The school year does not quite begin on the first day of school in August or September for teachers. Rather, it can take days or weeks prior to students starting to get the classroom in order. Factor in even more time to prepare lesson plans for the start of the year—especially if your school adopted new curriculum materials! Additionally, there are plenty of clerical things that a teacher may need to complete.
The classroom is where the majority of learning will happen. It is where you and your students spend countless hours. I encourage you to create a welcoming environment for you and your class. A first-day-of-school checklist for teachers will help.
Back-to-School Teacher Checklist
Ready to create a classroom where you can do your best teaching and your students can do their best learning? Start by reviewing the items on this back-to-school teacher checklist below. Read on for more specific details about classroom setup, decorations, and activities to get the new school year off to a good start.
Classroom Organization and Setup
Be sure to have your classroom checklist on hand. Now take a good look around. Are the desks in a pile in the corner of the room being cleaned? Are they scattered? In rows? Or maybe you have tables for your students to sit at. Some schools even have a combination of desks and tables. Take an inventory of all the classroom furniture, including any bookshelves, technology carts, and filing cabinets, and do not forget about your teacher desk!
Next, channel your inner interior designer. Decide where you want your desks and bookshelves and what you want removed. I always like doing a quick sketch of my room to have a general idea of where I would like everything to go. I recommend holding on to a few extra student desks or chairs. If you have an extra table and the extra space, I suggest keeping this in your room for group work.
Once all the furniture is in place, organize your classroom library. I enjoy going through my books each year to examine the condition of picture books and chapter books I have available to my students. This also gives me an opportunity to find other books I may like to add to my classroom library.
Now that the furniture is in place, look at your classroom walls. What kind of bulletin boards do you have, if any? Are there whiteboards? Chalkboards? Some classrooms have walls of cabinets or lockers and maybe even dry-erase paint walls. Think about how you are going to hang up students’ work and decorate the classroom to promote a welcoming, engaging atmosphere for all. You may want to set up a designated area for students to display their future work.
Decorating Your Classroom
Decorating your classroom is specific to your content area or grade level. Some administrators require particular educational standards to be highlighted on the walls of your room, while others may leave that up to teachers. Remember that not everything needs to be put up on the first day. It is helpful to have the class schedule and/or calendar posted. Bulletin boards should be covered with paper, so should other parts of the room where you plan to hang things up. It is much easier to do this now before the school year gets into full swing. Displaying classroom birthdays is an inviting way for students to form a connection to the room they will be in for the school year.
Lastly, get labeling! Once you have your student roster or class list, determine what will require labels with student names. You may need to label folders, desk name plates, notebooks, student mailboxes, drawers, supply bins, consumable workbooks, lockers, or cubbies. I have found that typing student names on address labels and printing out a sheet or two per student has saved me a lot of time. It has also helped make transitions in the classroom much easier.
Labels are not just for student names. If you are an early childhood or primary school teacher, I encourage you to label items around your room as much as you are labeling supplies for your students. A literacy-rich classroom in the early years of education is important for students who are learning to read. Setting up a word wall that you continue to add to is a fantastic way to engage your students in vocabulary lessons.
Labels are important for secondary education students as well. I like to think of our classrooms as a huge net where our students are gathered together to learn. Each student has different beliefs about learning and understanding of content. As educators, it is our job to consider how to teach every student, no matter their experiences so far. While secondary teachers may not be labeling as much as early childhood or primary teachers, having sections of your room labeled for specific content areas where you can hang up informational resources or student work is a great way to create a literacy-rich classroom in the upper grades.
Have a Great First Day!
Write your first-day-of-school lesson plans, and plan the next few days, too! Depending on your school’s expectations, you may be spending this time helping students organize their supplies while also going through your classroom procedures and expectations. If their supplies are already organized, this gives you more time for the class to get to know one another!
Once the classroom is in working order, focus on what you will have the students focus on or what the class will complete together. Establishing a classroom rapport starts on the first day of school. The classroom is their “home base” at school, and it is imperative for a teacher to create the desired climate for learning.
Plan a fun and engaging first-day-of-school icebreaker activity to promote participation. I like to start with a classroom meeting on the carpet, where I introduce myself and complete the same activity that students will do at their seats. Usually, this includes drawing a picture of themselves and describing who they are, including their interests. When the class regroups, I have students take turns sharing their work before hanging it up around the room.
Double-Check Your List
A beginning-of-the-year checklist for teachers ensures the school year begins on the right foot. While different schools may have additional requirements or expectations from those mentioned above, all teachers face certain obligations at the start of the school year. Prioritize what the key things are that need to be done before the morning bell in August or September.
Remember, your students may be feeling excited and anxious, wondering what the day and the rest of the school year will look like. Your newly organized classroom should give them a sense of calm. Now all you have left to do is welcome them with a smile!
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.
Make the new school year a success with our free back-to-school teaching resources.
Dr. Linda Lucey
Associate Partner, ICLE
Lead Instructional Designer, ICLE
Zoe Del Mar