— Peter Santoro —
As I write this article, there are about two and a half weeks left of summer vacation. This summer, like most, has passed by with lightning speed. We’ve had vacations and plenty of relaxing, care-free days. I know the end of summer is approaching when I get that envelope in the mail from my school. In that envelope are my teaching schedule and the “welcome back” letter from the superintendent, along with the schedule for the two superintendent conference days scheduled for the week before Labor Day.
During these last two weeks of summer vacation, I typically start my planning for the coming school year. I always begin this “process” by looking back at the school year that ended in June. I look at the lessons and activities that worked well, and I start to assess ways to improve them for the new school year. I give a particularly hard look at the things that did not go so well. On those lessons, I put a red “sticky note” with a comment or two written on it to guide me this year. In the past, I’ve written things like, “What made me think this was a good idea?” or “Make sure to explain this better next time!” There is an old expression that goes something like, “Your past mistakes are meant to guide you, not define you.” I am a believer in that statement.
As teachers, we are in a unique position, quite unlike most other professions. We get a chance to redefine ourselves at the beginning of each new school year. Every September, we all get to start anew. I can set a new/different tone from the past, rework my expectations for my students, rearrange my classroom, and any other things that come to mind as I reflect on the school year that ended in June. This period, for me, is a time of reflection. What were my successes and my failures? Let’s face it, not every activity or lesson is a success, and that’s okay. If we don’t try new things, we are not growing. I’m not terribly hard on myself when I try something new, and it fails miserably. I try to troubleshoot those lessons as soon as possible afterward. I look for things that didn’t go so well and assess whether or not I can tweak it and try it again or just scrap it totally.
So here is my six-point back-to-school checklist:
Look at my rosters and see how each student finished the last school year. This practice gives me an idea about how my students performed and to get an idea of how much I need to review during the first few days of school to fill in any gaps from last year.
Review my course outlines and make updates as necessary.
Assess my video lessons and my Individual Space assignments/activities. Rerecord video lessons and make changes to Individual Space work as needed.
Group space. This is where I spend the most time as I review and reassess last year’s work.
After looking at my list above, I’m glad I had the summer to rest, regroup and clear my mind. But, the process of writing this article has me excited for the coming school year. With each school year, there is a little bit of the unknown that accompanies the first day of school. New names and personalities to learn, new routines for both me and my students. On the first day of school, I try to recapture the excitement (minus the fear) that I had that first day I ever entered the classroom as a teacher. The optimism and wonderment are contagious, and I hope my students feel it from me and want to come along for the ride this school year!