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Beginning of the School Year: 5 Mistakes to Avoid

5 mistakes to avoid at the beginning of the school year

All signs are pointing to the beginning of the school year being upon us once again, teacher friends. The Target dollar spot is filled with school supplies. Lunchables are put out on the seasonal table at the front of Publix. And I am constantly waking up in the middle of the night with things to add to my back-to-school to-do list (even though I’m not in the classroom this year #makemybrainstopit)

It’s like my mind and body don’t know how to NOT be in that beginning of the school year fight-or-flight state of constant excitement, adrenaline, and let’s be honest…a little stress too. I love the newness of a new school year but I also always feel the pressure of a new year to be BETTER than the last, and I know a lot of that tension arises to make sure I start the school year strong in order to set the tone for the rest of the year.

Because here is the deal – if I am honest, there are a LOT of mistakes I’ve made in my teaching career – especially when I think back to those early years. In particular, I think of the things I WISH I had done from the beginning of the year because it would have made my life a WHOLE LOT EASIER the rest of the school year.

I want to help you not make those same mistakes!! To do so I am sharing 5 beginning of the school year mistakes to AVOID making so that your life will be MUCH easier the rest of the school year!

Beginning of the School Year Mistake #1: Not doing a bell ringer.

Mistake #1 to avoid at the beginning of the school year: not doing bell ringers

In the first days of school, you SET THE STAGE for the culture and rhythms of your classroom. Train your students from the VERY FIRST DAY in the procedures and routines you want to become second nature. One of those critical procedures for me is making sure that every class starts with a bell ringer.

I truly think that a bell ringer (what I like to call, Prime Time) is THE MOST important procedure to have in a secondary science classroom – and it is SO MUCH EASIER to implement if you start this at the beginning of the school year.

Give yourself the gift this school year of 5 minutes to catch your breath, transition your materials to your next class, take attendance, and check in with students before starting your class. You can do ALL of this with a well-implemented bell ringer procedure.

I know, I know. You’ve tried bell ringers and hate them. I GET IT. But would you be willing to try again?? Don’t make the mistake I did early on by not doing bell ringers because they felt too hard to make. You can purchase ready-made ones or just make them each morning before school starts (and you only have to do this ONCE per class and then you have them for life!)

SET THE TONE FROM DAY 1 for class periods that start in peace and quiet so you can get your mind right. Go into the year equipped with all my bell ringer strategies for success. I promise you it will be a game-changer for your classroom culture if you train your students from day 1 on how to do them. Speaking of training…

Beginning of the School Year Mistake #2: Checking email multiple times a day

Mistake #2 to avoid at the beginning of the school year: checking email multiple times a day

You may be thinking this is impossible but HEAR ME OUT.

When we answer emails multiple times a day, we train parents, admin, coworkers, and students that we are available all day every day. THIS SHOULD NOT BE THE CASE! What if this year you trained your students, their guardians, and your fellow teaching staff that you are NOT available 24/7 and will only see and respond to correspondence once a day?

Pick one time and stick with it. There is a learning curve which is why I want you to start doing this from day 1 rather than making the mistake of checking your email multiple times a day at first and then having to backtrack. I always liked to get to school 30-45 minutes early and knock out my email then. If I ran out of time I could do a BRIEF follow-up during lunch time but that was it.

Stop letting other people’s emergencies become your emergencies! Train your students to be problem solvers at 8 pm when they can’t remember the due date for their project rather than relying on YOU to respond to them while you are watching a TV show with your significant other.

You will also be AMAZED at how much time you can reclaim in your school day when you get out of your inbox – let alone the mental energy you can conserve! So turn off those notifications, pop-ups, and dings. DELETE the LMS app and Gmail off your phone. I beg you to give it a try during the first month of school and see what happens!

Beginning of the School Year Mistake #3: Not having set tutoring hours.

Mistake #3 to avoid at the beginning of the school year: not having set tutoring hours

In my first two years of teaching, I did not have set tutoring hours. Because of this, two things happened:

  1. Students didn’t ask for help because they didn’t know help was readily available.
  2. Students who were desperate for help would show up unannounced throughout the day and throw me off.

