Congratulations! The interviews are over, the stress of wondering if you’ll find a position is caput. You landed a teaching job! Bask in this moment — it’s an incredible feeling that you’ve earned and should relish. And when the hoopla and confetti have been swept up, you can prepare for your next hurdle as you join the back to school teacher marathon.
As this new stretch can be overwhelming, I’ve put together a Downloadable Back to School Checklist for the back to school teacher that will make you feel on your game for day one, when your little chickadees march in with their new backpacks and nervous tummies. I’ve fleshed it out below. To simplify things, I’ve made the assumption that you’ve been hired in late spring and have made the timeline accordingly. However, many people get hired weeks or even days before the start of the school year, so of course adjust the timeline to suit your unique situation. This is just a guide.
I’m a new teacher! … Now what?
The first thing to do is thank everybody on the interview committee who hired you. Appreciate them and let them know how excited you are to be joining them. Often, people on these committees are taking hours and even days from their own classrooms to be there. If it’s during the summer, they are coming in during unpaid time. This isn’t meant to make you feel bad. Rather, it should reinforce how important it was to your administrators and new colleagues to find the perfect fit for their school. So make ’em proud!
Get in touch with your Human Resources office and be your lovely, charming self. In addition to all the mandatory paperwork, you’ll probably need to participate in an orientation for new staff and in trainings/orientations/back to school teacher meetings for different curricula that your district follows. Find out those dates and get them in your calendar now so you can plan your summer accordingly. Most will be in the days or weeks before the start of school.
HR will also be able to point you in the right direction to get a staff email account and a laptop (if that is something your district provides), and they can let you know if you need an district ID, so that you can enter all the school buildings. (Note that if you take a school laptop home, you should make sure your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance covers it.)
Before summer break
As soon as humanly possible, meet the school’s secretary/administrator and the custodians. You’ll hear it said over and over that these fine folks will be your favorite people, and that’s because it is true. They know everything about the school and will become your new best friends. Treat them like gold — they deserve it!
Among the tidbits you’ll need to find out before everyone shuffles off for their summer adventures are the following:(Downloadable Back to School Checklist)
- Your room key, if needed
- The schedule for the building in summer. What hours can you get in? Is there somebody you can contact during the summer to verify? (In our school, teachers can’t come in on certain days because the floors are getting waxed or the classroom is getting cleaned.)
- How much reimbursement is allowed for back to school teacher spending?
- The approximate number of students expected to be in your room
- When the class list is finalized and on what date guardians will be informed of their child’s teacher
- School expectations for communication with parents before school
- Your mentor’s name* and contact info, assuming your district provides new teachers with mentor teachers (not all do)
- Will you have desks or tables in your room? Who should you talk to if you need additional furniture?
- Is there a computer lab? A shared computer cart? Classroom computers? LCD projector or overhead projector? ELMO?
- Is there a supply closet? When is it open to teachers? What supplies are there?
- Are there firecode rules you should be aware of in setting up your room? (Heating vents that shouldn’t be blocked, rules for hanging things on walls or on doors, having a small fridge in room/etc)
During summer break
It’s summer! Enjoy and rest up for the year ahead. It’s also smart to do a little bit of prepping each day so you don’t get gobsmacked by information overload in back to school teacher trainings. Here are some things you can do now, particularly if your building is closed: (Downloadable Back to School Checklist)
- Start collecting important paperwork in a teacher binder. Get some fun stickies, dividers, etc and have at it.
- Grab a cheap-o pocket-sized notebook that you can take with you everywhere to jot down ideas and questions you have for your mentor/principal/etc. You’ll think of the greatest questions at the most random moments. It’s also a good place to record all the answers you get.
- Read the academic standards your district follows. (If your state/district follows the Common Core, this app is a must have.)
- If your school has a website, begin exploring it and learn all you can.
- Set up a meeting with your mentor teacher.
- Find the school calendar for your district (usually online) and enter all the dates into your online or paper planner. Later in the year, you’ll be patting yourself on the back for doing this early.
