I started writing this post in the middle of August, with every intention of publishing it before school started. But, life got busy and it didn’t happen! So, here it is now going into the 3rd week of the school year!
It happens every year. Every. Single. Year.
Going into my 13th year, and it still happens. Just when my brain and my bladder have grown accustom to the peace and quiet of summer break, BAM!
BACK TO SCHOOL DREAMS!
Actually nightmares, because I doubt any teacher has a dream about school in the summer that is lovely and happy, like you were an audience member on Oprah’s favourite things and she’s giving away a car and a million bucks.
It doesn’t happen.
Mine are always have the same theme, I’ve set my room up. It’s perfect, beautiful, organized! Then I walk in on the first day and guess what? My stuff has been moved to another room and there are piles of boxes everywhere, nothing is set up and it’s a disaster (this summer in my dream, I had been relocated to our former computer lab, which is a huge room, but has NO windows and is really hot. Another year my dream had me setting up in the custodians office). The dream also usually entails a change of grade and a plethora of angry parents all wanting to have a *quick* meeting right before the bell on the first day of school 😳.
So, as much as every talks about teachers having two months of stress free holidays, in reality our brains tend to bugger that all up. Because of these back to school dreams, my brain starts thinking about setting up my classroom for the new school year sometime around the beginning of August.
Shortly after the back to school dreams start I feel need to start prepping to go back to school!
Disclaimer: every teacher goes back when it works for them- under no circumstances do I *have* to go back now. I’m going because it is my choice. Because I’m a crazy person. Also, I get super easily distracted in BTS prep and therefore know I need a lot of time!
Every year is different, and every year I try something new, however there are always a few things I do in August every year that I have found really helpful in preparing for the upcoming year.
BTS prep…the physical space:
- Make a list!! I usually put it on my whiteboard, because I tend to lose things during the clean up process and it acts as a reminder of what I need to get done. It always reaches a point of “oh sh*t! I have so much to do”, but it is very satisfying when you start ticking things off the list! I also tend to have categories to my lists. The stuff for my students I often leave until close to the end, as it’s the sit down and label stuff (and my class list often changes in the week before school starts).
- PURGE. I am so guilty of being a massive pack rat. When I moved from my old school to the one I’m at now, I had 65 boxes of stuff!! And that was after a big purge. Having a lot of stuff tends to be an occupational hazard of being a Kinder teacher, because you never know when that random yogurt container will come in handy. That being said, it is good to go through your stuff once a year to remind you of what you’ve got (generally I always find something that I needed back in January) and pitch/re gifted things that you haven’t touched/needed all year. I will admit that part is hard for me, but I love when someone else can find a use for what I don’t want (at my school we tend to have a spot where teachers leave the stuff they don’t want, which others can take – this year I found some great baskets, last year it was a cabinet!).
- Clean! If you work with the littles, you know this isn’t just tidying into boxes. This is sanitizing/washing/scrubbing. Do yourself a favour, buy some lingerie bags from the dollar store. Seriously. Toys such as lego, plastic food (without holes – if it’s hollow and has a hole don’t do this), plastic blocks (duplo) can all go into those mesh bags and go for a wash in the dishwasher on the top rack. Just be sure to lay out the newly washed pieces on a towel for a couple days after washing, just to be sure there is no water trapped in any of the pieces.
Same with scissors, though they don’t need the bag. Just make sure your open them before washing. Luckily my school has a dishwasher really close to my classroom, so I can throw a load of toys in and go work in my room while they’re being washed. When they’re done, I usually put some paper towel into my empty sensory bin and let them air dry. For the things that can’t go into the dishwasher, Lysol wipes are my personal choice. It’s a quick job to grab some wipes and give all the dolls and barbies a wipe and you’ll feel much better about all the little hands on the toys when you know they are clean!
- Rearrange the room- honestly, I feel like before the kids come back is the best time to move furniture. You have the time, the energy (because you were able to drink your whole cup of coffee before it got cold), and the room is free of the extra stuff from the kids. It’s also good because you can move stuff, walk away from it for a day or two before making final decisions. I’d also recommend getting a second set of eyes to help you out (and if they want to lend a hand that’s good too!).
BTS Classroom “hacks”
This list isn’t anything earth shattering, it’s just little hacks I’ve picked up over 12 years of teaching that help make the start of the year a little easier. Many of these can be started before the start of the school year.
