This post contains 8 back-to-school teacher hacks that I’ve learned along the way.
As a new teacher, the learning curve is real, and on top of that, back-to-school time brings unique challenges.
Though you may feel prepared from everything you’ve learned in your teacher trainings, some things you just learn on the job.
Hopefully these back-to-school teacher hacks will help you set the tone for the rest of the school year!
Let’s dig into it!
1. Simplify Your Bulletin Boards
Are you feeling a bit of anxiety because of all those Pinterest-ready classrooms posted all over social media? Don’t be.
My motto: KISS. Keep It Super Simple!
Put butcher paper on your bulletin boards, add some border, and call it a day.
And you don’t even have to add border just yet. Wait and let your students do the work!
Take 3” x 5” index cards, distribute a couple to each child, and have each draw or write something related to the theme of the bulletin board. (stress to students neatness, creativity, and any other specifications you may have). Now use those index cards to create a border!
No, it won’t look perfect. But it will definitely be “kiddie” looking, and I’m sure students will enjoy helping to decorate the bulletin board.
Not feeling that idea? Then just add the simple border.
Throughout the year, post your kiddos’ work on the bulletin boards.
This is one of the back-to-school teacher hack that saves so much time and mental energy!
NOTE: Here’s a great back-to-school bulletin board idea! Post classroom helper job “advertisements”. If your students apply for classroom jobs, post “Help Wanted” ads for each job so that students can begin reviewing the duties of each helper position, thinking about which job to which they’d like to apply.
2. Teach Rules But Do Start Teaching
A big piece of advice that you’ve probably heard repeatedly from experienced educators is to teach rules and procedures repeatedly during the first week of school.
This is great advice!
But it is OK to actually begin teaching the first week, too.
Yes, you want to stress rules and procedures plus review them constantly. But that doesn’t mean you have to do so all day, everyday for the next week or two.
Take 30 minutes to an hour each day during the first week of school to focus on procedures and rules.
Or sprinkle those classroom management mini-lessons throughout the school day over a period of several days.
However you manage it, do gradually begin teaching. Don’t think that spending the entire first week only teaching rules is going to be the magic solution.
The teaching of rules and procedures is an ongoing process best done throughout the school year and as needed.
It’s also important to integrate as much as possible.
For example, on the way to and from Specials’ classes, practice lining up. Review expectations for an assembly right before one. Model appropriate lunch behavior during that time period. And the list goes on.
And remember. There are no hard and fast rules about how many days you should focus on explicitly introducing and/or reinforcing classroom rules with your students.
Use as much time as you need unless your school states otherwise.
Of all the back-to-school teacher hacks, I can’t stress this one enough.
You will, of course, have activities for building positive relationships and community but…
Do start teaching already (even if it’s a simple read aloud or a procedural lesson such as how Writer’s Workshop will function) and practice rules along the way! 😉
3. Prepare Low-Maintenance, First-Day-of-School Morning Work
During my first year of teaching, my mentor teacher shared a fabulous idea!
She suggested that I make a simple, yet grade-appropriate back-to-school morning work packet for students and place the packets on students’ desks before their arrival on the first day of school.
A pencil accompanied each packet (a really important detail!).
The purpose of these packets was to keep students busy at the very beginning of the school day on the first day of school. This allowed me time to freely greet arriving new students and parents without too many distractions from other students.
Students didn’t have to waste time digging into their backpacks (full of new school supplies and other stuff!) to search for paper and pencil. I had already provided them with what they needed.
They simply put their backpacks away, and a simple message on the whiteboard instructed them to get to work on the packet.
Done well, back-to-school teacher hacks such as this one works wonders!
On my first day as a beginning teacher, this strategy did not work well for me. 🙁
Because I made the morning work packet a little too difficult. Students constantly needed assistance, and consequently, I couldn’t give my full attention to new arriving students and parents.
In order for this hack to work well, create a back-to-school morning work packet that can be completed without teacher assistance. This is key. (And don’t forget those pencils!)
This packet is only done during morning work on the first day of school, so you don’t have to worry whether or not it’s too academic or “busy”. Your goal is to simply use it as a management tool to reduce the stress of that crazy first-day-of-school morning.
For packet content, I’ve used Hidden Picture puzzles (students really love these!), writing prompts, reading comprehension worksheets, and simple All About Me pages. There are lots of possibilities.
Implement this back-to-school teacher hack every year on the first day of school, and I’m sure your first-day morning will run much smoother.
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4. Schedule the Organization of School Supplies
Think about the previous back-to-school teacher hack.
In the morning on the first day of school, if every student immediately puts away his or her backpack (full of school supplies) and begins completing morning work, when does the teacher collect and/or help students organize school supplies?
