Countdown to Your First Year: Making Planning Manageable

New Teacher Survival Guide

I remember my first year of teaching; I wanted to do it all. I had dreams of an amazing, differentiated math program; literacy centers with various engaging options; hands-on science investigations; and an inspiring writing workshop program. As I prepared to teach 1st grade, I poured myself into planning all subject areas with detail, depth, and huge amounts of effort.

Then I got a reality check. In addition to setting up my classroom, beefing up my classroom management skills, and the million other things I had to do, I couldn’t spend extreme amounts of time focusing on each subject area. And my new coach confirmed what I already suspected: The job of a teacher is never done, and it’s important to set goals, prioritize, and focus. She told me to pick one content area to concentrate on during my first year.

I chose to focus on ELA because I was overwhelmed by the reading progress 1st graders were expected to make over the course of the year. I read books on guided reading and reading workshops; I became familiar with different reading assessments; and I learned a lot about phonics and word work. Because of my research, I planned a successful, balanced, literacy program. By focusing my efforts on ELA, I was able to develop a literacy plan that I used for years to come.

Of course I taught the other subjects, too. I followed my math textbook to a T that year. I yearned to pour myself into differentiating the activities, but I waited until the following year. I used my district’s writing workshop materials, and I followed my veteran teacher colleagues’ plans for social studies and science.

Choosing a focus for the year helped make my first year planning manageable. As you think about streamlining planning for your first year of teaching, consider the following questions:

1. Which subject/class makes you feel the most unprepared? Focus on the area that you have the most anxiety about. Put your efforts towards goals that will help you feel more prepared.

2. Which subject/class might have the biggest impact? Focus on this area can help speed up your progress.

3. Can you imagine how you’d get better at planning for your targeted subject/class? It’s one thing to set a goal, and another to reach it. Imagine what resources you’d use to tackle planning for your subject/class and evaluate how feasible your goal is.

4. Which subjects/areas might it be possible to not focus on as intently? Think about the resources you have. Is there a textbook or mentor teacher you could follow for some subjects/classes?

After you’ve set a goal, it’s time to start planning.
Get started with these lesson planning templates and this list of completed lesson and unit plans. For day-to-day plans, find a lesson planner that works for you. Here are three resources:

1. The Planning to Change the World plan book was designed to help social justice-minded teachers “translate their vision of a just education into concrete classroom activities.”

2. The Teacher’s Plan Book was my go-to plan book for all my years of teaching. I love that there’s a good amount of space to write out plans for multiple subjects/classes each day.

3. Planbook.com is a helpful online lesson planning tool. Keeping plans online makes them easy to access and modify year after year.

What’s your planning goal this year? Share your goals, tips, and challenges below.

Lily Jones taught K/1 for seven years in Northern California. She has experience as a curriculum developer, instructional coach, teacher trainer, and is also a contributing writer for Teaching Channel.

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