Category Archives: summer

Required Summer To-Do List for Teachers

What? Another list of requirements before you head out the door and escape into Summer?

Well no. This one is intended to save you from making the kind of mistakes that will result in your being diagnosed as unfit to teach in the Fall.

So, in the spirit of Summer and recognizing that teachers everywhere are counting down the days that remain alongside the children they teach – here is the required Summer To-Do List.

  1. Spend time with family. It’s their turn. They have watched you grade papers while you tried your best to watch your favorite tv show, and failed. They have tried to pull you away from worrying about students who weren’t as worried as you were.They have been patient about you not always being there when you should’ve been. They have wondered why you get home so late when school was over hours ago. It’s their turn now… go spend time with family.

  2. Go to the restroom at will. You do not need to get a child, sibling, partner or spouse to watch the living room and any antics that might occur within that space. It’s ok to finally take your time. Just go to the restroom. NOTE: chain around the above facility used only for training purposes to begin in late August.

  3. Do NOT go to Pinterest in search of new ideas until #8 is adhered to. It’s quite enticing to see what better ideas are out there. And they’re out there – you’re smart and you’ll find them. If you go to this space where perfection is shown to any well meaning searcher, you will already feel stressed about what you think you need to do in September — and that’s just plain silly. It’s vacation time, remember?

  4. Don’t worry about having to tell another human being when they can go to the restroom. If you have children at home you might need to require them to make a visit, but otherwise there’s little need to now determine if the little ones really need to go. Also, if you’re shopping and see a little person with a worried-I’m-going-to-pee-in-my-pants look, you do not need to get involved. Allow it to play out without your expert opinion. Grab a coffee and sit down if you must, and watch from afar. You can worry about this issue again in September.

  5. Don’t go to work early, don’t stay after work till it’s late. Don’t go in at all. It’s ok. If you’re like me and are a career switcher, having off for many weeks really is unusual. Relax. If you find it difficult to relax, you need to get in your car and take a trip to a relaxing spot and require yourself to stay there until you admit to yourself that you’re relaxed. This might take some time, I know, just leave a I’m-safe-and-relaxing not for your family. Your children in the Fall will be better that you’ll return refreshed.

  6. Get away, take some time away. Go on a trip. Plan to visit a place you wouldn’t normally. Go on an adventure. You earned the time to explore. Since last Summer you’ve been required to be in that room, at that time, for those hours, and unable to leave regardless of bladder issues, or the insanity that awaits you in the morning. Go far, see what you haven’t yet seen, and maybe take a picture or two to share with your class when you return.

  7. You may now schedule any and all medical appointments. You can do so without feeling guilty that you’re away from your students. It’s time to take care of yourself. You should have done so throughout the year, but you didn’t. Please only do so after reading the next to-do, if at all possible. NOTE: Are those medical instruments making you squeamish too?

  8. Do not, under any circumstances, think about school for at least two weeks after leaving the premises. You’ve no doubt packed up, followed all those many protocols in leaving your room in good order, and maybe even stacked the chairs and desks. There’s nothing there for you now, so allow the building staff to do their business while you stay away. Heck, the air conditioning probably isn’t even on except for the office area. Imagine working in that heat during this weather? Don’t think about it, don’t go back!

  9. When it gets close to the end of July, you may begin thinking about school. What you might want to do differently next academic year may surface in your head, and thinking about it is ok. However, do not spend excessive time on this. There will be more than enough time for this in August. Set your clock and spend no more than 15 minutes per day on any school related site. If you break this rule, you must spend an exponential amount of time at either a) the pool, b) sandy beach, or c) in front of the tv watching your favorite reruns. No cheating please.

  10.  Laugh. Laugh often. Laugh when people are watching and when you’re alone. Each year there are plenty of things that keep us from being joyful. Find the laughter within and around you.

Have a great Summer my fellow teachers. You’ve earned it.

6 Reminders As You Prepare Your Classroom

Pre Classroom

It’s time. There’s no denying it any longer.

Class rosters have been assembled and you may have even been given your teacher copy.

I went online a few days ago and saw pictures of my 2016-2017 students. Taken from last year’s school pictures they were all smiles.

It’s teacher work week.

What to do, where to start? For over a decade I’ve found myself anxious about the first week. As teachers we want students’ first day to be perfect.

Here are this year’s seven things to focus on with the time you have remaining before the first day’s school bell rings.

