I get asked ALL the time, “How did you manage to only work 40 hours a week with 5 preps? How did you never bring work home? How did you maintain a 1 day turnaround policy for graded work?”
There are a LOT of systems and strategies I put into practice to make this happen (and I am sharing ALL of them in my Secondary Science Simplified™️ course.) However, one of the BIG things I did was use my summer time off wisely.
Did I work 40 hours a week all summer? ABSOLUTELY NOT! But I did devote a few hours every week to prepping for the next school year. This felt less overwhelming to me than working overtime the week before school starts to try to get prepped. I like to do things in small, digestible chunks so it feels less overwhelming to tackle. I am going to share with you 5 teacher prep tips I recommend doing every summer to set yourself up for a stress-free successful back to school season in the fall!
Teacher Prep Tip #1: Audit your resources.
Summer is a GREAT time to do an audit of your resources. Open up that scary cabinet below the sink in the back corner of your room and let whatever is living in there see the light (please tell me I’m not the only one with a scary cabinet like this??) Go through EVERYTHING you have and sort it into stacks of, “I use this”, “Someone else uses this but I am storing it”, and “No one is using this or ever will”.
Chuck everything in the last category. Find a new home for everything in the second category (preferably in the person’s room who uses it, but if not, somewhere easily accessible to them.) Make a list of what needs to be replenished in the “I use this” category.
I especially want you to go through your lab supplies. I do a full audit of my resources every summer, and then a maintenance check every quarter. I have a Google sheet that tracks it all, and will be sharing it with everyone who signs up for my upcoming FREE training, “3 Secrets for Stress-Free Lab Days“. If interested, you can join here.
This is a great time to make a list of what you really need AND what you really want. Then share that with your admin! If you don’t have a science budget, this is the time to ask your admin for support. I recommend showing them the FULL list first, and then negotiating after to make sure you at least get your short list. If you are certain they will say no, ask anyway! IT NEVER HURTS TO ASK!!! Worst case scenario, you are exactly where you were before. Best case scenario, you actually get something you can really use!
New teachers or teachers in a new school – find out when you can get in your classroom to do this! You never know what another teacher may have left behind (both good and bad) so the sooner you can assess what you have to work with, the better!
Teacher Prep Tip #2: Audit your space.
Since you are already in the mindset of surveying your resources, go ahead and survey your space as well. It doesn’t matter if you are a floater with only a 2×2 ft cart to your name, or have a full classroom with dedicated lab space, you have SOMETHING worth analyzing and making sure you are using it to the best of your abilities.
A word I keep coming back to over and over this year is steward. Steward, as a verb, means to manage or look after. Steward, as a noun, is one who is responsible for something. Either way, I love this word for my role as a teacher. No matter how little or how much you have, we all have space and resources we are responsible for stewarding well. Let’s ensure we are really doing that.
Give your classroom (or cart) a good look and consider, “Am I using this space as best I could? Is there a better way to rearrange my desks? Should I reconfigure my cabinet storage so that I can access certain things more easily? Am I wise in how I am using my valuable real estate?”
I consider “valuable real estate” the front of your classroom, where your students’ seats are most oriented towards. Where will their eyes most naturally be? THAT space is your most valuable space. Make sure you are using it well!
I don’t mean fill it with 2039 posters, but consider what would be the best use of that space. I also like to have some sort of demo table there. For a season of time, this was my floating cart. In another season, it was a foldable table with a wipeable table cloth on top. In my favorite season, it was a legit demo table with running water and gas. Regardless of what you have, consider how you can best use your space.
Now is the time, when you don’t have tests to grade or Spirit Week to coordinate, to use your extra mental energy to really reflect on what will be the best use of your space for you AND your students.
New teachers or teachers in a new school – don’t let overwhelm paralyze you! Just make a decision and go for it. If it is horrible, you can rearrange! Yes, it is harder to do it with students and supplies in place, but it is NOT impossible. I firmly believe it is never too late to hit the reset button and try something new!
