As a new teacher, your life is already stressful. You are entering a new job, setting up a new classroom, dealing with new procedures, completing a ton of paperwork, and having to relate to many new people over the course of a day. Unfortunately this stress will not end anytime soon. For the first several months you'll find yourself running from task to task trying to keep up with everything that is required from you. There will be more forms to complete, papers to grade, parents to contact, lessons to plan, and then of course you are teaching all day long as well!
One of the best ways to lower the amount of stress you deal with on a daily basis is to be prepared. Some of that preparation requires organization. If you are having trouble getting yourself organized, you might want to read my earlier column Getting Organized in the Midst of Chaos for a few strategies to help. Preparation is absolutely the key to being a successful teacher. The more thought and effort you put into your lessons and your job, the better you will be. You also will be less stressed during the year.
The first thing you want to do is begin some routines. The first routine is lesson planning. Choose a day of the week and make a firm appointment with yourself to write lesson plans on that day. Take into account faculty meetings and other events you have going on in your personal and work life when choosing the day. For me, Wednesday was the best day for planning. It gave me enough time to get materials copied and shore up any unknown details before turning them in to the principal on Friday. By having lesson plans and materials completely finished before Friday you are giving yourself a little time over the weekend to relax. Don't allow friends or even colleagues to sway you from completing your planning day. Just remember that whatever you don't complete at school or during the week must be done at home on the weekend.
As soon as you plan your lessons, go ahead and gather all of the materials you will need for the week. If you have handouts, go ahead and make the copies. Get the books or magazine resources you need from the library and set up any Power Point presentations or video clips you plan to use. If you need to sign up for the computer lab or need help from another colleague, contact them immediately. Don't wait until the last minute. Put requests in writing and follow-up with an email.
Now you may be worried that you'll have a ton of papers all over your classroom. This is where organization comes into play again. I create folders for each class for each day of the week. For elementary teachers, that is as easy as one manila folder per day. You might want to color-code them and label them with a marker. Place all handouts and materials for the day in its special folder. Put your lesson plans on top of the materials inside the folder. Place larger materials in a special area in your room and be sure to mark them clearly.
Secondary teachers will want to organize differently. I would suggest either a plastic crate or a filing drawer. Have one hanging file folder for each day. Then, inside the hanging file folder place one manila folder for each class you teach. You might color code the folders according to class period so they don't get mixed up. Again, place all handouts and other materials in the folder and put your lesson plans in the front. What you'll find is that you are no longer running around trying to find handouts or other materials for each lesson. Everything is all together in one location. Additionally, if you have an emergency or if an unscheduled meeting comes up, everything a substitute or relief teacher will need is in each clearly marked folder, including the lesson plans. You won't need to worry about gathering everything and getting it organized before leaving the classroom. And you won't need to stress over writing plans for a substitute while you are deathly ill.
The last routine you'll want to develop is setting up your classroom blackboard (or whiteboard), Power Point, or overhead before you leave for the day. If you are teaching elementary school, go ahead and set up the white board (or blackboard) with your focus assignment, agenda, objectives, homework, and any other information students will need. Do that as soon as students leave the room at the end of the day. Get out the folder for the next day and place it on your desk, podium, or overhead so you are ready to begin as soon as you arrive in the morning. Review plans and double-check that you have all necessary materials in the folder. Now, do whatever else needs to be done after school. By making this a daily routine you are ensuring that your classroom is ready to go no matter what. If you get sick, have a flat tire, or if an early meeting goes on too long, students will be able to enter the classroom and get started without you. A substitute or relief teacher will have easy access to all he or she needs, and you won't have to stress out over not being there.
Secondary teachers will want to set up their "board" information either in Power Point or on a transparency. Type the information listed in the paragraph above either in a Word document or as a Power Point presentation for each class. You'll need one transparency or Power Point per prep you teach. Get the first period one ready as soon as students walk out the door and have it on the overhead or computer. Be sure to leave instructions in bold to turn on the overhead or computer (just in case you cannot be in the classroom). Have your daily folder ready on your desk, podium, or overhead along with whatever materials are needed for the first class.
By having all of that ready to go before you leave the classroom each day you are ensuring that your classroom can continue to run smoothly whether you are there or not. It relieves stress on your part because you will not have to worry about writing up last minute plans while you're sick or worry about students having their assignments ready to begin if you are late for any reason. Get in the habit of preparing your classroom for the next day as soon as your students leave. That makes certain it will get done before you are distracted by all your other duties.
The first year of teaching is very stressful. However, by putting in place some very simple habits, you can reduce some of that stress. Being prepared is not only helpful for you, but for your students and any guest or relief teachers that might be working in your classroom. It shows your principal that you are a professional and that you are efficient in getting your job done. It shows parents that you are on top of your job so they can feel secure in knowing their child is in your class. Best of all, by taking a little time throughout the week to prepare, it gives you some time for yourself.