Category Archives: Beginning of Year

Everybody seems to have a handle on this except ME!

And school hasn’t even started yet, has it? I had those feelings, too, as a young teacher.

When I search the internet looking for ideas, it seems that all I find are neatly labeled bins, brightly decorated bulletin boards, rooms decorated by theme,  and teachers who have their plans finished through October and are writing a blog to boot!  They are selling their beautifully designed materials on the internet, managing a family, mentoring a student teacher, and on and on. It is very overwhelming.  I was just looking at teacher websites this week and I started to remember that first year of panic…and I’ve been teaching for over thirty years!

Do not be disheartened by the flurry of activity that you see around you.  You are seeing the BEST of the BEST on the internet. You are looking at the work of veteran teachers.   Would you like to see what my classroom looks like right now…on August 10?  Here it is:

I'm not ready yet either...but I will be!
I’m not ready yet either…but I will be!

I find it rather upsetting, too.  But I know I will do what I did last year.  I will plan out my week, set my own deadlines, and have my room in tip-top shape before school begins.  It will be neat and clean, but not flashy.  It will have organized bins, but no fancy labels.  My teacher’s desk will be tidy…initially.  Then reality will set in.

I will clean my classroom every afternoon after the last bell.  But there will be experiments that are messy.  There will be students who are careless about the mud on their shoes.  I will find chewing gum on the bottom of desks.  It’s kind of like your home.  And believe me, my house doesn’t look like a magazine photo.  But I will do THE BEST I CAN WITH THE MATERIALS I HAVE TO WORK WITH.

Remember, students won’t remember everything you say, but they will remember how you made them FEEL.  Think back to your childhood and high school years.  Can you visualize the decorations in all your classrooms?  I consider myself to have a pretty good visual memory, but for the most part I remember messy classrooms, or those devoid of any decorations whatsoever.  I simply can’t remember rooms that looked like the beautifully decorated ones that you now frequently find on the internet.  But, oh, the memories!  I remember the laughter, the fun lessons, the interesting conversations,  and the occasional outlandish incident.  BUT I DON’T REMEMBER ROOM DECOR.

I am not saying room decorations are not important.  I am saying DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO VETERAN TEACHERS who have had years to compile bulletin board materials and make purchases!  Unfortunately, in the teaching field, there are many of us who compare ourselves to others.  Even I find myself judging whether I’m as good as the teacher next door.  It’s really rather common. But do not let it paralyze you and prevent you from moving forward.  Instead, get focused and get started!

I’m here to tell you it’s OK to be concerned, but it’s also OK not to be perfect.  If you are already feeling overwhelmed and the first day has not yet arrived, turn your attention to these things:

  1. Clean your classroom.
  2. Plan your room layout.
  3. Decorate to the best of your ability and then LET IT GO.
  4. Make a great plan for the first day of school.
  5. Make lesson plans for the first two weeks.
  6. Make a list of things you would like to do in your “spare time” (another story).
  7. If you teach early elementary and will be recognizing birthdays, find out who has a birthday this month.  How do you plan to acknowledge it?  Make a decision and go with it.

There!  You’ll be all set for the first institute days and you will be well on your way to a successful first year!



What’s the Big Deal about Seating Charts?


School design over white background, vector illustration.

Seating charts are a HUGE deal in the classroom.  They not only help control student behavior but also provide structure that is essential to the first days of school.

When I was a new teacher, students were always begging me to switch the seating chart. They were just dying to sit by their friends, or to move to the back, or to sit by the window, or to “see the board better” (of course they could only see the board in the seat next to their best friend).

In fact, I even let 28 sixth graders pick their own seats at the beginning of my first year teaching.  Partly this was due to the fact that the desks were all different sizes, and they needed to find the “perfect fit”. Partly it was due to my own ignorance! What a ticket to chaos!

Changing seats at the whims of students became a real chore. One reason I caved in was because I wanted students to have some choice in the classroom.  Another reason I allowed it was because I liked the change of scenery, too.  Nevertheless, it was a Pandora’s box that I wish I had never opened.

In high school, I do allow students to choose their seats the first day.  Some teachers, on the other hand, elect to seat students alphabetically, or randomly assign seats so that their seating chart is settled from the start.  I allow HIGH SCHOOL students to choose their own seats because it provides me with the following data (that’s the science teacher in me):

  • Who goes to the back corner?  Hmmm…I  make note of this!
  • Who chooses a seat in the front, middle?  Interesting!
  • What groups of girls/boys gravitate to one another?
  • Who seems to be left out of the group and seeks no particular area to sit?
  • Who is very vocal about their choice of seat?
  • Who is very compliant even though they get what is deemed the worst seat in the room?