Back to school teacher
Remember, you want to be on your game! Be a back to school teacher ninja. That means, don’t go wild on the decorating yet, as tempting as that is. Figure out the important stuff first. Where are the outlets? Phone jacks? Pull-down screens? Will your classroom have a projector of some sort? Where will you put it? Where will you place any classroom computers and/or a printer? Do you have the needed extension cords yet? Once you’ve got answers to these questions, then you can arrange the remaining classroom setup around those hot-ticket items. AND you won’t have to redo everything because you arranged the classroom library in the only spot where the computers could be plugged in. (Yes, I’ve done this. It’s maddening.)
Remember the fire code information from before? This is the payoff. Make sure areas that need to stay clear are clear. (Fire department folk routinely do walk-throughs with the head custodian. And while you won’t get arrested or anything 🙂 you will have to move things to suit their safety rules, which can be awfully inconvenient later. So save yourself the headache and do it correctly now.)
Go through your cabinets, closets, and other storage areas. For now, just label the outsides of them with blue tape and a permanent marker so you know what is where. You have all year to find fancy labels to suit your taste. But labels take a while to make, laminate, and attach, so only do these when and if you get the more important things done first.
If your mentor teacher or team member is nearby, arrange a time for you to go through your storage areas together and get rid of the items you don’t need. Excess stuff is not your friend; it will only make you feel frazzled. When I moved from third to fourth grade, I went through all my new room’s supply closets and was ruthless, getting rid of two thirds of the contents. I never had a moment of regret, and in fact got rid of a third more of the remaining stuff the following year. Having just what you need in your room, no more, no less, does wonders for mental clarity.
There are a million wonderful ideas on teacher websites and on Pinterest for great room setups. By all means, explore them and see what strikes your fancy. But don’t agonize over it. Chances are, you’ll change it all around in a month or so once you see how your classroom’s traffic patterns work.(If someone in your building has an eye for classroom setup, ask for their input.) For now, just pick one setup and move on. If anything, the kids will love it later when you change the classroom setup. Remember how exciting it was to change your own bedroom around as a kid?
Oh my goodness. Teachers go wild at the beginning of the year, getting everything up on their walls, decorating bulletin boards. If this brings you joy, go for it! The best advice I ever received, though, was from an experienced first-grade teacher whom I observed during grad school. She told me in her cheerfully light and matter-of-fact way, “I don’t lift a finger on that stuff. It’s the kids’ room. Let them create things for the walls. Who the heck wants to see my stuff?” I follow her advice to this day. While our room is organized, you won’t find much on the walls the first week of school. The cloth covered** bulletin boards are cheerful block of color but devoid of pictures or letters. And once the kiddos come, the walls come alive with their creations. Please please please don’t feel like you have to run to the teacher store and grab lots of posters. Frankly, many kids feel overwhelmed by too much on the walls, especially at the beginning, so less is indeed more.
Meeting with your team/mentor for back to school teacher prep
Every school has its own culture as does every grade-level team. Feel out the culture that is in place. Ask lots of questions. This doesn’t mean you have to deferentially do everything your team does or squelch your own style and ideas. Be you and learn from the experts around you. And by figuring out what’s already in place, you can mindfully make your own decisions without inadvertently stepping on anyone’s toes.
Things you’ll want to ask/do/plan with your team or mentor: (Downloadable Back to School Checklist)
- A year-long curriculum map. (Your district might provide this)
- Procedures on homework. Do you all give out the same homework or does everyone do their own thing? Are there holidays or times of the year when homework is not assigned? Is there a minimum or maximum amount your school requires?
- When does your team typically plan together?
- How is RTI*** handled at your school? Does your team share students from class to class or does each teacher keep RTI within his own classroom?
- What is the date for your school’s Back to School night? (aka Open House) Do you present to the families as a whole team? Or will you do it separately in your own classrooms?
- How are classroom rules created at your school? Do you follow a program like Responsive Classroom or Open Circle?
