How to Plan for Back to School… When You Don’t Know What You’re Teaching

Summer is a great opportunity for teachers to rest, relax… and prepare for next year.  The more that can be prepared ahead of time, the more likely class will run smoothly.  There will be less last-minute lesson planning– and more time for appropriate minor tweaks (to meet classroom challenges or needs, for example.)

But what if you don’t know what you are teaching?  Maybe you are between jobs. Maybe your school doesn’t assign until closer to the school year, for some or all teachers.  Maybe there is rumor of a shake-up that is as-yet unconfirmed, but could move you from what you have taught before.  Whatever the reasons, it certainly puts a wrinkle in preparation time.

That wrinkle can be a bit trickier to navigate if you’re at risk of moving content areas.  I’ve been shuffled to teach History from time to time, along with or instead of English.  The planning can be different, but there are still ways to find some overlap or repurpose materials.

Here are some ways to prepare what you can without minimal risk of lost time:

Gather general use materials and projects.  Writing a research project is a solid stand-alone activity that can be used in most classes, especially ELA, but also in other content areas, if needed.  Personal writing is another area that can either stand-alone or frequently be tied into other texts. Themed essay writing is a short stand-alone option, and can be based around holidays (even in Secondary classes).

For English classes, one area of preparation is to collect projects that can be used for Any Text.  Then tailor the activity or the text to the class once assigned.  Any text can use a Literary Analysis, as can writers of all levels (especially if scaffolded.)   Many types of projects can by used for different texts, especially if the project includes an element of analysis of the original text.

Find Primary Sources and Informational Texts. Many primary sources and informational texts can function in any ELA class, as well as other content areas.  Questions can be tailored to the needs of the class or unit– though most texts can support general reading questions or graphic organizers to help students to focus on reading for content and analysis.  Projects can further tie the text into a theme or unit.

One text that I applied this idea to was materials for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  Originally, the newspaper article and study were part of a history lesson.  Later, it was re-purposed for an English class.  The same text was able to fill both roles with little revision of task and project.

Experiment, explore, and practice with new tools, apps, or programs.  Perhaps it’s a program you’ve used before, but would like to be more comfortable with.  You might try a new task in an old program.  Or test out a new program to become familiar with it before you’re under pressure in the classroom.  If possible, set up sample students– and better, log in as the student to test the process and procedure.  What were difficulties for teacher or student with a program or activity, and how could they be addressed?

One summer, between classes, I spent time exploring the processes in Microsoft Word, particularly the Compare Documents tool.  I practiced how to use the tool to compare what changes were made between versions of a document, a process that I later implemented to check how much revisions students were doing in papers.  I adjusted how I treated– and graded– revisions between draft and final, since it was easy for me (and for students) to see them.

If all else fails, spend time reading.  Reading books about education and social theories, and featuring  culture and lifestyles different from my own, and full of stories and poems and novels you might teach (or not!).  I find that whether reading to develop as a teacher, or reading just because it’s fun (not counting the bonus part of building empathy through fiction reading), I know that my time spent reading is valuable time spent.

But most of all, summer is a good time to spend relaxing and recharging. Especially with those you enjoy.

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