.  Some teachers like to have a form for the substitute to fill out.  You can create one of your own, or model yours after mine.  Find mine here.  You can use mine as a guide and tailor one to your specific needs.  There are lots of these forms that you can find on the internet.

l.  Be sure to indicate what needs to be done at the end of the day.  This should include who rides the bus (elementary), what materials students need to take home, and directions for closing up the classroom for the day.

2.  You may wish to include tabs in your sub binder which will make it easier for the substitute to quickly locate important information.

This sounds like a lot of work.  And it really is…  But, last year I ended up having a tooth pulled under anesthesia in AUGUST, then I had a death in the family early in SEPTEMBER, and on and on it went.  I needed my folder ready early!  Once you have it finished, it’s finished for the year unless your classes change second semester.

If you want your class to be one that substitute teachers look forward to, be sure to have your ducks in a row!  Take time to begin this now.  You should be able to finish it in a few days working on a few pages at a time! Enjoy!