back to school, new teachers

Back to School: Organizing Your Time

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Once you’ve got your physical space all set, you can refocus your mental energy on the “big picture” of the year. I’m a planner. I have calendars and to do lists galore. A few years ago, I resolved to exclusively use an electronic calendar. I’m now doing a lot better with my time management despite a few initial hiccups. My to-do lists are all now in one electronic repository, resulting in no longer having post-its and bits of printer paper floating around my school bag, car, school desk, home desk, kitchen…you get the picture!

With these important pieces of information loaded onto my school laptop and home desktop computers as well as my iPhone and iPad, I have 24/7 access to knowing when I need to do something. A paper calendar can’t nudge me, but push notifications and calendar alarms are reminding me when to go to meetings, when to start working on a certain project, and when I’ve got a day off. I am on top of things!

One thing that isn’t decided – or at least shared with me until a few weeks before school starts, is my schedule. For us planners, this level of uncertainty can be unnerving. It can also hold you back from making schedules and class lists. This is when I need to embrace my inner yogi and command every iota of flexibility I can muster. I must say that over the years, I’ve really adapted to this lifestyle. It did, however, take years.

When your school has finally given you all the bits of information you need to know for the year, put it into your calendar. Use whatever system works for you. If paper still rules your world, then so be it. You can use color coding or highlighting if necessary. If you like electronic calendars, there are many from which to choose, such as the iPhone or even Gmail.

When I know I have large assignments due, like the grades and narrative comments that are due at the end of a marking period, I like to build work time into my calendar for that work to get done. After twenty years of doing this, I have a decent sense of how long this particular dreaded task takes and I make appointments with myself to do. Once you’ve got your unit plans worked out, put them into your calendars. Estimate when you’ll be assessing your students. When will projects be completed and due? Put these all into your calendar.

Be kind to yourself and space out the things that have heavy time constraints. Don’t put a massive amount of grading on your birthday. Or during vacation. Be kind to yourself. You have some degree of control over your calendar – so use it. You’ll thank yourself later.

As the year progresses, you’ll see a pattern emerge and you’ll be savvier about how much time to block out for certain activities. Good luck at organizing yourself for the demands of your time, one of life’s most precious resources.

back to school, classroom, new teachers

Back to School: Organizing Your Space

a_mess1Photo credit: Nathan Lutz, Classroom, 2012.

For years I pined away, wishing to have a classroom of my very own. I shot dirty glances at fellow colleagues who had spacious but uninspiring rooms, or worse, messy rooms. Here I am, on a hot sweaty day in August, sitting in my classroom, overwhelmed by the mess I created by rearranging, organizing, adding, and purging, and my eventual sprucing up of the place. My books need to be sorted and straightened. My supplies for the fall need to be counted and put away. I’m a little backed up on my filing. My plants have seen better days. I have several bulletin boards that need facelifts.

Am I starting to resent the responsibility of all this space? Yes and no. What I’m doing now is painful, but in a few short weeks, it will all be worth it when this room is full of kids, eager to be back at school to see their old friends and make new ones. I want my room to be a place where they can learn and grow, show off their work, and admire the work of others. I want to create spaces where they can collaborate on projects, or sit in solitude and get work done.

If you’re lucky enough to have your very own classroom space, you might be contemplating these same issues. If you don’t have your own classroom, can you work with the person with whom you are sharing the space? It doesn’t hurt to ask. More than likely, that other teacher would love help in designing a better learning environment.

Some things to keep in mind:

1. Resources area(a): Remember that this is not just your room, but the room of your students as well. Have an area where they can help themselves to basic supplies like tape, stapler, paperclips, paper, pencils, etc.

2. Classroom library: Even in this digital age, books are still a great resource. Be sure to have dictionaries and any books that are relevant to your discipline. Magazines are a great resource to have when quick students have downtime after tests or work is done.

3. Workspace: Be sure there is ample space for students to do work comfortably in class.

4. Collaboration space: Humans are social creatures. As such, we need to collaborate from time to time. Ensure that you have an area for students to get together to discuss projects or do pair/small group work. If you are short on space, can your chairs and desks/tables be easily rearranged to facilitate these types of discussions?

5. Storage. I’m a firm believer in the adage “Everything has its place.” I’m blessed to have a lot of cabinets. I have colleagues who do not have anything, so they’ve had to get creative. I’ve seen some teachers hide things behind curtains.

6. Esthetics: It doesn’t take a lot of money to make a classroom homey. A few cheap plants and posters can really spruce up even the dullest of spaces. As the years progress, give curatorship to your students. Display their work. Enlist students to care for plants or decorate bulletin boards. A word of caution: try not to overdo it with decorations and make the place overstimulating.

7. Change: Don’t feel like you have to keep things the same all year. If something isn’t working for you, change it. Ask your students what they think of the space. What works better for them?

Just as every child has the opportunity to make a fresh start every year, so do I, and so does my classroom. The kids I have from year to year like to come in a spot new things or differences.

Sure, I could leave things the same, but where’s the fun and interest in doing that?

Photo credit: Nathan Lutz, Classroom, 2018.