As we approach the new school year, organizing gets imperative, not just for families (books, clothes, schedules, and extracurricular activities) but also for teachers. When I was a child, I never once thought about all the work that goes into being ready for September and the start of school. Teachers had two months off, just like I did and they came back to class the same day I did.
But we all know that’s not at all true. As with any project, being well organized before starting can mean the difference between success and disaster and it’s the same for teachers starting a new school year.
How do teachers organize themselves? Is it any different from any other job?
I interviewed three different head teachers, one from Canada, one from the U.K. and one from the U.S.A. And no, being an organized teacher is no different than working in any other service industry.
From what these three teachers told me, there are three areas of organization that teachers need to consider:
- Use of space – the classroom, paper storage, seating plans, and so on.
- Personal preparedness – finding the right balance of planning but not over-planning, of learning new things but not obsessing, of using planners versus “winging it”.
- The needs of students – who they are, what mix of personalities, genders, ages, and abilities they have, how the students did the previous year, and what needs to be reviewed or re-taught.
Use of space
Before starting the school year, our U.K. teacher suggests that together the teachers at a school should:
check and clear the school of any accrued mess to ensure the school feels tidy and organised before we open the door – if the school is tidy, the children are likely to keep it tidy.
The Canadian teacher reminds teachers to:
Throw things out! Teachers cling to paper and stuff! Purge! Keep a file on the computer and get rid of everything else.
Finally, the U.K. teacher also reminds us that daily maintenance keeps papers from overwhelming us:
Tidy each day! Tidy the classroom so it’s prepped for the next day. File away paper and keep your mind tidy and on the job at hand.
For all three teachers, planning is imperative, but they all also insist that over-planning is paralyzing and counter-productive.
Our U.S. teacher has this new school year routine:
I like to take a glimpse at the curriculum for the year and see the material that will be covered. Based on the level, I like to prepare a short review at the beginning of the school year, based on the previous material covered to help them ease into the new school year.
The Canadian does something similar:
Depending on what I’m teaching I generally plan out the course, first the big stuff, then break that down. If its a course I’ve taught before, I think about what worked well, what worked OK, and what didn’t work at all. I also like to to change things up (so I don’t get bored) If I have read/learned something new, I think of ways to incorporate it.
An the U.K. teacher suggests getting others involved:
My advice is to prioritise what needs to be done and park desirables until you have a clear plan. Use the human resources around you. People generally want to be involved and including them in the thinking and the journey will help in organisation. They might even come up with a better idea. Talking is the key!
When it comes to over-planning, the Canadian teacher believe that teachers should be careful not to waste too much time. “Sometimes things go off course so be prepared for that. Also lots of teachers waste time with detailed busy work, creating forms, binders, labels, etc. that make more work for no reason.”
The U.K. teachers reminds us as well that all too often “teachers spend too much time prepping, planning before they really know the class. It’s great to be prepared but there’s no point teaching children what they already know. Plan the first few lessons and then asses what’s needed.”
The Canadian teacher offers a good list of basic planning activities:
- Familiarize yourself with the course outlines, expectations, and assessments.
- Use a calendar for unit plans and due dates.
- Colour code courses (it helps to visualize).
- Make a note of important due dates like when report card marks are due (you would be surprised how many people are caught off guard).
- Don’t take on too many things too fast. It’s really easy to get overwhelmed.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
The needs of students
Our U.S. teacher really focused on this area, as did the U.K. teacher. They both insist on getting to know the students and working with the rest of the school’s staff to set individual learning targets where possible before diving into too much organizing. The U.S. teacher will even “go over class lists and see what my classes look like: student numbers, total class size, and gender. This helps me for organizing the class and seating charts.”
She also talks about the need to establish rules the first day of class.
Do not assume they just know how to act. All teachers are different and have different levels of what they will tolerate so communication between teacher and students is important.
Finally, she makes what I believe is the most important point that teachers need to remember:
What is important is to establish is an atmosphere of mutual respect where students feel comfortable in expressing themselves in class amongst their peers and with the educator. Teachers need to remember we are not there to make friends; we are there to educate and help in the students’ growth in the content and be good citizens as well.
For those readers who are teachers, does this advice sound familiar? Is there anything you would add? And for those who aren’t teachers, how might the ideas offered by these teachers apply in your job?