If you are in the parts of the world where schools start in September and you happen to be a teacher, most likely you are already getting through your orientation-preparation time of the year. There is so much to do before school starts for students and with the planning, decorations and setting up online classrooms, all time might be spent without noticing. Below you can find a few more important boxes to tick: what I learned in about ten years of teaching and stick to whenever possible.
Planning VS Doing
Having that specifically assigned preparation time does not mean that everything must be squeezed into those two weeks. There is absolutely no way to prepare all the materials and whatnot for the whole year (or even a semester) so the key is to plan big (see the goals, objectives, and main steps towards them) and plan in detail the first week or, if you feel ambitious and productive, two weeks at most.
The issue with preparing actual class materials way ahead is that it is almost impossible to guess the level of your students till you actually start working with the group. It may easily turn out that with this specific year, the worksheet is either too easy or needs more elaboration and practice. Of course, preparing it ahead of time will save you time down the line but re-doing it to adjust might feel like doing it all over again.
Learn about your student profile
If you happen to have the enrollment list or just know that you take over a group from the previous teacher in their earlier grade, it never hurts to invest some time and ask around about the group profile. You can talk to the school counsellor, coordinators or those who taught them before.
Be careful, though. Do not let someone’s impression affect your own opinion about students before they even had a chance to meet you. Also, children change so much over the summer break, often they return to school much more mature or confident. Sadly, the opposite happens as well and issues at home or with friends may affect some children negatively. Instead of personalities focus on specific learning-related details: ability to work in groups, independent learning skills, time management, readiness to ask questions and how it is perceived in the group, if parents are actively involved, etc.
Go over your old materials
If you are an experienced teacher in that subject or in your school it is common to pass or share materials for the courses, you might find yourself with a box or a huge folder of different materials. Chances are, you won’t remember what exactly is where, what worked or did not (and why). You might also come across worksheets or presentations you forgot existed in the first place. There might be outdated materials because of the syllabus change, better materials available, or lack of actual learning happening (busy work with little gain). Some materials might need proofreading, newer pictures (especially for devices; nothing will show that the presentation is four years old better than a picture of an old phone).
Sort out your old materials: what you can use right now; what needs some editing and improvement and, finally, what you do not plan to use (store them somewhere if your consciousness does not allow you to discard the papers/files directly). This way you will know exactly what you have and what you need to create and prepare anew.
Finish your unfinished business
Okay, this will be an unpopular point in general because “you just returned from your summer holiday!” but life happens and it does not always perfectly align with the academic calendar. There might be paperwork to deal with, health checks or doctor appointments which were not needed or possible earlier.
Teachers can make fun that for us preparing a cover plan and then marking whatever was done creates more work than just bringing yourself to school, for example when you feel under the weather. With that, most of us would prefer to bring ourselves to school unless it’s something extreme. Still, the preparation time is still a chance to get permission easier to get things done, with no students to supervise while you are away. Yes, it is not perfect but easier for you to catch up with planning from home and have less to distract you later.