If you are a teacher who gets the summer off then I hope you enjoy the break, but do not forget about what awaits you in 2-3 months time. School will start again. Every year when I return to school the week before it starts I am always surprised by how many of my teaching colleagues are anxious, nervous, worried, and generally unprepared to return to school again. I am all for people enjoying their summer break – I do. However, if you never stop to think about the upcoming school year until right before you go back to school I believe you are not putting yourself in the best situation to excel right from the start of the new school year. If you prepare well you will enter the new school year with an increased confidence, energy, and hopefully an excitement to start.
That being said, I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting you spend 4 hours a day, every day of the summer working on school work. But I do suggest you start thinking about things and processing right now while this year is fresh in your mind, take an extended break of not thinking about school, and then start thinking and planning in detail 3-4 weeks before school starts.
Where to start? Start by reflecting on this past school year. Write down some things that went well and some things that didn’t. Write down some things that you know you could have been done better. The key here is to focus on which aspects of your teaching need improvement while realizing that you are doing some things well. The things to comment on can run the gamut from classroom management and logistical skills to content specific instructional practices and everything in between.
Go over the things that need improvement from your list. Most of these items will not need significant time investment or planning to improve. A lot of them will benefit from taking the time to think about them more often as you plan and lesson prep. These improvement items often will need to move from an afterthought to a forethought. I will use grouping as a personal example. The way I decided to group students or have them work in groups this past year was not often thought about until we were getting into groups during class. To get better at grouping, I do not necessarily need to read a book on grouping or begin an internet quest to discover the best techniques, but rather I need to just spend some time thinking about it before I teach the lesson. I need to come up with some various grouping plans and have them ready to put into place more specifically this year.
Making a list of things that I need to keep in my mind as improvements will help me as I begin planning for the new school year. I can begin thinking and making notes on new ways to improve these aspects over the summer. If you spend enough time thinking about and planning out some of these missteps you had in the past then you will be ready to engage and try out some new things to take your teaching to another level.
That is step 1. Look at what you did, examine your shortcomings that come directly from your attempts in the classroom, and look at how to make them better.
Step 2 is equally important. I think every teacher after doing the above needs to then consider one thing they can add to their teaching repertoire that they have not tried in any significant way. It could be a new technique that you will consistently do over the course of the year (like sending positive feedback home to parents) or that you will be incorporating into your instruction (like having your students journal). Either way this should be something fairly substantial. Something you can sink your teeth into.
This item is what I suggest you do some research on and plan extensively. It should not be something that when you implement it this year that you are expecting it to go buttery smooth, but rather something that you will incorporate this year that will add substantial value to your classroom and will then be revisited and revised for the following year to continue its impact in the classroom.
I suggest not tackling more than one completely new item a year. It can be rather overwhelming to attempt to add many new skills in one year. The reality is that you will already by working on making several things better from the year you just had so you do not want to overwhelm yourself with too much more. One new skill to develop that will make you a better teacher and impact your student’s learning is worth it.
Most of us are in teaching for the long haul. It should be our goal to getter better each year. At the end of each year I want to be able to look back and say “I was a better teacher this year then I was the year before” (Note: I did not say that I had a better year than I did the year before, the students you get have a lot to do with how well your year goes – this is different than how well you taught).
If you have a desire to be better then you are already well on your way to being better. We all know teachers who are set in their ways, do not want to try anything new, and are content with just chugging through a year in order to get to summer. I have always said I will not be that teacher. I want to be the best math teacher possible. I thought early on that I could become the best math teacher in a couple years, I am learning now that it might take me 30 years to become the best math teacher, but every year I am going to put in the work to become better. I hope you do the same and encourage your peers to do so as well.