A little planning before school begins can pay big dividends throughout the school year. Starting off on the right foot can make all the difference. Here are some things to consider as you plan for the months ahead. Check them off as you go.
____1. Get yourself ready. Give yourself enough time to set up your new home (if you are moving), report to school, make calls to insurance companies, register or service your car before beginning your new job. Then plan time for enough sleep. You're beginning an exciting journey, but a very demanding one.
____2. Build relationships. Be nice to the school secretary and the custodian. They know the school, the students, and the neighborhood, and they can help you. Get involved in school activities and school staff functions.
____3. Give your classroom some class. Decorate your classroom in a manner that will catch the eyes of your students and give them something to think about at the same time.
____4. Introduce yourself. Post a biographical sketch of yourself outside your classroom and encourage others to follow suit. You never know when a student may find he or she has something in common with a teacher and is able to strike up a relationship that could be a positive learning experience.
____5. Establish the rules. If you want discipline to work during the year, start off by establishing class rules (no more than five) right at the beginning. Let the students help develop and establish the rules. They will be more likely to follow them. The rules should be posted in the classroom.
____6. Check school policy. If you intend to be teaching subject matter that borders on controversy, be sure you are within board policy. Keep your personal views on religion and politics to yourself.
____7. Get organized. Organize your personal papers. You never know when you may have to produce a document related to your job.
____8. Keep records. Set aside a place for keeping receipts of expenditures that could be deductions on your income tax -- classroom materials, professional books, and so on.
____9. Improve yourself. Select one area in which you'd like to improve your professional ability during the coming year. Then decide how best to go about it.
____10. Set a class goal. Working together toward a goal -- such as a holiday project to help a needy family, a class trip, or a class party at the end of the year -- can help develop class spirit. Start your planning early in the fall to build enthusiasm.
____11. Build team spirit. If you teach elementary students, you might give your class a name, such as "The Bumblebees from Room Three."
____12. Play "The Name Game." One way to get everyone, including you, to know everyone else in the room quickly is to play "The Name Game." The first person in row one says, "I'm John." The second person says, "That's John and I'm Mary." The third person says, "That's John and Mary and I'm Susan." Continue around the room.
____13. Develop resources. Develop your own sources of information and your resource list. Know where to get help when you need it. For example: How might you deal with a lack of instructional materials offered by the district? One way is to keep your eyes open for free and inexpensive materials such as those published in the education publications you receive.
____14. Do your best. Determine what factors are likely to keep you from doing your job during the school year. Then figure out a way to work around them. For example: How will you work with too many students in your class? How will you deal with the wide range of student abilities? How will you deal with disruptive students?
____15. Appreciate the small things. Give yourself a lift by focusing on the positive -- the student who tells you that he or she learned something that first week of school or the child who speaks to you in the parking lot and uses your correct name.
____16. Be realistic. You will not win the battle with every student. Don't let your sincere concern for each child turn into a depressing experience through a fear of failure.
____17. Be prepared for special students. You may have students with special learning problems or physical handicaps. Don't expect those problems to work themselves out. Plan from the beginning how you will deal with them in the best interests of the student, yourself, and the rest of the class.
____18. Think about health. Make an early determination about how you will handle students with special health problems. Do you know what to do if you have a student subject to epileptic seizures? What about administering medicine to students?
____19. Remember gifted students. As soon as you have identified students who could be considered gifted, make arrangements to address their specific abilities.
____20. Find a shoulder. Look for a colleague to turn to for special advice or simply to unburden yourself about a specific classroom challenge.
____21. Get parents involved. Determine how you will involve parents in your students' education during the coming year. Is there any special way to approach parent-teacher conferences? Are there any particular messages you want to send home to parents? How will you deal with parents who want to help their students learn?
____22. Communicate with parents. Send a note home early in the year to introduce yourself. If you teach primary grades, explain to parents that you need time to get to know pupils before you can comment on them. Let parents know that you are available, and list the process and times for getting in touch with you. If you teach upper grades, include your policy on homework.
____23. Know your rights. Read or re-read your contract so that you will know your rights.
____24. Plan lessons. Develop your lessons on the basis of what you think your students need to know and then determine the best way of teaching them.
____25. Support your association. Join your local education association for the moral support of people who understand the difficulty of your job.
____26. Make a good first impression. Whatever else you do, give the class the impression from the beginning that you are well organized. Your students must feel that you are prepared and know what you are doing.
____27. Build an attitude. From the first day forward, you can help your students decide whether school is drudgery or a serious undertaking that can be both rewarding and enjoyable. If you give the impression that being in class is a chore for you, that attitude will be reflected in your students.
____28. Foster curiosity. If you want your students to be curious, you have to set an atmosphere that encourages curiosity and doesn't stifle it.
____29. Start off slowly. During the first grading period, while the material is not too difficult, go over the course content slowly enough that most students can find some success.
____30. Set a positive tone. Send a positive note home with every student at some time during the year. Catch the kids being good.
____31. Keep the principal informed. If you plan to do anything new or unusual this year, make certain you mention it to your principal in advance.
____32. Brief your students. Let your students know early exactly what you expect of them in each class. Most students will rise to the teacher's expectations.
____33. Remember three qualities of good teaching. Be flexible, be patient, and keep your sense of humor.
Source: Adapted from 33 Ways to Start the First Year Off Right, Virginia Education Association, 2002.