Schedule the collection and organization of school supplies as an activity during the first day of school, preferably the second or third block of the day.
Create a system for who brought what in addition to which items still need purchasing.
As you collect and organize supplies with students, if not already done, have them label items with their name.
I have found organizing supplies with students an efficient method, and doing so helps to fill in the schedule on the first day of school.
5. Write Emergency Lesson Plans
I added this item to my list of back-to-school teacher hacks only a few years ago when I had a colleague who suddenly had to miss work for an entire unexpected week.
He had no emergency plans in place, and it was a bit chaotic for the substitute.
Look, it’s inevitable.
Unfortunately, at some point-in-time, many of us will experience an emergency that takes us away from the classroom for a day or even longer. So it’s best to be prepared.
Preferably by the end of the first week, write two days to a week’s worth of emergency lesson plans. The more the better.
Stash them away somewhere in your classroom, and let a teacher friend know their whereabouts just in case you need your colleague to relate that information to your substitute.
I highly recommend you write emergency plans even if your school doesn’t require them.
The work doesn’t have to relate directly to what students are currently learning.
At the beginning of the school year, your emergency plans may contain work that’s a review of concepts taught last school year. Update the lesson plans mid-year, and add or replace with work learned during the first half of the school year.
If you’ll teach the same grade and subject next year, reuse the same plans. Viola!
You’ll thank yourself for having decent emergency plans in the event something does occur. You’ll be able to step away and take care of your emergency without worrying about work.
Though all of these back-to-school teacher hacks add value and efficiency to our work lives in some way, take this one the most seriously.
6. Record School Events for the Entire Year in Your School Planner
This back-to-school teacher hack makes long-term planning so efficient.
If you’re fortunate enough to work in a well-organized school or district, hopefully your principal or the powers-that-be have published an accurate and up-to-date calendar of events for the entire school year.
In your planning calendar, pencil in every significant school event for the whole school year. This includes standardized testing and report card distribution dates.
Then when you’re planning your classroom events and activities (e.g. portfolio presentations, living museums, poetry slams, writing celebration parties, etc.), you can be sure that your unique class events don’t conflict with school-wide or district-wide events.
You’ll also be able easily figure out the best dates and times for administering classroom exams and quizzes.
7. Keep a Professional Development Record Sheet Handy
This list of back-to-school teacher hacks wouldn’t be complete without this headache-saving tip!
Does your school require a certain number of professional development (PD) hours within a defined period of time?
In my state, public school teachers must acquire 150 hours of PD hours every five years.
Five years seems like plenty of time to complete 150 hours, but as we all know, time flies and deadlines sneak upon us quickly.
Before you know it, the five-year mark is approaching, and you’re scrambling to remember every PD session you attended. Stressful!
Here’s a simple solution.
Keep up with those PD hours as they come.
Right after attending a professional development workshop, record the name of the workshop and the number of hours granted.
Keep this record sheet handy.
Check to see if your state has a ready-make template for download.
Below is a sample form from the state in which I live. It can be downloaded and completed online by teachers certified in the state.
Establishing a habit of recording professional development hours as they come will save you headaches in the long run.
8. Carry a Small Bottle of Poo~Pourri
I saved the best back-to-school teacher hack for last! (Ha! Ha!)
Let me give you a heads-up.
*Awkward topic approaching!* 🤭
This hack is not directly connected with teaching, BUT I hope you’ll understand and appreciate the intent behind it.
Staff bathrooms. Oh my!
I know educators who refuse to do anything more than “#1” in school bathrooms due to shame! (da-da-DUM!)
I get it; I’m the same way.
Whether you will or won’t, here’s some advice.
To minimize your personal shame (Ha!) and also the suffering of those using the bathroom after you, 😏 (Oh my gosh! I can’t believe I’m writing this right now.), carry a small bottle of Poo~Pourri.
If you don’t know about this product, you’ve got to check it out!
Not only will you feel less shame (Shucks, maybe you have no shame in your game at all. You go!), but those going to the bathroom after you will appreciate your efforts in keeping the bathroom a pleasant place!
What Do You Think About These Back-to-School Teacher Hacks?
As a first-year teacher, you’ve got a million things to think about.
These back-to-school teacher hacks will help you start the year off right, reduce anxiety, and/or make classroom life more efficient.
For more tips on starting the school year off right, take a look at these easy classroom organization ideas!
And for more tips and tricks, check out these clever instructional and classroom management teacher hacks!
Got any other back-to-school teacher hacks? Tell us about them in the comments below!
In the meantime,
Happy Teaching and Learning
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