14 Things to Do When You Only Have One Week to Get Ready for School
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Today, we are going to talk about something that I have had SO many new teachers reach out and ask me about:
Help! What can I do to get ready for this school year when I can only get into my classroom one week before school starts?
First of all, just for the record, I think it’s insanely unfair to ask teachers to be ready to teach elementary school when you are only given one week to be in your classroom before school starts.
However, this actually isn’t as much of a problem as you might think. There are actually a LOT of things you can do, and I would argue, should do, that you don’t need to be in your classroom in order to accomplish.
To make this easier for you, I’ve divided these 14 items into two parts:
- Physical Classroom Décor and Classroom Organization
- Planning & Classroom Management Prep
So, let’s walk through each of these two parts in detail and talk specifically about what you can do to prepare if you’re in this situation:
PHYSICAL CLASSROOM DECOR & CLASSROOM ORGANIZATION
Here are 7 very simple and effective ways that you can plan out your physical classroom space even before you actually get access:
- Take a Peek and then Get Pics & Measurements:
See if you can get in to just SEE your new classroom space, and then take pictures of everything.
You don’t even really have to ask permission to go and see your new classroom. Here’s what I would do – and by the way, what I have done – when I was in the same situation you are in now. I went to my new school during the daytime hours to see if there’s anyone there. When I saw someone, I just tapped on the door, and then I told them who I was and explained that I just wanted 15 minutes to see my classroom and take some measurements so that I could begin to prepare for the year.
Most of the custodial staff (and especially the secretary, if she’s there already), are pretty compassionate about wanting to help new teachers, and when they see that you are not a crazy person and that you don’t actually want to get in to start setting up, they are usually pretty good about giving you a bit of time to get in and see the space.
Just be bold about asking and show your genuine gratitude and relief about getting in to see your room.
And by the way, if there’s no one there on the first day, try again. You aren’t asking for anything unreasonable, and as long as you aren’t looking like a stalker or peeking in windows or something weird, then there shouldn’t be a problem with you getting in to check out the space. 😊
If you’re able to get into your classroom, even for only 15 minutes, bring a measuring tape and a notebook and measure your bulletin boards, as well as the height of the inside of storage spaces like shelves and cabinets in your room so that you can go ahead and order any storage solutions like book bins and storage bins.
- Draw an Aerial Map:
When you get home, look at your photos and draw a simple aerial map of your classroom and start mapping out where you want to put things and how you want to organize different spaces in your classroom.
This will help you to think through the flow of your space AND will give you an idea of what kinds of furniture you might need to ask your school if they can provide – or alternatively, what you can start searching 2nd hand stores and garage sales for!
Also, once you've seen your room (and even if you haven't), you can ask your administration in advance about getting access to certain kinds of furniture you really want for your room, such as book cases and a round table and/or kidney shaped table for small group work, as well as a carpet for the entire class to gather on.
Asking for these things early, before the busy school year starts, can be much more effective than trying to get everything you need once everyone else is there asking for things as well.
Even if you can’t get into your space to see it, most classrooms are just a rectangular shape anyways, so making an aerial map of how you want to set up your room is still a great idea so you can think through how you want to set up desks and different areas of your room.
- Collect & Organize Books for Your Classroom Library:
You can also begin collecting books for your classroom library and organize them according to either level, theme, or topic in book bins.
Then, go ahead and purchase some cheap book bins (I found this great deal online at DollarTree.com) and label them for your class library.
By the way, if you’re looking for ways to get cheap or free books, check out this podcast episode #16 where I share 16 Cheap, Free, AND Creative Ways to Get Books for Your Classroom Library.
- Do Your Back-to-School Shopping:
Next, go ahead and download the Ultimate Back to School Shopping List I’ve created for you and do some shopping so you can take advantage of some of the awesome back-to-school specials that are on now (because buying supplies later in the year will be much more expensive)!
But also, just a word of caution - don’t buy too much – your students will be bringing most of their own supplies on the first day of school.
I would just buy extras of anything that is on for a really great deal so that if you run out of something like glue sticks, crayons, or markers in the middle of the year, you have some extras to tie you over until you can ask parents to send more to school.
So, go ahead and download your free Ultimate Back to School Shopping List and do some shopping now!
- Get Supply Storage Bins & Label EVERYTHING:
Next, invest in some great classroom labels that you love from Teachers Pay Teachers and start organizing and labeling all of your supplies in storage containers that you have purchased to keep them in throughout the year.
That way, when you finally move into your classroom, it will just be a matter of figuring out where you want to store your supplies that are all ready to go.
- Get Started on Your Bulletin Boards:
Bulletin boards do not need to be the time-sucking black hole that they seem to become for many teachers. My advice is to choose 2 to 3 colors that you love and buy flannel-backed tablecloths and borders in those colors so that you can alternate them throughout your space.
Just choose 1-2 designs to get you started – this is something you can add to throughout the year and that you can fill up with student work during the first week of school, so don’t stress too much about this!
