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Back to School Tips for Teachers

Yes, I know. It is the end of July, and you’re enjoying your summer. At least, I hope you are. I have had an amazing summer, so I haven’t been writing. I’ve been out there enjoying life, losing weight, and getting healthy. My garden has been growing, and I have made some great recipes. I also spent some time at the beach, collecting shells, and being crafty making seashell mirrors.

If you have been following me on Instagram (happyedugator), I have posted pictures there about some of my adventures. I especially enjoyed the TPT conference in Orlando. I loved getting together with old friends and new, learning new things that can help me make better materials for teachers, which will ultimately help children all over the world. Here is a picture of me with  Paul Edelman, our founder:

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However, this post is not about summer… it’s about going back to school. Now some of  you just got out of school, and you may be thinking, “What!? I don’t want to hear that!” However, some counties in our state are actually starting school on August 1, and teachers are going back next week for preplanning and Open House! It seems so early, but that is a consequence of getting out of school in mid May, I guess.

So my post today is about getting ready for a new school year, and I have some tips for you. These are things that have made my life easier as a middle school Language Arts teacher, but they can be used across grade levels.

1. Get some pre-sharpened pencils. These are great to have on hand. I used to buy them just for testing, but now that tests are taken on the computer, I found they work well for having around for daily classroom use, too.

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There is always that kid that doesn’t have something to write with.  You can make little flags out of patterned duct tape which will identify which ones are yours.

Speaking of pencils in the classroom, here is something that worked for me in Language Arts. I took the pencil sharpener off the wall. Nope, no pencil sharpener in my room. In middle school ELA, you can use pen. Just draw a line through your errors!  Other alternatives… students bring mechanical pencils, extra lead, and personal pencil sharpeners with a container for shavings.  I saved my sanity with this plan. Kids did not have to get up and use the pencil sharpener, and I never had to worry about emptying it out and dirty pencil shavings falling on the floor when they missed the trash. Yes, my custodians liked it, too. If you want to do this in math, just skip the pen, and require mechanical pencils. You can also buy little containers of lead at the dollar store for emergencies…I spent $2 on two, and they lasted me the whole year!

2. Get a large, highly visible timer. You can find all different types and styles on Amazon, but a timer is a necessity for smooth transitions from one activity to the next, especially if you are working in a long block of time. Here is mine, which is about 8 inches in diameter:

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You can also use a PowerPoint timer to show on your Smart-board or whiteboard. Here is a link to one you can pick up for just $3:

PowerPoint Timer-Time Remaining PowerPoint for Classroom Management-219968

PowerPoint Timer - Time Remaining PowerPoint for Classroom

3. Invest in some stamps. No, not postage stamps. Get a set of stamps and an ink pad, and save yourself writing notes to students about their work.  Need a homework pass? Stamp out a few! Editing checklist? Stamp it on their paper! Late work? Stamp it! Rough draft? Stamp it! Parent signature? Stamp it! Here is my collection that I loved using:

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You can find lots more online. There is a little investment, but really worth having, and ink pads can be purchased at the dollar store!

4. Get a pretty notepad. Sometimes it is necessary to write a quick note to another teacher, a parent, principal, or lead teacher. A pretty notepad will make you look so much more professional, and will bring a little beauty and joy into your day. If you can, get a personalized one. Then your name is already on it…here is mine that I purchased at a school fundraiser:

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Another great one to have, is a pad with carbonless duplicate pages to send a note home. Then you have documented proof you sent a note home with a child when a parent says they never received anything. I used these from


5. Use wall space wisely.  Get a small whiteboard to put on the wall beside your door. It’s a great place to put your daily agenda and kids will get used to looking there as soon as they come in the room. I told them to never ask me, “What are we doing today?” until they read the agenda. So much nicer than answering that question 50 times a day! Also, it leaves space on your whiteboard for instructional information. Even better, find one that is magnetic. You can hang magnetic hooks on it for passes, markers, etc.

6. Buy some cheap magnetic letters. Yes, even middle school kids like those little plastic refrigerator magnets, but they are great for teachers. Use as headers – spell out AGENDA, ESSENTIAL QUESTION, EQ, STANDARDS, etc. What is nice is they are so easy to change out.


7. Use duct tape! It comes in many different patterns and will go with many different themes. Put some on the floor to mark where desks should go, decorate old cans for pencil holders, use to make little booklets by taping paper together  and securing with staples, color code groups, etc.

There are lots of uses for duct tape.

8. Make folders for each student. In middle school, I kept a three drawer plastic bin behind my desk for each class. I gave students manila folders the first week of school to write their name on and decorate to make their own, and stored them in the bin. Every week, I had assigned a student helper to pass out the folders at the beginning of class and collect them at the end.  Students put their work in the folders. A great benefit to this…if they forgot to put their name on their work, it was in a folder with their name on it! I just never had students access the bins unless they were assigned as student helpers that week. That way there was no possibility of cheating off someone else’s work, telling me they turned it, etc. If it wasn’t in their folder, it wasn’t turned in. Period. Here is a full week of GOT folder activities from my TPT store – Click HERE to get them for FREE 

9. Have routines in place from the first day of school. Harry Wong is right about this. Establish routines. I was a pre-K teacher before I taught middle school, and routines are important for all children to feel comfortable and secure, and having routines in place helps keep them on track. Not everything has to be the same everyday, but basic classroom tasks should become routine. Especially have a routine for what to do upon entering the room.  I always have a folder passer, a paper passer, and a warm-up activity or bell-ringer ready up on the board. Students know that once they cross the threshold, they are to come in, sit down, and get started. I use a catchy name for my folders…I call them GOT folders…Get On Task. Haha…call them what you will. If you are a middle school Language Arts teacher, here is a great bundle of Bellringers that addresses all of the standards and will welcome your students into the room: Bell-Ringers Bundle Full Year Common Core ELA

Bell Ringers Bundle - Full Year - Common Core ELA

10. Have a calendar on your desk. Every year at this time of year, I would search out stores for a nice desktop calendar that I could write on. I know I could use my computer for scheduling and such, but I liked the old-fashioned way of having it in writing right where I could see it. However, I thought of a way I could save money on this…I made a blank desktop calendar on my computer and printed it out on card stock and laminated it, Then I could fill in the month, dates, and schedule events with a dry erase marker…or better yet, a wet erase. I liked using wet erase markers so things wouldn’t get wiped off accidentally being on my busy desk. Then I just used wet wipes to wipe off what I wanted to.

As I always try to do in every blog post, I give you a freebie for reading! So I am sharing my blank desktop planner calendar with you. Just click the link here and enjoy!

Free Teacher Desk Planner-Back to School Calendar

Free Teacher Desk Planner - Back to School Calendar

Wishing you success always!

Deborah Hayes

aka HappyEdugator

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