The majority of students didn’t get the help they needed, and the rest of the students constantly felt like a bother or an interruption. I would get to school early to make copies only to have a student waiting outside of my door for help. It would frustrate me – and it wasn’t THEIR fault! It was MY mistake!

Or I would be enjoying 20 min of peace and quiet at lunch only to see a head pop around the corner of my doorway and ask if they could ask me a question.

In my third year of teaching, I switched to a different school and we actually had SET school tutoring hours from 3-3:30 every day. School ended at 3 and every teacher was expected to STAY IN THEIR ROOM until 3:30 to be available to students. No going to make copies or skipping out for an appointment. Meetings couldn’t start until after 3:30 and neither could sports practices so that every student had an opportunity to receive extra help.

This was SO GOOD for me to have my school set these hours for me at the beginning of the school year – and it was something I kept up long after it was a requirement. I had a sign on my whiteboard for the tutoring hours and DAILY encouraged students to come during this time. If students did show up it wasn’t a nuisance at all, because I had blocked off the time for them! If a student came by in the morning or before lunch, I could guiltlessly tell them I wasn’t available but would be thrilled to help them during my set tutoring hours.

This made it easier for ME to block off my time to accomplish all my non-teaching tasks and still only work 40 hours a week. It also was actually easier for STUDENTS and their PARENTS because the time was CONSISTENT. Even if afternoons were a hard time for them, or they rode the bus, it was easier to schedule alternative rides when they KNEW that I would be there during that time every day no matter what.

And guess what? Sometimes (but rarely) I had no students and it became an extra 30 minutes to lab prep, grade, or lesson plan. But setting the expectation to always have students freed me up to really serve students well and have patience for them (which is honestly something I am not great at and am ALWAYS working on!)

Beginning of the School Year Mistake #4: Grading everything.

Mistake #4 to avoid at the beginning of the school year: grading everything

Another huge mistake I made as a first-year teacher was grading everything, always. I was convinced that students would never try hard or do their work at all if they weren’t getting a grade for it. This left me totally drained and completely overworked.

It is impossible to work 40 hours a week if you are collecting and grading everything you give your students. And I want you to work only 40 hours a week!!!

So what do we do? From the very beginning of the school year set the tone that you do NOT grade everything. Train students from day 1 that you will not collect and grade every single thing they do.

Teach them that the instructional resources you utilize are to encourage LEARNING the material, not simply rewarding points.

Let’s not train our students that they will always be “getting a grade for this.” Let’s start from the BEGINNING by training them to be intrinsically motivated rather than extrinsically. Not sure where to begin to break the habit of grading everything? Check out this blog post here all about decreasing your grading time.

Beginning of the School Year Mistake #5: Minimizing student issues/conflicts.

Mistake #5 to avoid at the beginning of the school year: minimizing student issues

I urge you at the beginning of this school year to NOT make the same mistake I did my first few years in the classroom. To be honest, when I had a conflict or an issue arise with a student (anything from disrespect to simply not turning in their first few assignments), I was always afraid of “making mountains out of molehills”. I didn’t want to blow up an issue out of proportion.

I thought I was giving students grace when I minimized issues that arose early on when in actuality, I was cultivating a classroom culture of avoidance that did NOT serve my students well.

I was afraid of being proactive about potential conflicts so instead, I would wait until a molehill really did become a mountain. At that point, the issue was so big that both my students and I had preconceived notions and emotions towards each other and it made the situation so much more charged than it needed to be. I became a reactive teacher rather than a proactive one.

Don’t make this same mistake! Nip issues in the bud BEFORE they even become issues. Meet the student where they are and acknowledge the issue and come up with a solution. Share your heart that you want to do this early on at the beginning of the school year so that it doesn’t affect your relationship with the student and their experience in your classroom the rest of the year. Reevaluate your system for parent communication, too. I promise it will transform how the rest of your school year goes if issues are not minimized but instead proactively addressed from the very beginning of the school year!

What mistakes did you make in your first years in the classroom that you actively avoid now? Reach out and let me know!

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