Before you decorate that teacher planner... - History Gal

Before you decorate that teacher planner...

by History Gal

Have you seen all the amazing teacher planners out there? They are filled with beautiful writing, inspirational sayings, colorful stickers, and just looking at them makes you excited to teach. BUT, before you go overboard and spend hours decorating yours, you need to remember their purpose - planning. Your year will go a lot smoother if you spend some time looking at the scope and pacing of what you need to teach. Not sure how to even begin? Read on and I'll explain how I organized my planner.
To begin, you'll need a planner, your school's calendar for the upcoming year, a pacing guide for your content, and a PENCIL (if you bought one of those beautiful and expensive planners, you don't want to ruin it by smearing white-out over all the pages to fix an oops!). You'll also need to know whether you are teaching the course in a year or a semester, how long the classes will be, and how often the classes meet (do they meet everyday, on an alternating block, or some other type of schedule).

If you have a blank planner, the first thing you'll need to do is write in the dates and figure out which columns or rows to use for your different class periods and subjects. It's OK if you don't know the exact breakdown of how many classes you will have for each subject (or prep) or what class periods you are teaching right now - you are in a planning stage and it's one of many reasons why you are using a pencil. Just designate a column or row for each subject area that you will be teaching (I often use the last rows or columns).

Next, grab your school calendar and make a note of all of the key dates (first day of school, breaks, teacher workdays, early release or late arrival days, last day of school, etc.). You may use a colorful pen for these - just realize that weather often impacts the school calendar and there may be some changes during the school year.

Then, figure out what day you will actually begin covering the content. The first day of school is rarely used as the first day of the first unit - instead it is usually for introductions, procedures, paperwork, etc.. Depending on your school, it may make sense to delay the start of your first unit for a few more days.  If you have a chance to talk to some experienced teachers at your school, ask them when they usually begin diving into the material. At my most recent school, it took a good week before student schedules were finalized and class rosters were set. So, I used the first week of school to focus on important skills that students needed to know (study skills, organizational skills, geographic skills, how to read primary and secondary resources, etc.). If you are on a 4x4 block schedule (90 minute classes for 1 semester), you may have to begin covering content on Day 3 - but just realize you'll be having students leave and new students coming in.

Now, you are ready for that pacing guide. Most school systems have pacing guides for every subject - just ask. If your school or school system does not have a pacing guide, search the Internet (type in 'pacing guide for grade x subject x'). You'll need to find a pacing guide that is a close match to the content you'll be covering and for the same type of schedule that you will be (a year long course, block or alternating block, etc.). The pacing guide will tell you how long each unit should last. For example, the first unit of American 1 will take 20 days for a traditional year long course and 10 days for a 4x4 and alternating a/b block schedule.

Using a pencil, start writing down the units in your planner. I like to actually write the unit and its name (Unit 1: Culture Clash) in each day that it will be covered. The pacing guide does not include a test day in their count, so you'll need to add that to the end of each unit (on a regular block schedule, a test will just take up part of the class period and the next unit will begin that same day after the test is complete). If your subject has a midterm and/or final, you'll also need to add in a few days for review before the midterm and before the final.

Once you have all of the units written down, it's time for some tweaking. Look at how your units fall compared to your breaks - do you have a unit that starts right before a long break or have a test fall on the first day back from a long break? You'll want to make sure you complete the unit before the break and it's always best not to start a new unit right before a break.

Wahoo! You have a draft schedule of how the year is going to play out! If you are dying to break out your colored pens and stickers, you can go over your penciled in schedule with whatever color/s you want and start placing all those cute stickers.

It is a draft so know that your plans will shift as unexpected things arise (snow days, hurricane days, field trips, etc.). But, you now know how long to plan a unit for and how much wiggle room you have (extra days where you can make your favorite unit a little longer or maybe even a week where you can add in your favorite student projects). And, as long as you stick closely to your draft, you will cover all of the necessary units in your allotted time!

Remember, that your planner will be a living document - things change, lessons finish up faster than expected, group work takes longer than planned - and that's OK. The most beautifully decorated planner is no good unless it actually helps you plan out your lessons and units. Mine is full of white-out, cross outs, and arrows. And, that's exactly how I like it.

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