How can it already be August 1st? It seems like it was just yesterday that my Instagram feed was full of “end of the school year” memes, and now everywhere I go I am reminded that I will be returning to my classroom Thursday for another school year. Going into year 5, I feel a mix of emotions. In some ways, even though I know this is what I am called to do, I can’t believe I’ve even made it this far. I am thrilled in some ways, because I have been working so hard on upgrading my biology curriculum this summer, and I can’t wait to put it into action. In many ways, I am just plain overwhelmed by the amount I still have to do in order to get ready for the big first day. But I know in this last week I want to find a balance between preparing for my return to the classroom and also enjoying these last days of summer and complete freedom. So here are my 5 tips for beating the back-to-school blues!
1. Change something up in your curriculum
NOTHING makes me more excited to start my day with my students than when I have created something new (that I of course think is completely awesome!) and I want to share it with my students. It’s so easy for teachers to settle into the curriculum we started using centuries ago and never make anything new. This may make our lives easier, but it doesn’t make our days more enjoyable. Especially if you are like me and taught at a school that had a semester block schedule – meaning you had 90-minute classes every day for the fall, and then new students in January, so you really taught through the material start to finish twice in one school year. It can get dull very quickly!
You don’t have to be crazy like I was this summer and revamp EVERYTHING all at once (I can get a little carried away…) But start with something you don’t enjoy teaching, and think about how you can make it awesome. I’ve never found any resources I like to teach photosynthesis – so this summer I came up with some awesome interactive activities that I can’t WAIT to implement with my students (I’ll write a blog post once I get them posted individually on TpT – currently they are only available as a part of my Energy Flow Unit bundle.) Or maybe you’ve always felt like the start of class is such a stressful time period. Start implementing bell ringers this year! Or a new grading strategy to minimize how much grading you are doing at home. Or even rearrange the order in which you teach the content. Any changes, however big or small, will help you be reinvigorated for the school year ahead.
2. Plan fun activities ahead of time so you have things to look forward to.
When I look ahead at my calendar for the school year, I know the times that are the craziest – right before the holidays, the lonnnnnggggg stretch between Columbus Day in October and Thanksgiving break in November, and of course, the even LONGER stretch between Presidents’ Day in February and spring break in April. Go ahead now and plan something awesome during these dull times to make it something to look forward to for you and your students. I love to implement creative in-class projects to use during some of these stretches of time that give me a break from lecturing and grading and give the students a break from a traditional classroom setting. For instance, the week after Thanksgiving break is our last week of regular classes before final exam review week. Kids have gotten a taste of break over Thanksgiving and are just in survival mode until winter break (let’s be real – we are ALL in survival mode at this point.) For my biology class, I always implement my Children’s Book Project during this time (it’s free by the way, so go ahead and do yourself a favor and download it now!!) It’s such a perfect filler for the week that gets students reviewing content for the final exam but is also a break for all
of us. For physical science, I always implement my Elemental Superhero Project somewhere during the long stretch between Presidents’ Day and spring break in order to break up the time a little bit and again – give everyone a break from lecture notes, extensive lab set-ups, and tests.
3. Set manageable goals.
I think one of the most overwhelming parts about Back to School is how much there is to do. You start making your to-do list and start having minor panic attacks realizing how much there is to get done – and wondering if it will even be possible. The key is to divide your list into smaller chunks, like day by day, in order to make each day more manageable. You want to set realistic goals for yourself – if you put too much on your plate and aren’t able to achieve it all, it will only make you more discouraged. If you get through it all and have time to get ahead and work on another section of the list, that’s even better! Divide your massive list into smaller lists by day, by topic, or even just by priority level, in order to feel accomplished as you attack it bullet by bullet, but not overwhelmed.
4. Treat yo self.
Forgive me, as we’ve been re-watching all of Parks and Rec on Netflix this summer, but this line from Donna and Tom is too perfect not to share. Seriously, you NEED to treat yourself! Nothing is more rewarding after completing a hard task than an actual reward. Was your hard task just getting out of bed and actually showering before your teacher workday? TREAT YO SELF to a Starbucks. You deserve it! Was your hard task for the day laminating 2349823948 million things for your classroom? TREAT YO SELF to a night in of take-out Chinese and binge-watching your favorite show. Was your hard task just finding some reason to be excited to return to school? TREAT YO SELF to a new top or maxi skirt that you can get excited about wearing when you go back to school (and have to actually start wearing real clothes every day. I legitimately haven’t worn anything without an elastic waistband in 10 weeks…) Was your hard task writing a new unit plan, or making lesson plans all day? TREAT YO SELF to something on Teachers Pay Teachers as a way to remove something from your own to-do list and support another teacher! Just like we do with our students, it isn’t bad to use a little extrinsic motivation for yourself, too. So treat yo self for all the hard work you’ve been doing!
5. Enjoy the time you do have left.
I am definitely the type that can spend all of my last weeks off in my classroom getting ready – and it isn’t ever worth it! I have to remind myself that my students will survive if I don’t have my lesson plans done for the entire school year finished (yep…I am that person) or I don’t have every new laminated sign perfectly placed. It is so important to find BALANCE and to not start the year off overworked. Teachers need summers off to recharge – so make sure you are doing just that! I know for myself, this is the sweetest time to just be with my husband and interact with him throughout the day since we all know during the school day we barely get time to pee, let alone send a text to our spouse. We live by the water so I am trying to soak up as much time in the sun and on a boat with him while I can. And you should too!
The BEST THING we can do for our students this summer, and in these last few days before we return to school, is get rested and refreshed so we can have patience, joy, and excitement when it is time to greet them at our doors every day. So get motivated and moving but also treat yo self and enjoy your time off – and let’s be these back-to-school blues together!