The other day my husband and I were joking about the ‘back to school’ shop for essentials. He reeled off a list of items students are required to have – pens, pencils, ruler, pencil case, bag – just to check I didn’t need any. We chuckled but then I thought about the things that make up my back to school essentials as a teacher.
Firstly, I replenish my self-care kit – tissues, wet wipes, sanitiser, plasters, deodorant, antiseptic cream, period pants, spare tights and pain relief. I keep a few sweets, thank you cards and birthday cards in there as well.
Next, I try to plan things to do over the weekends of September and October. I know that if I let it, work eats into the weekend and sometimes devours it entirely, especially in the first term, so having a number of activities planned helps to separate work and life and provides time to recoup.
Then there’s the organisation of the teacher planner. Last year I opted to change from a physical planner to a digital one. It is nothing fancy, I’ve set it up in Excel with the 3 tabs – calendar, notes and to-do.
The calendar covers the academic year, identifies the weekly timetable, has a column for each class along with columns for school events and work deadlines. I fill the events and whole school deadlines in on a termly basis so I can easily see what is coming up, whilst adding in my personal deadlines weekly.
In use it looks something like this.
Personally, I have found the digital planner more effective as I’ve been able to see easily what came before and where I’m going with each class all in one place. I pop the title/theme of the lessons for the term and shift as required. For instance, if I see that students need a little longer on specific content, I can simply shift my lessons, much easier than filling in my paper planner weekly.
At the start of the school year, I arrange the timetable by colour filling cells and then copy and paste across the rest of the calendar. Easy. If there is a timetable change, it is easy to amend. No crossing out required.
Download the template below.
Finally, my last back to school essential is determining / reminding myself of my boundaries. Teaching is hard, it is mentally and physically draining. You’re responsible for so much. You care about what you do, the students in your classroom, their progress and so, the temptation to put every part of you into it is too easy and tempting. But teaching is a job. There needs to be clear boundaries.
I’m not always good at maintaining those boundaries but setting them out at the start of the academic year helps me to place a focus on my health and wellbeing so I can hopefully be at my best in the classroom.
The last couple of years, I really struggled to mentally distinguish between what is my responsibility and that of the students, particularly thanks to CAGs and TAGs and that had a knock on impact on my mental health. This year I’ll be reiterating the mantra ‘self-care is not selfish’. I know I’m going to need to remind myself of this regularly throughout the academic year and more importantly, put it into practice.
What are your back to school essentials? Would love to hear what they are.
Best wishes for the new academic year.