This July, I signed up for Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Work Week program. The 40 Hour Teacher Work Week program is a one year program that sends time-saving resources to your inbox. The e-guides and audio files focus on various topics such as creating a self-running classroom, efficient routines, lesson-planning and assessment, and finding a work/life balance. My favorite part of the program is the private Facebook support group where I am able to interact with other program members and talk about how we are adapting the 40 Hour Teacher Work Week principles in our classrooms.
My main take-aways from the July and August readings were 1) I needed to learn how to prioritize efficiency over Pinterest-y perfection; and 2) I needed to set sustainable systems in place to make sure my classroom runs efficiently. This week I begin my seventh year teaching, but it will be my first year at a brand new high school. It was the perfect opportunity to rethink my classroom routines, procedures, and systems. With the readings and advice from the 40 Teacher Hour Work Week Facebook group, I was able to reflect on my old systems and figure out how to make them more sustainable. Here are some pictures of my classroom, and some of the things I wish I knew before when I was a new teacher preparing for the new school year.
- Assign specific class jobs.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but it is actually one of the hardest things I had to accept as a teacher. As a type-A new teacher, it was easier for me to do everything because things got done faster and in the way I wanted them to be. However, this meant that there were more things on my plate and that I ended up getting home later. It wasn’t until recently when I began to ask for volunteers to help me clean up that I realized middle school students do want to help, and it worked out well as long as I explained what I needed them to do. Excitement for class jobs fizzled out for the first year I tried them because I was not consistent with who did what and for how long.
This year I am revamping the class jobs to what I really need: subject matter experts (students who can answer peer questions during activities), lab technicians (early arrival or late dismissal students who can help me set up lab equipment for group activities), paper passers (students who collect and distribute papers), supply managers (students who oversee the supply bins for interactive notebooks and projects), technology specialists (students who help me with the computers and class apps), and environmental managers (students who help me wipe down tables and clean up after activities). I created the class jobs posters on Canva and put them up in my TeachersPayTeachers store for free as PDF downloads.
The plan is to have 1-2 volunteers per class who can complete the job for a month. When they finish their job at the end of the month, they earn a free homework pass or 20 gold coins from ClassCraft. It would be their responsibility to teach the next month’s students how to do their job.
2. Make it easy for students to turn in their work (and hold them accountable for it).
I don’t remember where I learned this bin trick, but I have been using it for several years. I use several Sterilite bins with laminated labels Velcro’ed on the front. The bins are located at the front of the room by the door. One of the first procedures I teach my students is to place their homework and completed classwork in their appropriate bin. Previously, I had students place their homework on the corner of their desks. I collected homework and checked off names on a laminated roster while students completed their bellringer, or Do-Now activity.
This year, I am going to ask students to hand in their homework on their way in to their seats instead. I’m thinking of assigning students classroom numbers, writing their classroom numbers instead of their names on papers, and having an early-finisher put the homework in numerical order and check off the numbers on a roster. The anonymity will prevent putting students on the spot for not having in homework on time, and it will come in handy later when I have paper passers return graded work. I will use the checklists later during a planning period to fill out a Missing Student Work Google Form that automatically emails parents about their child’s missing homework or classwork.
Another addition this year is the Teacher Inbox. The Teacher Inbox is designated for non-academic documents such as emergency contact cards, field trip permission slips, doctor notes, and absent or late make up work. This allows me to keep non-graded work separate, and I can carry the bin around to my desk or office where I can later file things away or drop things off at the office.
3. Make it easy for students to get what they need (and hold them accountable for it).
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from a mentor during my undergraduate student teaching days was to make a “home base” for my students. Home base was a designated area in the classroom where students could go to collect and return lab equipment during labs. I have since then adapted home base to Student Center where students pick up absent make up work, extra copies, tissue, pencils, and use office supplies. It is usually located at the back of the room.
Having the Student Center ensured that students weren’t creating distractions as they came up to my desk for something during instruction. It also kept me from losing papers on my desk, or trying to find out where the stapler or tape dispenser were.
In the past few years, I stuck extra copies in the Absent Bin and told students it was their responsibility to pick up the missed work. I had two sets of folders in the Absent Bin; one set was labeled Monday to Friday, and the second set was labeled Last Monday to Last Friday. I moved the sets at the end of the week and recycled the documents every two weeks. Obviously without dates, the two-week folder system didn’t work. Students didn’t remember what days they were absent.
