At the beginning of every year, I feel like my mind is going a million miles a minute. There is so much to do to get your classroom ready for the year and it all has to come together very quickly. I work in a year-round school which means our school year ends on June 30th and the new year begins one week later. With little time and a lot to do, I always have to make sure I’m organized so it all comes together as smoothly as possible. This is my teacher back to school checklist that I refer to each year that helps me get my classroom set up fast. I hope these tips help you too as you start the new school year!
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Back to School Checklist #1: Pencil Organization
The first thing I like to get ready at the beginning of the year is my system for pencils. Decide what your system for pencils will be so students will be set up for success from the beginning. Whether you use community pencils, individual pencil boxes, use the “great pencil race”, or a sharp pencil/dull pencil bin (like shown above), decide on the best system for your classroom so students aren’t asking for new pencils on a daily basis.
Back to School Checklist #2: Teacher Toolboxes
How will you organize student headphones and library cards? Think about this now rather than later. I have tried letting students keep these in their bookbag, cubby, and desk. They inevitably get lost because of the small pieces. A few years ago, I made a teacher toolbox with numbers on it for students’ miscellaneous items. My class keeps their earbuds, library cards, and passwords card in this box so they can grab them and go whenever they need to. As soon as they are done using the item, they know the expectation is to put it right back. Learn all of my teacher toolbox tips and tricks here.
Back to School Checklist #3: Classroom Paper Organization
How will you organize student papers? Will students put papers in one big bin and you will send them home at the end of the week? Will you use mailboxes and students will place all papers inside? Whatever method you use, it’s important to have it in place from Day 1.
I use a set of mailboxes that is numbered so that I don’t have to change it from year to year. It’s placed in a low spot in my classroom so students are able to reach it themselves. I also like mailboxes because I can keep papers that need to go home right on top! If I get yearbook forms, class pictures, or have interims, I put them on the top. On Friday afternoons, when my classroom is crazy, I don’t have to think about what needs to go home. It’s all ready to go and I just have to pick up the stack of papers.
Back to School Checklist #4: Teacher Rainbow Carts
If you have never heard of the 10-drawer rainbow teacher carts, you are missing out! I think I have four of them in my classroom now! They are so useful for math and reading centers, teacher supplies, student supplies, and teacher copies. The key to having them work for you throughout the year is getting them organized before the year begins. A few times, I have thought to myself, “I’ll get this done when I have more time.” But the reality of the situation is, you will never have more time as a teacher and the to-do list is never-ending. Your future self will thank you if you organize your teacher carts before the first day of school.
Back to School Checklist #5: Group Work Decisions
I always consider how I will have students work together in the weeks before the school year begins. Will students sit in rows or groups? Will students work with the person next to them all of the time or will it vary each day? I’ve used class dojo to choose random partners, shoulder partners, let students choose their own partners, etc. But my favorite way of utilizing partners is easy and simple to do.
As seen in the picture above, I put a circle on each desk with a number and letter on it. I do this same number/lettering for every four students. I will then tell students to work with their A or B partner, their 1/2 3/4 partner, their shoulder partner, or their diagonal partner. This gives them 3 partners to work with on a daily basis that are familiar. I find that having familiar partners, but a variety of partners (3) really helps activities run smoothly in my classroom.
Teacher School Checklist #6: Classroom Library Organization
My classroom library is probably the favorite part of my classroom. But organizing it at the beginning of each school year is easily the most grueling part of my back to school routine. I double-check to make sure all of the books are in the bins they belong in and each bin is clearly labeled. I label the back cover of each book with the number of the bin it belongs in. This way, students can easily return books where they belong. A trick I learned a few years into teaching is to not do this yourself.
If you’ve taught before, have your old class help you re-organize the library during the last few days of school. They love to help! And if you’re new, put a system in place from the very beginning that includes students helping organize the books so you’re not having to add that to your never-ending to-do list. If you’re setting up your library for the first time, ask friends or family to come in and help you. It’ll get done a lot quicker. And, you’ll have more time for other items on your teacher back to school checklist.
Teacher School Checklist #7: Cabinet Organization
Something I make sure to do before every school year is to organize my school cabinets! Whether you have built-in cabinets or a moving one like mine, if you start off the year organized, I can guarantee you’ll be less stressed out. The picture above shows my cabinet about 9 weeks into the school year. It always ends up looking like this by the end of each quarter but I always take the time to re-organize so that I can have a fresh start each quarter. It’s no fun having to dig around for classroom supplies or a specific math center when you’re trying to keep on schedule during the day. The first week of school is stressful enough. Having an organized cabinet helps keep me on pace with where I need to be.
Teacher School Checklist #8: Classroom Decor
I have been teaching enough years now to know that the only time I will have the energy for classroom decor is before the school year begins. So, I let myself dream about how I want my classroom to look in late June so I know exactly what to prepare during that week between school years. I get my door ready, motivational posters, cubbie posters, and any “sayings” I want kids to see on the walls. Classroom decor can look easy when you look at photos online. But, it is very detail-oriented and slow-going when you actually put it in place. Give yourself time to put the decor on before the first day of school because time is precious.
Teacher School Checklist #9: Technology Organization
It took me several years to figure this out, but teaching during covid finally helped me organize this—technology!! For the past few years, I found tablets, laptops, and chargers all over my room. I was constantly asking the class whose charger this was and where a tablet went. I discovered teaching during the pandemic that color coding and labeling all of that technology goes a LONG way in saving my teacher sanity.
Sometime in March, we spent an entire morning labeling every charger, laptop, iPad, set of headphones, and any other technology items with matching colored stickers, writing names on colored tape, and teaching procedures for where they belong and how to take better care of them. I WISH I would have done this from the beginning of the year and will always make sure to have everything organized from the start moving forward.
Teacher Back to School Checklist #10: Meet the Teacher Night
My last teacher back to school checklist tip for you is to completely prepare your Meet the Teacher night materials as early as possible. The closer it gets to the first day of school, the more my nerves get to me. If I have everything prepared and laid out, I’m more likely to feel relaxed and confident for Meet the Teacher night. I love to also put out a few fun jars like this with a treat in it for students to remember me by.
I hope you have a fantastic start to the new school year! Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about the systems listed above!
You may also like to learn about how I use this classroom management tool each year. You can grab a free sample of it above!