Getting prepared: The summer before that first year teaching

Getting prepared: The summer before that first year teaching

As I entered the summer before my first year teaching, I was excited and I thought that I was prepared. My schedule was full; I would be teaching graphic design 1 and 2, digital photography, Art 1, 2, and 3, and yearbook. Writing it all out like that sounds overwhelming, but by the end of the summer, I had done some research and made some plans for the first month or two of class and I felt relatively confident.

The first day of school arrived sooner than I would have liked, but as I said, I felt fairly confident in what I was doing. After day one, I was doing ok (that was mostly going over the syllabus, after all). After day two, I knew that more than half of the plans that I had made for that first month needed to be scrapped. 

My first digital photography lesson was pretty much finished; I had planned a week for it. My first graphic design lesson didn’t even get off the ground because half of the computers were not working and I couldn’t teach my lesson due to troubleshooting issues. And yearbook, well, to say that it didn’t start off well is an understatement. The yearbook from the previous year was basically a scrapbook with mediocre pictures. I had hoped to change things for the better, but it was going to be a long road as I was already meeting resistance. My art classes went well enough, but I was pretty stressed due to all the other craziness of the day.

The truth was, nothing could have prepared me for what lay ahead. Not only had I never even heard of Adobe Illustrator, but I had never been in yearbook class or worked on a yearbook before. The most I had ever done with yearbooks is flip through the index of my own high school yearbooks to see what page I was on, glance at the pictures, and then flip to the back with a pen for my friends to sign.

Your experience may be different, but two and a half months was not enough for me to prepare for that first year of school. I probably could have had 365 days to prepare and I am not sure that it would have been enough. There was simply too much to learn, and most of it, unfortunately, needed to be learned through experience.

Perhaps this doesn’t sound like a very encouraging post for those of you just starting out, but fear not! I will not leave you hanging! Below is a list of MUST DO’s when preparing for that first day/week of school. Some are things that I wish I had done, some are things that I am glad I did do.

  1. For high school classrooms: have a SOLID syllabus for each class. Include what you expect from them, a brief section on “rules of the class” and how you will be grading them throughout the semester. I also have them and their parents sign and return the last page of the syllabus for 5 points. The nice thing about that is that you have your first grade in the grade book without having to grade anything! (BONUS! I have linked my graphic design syllabus here for you to use as a reference!)
  2. Have a general plan for the semester. No matter what grade level you teach, a plan that maps out where you think you want the semester to go. Don’t try to do the whole year, that can be overwhelming! You can guess if you need to on how long you think a given lesson will end up being and you can change the plan as needed. (BONUS! I have liked the simple excel document that I use in the notes here!)
  3. Breathe! If ever you feel stressed or overwhelmed about the coming of the first day of school, just step out of planning/lesson creating and take a walk, have a drink, make some art, or whatever else you do to relax and come back to your work after an hour or a day. Remember: this is why you went to school and you will be awesome!

Don't forget to check out my free resources here, and if you are a veteran, I'd love it if you would share your experience from your first days of school! If you are just starting out and have some questions, I'd love to answer some for you!