The old saying, “You can observe a lot by watching,” really comes into play here.  I can start drawing conclusions very early in the year by watching the behaviors of students who choose their own seats.

I do record the first seating chart in pencil and then watch things play out for a couple of days.  It doesn’t take long for me to separate the ne’er-do-wells from one another and bring the shortest students closer to the front.  Students having difficulty hearing or seeing become obvious fairly quickly, and they are moved also.

Interestingly, I find it easier to make observations of behaviors first and then change the seating chart.  To be fair, I do tell students the first day that the seat they choose may or may not be permanent. Then I pose this question: “What seat would you choose if this were a rock concert and I were the performer?!”  Of course that is met with a chorus of groans. :)  If they want their money’s worth, they will probably want the front seats, right?

Once I find a workable seating arrangement–and believe me, it takes tweaking–we stay that way until necessity dictates otherwise.  No musical chairs for me!  It’s too time consuming and disruptive.

If you teach elementary or junior high, I do recommend a seating chart of your own making, but of course, things have to change as needs arise.  If you want to be the “nice guy”, go ahead and let everyone choose where they sit.  But be ready for the fall out…

Be sensitive to the fact that younger students particularly like seeing “their desk” on the first day of school.  It is comforting and reassuring that they have their own private space with their name on it where they can put their things.  I remember my first day of kindergarten in 1964 asking, “Where’s my desk?” only to find that they only had tables. Bummer!

Seating charts also serve several other purposes:

1.  Substitutes will need one for attendance.

2.  If mom or dad comes in after school for their child’s make-up work, can you locate the      seat quickly?  I once changed the seating chart the day of parent-teacher (evening) conferences.  A mother wanted to get a book out of her daughter’s desk, and we could not locate the desk! The desks had no name tags (6th grade), and in my haste, I had not made a copy of the seating chart.  We looked in EVERY. SINGLE. DESK.  I was very embarrassed.

3.  If you have other teachers come to your class for art or music, or a guest comes in to make a presentation to your class, it is very helpful that you either have a seating chart handy or visible name tags on the front of their desks (lower elementary).  

But the BIGGEST reason for a seating chart–classroom management/structure.  Do not underestimate the importance of this valuable tool–especially at the beginning of the school year!

The First Five Minutes–Order or Anarchy?

classroom discipline

Believe it or not, the first five minutes of class set the tone for the entire rest of the day/class period.  I can walk into a new teacher’s classroom and predict by what I see happening  in the first five minutes how the rest of the class period will unfold.  In order for you to be successful, you must set the tone early and consistently every day of the school year.  

Students must find your classroom to be characterized by the following elements:

  1. Safe
  2. Tidy
  3. Predictable (this doesn’t mean you can’t plan for surprises)
  4. Fair
  5. Fun

Put yourself in a student’s shoes.  If you were invited over to a friend’s house to attend a Tupperware party, how would you feel if–

1. … a large dog sat in a corner waiting to jump on you at your slightest move? (UNSAFE)

2.  …the house looked like a pigsty and you could not possibly pay attention to the demonstration because your eyes were constantly pulled to the underwear sticking out of the sofa cushions and the open box of uneaten pizza behind the recliner?  (UNTIDY)

3.  …you had been to this house before and strange things happened on each occasion?   At one party you got no dessert, at another there was no place for you to sit, and the last time, there was a bug in your coffee!  (UNPREDICTABLE)

4.  …the last time you attended the party, you were overcharged for the merchandise you ordered, and you found out that other attendees were given large discounts–but you didn’t get one?  (UNFAIR)

5.  …you found that the only seat left was in the kitchen where you could see nothing, hear very little of the presentation, and you had to sit with the hostess’s husband who tried to engage you in conversation about how he was facing knee surgery? (NO FUN)

Would you EVER want to go back to this person’s house for a Tupperware party?  How do you want your students to feel when they come into your classroom day after day?

Ask yourself this question?  How can I make my classroom safe, tidy, predictable, fair, and fun?  Then MAKE IT HAPPEN.  Here’s how it works:

Safe–Everybody must be convinced that they will be protected in your classroom.  You absolutely must defend all students, from weakest to strongest, from both ridicule and physical harm.

Tidy–You must straighten up your room each night after school and train students to pick up after themselves.

Predictable-You must devise an orderly set of classroom routines that will operate flawlessly (for the most part) from day to day.

Fair–You must maintain consistency in grading and meting out consequences on a daily basis and not let your emotions rule when you are tired, upset, or stressed out.

Fun–You have a product to sell–education!  You must do the best you can to create interesting and motivating lessons with the hope that all students will want your product!

If it is truly your desire to conduct your classroom in this fashion, your first minutes of the school day/class will be productive and enjoyable.  This takes practice, but is achievable by all teachers when your heart is set on being the best teacher you can be!