This year, I am revamping the Absent Bin by designating paper passers or a team member of a group to collect work for an absent member. I plan to clip a “While You Were Out” half sheet to the papers. Folders are labeled by period, and students are directed to pick up their labeled make-up work from their designated folder when they return to class. I also plan to add a sign-out sheet for students who would like to meet with me to make up short labs, or to get extra tutoring to catch up in class after school by the Absent Bin. In addition, students will be directed to check Google Classroom for videos and other instructional materials.
4. Make it easy to find what I need, and even easier to put away.
Having a home base for myself is important, especially with all the forms I need throughout the day. This year, I decided not to have a teacher desk in the classroom since I have a separate office/prep room. Without a desk, I needed a place where I can keep my forms and handouts organized and ready.
I saw the labeled clear Sterilite stack of drawers from Pinterest, and thought it was a genius idea. This year I am without Chromebooks, so I have to say goodbye to my paperless classroom and hello again to handouts. The labeled Sterilite stack of drawers will help me keep my handouts and interactive notebook output pages organized throughout the week. I love the idea of using the last drawer for the substitute teacher. I plan to place Scholastic Science World articles and close reading graphic organizers there. It’s not shown in the picture, but I am also creating a substitute teacher binder that I will place by the Sterilite stack of drawers.
The second photo show two hanging folder black bins. The first bin, “Form Templates”, hold forms that I need throughout the day such as nurse passes, office passes, While You Were Out half sheets, blank Thank You cards, and blank Good Notes Home. The second bin, “Teacher In/Out”, is a temporary holding place for important memos, office mail, papers to grade, graded papers, etc. Without a teacher desk in the classroom, it is a good way for me to stay organized and not lose things until I can get to my office.
The black filing cabinets were too heavy for me to move, so I am going to use them as a Student Portfolio Center. I plan to print out student names on file folder labels and ask for volunteers to create labeled folders for each period. Here I will put signed laboratory safety contracts, their parents’ “In A Million Words or Less” essays, samples of student writing, etc. Since the filing cabinets are at the front of the room, it would be an ideal place to have accessible to students and parents during conferences. My own files–planning, units, etc– will be held in my office, away from the classroom.
5. Take advantage of technology to digitize what you can.
Thankfully there are computer stations in my classroom this year. One of the things I learned from the 40 Hour Teacher Work Week Facebook group was to convert my forms, such as the Bathroom Log and Missing Homework Log, into Google Forms. This eliminates some paper waste, and holds students accountable for their work and whereabouts. Plus, I l just love Google Forms!
This year, I created Google Forms for the Bathroom Log and Missing Homework Log. Students are not allowed to use cell phones in the classroom so I didn’t make a QR code. Instead, I made a sign over the first computer station (left) to show students where to log in. The Google Forms are bookmarked and saved on the computer’s desktop.
Over the fourth computer station (right), I made a sign to show early finishers where to log in. I plan to create a Symbaloo page that has links to science news websites, science video channels, and review games. Maybe I will create a Google Form for science article summaries too.
Some other tips I learned on how to organize and create efficient routines in the classroom include using chalk markers to label the tables (no more students picking away the tape!), using a cheap shoe organizer to hold cell phones and electronic devices (pockets are numbered and correspond with students’ classroom numbers), and creating a glue sponge bins out of Dollar Store tupperware (an easier and faster process for gluing interactive notebook output pages).
I am really glad I caught Angela Watson’s free summer webinar and made the decision to try her 40 Hour Teacher Work Week program. Focusing on what will help me run things more smoothly has really helped me let go of my idea of having to be a perfect teacher with the perfect Pinterest-worthy classroom. While it is certainly fun to browse for creative ideas, I think focusing on efficiency and productivity this summer has helped me to see my classroom in a different way. I feel less stressed, more confident and prepared to take on a new school year. I feel that I will be able to focus more on my relationships with my students this year because I am involving them in the process, and asking them to take responsibility for their classroom.
Friend, I wish you a Happy and Wonderful New School Year!
Note: I was not compensated for this post. I just wanted to share my opinion and experience with the program.