It’s mid-August and that means time to get ready to go back to school. The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) begins the 2022-2023 school year on August 29. While families buy new clothes and school supplies and prepare for school year routines, teachers are busy preparing their classrooms and lesson plans.
Fayston Elementary School teachers will meet with their incoming students and their families/guardians during the week prior to school to talk about expectations, hopes and anything else families think their children’s teachers should know.
Fayston fourth-fifth- grade teacher Doug Bergstein said he’s visited his classroom several times this summer to prepare for the coming year, including purchasing new furniture as he has 20 students this year, more than he’s had in his 30-plus years of teaching. This year, he set up five tables for three to four students each. Designing a classroom is a thoughtful process that takes into account the needs of each student. He added, “I always like to create spaces where you want to give kids a chance to find space in the room to be by themselves, if that’s what they want.”
He has also been going through his classroom materials and paperwork, making sure everything is in order and reorganizing bookcases, determining which books have been there for a while without much student interest in them. Bergstein said he is “getting everything refreshed.” He said the HUUSD has an adequate budget for school supplies (not always the case in all schools across the country), though he does reuse what materials he can to keep costs at a minimum.
Though Bergstein’s fourth/fifth graders have mostly been together previously and will be in his cohort together for two years, the beginning of the school year will also involve some getting-to-know-you exercises to “set the groundwork for the rest of the year.” Bergstein said he subscribes to the adage “Go slow to go fast,” and said it’s important to set clear expectations and get in routines so everyone in the classroom knows what’s expected of them.
Heidi Hill and Katie Sullivan, third- and fourth-grade teachers at Warren School, send a letter or note card to each of their students prior to the start of school to introduce themselves and give families information to prepare for the school year. “We spend the beginning of the year getting to know each other, practicing routines and setting expectations,” they said in an email.
In terms of preparing their classrooms, Hill and Sullivan said, “We ordered the usual supplies that get used up each year such as glue sticks, paper, and lots and lots of pencils! We also ordered special nature journals this year. We’re still not completely sure how we’re going to set up our rooms. We’ve used tables, but then needed to switch to desks due to COVID spacing. Now we will be using a combination of desks and tables. We’re making a few changes to the rooms this year, too but for the most part they will feel similar to last year. We don’t do a whole lot of decorating ahead of time because we like to include the students, showcasing their work and their pictures.”
Asked about how things have changed over the years, Hill and Sullivan said, “Many things have changed over the years, but many things have stayed the same about elementary school. Building relationships with our students continues to be the most important aspect of our teaching -- that hasn’t changed. We think two of the biggest drivers of change in education come from brain science and educational technology. We are constantly understanding more about how brains learn and retain information. The pandemic has shown us how digital technology can best be utilized and also ways that are not so beneficial. It has also prompted us to have an increased awareness and focus on social and emotional learning and health. Our ongoing work around equity, antiracism and examining our biases is helping us educators to provide a more balanced, inclusive and fair environment for all learners.”
The pair said, “We are looking forward to seeing the fourth graders who were in our classes last year and empowering them to be leaders and role models for the incoming third graders. We’re also really looking forward to getting back into the woods with our kids!”