- Whom should you contact when classroom equipment is not working? Is there an online form to fill out? Do you email the tech person in your building/district?
- Does your school have a system in place for reporting student behavioral problems? (Many schools like to track this so they can note patterns and respond quickly to help kids and teachers.)
- What is the policy for calling in sick? Is there a number to call? Procedures to follow?
- Do your classroom phones have codes for dialing within/outside the school? (tape this info next to your phone)
- Attendance forms: where are they sent? Can a student deliver them? Are there any codes you need to know?
- Is there an after school program/s?
- Does your team send out emails or letters to parents before the start of school?
- Morning schedule (When does first bell ring? When should students be in classroom? Do you pick them up or do they come to you?)
- If there are lockers, how will you divvy them up?
- Recess ~ are there rules on times to go, equipment you can borrow, doors to use/not use, playground rules?
- Dismissal ~ How does this work at your school? Do you walk students to the parents/buses/afterschool programs? Is there a dismissal form that needs to go to the office? What if a child’s dismissal changes that day? Does she need a note?
- Bathrooms ~ Are students expected to sign out of the classroom? Is there a school-wide signal for asking to use the bathroom? Do they need a pass?
- What are the procedures in your school for the firedrill? (What doors to use? Where to stand outside? Anything you should take with you?) Lockdown? Shelter-in-place? Are there code words for the latter two? Or will the principal simply announce on the intercom, “We are having a lockdown.”
- Does your school email account allow you to set up a contact list and groups? In other words, can you set up your email so that if you want to email all the parents you can do so with one address?****
Places to locate in your school
Not all of these will apply to your school. But it’s a good idea to know now what resources are available to you and where they are in your building. Downloadable Back to School Checklist
- Principal/Vice-Principal’s offices
- School Psychologist and Social Worker
- Learning Center
- Inclusion Facilitator
- ELL classroom (English Language Learner)
- Custodian’s office
- Afterschool programs
- Parent Pickup for your grade
- Where kids who take the bus meet at dismissal
- Staff Room/Mailboxes
- Your students’ lockers
- Bookroom (a room just for teachers to check out leveled books for book groups. Your school may or may not have this.)
- Music Room
- Art Room
- Lunch Room
- Computer Lab
- Die-cut Machine (These can be handy. They cut out bulletin board letters from any paper you want.)
- Bulletin board paper (Usually in large rolls)
- Copier/Copier paper (do you need any codes to operate the machines?)
- Supply closet
The week before back to school: Teacher To Do list
It’s almost here! You should have a pretty good idea now who’s in your class.
If you’re getting the back to school teacher nerves — as even experienced teachers do — remember that many of your students are experiencing this tenfold. If you focus on them and making them feel safe and loved upon walking into your room, you’ll find that your first-day jitters will begin to dissipate. And the more ready you are, the more confident you will feel in handling all the fun and challenging things that await!
Here are some more to-dos for this week before back to school: Downloadable Back to School Checklist
- Get your classroom list
- Get a list of all parent emails. (Make a classroom email list, if possible)
- Email/mail families a back to school teacher letter, if this is something your school or team does
- Figure out exactly how you will handle the dismissal routine.
- Are there emergency folders/instructions for each classroom?
- Tape a list of all the important school phone numbers by your phone. Highlight any emergency numbers.
- Have a large viewable list of student names outside your classroom door, along with your name, any other teacher’s names (like classroom aides), and the room number. Your kids will be very nervous on day one, and seeing their name by their classroom will ease their minds. (check with team and/or custodian on fire code rules for having paper on or near doorways.)
- Have nametags ready. Simple labels are your best bet. Have a nametag for you too and any other adults in the room.
- Make classroom sets of labels that you can just print out whenever you need them. OR have a classroom set of Sharpies so students can label all their notebooks/folders themselves.
- Label lockers, cubbies, mailboxes, desks, etc with their names. (post-its or index cards are fine for now)
- Find out about any classroom allergies or other health concerns from the school nurse. (S/he will most likely approach you before the start of school. If you haven’t heard anything by the day before, visit them or email them.)
