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May 2, 2011 What We'll Do Differently Next Year By Nancy Barile
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

     One of the greatest things about being teachers is that at the end of each year we can evaluate our past teaching experiences, change what didn't work, and plan new strategies with the hope of perfecting our practice. Even after sixteen years of teaching, I find that every June I ponder the passing year and decide what to get rid of, what to work on, and how to change curriculum and instruction so that come September, my classroom runs more smoothly.

    I did an informal survey of teachers in my district and teaching friends across the nation, asking them, "What will you do differently next year?" Responses ranged from working on classroom management and time management to creating projects that tap into higher order thinking skills.


    Many teachers remarked that next year they will be sure to remember that it is almost always necessary to review the fundamentals with students during the first few weeks of school. English teachers (elementary, middle, and high school) find that they have to reintroduce the parts of speech, punctuation rules, and grammar concepts. Grammar Lessons You'll Love to Teach is a great resource for this type of review. Math and science teachers also stated that going over the basics before diving into a new concept saves time in the long run.

    Several teachers, especially the new ones, said that next year they will start off the school year with clear policies and procedures in place. These policies and procedures will include everything from making up work when absent to penalties for plagiarism. I recommend that you have both students and parents/guardians sign these sheets, then give a copy to the student and place a copy in a secure place. I cannot tell you how many times students or parents have tried to argue, for instance, a late policy, and I've gone to the file and shown them their signature. It has saved me countless hassles. Teachers also said that they would start off being much stricter at the beginning of the year, as it's much easier to let out rope than it is to reel it back in. Jim Burke's Classroom Management, of The Teacher's Essential Guide Series, will help you be proactive with your classroom management.

    So many teachers said that they'd work to be better organized, and that they would provision and plan to use their time more effectively. Carla Buonopane-Festa, a middle school social studies teacher, told me that she plans to make all copies in advance. "Preparation is key!" Carla said. "Even though I have been teaching for the past seventeen years and know my curriculum inside and out, I oftentimes procrastinate and wait until the last minute to get handouts, worksheets, and other materials in order. This interrupts the flow of my lessons."

    Kristen Murphy, high school special education biology teacher (pictured below), says that she will have her students use binders instead of notebooks and folders. "I find that my students who use binders have a more straightforward way of organizing their materials for class, and they can easily reorganize if needed."

    Kelly Chase, high school English teacher, made a great suggestion when she said, "I would do more group work where small groups of students focus on the previous night's reading. It seems like when I do that type of activity, kids step up a bit more and take responsibility for reading because they are accountable to their peers."

    Joe Ciccarello, a math teacher legendary at my high school for his ability to take a kid from "Failing" on the MCAS test to "Advanced," stated that he plans to incorporate more projects into his curriculum to help students flex their higher-order thinking muscles a bit more. Ben Murphy (pictured above), English language arts and journalism teacher at the high school, agreed: "What I would do differently is focus on higher-order thinking. I would like to have students do more 'creating' to prove their knowledge and understanding of the literature we read." The Extraordinary Book series, which includes Extraordinary Research Projects, Extraordinary Oral Presentations, and Extraordinary Essays, is a wonderful resource for encouraging students' creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.

    Inclusion English teacher George Hannah answered my question by stating, "Sometimes I feel like being a teacher is some freakish variation of being a firefighter. I see myself in the classroom (because I have the superpower to step outside myself) constantly focusing on the things that go wrong: the problem child, the problem lesson, the problem (insert any activity, student, or administrator here). As a result of all this concern for the 'fires' or overheated people and situations, I sometimes overlook other students and lessons and administrators (and parents) that may need my attention more. Student A has sat quietly all year and struggled in silence while I was chasing down Student B who wouldn't stop talking. And I could go on. A friend once told me that 'if you are running late, stop and smell the flowers.' Those major problems (or pains in the . . . well, that place) are always going to be there; nonetheless, they shouldn't overshadow the areas where an extra moment of care and consideration could make a significant difference. I guess that I want to be more cognizant next year of those places and people who could benefit from even one more second of attention and compassion. That's what I would do differently next year."

    Mary Ellen Dakin, brilliant author of Reading Shakespeare with Young Adults and my esteemed colleague, perhaps summed it up best when she said, "Every year I find myself thinking what is probably the impossible, but here goes: Next year, I will finally figure out the most essential questions that need to be explored, the best sequence of lessons and days in which to explore them, and the necessary content and skills sequenced in a line that circles back on itself even as it advances forward. I will find the time to work with colleagues; I will design authentic, student-centered projects to counterbalance test-prep hype. There will be joy in what we do, and at the end of this year, whenever that year finally happens, I will wonder how to do it all and better next time."

    For myself, I'm going to try to have more balance in my teaching career, so that I can take on even more and not feel stressed out or overwhelmed. I also plan to read Anne Kreamer's book It's Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace, which provides great advice for expressing one's true feelings on the job in rational, productive, and beneficial ways.

    Hey, we may all be focused on the imminent arrival of summer vacation, but before you know it, September will be here again. It's never too soon to start thinking about how to make the 2010–2012 school year the best year ever!

    ~ Nancy


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