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Returning to school after summer vacation can be bittersweet. While most of us may regret having to say goodbye to sleeping in and relaxing under the sun all day, we also crave the fresh start that a new school year offers. It is untouched territory, brimming with opportunities and waiting for us to make our mark, make a difference, or, simply, make it to the bus stop on time (students, we're looking at you).
We assume that anyone reading this blog has, at one point, been a student on the verge of a new school year. Many of you may be parents who are accustomed to this transition, or PTO members who can't wait to have your first meeting and start rolling out your colorful bulletin boards. But, this year, we want to put the spotlight on teachers and learn what really goes on in the mind of an educator when he or she says goodbye to summer and hello to another school year.
We have interviewed teachers from around the U.S to discover how they prepare for the start of school (it goes beyond just watching The Dead Poets Society on repeat), what they look forward to most (hint: it's the kids), and what changes they wish to see in their schools this year (some can be bought, others must be developed).
What is Your Number 1 Trick/Method/Strategy for Preparing to Return to School in the Fall?
“I don't know that I have a "number one trick," as there's so much that goes into the back-to-school process. The first thing I do is spend a couple hours cleaning and sanitizing my room. It gets quite dusty over the summer. Once everything is all set up, the most important thing for me is to make sure I have an entire marking period of tentative plans, and copies for at least the first week. I also print an updated roster of my classes to make sure I can take attendance on the first day.” - High School English Teacher
“Revising syllabi and going through the manila folder of materials I keep for each class to sort out materials….I also do prepare by watching movies and reading certain books. Since I teach film history this fall I watched Hitchcock this summer and am playing with the idea of watching Frank Capra all fall.” - College Film Professor
“My semester always begins by mapping out what will happen each week, the readings, major topics, due dates. I got to that in late July. Then I spend a certain amount of time reflecting on what went well and where there were struggles (if I've taught the class before). If it's new, I try to imagine the general tone of how I hope the class will go. There are specific rituals involved. I've always made a big deal about moving last semester's book from the desk to the bookshelf and putting this semester's books on the desk. There's a small thing of moving the current course notebooks to the front of my course notebook stack.” - College Sociology Professor
“My goal is to always make sure my room is organized and ready to go before the first day of school. Once school starts, I tend to get too busy to worry about decorating and organizing so it’s key for me to do it ahead of time.” - High School English Teacher
“Setting up my classroom, buying supplies, and going over lesson plans. I can't go into the school year feeling unprepared. It makes me feel too frazzled. I have to have everything I need, everything in place, and the first week or two of lesson plans gone over and over to make me feel ready - if I ever feel ready - for the kids to arrive.” - English 9/Honors English Teacher
“Well, besides the necessary tasks of decorating my classroom, updating my syllabus, refreshing myself on the curriculum, etc, I really find it important to do something relaxing before school starts, like go on a weekend vacation or spend time with friends. I find that the more relaxed and positive I am about a new school year, the better tone I set in my classroom and that can really affect an entire year's worth of instruction.” - Secondary Bible Teacher
"Number one strategy to return to school in the fall prepared is to get everything for the routines set. Knowing how the daily routines are going to look is so critical to having good management and that is critical to set the tone for my room." - 2nd Grade Teacher
What Are You Looking Forward to Most About Returning to School?
“I am most excited about meeting my students this year. I love developing a family atmosphere in my room and this is what I always look forward to doing.” - 3rd Grade Teacher
“Being in the classroom. I love lecturing. I love talking about subjects I'm passionate about, and watching students process ideas and come up with their own. I like dwelling with the ideas. For me, lecturing is like writing a book and performing it at the same time.” - College Film Professor
“Seeing all the kids again, especially the freshmen. They're all fresh from summer and full of energy and anticipation. Well, some of them are!” - High School English Teacher
“I'm most looking forward to meeting my students. I've been at MHS long enough to have the legacy kids. You know, the ones who have older siblings who've been in my class. It's fun to see those familiar faces.” - High School English Teacher
"I begin every semester with unbridled optimism. It takes some effort not to let any frustrations from the last cycle haunt me, but I try to begin with a clean slate. Since this was my first "real" summer in a few years (post-writing), I'll need to regain a sense of rhythm to my days. I'm looking forward to the structure the semester provides. I want to engage the enthusiasm that students bring to a new semester and help them sustain that as long as possible against the onslaught on monotony and work that impacts every student." - College Sociology Professor
“I love that every school year is totally unique, so I really look forward to seeing what new challenges and victories this new school year brings. Working with students is such a rewarding job, even in the difficult times, so I just look forward to seeing students learn and grow both educationally and as people.” - Secondary Bible Teacher
"I love coming back to school to see the students! I love meeting my new students but I also love seeing how my previous students have grown! I’m also a sucker for routine, so I really enjoy getting back into an every-day routine." - High School English Teacher
“The kids. One hundred percent. Well, maybe ninety percent the kids and ten percent my colleagues.” - High School English Teacher
How would you like your school to improve?
"Technology. We are currently writing grants. We just got wifi last year!" - High School Mathematics Teacher
“I would love to have more integrated technology in the classroom. This could be laptops, iPads, tablets, etc. I feel like the way society is we need to be teaching our kids how to maneuver and use these devices.” - 2nd Grade Teacher
“I would love my school to have a library. I work at a small charter school. When I found out there was no library my (internal) reaction was - this school doesn't have a soul! It kind of breaks my heart that there's not one. I've been working hard to build one in my classroom - but those books come out of pocket.” - English 9/Honors English 9 Teacher
“Our library could certainly use some beefing up (one of many casualties of budget cuts), but the most important area in need of improvement in my school is the communication between staff members. Without nosing around in just the right places, it's hard to know what events are happening and when.” - High School English Teacher
“I would love to see our school expand its facility. Our school is limited in space, which has affected our athletics and fine arts. This, in turn, also affects over 80% of our student body. Many practices, games, and events take place off campus.” - High School Social Studies Teacher
“I really want my school to fall in love with its central mission. I want us to talk more about classroom learning and how it transforms students, professors, and society. I want us to be brave and fearless when confronting complicated topics and not look for simple pat answers. If we had a stronger sense of our core identity, the other issues would fall to their rightful place in people's minds. When we don't communicate those central values, it's easier to complain about parking!” - College Sociology Professor
"I wish even more people came to poetry readings and art shows, and theater." - College Film Professor
A Big "Thank You" to the Teachers Interviewed!
Our hope is that spotlighting these teachers has shown students, parents and PTO members how it actually feels to be a teacher stepping into a new school year, and we want the rest of the teachers out there to know that they're not alone in spending hours making sure their classroom is perfect, feeling giddy about meeting your new batch of "nuggets," or wanting the best for your school and your students. So, here's to you "o, Captain, my Captain," may this year be a good one!