1. Get to know your students.

Seek out their files, close the door, and do some reading. I often spend too much time on whether my classroom walls express the right feeling and not enough on beginning to understand the students that will be walking into my room.

I always want the walls to say “I’m glad you’re here” and I want my desks arranged just so. I clean off my desks and chairs of their summertime dusting. Like a fool I am so enthralled by the looks of my room that I forgo learning about my soon-to-be students’ personalities, strengths and weaknesses.

So take some time to set aside the worry about your bulletin boards and learn about your students.

And as you finish reading how they have done in the past and you’ve taken some notes – erase, erase, erase. Erase what you’ll remember about what others have written because you really ought to give your students a chance to redo. Redo what didn’t go well in the past. Redo the year with a new teacher.

Having said all that, it doesn’t mean you should ignore the past, just be willing to say believe it’s a brand new year with great possibilities ahead.

2. Think about what went well last year, and remember.

Do you remember what went well?

Too often we think about all the tension we experienced trying to get students to understand or when  we were disappointed in ourselves in how the went.

You know though, that good things happened right? That every day you put a smile on a students face and you made them feel better about themselves.

  • I remember the success I had with students.
  • I remember them screaming to me from their buses as they left that last day.
  • I remember their excitement as visitors came into my classroom.
  • I am happy to report that it seems that I have survived my first year of teaching the 3rd grade – a transition from the 5th.
  • I am happy that my schoolmares didn’t come true and my students’ scores on their state assessments were overall pretty good.
  • I love the memory of a previous student coming to me on that Back to School day and her mom telling me how her daughter had spend all summer planning out her future as a result of a math bill paying lesson in which we discussed cars, college and houses. They were both all smiles greeting me at my door – makes me smile sitting here one whole year later.

3. Now think about what didn’t go so well last year, and correct.

For me this is easier to do.

  • I remember the times that my lessons didn’t go as well as I scripted them.
  • When I felt overwhelmed by the amount of instruction it seemed I hadn’t gotten to yet while looking at the calendar and seeing how few days remained.
  • The amount of paperwork that kept coming at me from our aides who were doing an excellent job of providing copies of worksheets, yet I felt overwhelmed by when it was supposed to be taught and given – it was my first year teaching third.
  • Where all that paperwork went as I tried to organize it in preparation for that week or that following week’s lessons.
  • Feeling rushed to teach a lesson instead of listening to a story a student wanted to share – this one really bothers me.
  • The times students go home telling half the story and there’s an entire other half of the story that wasn’t told which makes the student’s story far less concerning.
  • When I’m critical of my own teaching and forget when things went exceptionally well.

How about you? Is it easier to remember when it didn’t go as planned?

4. Remember what made you happy last year.

  • I loved it when my students made me laugh by telling me a story. I’m reminded of when I asked them to go home and do something nice, just because. The reactions from parents and siblings that they shared in class was wonderful.
  • Cheese and Crackers – when I ask students to come to the front of the classroom, so we can get to know one another better. I ask them a few warm up questions like favorite questions or how many pets they own, and then students ask the student questions. Why it’s called Cheese and Crackers? I have no idea how that came about.
  • When students trade in tickets they have earned for good behavior and they want to spend time with me eating lunch together with another friend. It’s always insightful and it’s almost always fun to hear their stories.
  • One of my parent volunteers offered a bit of a water balloon contest driven by their success on the state assessments. I naturally included myself in the “bet”. Passing the test garnered one balloon, pass advanced gave them two and a perfect score earned them ten water balloons.  At about twenty yards they were so excited about the prospect of nailing me with a water balloon they almost always missed me. I laughed. They laughed and screamed. I remained largely dry.

5. Do some lesson planning early on.

Every year I’m exhausted before my students ever set foot into my classroom. I’ve spent each day of teacher work week attempting to make things just so to find my lessons incomplete going into Labor Day Weekend.

This year my plans will be done before that week begins.

Current status? I’ve gone in a week early and already feeling better about changes I’m making to how my class looks and how I will change what didn’t go well last year.

6. Take a breath.

If this is your first year, your adventure is about to begin and you’ve done all you can to get ready. I still remember sitting in my first classroom at Pole Green Elementary and looking around at what would become the space in which I would teach. I was in awe that I would be in charge and I was overwhelmed that it was me that would be in charge.

If you are returning, then this is all something you’ve done many times in the past. Remember? Take the good memories and hold on to them tightly as the calm of summer begins to unravel. Remember the challenges and do something about trying to keep them from repeating.

