How should a high school English teacher prepare for back to school?
With the start of fall around the corner and high school English classes about to begin, it’s a busy time for all teachers. As a high school English teacher you face unique challenges in preparing your syllabus, organizing your classroom materials, readying lesson plans and getting up to speed with new technologies.
The transition from summer break to teaching can be stressful as the academic year begins—at least it is for me. Rest assured that you don’t have to go through this process alone; here is some guidance on how to make starting back going smoothly so that you can tackle any obstacles that arise while providing an engaging and supportive learning environment for your students.
What to forget:
Some actions have not paid off for me as I work toward the difficult months of the school year. Here is where I don’t spend a ton of time:
Spending a ton of time/money on classroom decor.
Years ago, I spent money on decor. I wish I had spent money on my classroom library. Typically, I cover my bulletin boards in plain paper, sometimes plain white or brown, and hang student work.
As a high school English teacher, my bulletin boards are interactive. Students often create the content of the bulletin boards, and I only provide the border and the heading. Students add one pagers, sticky notes, and personal touches to my boards. Often, the boards turn into word walls.
Setting up complex systems.
Overwhelming myself and students—not necessary!
Unless your school requires complex bathroom and pass systems, keep the process simple. Students appreciate when you have a simple system.
When I review procedures and routines at the start of the year, we are able to begin learning and interacting in purposeful ways. Additionally, students start to realize they belong to this community of learners. They aren’t overwhelmed with complex systems. Simplify.
Plus, some students find the first day of school overwhelming. I do fun activities with students later, after we all know each other. Some people find the basics boring for the first day of school, but a simple introduction and outline can calm some students’ fear and nerves. I don’t lecture, and I don’t read straight from the syllabus, but the first day is not a hyper one in my classroom.
What to employ:
I haven’t seen my students for months! As the model in the classroom, I should approach students with excitement, sure, but I should also model constructive and purposeful behavior.
If you’ve followed me for some time, you know I don’t believe in ice breakers or dangerous activities to start the school year. I build relationships naturally, both through connections and content. My school year starts with routines and procedures and content. Some educators might think I’m boring, but I believe that I’m creating a safe and welcoming environment for introverts and our at-risk students.
I’ll cover routines, including our online learning platforms. Then, I’ll cover expectations, including safety protocols. Next, we’ll start with a pre-assessment in the form of a paragraph. (You can download the assessment for free in my library.) With a small writing assignment, I can get to know students through their writing, and I get a baseline for my future writing and grammar lessons.
Organizing digital spaces.
My idea of a digital space is “cute.” I adore lace and purple. But! My digital classroom space is for everyone, and that includes students who might experience sensory overload.
When I design my digital classroom, I am using simple colors without busy pieces. Primarily, I’m creating Google websites that allow me to provide information (facts, examples, and videos) so that I can send students where they need to go. As usual, my Google Classroom pages will be simple.
Hopefully, this school year is a safe one. As a high school English teacher, I’m aware that my responsibilities are huge. Not only am I responsible for physical and mental safety of my students, but I also need to ensure my students learn. My students need four years of English to graduate, and I can’t let a pandemic harm their futures.
Introduce meaningful activities.
I build relationships through content. To me, that means that students and I bond over book recommendations, writing prompts, and research. Sure, sometimes we discuss marching band or cheerleading, but most often, students and I work through the content and build relationships that way.
To build that community of learners, I start with purposeful introductory activities and pretests. Here are some:
A pretest might seem out of place, but I tell students with sincerity that I do not want to bore or overwhelm them. If they are confident with information, we will move on. If they need to review, we will review together. From pretests, one pagers, and other activities, I get data for planning.
My message: We are learning together, and I want to figure out the best way for me to help you.
Soon, I’ll be grading papers and writing letters of recommendation. I worried about my students last spring, and this year probably brings the same concerns. As I prepare for the school year, I’m rearranging some of my focuses and shifting how I normally prepare for the school year. Thanks for reading along as I brainstorm; I hope this post inspired you!