Back-to-School is here, and for some teachers, this brings excitement and anticipation of what the new year will bring. For others (which I have to say is usually me), you can’t walk into your local “big box” stores without needing to breathe into a paper bag when you see all the new school supplies (let alone think about what you need to make your classroom run more smoothly!). Whatever you are feeling, from stoked to stressed, no problem; I’m here for you with some teacher hacks to help you prepare for a smooth, enjoyable first week back to school.
Hack #1: Use a file folder storage pocket to organize papers.
This was a definite game changer in my classroom! The pockets can be used with or without the actual file folders to hold any copies or forms that you might need. I like to organize papers using a file folder storage pocket chart like this one. I can see everything clearly and keep it organized in multiple ways. I have one storage pocket chart that is organized by day of the week and another organized by purpose (need to file, need to grade, need to pass out, etc.).
Another cool option for paper storage is storage drawers. However, those plastic tiered storage drawers can be expensive. Here’s an alternative: magazine holders! Take three magazine holders and lay them on their sides. Stack one on top of the other and use hot glue to attach the holders together. You can then print some cute, colorful labels for your DIY organization system to add some color and fun. Check out these Free Celebrate Learning labels (who doesn’t love free?). You could potentially put more than three together, depending on how sturdy the magazine holders are that you purchase. You can also make as many sets of three as you need!
Hack #2: Keep kids’ water bottles off the floor.
I don’t know about you, but one of the worst sounds that I can hear in my classroom is a water bottle hitting the floor (especially if it is metal). How do you solve this? Keep the water bottles off the floor and attached to student desks! The first time I saw this hack, it was like the sun started shining and birds started singing around me.
Here’s what you need: a cloth or canvas hanging shoe organizer, duct tape, zip ties, and an ice pick or sharp box cutter. Cut apart each individual shoe pocket, leaving enough material at the top to attach it to the desk. Use the duct tape to cover the edges of the shoe pocket so that the material doesn’t unravel. Use the ice pick or box cutter to cut two small holes in the top corners of the pocket. Use a zip tie through each hole you made and zip tie the pocket to one of the bars of the student desk. Voila! Students can place their water bottles in the pocket and keep them off the floor!
Hack #3: Get to know your students and let them get to know you with fun activities.
STEM team-building activities that get kids thinking and creating together. You can also ask “Would you rather…” questions, or have students ask them to one another (just prepare for a ton of giggles). Another fun thing is to ask the students to answer questions about YOU and then answer them (it’s always hilarious to see how old they think you are; I’ve gotten 75, 18, and everything in between). Have a variety of ideas on hand for any down time you might encounter, such as waiting in the line in the cafeteria, after you finish an activity early, or with a few extra minutes at the end of the day.
Hack #4: Be ready to support students who need a little more TLC with hands-on manipulatives.
While it would be great to think that all your students will adjust to their new classroom quickly and easily, we know that is likely not to be the case for one or more students. Be ready to help students who need a little extra support. Have at your disposal some materials for students who need help focusing (like fidgets or flexible seating) or for students who need help with their emotions. An easy, compact Calm Down Kit is easy to store and easy to pull out for a student who might benefit from the materials inside like anxiety and calming tips, fidgets, and an “I Can” EZ-Spin® Wheel. I always make sure to keep a few in my cabinet, ready to pull out if I need it this year.
I hope these hacks are useful and help you get your school year started off on the right foot, and don’t be afraid to ask other educators for tips too, there’s PLENTY to go around (and some really creative ones you might use for years to come!). Good luck teachers! We’ve got this!