6 back to school tasks for busy teachers

Teachers, in the spirit of Greta Gerwig’s pink summer blockbuster, what kind of back to school Barbie are you?

  • Summer School Barbie: This Barbie never really turns their school-brain off. Summer is the perfect time to level up. “Oh, this old classroom door? I bought 50%-off pool toys and now my students join me ‘Under the Sea!’”
  • Boot Camp Barbie: This Barbie is different from last year. Whether they’re teaching something new or they changed classrooms, they’re gonna rock it this year. “Watch out, 23–24. You’re not ready for me.” Tip: Give this lanyard-swinging Barbie a wide berth in the hallway.
  • Reluctant Back to School Barbie: This Barbie lives for summer and would prefer to deny any back to school happenings. They might be on time to day one of in-service, if they feel like it. “Shh. We still have three more days.”
  • School Supply Barbie: This Barbie is still a student at heart and loves new pencils, gel pens, and Post-its. They have the neatest handwriting (on paper and on the board), and somehow their classroom smells the best. “My hole-punches are heart-shaped.”

Whatever Barbie you are, the back to school rush is full of new initiatives, duties, and colleagues. And that’s all before the students even arrive!

Whether you’re a first-year teacher or a veteran, one of the perks of teaching is the reset that the new school year brings. That freshness—the chance for improvement, change, reflection—is unique to the education profession. So how can busy teachers take advantage?

To uncover worthwhile back to school tips sure to help you make the most of your new start, I spoke with Shelby Coffin, ELA teacher at Decatur High School in Decatur, Georgia; Cool Mom Barbie (this Barbie’s classroom is never empty, and she knows all their secrets); and Olivia Rocamora, high school Spanish teacher at the Weber School in Atlanta and Overachieving Barbie (this Barbie says yes to everything until halfway through the year, when she screams “No!” and schedules a haircut).

Let’s dive in!

1. Consider planning a day one with absolutely zero content coverage

Sure, we all have day one to-dos, of our own making or mandated by our schools. But once those are done, could you take your class on a school tour? Could you play Pictionary? Could you transfer seedlings into a class planter? Could you immediately start them on a science experiment, even if (especially if?) you’re not the science teacher?

Remember: each year represents a new start. The absolute worst-case scenario is that whatever you do on day one doesn’t work, and you won’t repeat it next year. The stakes just aren’t that high!

Let’s use day one to establish classroom culture, tone, and connection. This doesn’t have to be a rowdy round of improv games. To help everyone get to know each other, Shelby reads a letter about herself aloud and gives students time to write their own. Even if you’re not playing get-to-know-you games, consider allowing your new students time to complete my Google Form or Shelby’s’ First Day Questionnaire. This simple action will communicate to your students that you prioritize them.

Olivia says, “Go through your syllabus on the third day, after other teachers have already hit the school-wide stuff. Then, you can prioritize the specifics of your class with the students’ full attention.”

2. Show yourself some love by packing your desk with feel-good items

Teachers, you definitely need some chocolate in your desk. Gum, sparkling water, ibuprofen, lip balm, granola bars? And don’t act like this is a fallout shelter. Get the good stuff.

When it comes to buying things for your classroom, check out this how-to on making an Amazon Teacher Wish List.

3. Make your morning frictionless

Olivia advises that you pick out your clothes for the first week of school to “reduce your decision-making fatigue. It’s what Obama does.” Shelby meal-preps that week, knowing the exhaustion it brings.

Are you a morning coffee or tea drinker? Secure a grippy mug that fits in your car’s cup holder. Find a playlist or a podcast that puts you in the right mood for the day.

4. Speaking of music: your classroom needs music

Y’all, if you aren’t playing music in your room, you are leaving value on the table. Here’s why:

  • You can welcome students into your classroom with the mood you desire. Upbeat? Bruno Mars. Chill? Bossa nova.
  • You can signal different tasks: jazz during the warm-up, classical during group work, ’80s during the last three minutes.
  • You will absolutely put yourself in a better mood.
  • You will absolutely put your students in a better mood.

Spotify and Apple Music have ready-made playlists, including ones with no explicit lyrics. My hack is YouTube. Search “ambient cafe,” “lofi study music,” and even “Hogwarts Great Hall.”

5. A classroom refresh can be tiny, with big results

Try out a new desk formation. Actually (no, really) throw out last year’s projects. Get a small welcome mat for the door.

Look, it’s a new year. New you. New students. Even simply moving a poster from one wall to another will help tell your brain that new possibilities are afoot.

6. Make a parent/student email template for the first month of school

Every Teacher Barbie wishes they had more time to communicate with parents and other caregivers. Go ahead and type an email template that you send home during the first month of school. Something like this: “Hi, (student). I am enjoying getting to know you! I’ve noticed that you bring (positive quality) to our classroom, and we’ve already connected about (area for improvement, inside joke, or other). As we round out the first month of school, please let me know how I can continue to support you this year. I’m looking forward to (upcoming unit or project), and I’m glad to be your teacher this year.”

Making a Gmail template is incredibly simple and something I wish I’d known about earlier.

Go get ’em, tiger

Teachers, welcome back to school! We wish you your best year yet, full of minimal messes, only a few lost passwords, and seamless commutes. You know, a year as perfect as Barbie.


New School Year Resolution Barbie
(This Barbie has big back to school ideas that will die out by October, but it’s cool. There’s always next year.)

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