- Read through any IEPs.
- Create schedule for first week. Overplan this. Most likely, you won’t get to it all, but that’s better than being underprepared.
- Have the first day’s daily schedule up for students to see.
- When you get your first classroom attendance sheet, make multiple copies. You can use these for every kind of checklist you need. (homework, field trips, forms that need returning, etc.)
- If students are bringing in supplies, have a plan for where they should put these things. In their lockers? In a corner of the classroom?
- Have a plan for what students should do when they enter the classroom. Something simple that even the shyest kid can do comfortably is best. We usually have a box of books at each table they can explore or a word search puzzle at each child’s desk.
- Have an easily visible list of things students should do upon entering your room on Day One. Example: 1) Greet teacher 2) Find your seat 3) Read a book.
- Have your name clearly spelled out on the board.
As you put student materials together — notebooks, locker tags, folders, etc — put 2 or 3 extra sets aside and keep adding to those piles as you create more items for your students. If you get a new student later in the year — which is very likely to happen — you will already have a set of materials ready for them. (Most teachers find out they have a new student one day before that student’s arrival. Putting materials aside for them now takes away from that panic of trying to get everything ready for them.)
It’s time! You are the kids’ new teacher!
It’s here! If you’re like everyone — particularly every new teacher — you didn’t get all the things done you wanted to. Relax. The most important thing now is your attitude. Even if your classroom was empty, a huge genuine smile on your face and the confidence that comes from doing the basics will be all that is needed to set your students at ease. Please know this: you will not be perfect. You will make many mistakes. And you will be a wonderful teacher that your students never forget. Embrace the adventure and know that you are more than enough.
Now let’s hear from you!
In the comments below tell us — When were you hired? What are you looking forward to most as a new teacher? OR. What are you most nervous about? As always, if you value this information or know other new teachers who could use some positive guidance, consider sharing this on social media!
*A mentor teacher is a teacher who coaches you through the year. You will typically need to set up a schedule that works for you both so they can answer your questions and help you with the road ahead. After year one, you’ll get in a groove for what happens when. But it the first year, your mentor will let you know what’s coming up and how to prepare. Your mentor can be another teacher on your grade-level team, another teacher in the building, or even a teacher from another building. Typically, your principal will assign this person to you. If your school does not follow the mentorship model, you will need to find such a person on your own. But fear not! This can actually work to your advantage, as you will naturally develop a rapport with certain colleagues. And these people you connect with will want to help you. (We teachers are a pretty helpful and nice crowd. Everyone’s been in your shoes as a first-year teacher and will be more than willing to help you along.)
**You can always use regular bulletin board paper, but I LOVE my cloth-covered bulletin boards. I measured and then bought several yards of brightly colored cloth at a local fabric store and then thumbtacked it up. I use the same stuff I bought eleven years ago and it looks brand new. The only time I took it down was when I switched classrooms. It takes a little more time to put up, but it’s a SUPER time-saver in the long run. And there is every pattern under the sun. I prefer simple and basic so it doesn’t compete with the kids’ work but frames it.
****In most, if not all, districts, your school email account belongs to the school. That means they have the right at any time to pull up any of your emails. So be cognizant of this when you write an email. (Your school may require that you use student initials instead of names within email subject lines and email body. Check to see what your school’s policy is.) Likewise, parents in most districts have the right to request a copy of all emails that pertain to their child. This doesn’t happen frequently, but can if there any legal proceedings. This isn’t meant to freak you out, but rather to keep you mindful as you write emails to keep things friendly and appropriate. Every time I write an email to a parent or colleague I automatically think, “Is this something I would feel comfortable hearing read out loud in a courtroom?” If the answer is yes, you’re good! Carry on! 🙂
PS. If you haven’t already done so, download your free Downloadable Back to School Checklist and check off the items you’ve already completed! Look at you go. 🙂