When the last bell rings at the end of a school year, summer begins for students and their parents. The cool waters of Lake Martin and vacations at the beach, popsicles and movies, friends and summer jobs beckon students to enjoy freedom from classes and books; however, for teachers, fun in the sun often doesn’t start until preparation for the next school year begins.
Many teachers have a process to enjoy the off-season yet still be organized for the return of students. Candice Johnson, fifth-grade language arts teacher at Horseshoe Bend Elementary, has three steps she has identified as essential for a smooth transition from one school year into the next. The first step begins with data analysis at the end of the previous year.
Many school systems provide professional development on a variety of topics to challenge and inspire teachers for the next school year. This allows time for them to consider the results of the current year while the statistical information on benchmark testing is fresh on their minds.
“The end of the year, May and June, is about professional development and the data – understanding and interpreting it. We always want to see what went right and what might need to change a bit so the students understand it better,” said Johnson, who has 18 years of experience.
Dadeville Elementary teacher Leslie Loftin, a 14-year veteran teacher who teaches sixth-grade math, attended a four-day workshop over the summer with other math teachers in the Tallapoosa County Schools. The objective was to vertically align their lessons to prepare students to neatly carry lessons into the following grades. In turn, this allows teachers to become more familiar with the state standards that are required of the grade levels above and below the ones they teach.
At the beginning of the summer, Dadeville High School geometry teacher Deanna Jennings attended a workshop in Auburn with math teachers from across the state to share ideas and to network. And, the last week of May, language arts teachers in Tallapoosa County also met for a workshop with the reading coaches to coordinate lesson plans for consistent merit across grade levels.
After analyzing data and coordinating plans for a cohesive mission, the second step for teachers, according to Johnson’s three-part plan is classroom organization. Schools require teachers to pack up and empty their classrooms of all furniture and supplies before they leave for the summer, so maintenance, floor waxing and cleaning can be done. Most teachers want their rooms re-assembled before the first day back for teachers, but moving everything back in and putting it in place can be quite a chore.
“Since we have faculty and county meetings, plus department meetings the week we report, it’s easier to have the room all ready for orientation before we come back. That includes reorganizing closets and cabinets and moving the furniture around and back into place. My husband usually comes in to help me with the heavy lifting,” Loftin said.
Teachers at all levels work to keep their classrooms fresh and exciting each year. Bulletin boards are re-done, new charts are often needed to replace old ones and, of course, orientation for children and parents means creating welcoming classroom environments that invite curiosity and a hunger for knowledge.
“I worked seven years as a teacher’s aide, and I have taught for 14 years, so I don’t want to become complacent. I always change my room around to make a different environment for myself and for my students,” Jennings said.
Alexander City Schools 2018-19 Teacher of the Year Laura Burroughs also asks her husband to assist with the move-in a few weeks before the school year begins.
“I re-decorated my room last year, so he just helps me get things back into place and hang everything back on the walls. A majority of my pre-planning time is spent finalizing lesson plans for the first couple of weeks of school. We will meet as a department to identify areas of improvement,” said Burroughs, who teaches ninth and 10th grade English.
Johnson’s third step to prepare for the school year – using data to plan – becomes the main focus for teachers after their rooms are ready to go. Lesson planning can be an individual exercise, system wide, department wide or all of the above.
Level of experience is reflected in whether teachers have a calm approach to the coming year. Denise Shivers, an Alexander City Middle School seventh grade math and pre-algebra teacher who has 12 years of experience, said she still gets excited about the first day of school, but she is not nervous any more. In general, teachers prepare ahead of time to reduce the stress of the first few days.
“I started a reflection journal a few years ago to help me plan for the next year. At the end of every day, I take five or 10 minutes to write about what worked in a lesson, what didn’t work and what would make it better. I take a day or two each week all summer to watch videos about how to teach a new concept, to gather new ideas, and I read over that journal and begin planning for the next year,” said Shivers, Alexander City Middle School Teacher of the Year.
Jennings believes it is important for teachers to model what they want from their students – to be prepared and to think ahead.
“I heard a teacher say one time that we all have to avoid teaching 25 years but having only one year of experience. In other words, we shouldn’t do the same thing year after year,” said Jennings.
Some teachers are in and out of the buildings all summer, often as coaches or sponsors. Jennings begins work as the cheer sponsor at Dadeville High School right after July 4. Johnson is at Horseshoe Bend throughout June participating with summer arts camp, and she is the assistant volleyball coach for grades seven to 12, which means she hosts practices all summer.
The summer can be short for teachers, and the beginning of the year can be stressful; however, those teachers who know the ropes are ready to go with enthusiastic students and innovative ideas on day one, realizing that the best laid plans can go astray.
“After 20 years, I am a little less anxious. I can relax now, prepare for unexpected events, but I know that anything can happen. One of the best things a teacher can be is flexible,” Burroughs said.
That flexibility, along with a tremendous knowledge of their subjects and a dose of creativity, ensures a successful year of thinking, writing, investigating, reading and learning for students. The teachers, who spend many summer days planning and preparing, understand they are simply working toward making the upcoming year even better than the last.