Laminating name tags – I’ve discovered that laminating student name tags before adding their names is the best thing, ever. Why you ask? Because if you’re like me, at some point while writing out name tags, you make a mistake (aka spell a name wrong – and at my school we have some names that are tricky!) or you’re told on the first day that Sandra actually goes by her middle name, Petunia. If you laminate after you’ve written name tags, you’re hooped and have to use a new tag and laminate it. If you’ve laminated first, you just get out your trusty expo whiteboard marker (I always use the brown one, because I seem to have a ton of brown whiteboard markers), scribble over the name and wipe it away with a tissue! Easy peasy. Clean name tag ready for little Petunia! I love laminating things! Not only does it make it easy to change/alter names, it also means things last longer! I laminate a ton of stuff – so if you’re like me, I recommend buying a personal laminator. They are not that expensive and are super handy for when you need to quickly laminate something.
Art Tags – I’ve actually already written a blog about these. They make putting up students art a breeze! The kids get so excited the first time I put their art up. I started making these 3 years ago and everyone who sees them loves them! At the end of the year I sent the tags home with the students, so they can use it to display their artwork at home!
3M hooks are the best! Honestly, I have the 3M hooks all over my room! I use them to hang word rings in my art centre, to hang IKEA storage pouches, to hang clips to hold class lists and sub folders, and to hang class decor. The best part – they are easily taken down without destroying the walls! The hooks are reusable, but you do have to use a new sticky piece each time. Luckily, you can buy refills from Amazon!
Tongue Depressors – I know this seem like an odd one, but hear me out! I used the large Popsicle sticks (aka tongue depressors) for 2 big jobs in my classroom. Shoe cubby labels and sticks of fairness. For the shoe cubbies, I painted the sticks black on one side (this year I used spray paint and it was soooooo easy) and stuck Velcro to the other side. Then I put the opposite Velcro onto the cubbies. When it comes time to label things I just add the kids names with a chalk board marker. I can easily take a stick off to change a name or add another name if I need to. I’ve used these sticks for 2 years and just repainted them each year.
For sticks of fairness I literally just write the kids name on one end of a large Popsicle stick and put them into a pretty cup or in my case, an flower pot from IKEA. When I need to choose a student for something or I need to make partners, I can easily pull sticks.
IKEA plastic bags – I use the largest size of bag they have to hold my students set of spare clothes. The bags are super durable (and pretty to boot). Before the start of school I add a little label to the front of the bag telling families what needs to go into the bag. When the bags are returned, I store them in easily accessed IKEA bins (in order by first name) and it makes it super easy to find a spare pair when it’s needed! Also, at the end of the year these bags are perfect for sending home students stuff. The bags come two sizes in each box. I always find some use for the other size of bag, so don’t worry about them going to waste!
Alphabetized class lists (by first name) – ever had a surprise fire drill and you don’t have your class list on you? I have. And I panicked! I counted my kids, but kept coming up short, turned out the student was sick that day but I had forgotten. Since then, I started making my class list (my own, not the one from the office) in order by first name. Total life saver! I use excel to sort my list, and then I carry that little list with me for the first couple of weeks. It takes about two weeks before I have it memorized. Once it’s memorized, I can rattle off my class list at a moments notice. It’s been a huge help on field trips, assemblies, really everywhere! It’s also a great party trick (you think I’m joking but I have totally recited my class list at party when we were discussing unique names…I almost always have the most interesting names when chatting with other teacher friends). Having the student list memorized by first name is also easier than last names, because (in all honestly) I never remember kids last names! Having a stack of the little lists is good too for lots of different activities in the classroom – like pulling students to work in small groups, collecting forms from home, etc. I usually have a little stack clipped to my bulletin board and just grab one when I need it!
Small name labels – when kiddos start K, for the most part, their name writing skills are not the greatest. At the beginning of the year, I use the small Avery labels (the ones intended for return addresses) and put my students names on them. I print our 3-4 sheets like this for the start of the year. As we complete activities (or I’m labeling their materials – like journals or poetry books) I can quickly stick their name label on their stuff. It also helps me keep track of who hasn’t handed something in!its a small thing, but makes the first couple of chaotic weeks easier.
So…those are my go-to back to school prep/classroom hacks. Like I said, these aren’t anything earth shattering, but I thought I’d share them, just in case they are helpful to someone. Hope everyone has had a great start to the school year!
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions (or better versions of my hacks – because sharing is caring), please comment – below!