- Make Name Cards for Your Students:
Finally, get your class list and make name cards for student desks, mailboxes, and/or backpack/jacket hooks.
Also, remember to keep extras of all of these types of name cards and keep them in a place where you can easily find them because chances are, your class list is going to change numerous times in the first month or two of school, so you will need to be able to make new name cards easily!
PLANNING & CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT PREPARATION
Now, let’s talk about Part Two of what you can do if you can’t get into your classroom until one week before school starts: The Planning & Classroom Management Prep that you will need to do, and can do without even stepping foot into your classroom!
- Your Planning Binder:
Choose your teacher planning binder and customize and print it (unless you are using an online planner).
Getting your planning binder ready now is essential to preparing for a successful school year. This is where you can keep calendars, schedules, lesson plans, curriculum maps, meeting notes, and pacing guides all in one place.
- Create Your Weekly Class Schedule:
Find out when your class specials are and how much instructional time is required for each subject area, and then create your weekly class schedule.
- Prepare Your Year Plans:
Familiarize yourself with the curriculum for your grade level, ask for any pacing guides that your school might provide or that your grade level team would be willing to share, and then prepare your year plans.
Do not go into too much detail with planning – things can change very quickly in terms of resources that are available to you and in terms of district-wide adoption of curriculum, so I would recommend that you not plan too far ahead right now.
Just paint your year in broad strokes.
Believe me, I can tell you this from experience...
I remember my first year of teaching 2ndgrade, I had spent a lot of my summer taking home curriculum resources for each subject area and planning out units, only to find out in September that our school was going to pilot an entirely new Language Arts program, beginning in October. So, all of that time I’d spent planning really cool units was wasted.
Instead, find out what your administration requires in terms of plans you will be asked to hand in, and then plan your year plans in broad strokes for now.
- Create Your First Week of School Plans:
Instead of making detailed unit plans, use this time to plan for your first week of school.
That means getting crystal clear about your classroom management plan.
Think through which rules, routines, and class jobs you want to have in your classroom, and think through how and when you want to teach them.
If you haven’t already downloaded my Ultimate Classroom Management Checklist, you may want to do that to help you to think through and outline what you need to prepare for this first week of school.
- Select Getting-to-Know-You Activities:
Preparing for your first week of school also means getting super clear about what kinds of Getting-to-Know-You activities you will want to do with your students.
Again, I have another fantastic resource available called 14 Fantastic First Week of School Activities that you can purchase, download and use right away!
- Plan for Meet the Teacher Night:
Finally, it isn’t too early to start thinking through what you want to do on Meet the Teacher Night.
This evening is a fantastic opportunity to get parents involved from the beginning of the school year and to be able to communicate everything that you want parents to know about how you will communicate with them and involve them as partners in their child’s learning throughout the school year.
If you haven’t listened to last week’s episode where I walk you through How to Prepare for Meet the Teacher Night, you might want to go back and listen to that episode as well to ensure that you have everything you need to be ready for that important night.
- Your Classroom Is a Work in Progress:
My last piece of advice to you is to be kind to yourself – keep things simple and remember that your classroom is a work in progress.
You would never decorate a room in your house in only one week, so be patient and kind with yourself, and remember that this is a process.
You can continue to work on it throughout the year, and there is no need to have a fully decorated classroom on the first day.
Also, it’s wonderful for your students to participate in the process of making the room beautiful. Remember, it’s their room just as much as it’s your room.
On the first day of school, you can share the story about how you were only able to get into your classroom one week ago, and tell them that you need their help to make this a great place for them to come every day.
You could even have a brainstorming session with your students to talk about ideas they have for making their classroom beautiful, and then tell them that you know the very best way to make this classroom amazing is to fill it with their fabulous work.
So, during those first few days of school, do some getting-to-know-you activities that you can put on display and that will allow students to leave their mark on this new space.
You could also have a bit of fun with this by putting a large sign on one or two bulletin boards that says “Surprise Coming Soon!” and then let students guess what might be displayed on that bulletin board.
All right, so there you have it! Fourteen ways you can prepare for your year of teaching even if you can’t get into your classroom until one week before school starts.
I hope that this information has been helpful for you as you begin to prepare for your school year, and I really hope that you will tune in again next week, because I am going to be talking about a very important topic that we just don’t pay enough attention to:
How to practice self-care at school so that you don’t get sick at the start of the school year.
Now I’m not going to tell you things like “book a massage” – because we all know that very few of us will actually do that anyways. Instead, I’m going to share some very practical, smart tips and ideas for how you can take care of yourself WHILE you are teaching and doing all that you are doing for students.
This is going to be all about how to intentionally take care of yourself while you are teaching, and I really don’t want you to miss this. I really wish someone would have shared this with me when I first started teaching!
I hope you have a wonderful week, and remember – just because you are a beginning elementary teacher, there is no need for you to struggle like one! Bye for now!
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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