Back to School… wait, what?

You’re a teacher? Insert the list of a million questions or statements we get following the words, “I am a teacher”…

IYKYK.

But more recently- that statement is followed by- Are you going back to school? How was online learning for you? Was it easier? Was it harder?

As if teaching didn’t already have a 4,762 page job description- the upcoming school year is about to add another 1,000 pages or so- whether you are online teaching, hybrid teaching, or fully in the classroom during a pandemic. (My heart goes out to the all the “in person during a pandemic” warriors…)

I am still a “new” teacher- I am going into my 4th year of teaching this year. But as I sit here spending a few hours a day prepping for the upcoming school year, planning for uncertainty (lemme tell you- uncertainty… she’s hard to plan for)… my head races with, “What do I start with? How do I begin? What am I missing?”

Whether it is your first year of teaching, or your 29th year- this year is presenting a whole new ball game of frazzled emotion.

So, I know I don’t have all the answers- in fact, if YOU DO, send them my way! However, I hope if you are reading this, you can find some part of this post helpful. My goal is to guide you into the “organize the chaos” part of your brain. I am thinking that in writing this all out, it will also help ME organize my own chaos- win, win?

The reality is, some of us might not know what or who we are teaching until days before school starts (to any non-teachers out there, yes, that is real). The reality also might be we have no idea what our schedule is going to look like- so how do we plan for something that we know virtually nothing about (see what I did there?)

It starts with a deep breath. I wish I had all encompassing wisdom that could break down, step by step, what each and every teacher should do- but that will NEVER be the case. So I can offer you what I do. Take it or leave it?

With everything going on in our country right now- this year feels extra heavy, as if an extra load of responsibility has been dumped into our hearts- not to mention the challenges of the pandemic. But, chances are, you know your content! You are an EXPERT in your content. You also know kids. My last guess and assumption is, you’re doing it for the kids. Yes, there are standards to hit, curriculum to cover, parents to address, district and school site guidelines to adhere to, a pandemic to stay safe from, etc.

But come back to your “why”. My sincere hope is that your answer is quite simple- you’re here for the kids. Whether your kids are 4 years old or 18. So, as we always do in true super hero fashion, we take on the challenges with a smile on our face and a *tinsy bit* of anxiety in our hearts…

So, to help me get my mind back into the learning game- I ask myself two questions that lead me into planning.

What knowledge do I want my students to walk away with by the time they are done with my class? How do I plan on addressing the needs of ALL of my students?

General Steps 101:

1. Organize your Drive– I would start with the essentials. I have a folder for the current school year “20/21”, I have a “District” folder, a “PD” folder, and a “Previous Year(s)” folder. Within those folders you can organize however best suits your brain- but within your current school year folder, I would recommend having it broken into content sections, units, rubrics, slides, etc.

2. Create your “Go To’s” for the year. My “Go To’s” include: Google Classroom, Canvas, Google Slides. I know that I am teaching 9th grade and 11th Grade English- therefor I have created empty classrooms on Google Classroom and I have created “base” slides for each grade level. Our district provides some curriculum on Canvas- so for that I know I will have to wait.

3. Start backwards planning. Maybe you’re 10 years in and you want (should) revamp some lessons and units, or maybe you’re starting from scratch. Backwards plan, either by quarter or semester. Here is where you can look at standards and curriculum. Go back to that initial guiding question and tweak it to, “What knowledge do I want my students to have by the end of _______?” I usually create a running Google Document with my big picture ideas, texts, writing prompts, mini lessons- it serves as a “memory dump”- it’s my chaos that I can then refer to when I get to the organization of units. I am also a huge paper person and use my teacher planner to scope out my months.

4. Create your first two weeks of “content”. Create the content that you don’t want to have to worry about the first couple of weeks, which may include any or all of the following: a class syllabus, a teacher website, a contact the teacher card, first week of ice breakers, dare I say it- a Bitmoji classroom, a student/parent communication form, etc.

5. Collaborate with other teachers! Maybe you have a big grade level team or department- or maybe you’re it! Either way, reach out to other teacher friends and ask them what they are doing- there is NO shame in asking for guidance or help when it comes to creating awesome and engaging curriculum. We want our students to engage with one another, to build off each others ideas- let us lead by example!

More Specifically Speaking I…

1. Created Google Classrooms for the content/grade levels I will be teaching.

2. Create Google Slides that will hold content for the year for each grade level.

3. Have a binder (and/or Folder in Drive) with each grade level standards, as well as last years units and lessons.

4. Create a “brain dump“- it’s a running Google Document with lessons, texts, writing prompts, rubrics, project ideas, etc… and start organizing them into the slides- have to start putting some sort of order to the madness 😉

5. I made a Teacher Website using Google Sites- this will house all the “Go To’s” for families, parents, guardians, and students. I have my Google Classrooms & Canvas Sites linked, I have a page for each grade level, I have a “Home” page which houses extra resources, and a contact page with my email, Remind App info, school website, etc.

6. I created a “Virtual Open House” which has the syllabus, an “About Me”, the schedule, virtual expectations, communication and contact info (again), etc- pretty much all the “basics”.

7. I also created a “Virtual Library“- reading will be different this year- especially since we are virtual- so even if I have not planned the specifics of what we will be reading as a class, small group, or individually- I have a library (created with Google Slides) that holds access and short summaries of high-interest novels.

8. Last, but not least, I have officially created a “Bitmoji Classroom“- it’s nothing too special, but I do believe its a creative and visually stimulating way to have students access content. Its’ on Google Slides and all you need to do is add the Bitmoji Chrome Extension. I have linked different sites to the pictured icons on each slide. For example, in my Bitmoji Classroom- on the “whiteboard” I have linked the weekly objective, the overview of the weeks assignments, and my Zoom office hour links. Or when you click the bulletin board that has an picture of the Google Classroom logo- it will take you to Google Classroom. When you click on MY Bitmoji- it’ll take you to the “About Me” slide.

**As I start to finish slides and classroom things, I will update this post to contain direct links to show you what I am talking about, but until then, take what you read with a grain of salt.

If there is anything that I have learned in my early years of teaching is that you can plan everything down to a perfect T- and it can and will all go up in flames. What I do may work well for you, or it might not- both are ok. I believe that teachers are the most successful when they find that teacher presence that is authentic to themselves. Students can detect BS from a mile away- so find what feels good and authentic to you in your planning… and run wild- the same direction that this profession usually takes us anyway 😉

Cheers to your new school year- in all its chaos and glory- this profession has my heart.

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