Teacher Prep Tip #3: Assess your systems.
Ahhhh systems. One of my favorite words. I believe systems are the answer to preventing most of the overwhelming and stressful parts of this job. I have a system for everything – how I grade, how build relationships with students and admin, how I lesson plan, how I communicate with parents, etc. You name it, I probably have a system.
Not surprisingly, I LOVE The Home Edit.
All of that to say, I HIGHLY recommend spending some time thinking through the systems you have in place (or don’t) in your classroom. Not sure where to begin? Make a list of the things that feel the most stressful during a class period, or the times you get most impatient with students. Add to that list all of the questions you must commonly get asked by students that you are CONSTANTLY having to repeat.
Now take each of those things and come up with a system for them! For example, I always found class transition time very stressful. I had 5 minutes to do 12938 things while 30 kids moved out of my room and 30 kids moved in. Here is the system I came up with to manage it:
- As students leave my classroom, I only do 2 THINGS = pull up the next class period’s Prime Time (bell ringer), and lay out their answer sheets on their desks (which I can do in about 30 seconds because I collect them in the order they sit). If there are any special things I want students to know about, I will also jot something in the middle of the white board for them to read.
- This frees me up to move to the door and greet every student coming in for my next class (something I really care about doing!)
- As students walk in, they turn in any work, read my white board for any notes, and start working on their Prime Time.
- Once the bell rings, I train students to immediately start their Prime Time. They get 5 minutes, so I have now gained an extra 5 minutes to get oriented for the day and take attendance, pull out any materials, or pass back graded papers.
I hope this gives you some good ideas to get started! Now my favorite system of all is teacher prep tip #4…
Teacher Prep Tip #4: Batch lesson plan.
I cannot tell you all how much of a game changer it is to batch your lesson plans. What do I mean by that?
Batching means to do a lot of the same thing at once. This maximizes efficiency. My family has a secret family recipe for the most epic spaghetti sauce of all time. It includes homemade meatballs, browned pork chops, spicy Italian sausage, and more. The recipe is 5 pages long and it takes me 6 hours to make it.
How INSANE would it be if I made this spaghetti every week? Or every other week?? And yet we as teachers often sit down once a week and try to do this for 4+ preps at a time with our lesson plans.
So what do I do instead? Every time I make spaghetti I make enough for at least 6 meals worth. That’s right, 6 meals worth. This saves me so much time in the long run. If I can make 6 meatballs, I can easily make 36 with not much extra time. This is how batching works with lesson plans too!
Give yourself a few hours and sit down and try to do ALL of your lesson plans for an entire unit. If you are an experienced teacher, audit several units and make changes where you need to. You will also be amazed how much easier it is to lesson plan with a fresh mind and not an exhausted one! I actually love to batch lesson plan so much that I do my lesson plans for nearly the entire year for every class in the summer.
Do I stick to these 100%? No! But I at least have a plan and it makes it so much easier as each unit begins to work from my summer plans and not be starting from scratch.
I also love doing it this way because I can take a more holistic approach to each unit and really, each course, as I consider the BIG picture of each unit and not just, “What the heck are we doing tomorrow?” I can more clearly hit my target when I plan ahead rather than just inching towards it one day at a time when I don’t batch.
New teachers – I encourage you to at least plan out your first unit for each course you teach. Do this in its entirety – make every single component. From there, make an outline for the rest of your units so that you can batch those throughout the year.
Teacher Prep Tip #5: REST!
Most importantly, you DO need to rest. Limit your work time to a MAXIMUM of 10 hours a week (or 2 hours a day – divide it up how you wish!) If you designate a little work time to the first four tips, you will feel productive and won’t feel the guilt many of us feel about actually enjoying the time off.
Then use the rest of your time to really do just that – ENJOY IT!! Your salary may be paid out over a 12 month period but let’s be real, no teacher really gets the summers off, you just work way harder during the school year. Do take time EVERY DAY to rest and recharge. You NEED this in order to fill your cup and be the best version of yourself that you can be for your students come fall.