New School Year, New Beginnings

Welcome to the Literacy Teacher’s Life! This is your go-to blog about instruction for teaching reading and writing, as well as living the life you want to live! If you are a literacy educator, this is the space to help you as you plan your reading and writing instruction for students. My name is Elizabeth, and I am a teacher who has been in your shoes. When I started teaching elementary school, I had so many questions: What systems to put in place? When and how do I communicate with families and colleagues? What am I going to teach the students in my classroom?

I love beginnings! And, the start of the school year is one of my favorite times of the year because it is a time of new routines and new possibilities. Though the start of this school year looks different from any other beginning of the school year we’ve ever experienced, there are still things that can be done to make this time feel fresh and new. Here are some start-of-the-school-year routines and rituals that I am still doing this year:

Setting up a Classroom Space

This is going to be a first day of school unlike any other we’ve experienced. While setting up our classroom space is always exciting, now, for many of us, we have not set up a socially distanced classroom or a virtual classroom. This summer, I have been thinking through my office space and how I can use it to effectively teach. I set up my new whiteboard and have chart paper and markers in one spot that is easily accessible. I spent time organizing the children’s books I will need when teaching. My goal is to make my teaching materials readily available when I need them! This applies to teaching in a classroom setting or a home office turned virtual classroom. 

Right before schools moved to remote instruction in March, one of my students, who teaches in Brooklyn, brought home as many of her teaching materials as possible and set up a classroom in her basement. She put up one bulletin board filled with her students’ work and another bulletin board with the daily routines. Having materials that the students used in the classroom on a daily basis visible during her remote lessons helped the students feel more comfortable and kept a sense of normalcy.

I recently spoke with another student who just landed a new teaching position. She will be teaching face-to-face this fall and called me to talk through high-traffic areas in the classroom and how to manage these spaces. She had always envisioned having a writing center in the classroom full of different materials her students could use when crafting pieces. In order to maintain social distancing, she is making writing bins for each of her students and filling them up with different materials they can work with at their desk. The great thing about this is she can rotate and change the materials as needed for each student and can individualize the boxes as students are working on different writing work.

Staying Organized

I would describe myself as a very organized person. I do best when my things are in their rightful place and not scattered all about. To keep organized, I have assigned each class I am teaching a shelf in my office, so that all the materials I need are in one place. This way, everything for my classes goes in a central location so it is easy for me to find.

This fall I have been thinking about how to stay organized with regards to communicating with students. Because I will not see my students in person each week, I want to be upfront with them about how I will respond to emails and course material. Yes – they can set up a Zoom call with me, but it is not the same as stopping by my office to say a quick hi or ask a quick question. So, I have to have a plan in place so that they know what to expect from me. This year, my plan is to respond to emails within 24 hours so I do not keep students waiting or build up unnecessary anxiety. I recently attended an online training with a teacher who said that he and his colleagues have a friendly competition over who can respond to emails the fastest. He always wins! While you do not need to have a competition, figuring out a plan to respond to emails from parents or students will be helpful and alleviate extra stress. Another trick is to set aside specific times each day to check and respond to emails. For example, I tend to look through emails around 3:30PM on weekdays – it’s a time when many emails have come in and I can get responses out before the end of the day.

Buying School Supplies

As someone who enjoys fun notebooks and nice pens, buying school supplies is one of my favorite parts about this time of the year, and it’s one that I do not want to miss out on. Each summer, I typically buy new markers, colored pencils, and chart paper to use with my students. Since I will not be teaching them in person this semester, these supplies are not necessary, but I will need other materials. This year I decided to buy a magnetic white board easel and many different colors of dry erase markers so I can easily model skills and strategies when teaching remotely. It will also allow me to answer questions that come up during synchronous sessions. This has been a very popular purchase with my daughters who love drawing pictures on it and writing lists of toys that they will play with. One item that I did not expect to be purchasing is an external microphone for better quality audio for any videos I create for my students this semester. 

Another key supply I am using as the school year approaches is my planner, which I use to plan my days, weeks, and months. I also have a notebook dedicated to my teaching, which gives me a space to keep track of lesson ideas or areas I need to revisit with my classes. I like colors so I have been using colorful pens when writing. Currently, I have been using and enjoying the Stabilo Point Visco Pens, Gelly Roll pens, and Erin Condren’s Dual Tip Markers.

What are some routines and rituals you are doing this year to get set and situated for the year ahead? Let me know in the comments below!

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