As multiple principals have shared with me in the past, the #1 goal the first day is to get all your students back home safely that first day. Certainly an easy task with all the other objectives you have.

It’s supposed to be fun. Enjoy yourself a little and make your students’ day one in which they will remember well and be excited about returning to the next time they see you.

What about your reminders about preparing for the first days of school? I would love to hear them to add them to my own.

Teacher’s Nightmare(s)

boy and microphone

Every year about this time it begins.

Every year. Without fail.

The last two nights it’s happened again.

Nightmares about the beginning of school.

It’s getting close to the end of summer, but I know I have plenty of time left. Time to work on the house, go on a little end of summer vacation, write, ride my bike in the morning without being rushed, or think of my next dinner and the required shopping list.

What you didn’t see listed is lesson planning, calling parents, worrying about a student’s academic challenges, considering a parent’s concerns and how I might address them, SOL preparation, grading papers, or making today’s lesson better,

And that’s ok. I have time. Still some time left before those school year realities begin.

My mind, however, thinks otherwise.

It’s rare that a summer doesn’t include some sort of a series of nightmares driven by anxiety or what the unknown future holds. It happens not just during testing, but also about this time of year.

What do these nightmares contain?

Here’s a glimpse.

Students out of control. Throwing paper airplanes, out of their seats, not listening to my instructions, screaming at the top of their lungs, talking to one another, still not listening to me, rearranging their desks, destroying their notebooks, not facing me as I try to regain control, and lastly, mocking my efforts, still not listening to me – in fact they are turning their backs to me in defiance.

Even now my anxiety has risen. Cold sweat is about to start rolling down my forehead.

You would think that after over a decade of teaching that this teaching thing is all second nature. That I can enter a new year of teaching students without a thought, do it in my sleep even.

This just isn’t possible. Not for me anyway.

Perhaps because over a decade’s worth of teaching has provided a good number of surprises.

I’ve had my share of students proudly exclaiming to both myself and the rest of the class that they weren’t going to do the work – it didn’t matter what I was going to do either – they proudly told me that too.

I’ve worried about students when they have been in the bathroom too long. I’ve worried as I’ve looked around as we headed through the school building only to start stressing about the whereabouts of a particular student – they were absent that day and I had forgotten.

I worry about the quiet ones that don’t quite know yet that I’m there because of them. That their voice is important, that taking a guess is ok. I worry that maybe no one has ever told them that they count. Some of them won’t believe in themselves and think that they have no god given gifts. I worry that I won’t make a connection that will help them see that regardless of challenge, they can indeed overcome it.

I stress about the unruly ones. The ones that come to school and act either completely different than they do at home or exactly how they act at home, either way, not good.

I feel though, that I am lucky. I am not a kindergarten teacher who instructs half their class, or more, on what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior. Those colleagues take students who may have never been read to or may have never seen an educational tv program (you know, Sesame Street) and then teach them what it means to learn and prove that learning. Kindergarten teachers are amazing – their gift for patience and love seems unending.

I’ll add that when I taught fifth grade, they would say similar things about my job and how they could never do what I did. The feeling, my K friends, is mutual.

So I am lucky that for several years before my students arrive in my class, they have already been taught right from wrong, what a test requires, and hopefully that asking questions is ok.

Therefore when that student comes to me and begins the first day being defiant, I don’t think that it’s me. When a student spends the first few days trying to be impressive for all the wrong reasons, I am stunned and cautious. They’ve made an interesting first impression and I have to wonder, what’s next?

So for these reasons I expect the nightmares to continue.


But I suppose there’s a reason for the anxiety. Until that first day of school when the unknown becomes the familiar, I will worry about each of my students.

Even though I haven’t met them, don’t recognize their faces, don’t know their personalities, character or aptitude for math, I will worry.

I worry because I want this year not to just be impactful, but also a place they want to arrive each day. So here’s to what awaits all of my fellow teachers and I.

An opportunity to impact a few, a few more, maybe even connect with the majority. Soon the bell will ring and the first-day-of-school-jitters will be felt by both my students and I. We will settle into our routine and begin the new year learning together.

For now though, I hope the nightmares end soon.

I would love for you to comment on this blog and share your specific anxieties about the new year. How do you overcome the nervousness?

Am I the only one waking up in the middle of the night from the sound of paper hitting the back of my head?