You probably felt the dread creep somewhere into your soul this morning. It’s the last week of July and the next school year is still almost a month away (for most of the country, I recognize that many school districts are starting next week in some parts of the country) and yet many of us just had a sudden jolt of panic….

I’m not ready for Day 1.

How do you prepare for the upcoming school year? This question can’t be answered by any one person or from any one perspective. I’ve seen teachers plan manically each and every detail of every class. They have sent out a completed syllabus to students via email/website by the first week of August. I have also seen college professors walk in the first day of class with a single sheet of paper, their ‘syllabus’, and then state that this document is more of an outline that we may or may not adhere to over the course of our study.

The fact is that preparation, just like teaching, is a fine balance of art and science. Some teachers are more comfortable with the scientific approach while others prefer to paint with only a vague notion of where they want to end up. In both cases however, good teachers all have one thing in common. They will ask themselves this one question before they begin:

“What is the ONE thing I want my students to say about ____________ at the end of the school year?

My one thing as a geography teacher is to get students to appreciate the complexity of geography. I want my students to say:

“Geography… it’s complicated!” and then be able to engage in a conversation with any adult as to why that is the case.

It starts them on a path of questioning WHY it is complicated. Asking good questions builds an inquisitive mind. Building flexibility into my course allows my students to ask ever more complicated and nuanced questions about those wonderful shades of gray where all the learning happens. They also have a voice in where the learning takes us as a class. I must be prepared to use my breadth of knowledge to support, develop, and challenge their learning based on the questions they create. I might not be able to answer their question, but I should be able to propose several points of view and resources to help them develop an opinion for themselves.

That’s it isn’t it? It all boils down to that one thing. When good teachers prepare for the year, all of the maniacal details all have to support one final goal. As teachers learn over the course of their career, they will refine and change things until they find a comfort zone Then they will rip up their comfort zone and start over from scratch. Even though I have taught my curriculum for a decade, I still get goosebumps and butterflies at this point in the summer. I find myself going into my classroom during the first few weeks of August to sit and think. Stare at my blank whiteboard and visualize lessons that went well and others that bombed. What might I do differently? How does the current state of the world affect how I approach each region? Will the Greek financial crisis change how I teach about the EU (yes). How do I pull that off? How do I create my learning space so that is inviting, flexible, and safe for all students (and teachers)? I start asking myself these questions now so that I have time to figure a path of learning for my students when they walk in the door on Day 1.

My preparation begins with reflecting on my ONE thing. Is it still relevant? Is it still right for me? Is it attainable for my students? Does it still challenge me?

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