Classroom Management · For Your Classroom

My Best Teacher Survival Tips for Secondary

Teaching can be hard. But I don’t have to tell you that. You get it. That’s why sometimes it’s good to just chat with another teacher about some things that work well for them. So that’s what this post is, really, just a little chat, from me to you, that I hope will offer you some simple teacher survival ideas to save your sanity this year. I’d love for you to chat more with me below in the comments!

I know some of these tips might initially sound selfish or silly, and I know you’re not really a selfish or silly person. That’s why you’re a teacher. But the goal with all of this is to lay a foundation of you feeling calm, collected, and in charge of your teaching experience. From that strong foundation, you can build on your knowledge, compassion, and expertise, and be the teacher your kiddos need you to be.

Quick note: The Amazon links here are not affiliate links- they’re just for your information and convenience.

Use a master binder.

This was my lifeline. I used it all day, every day. My sturdy, 2-inch binder housed my lesson plans, calendar, long-range plans, student rosters*, and other important info.

*Use to generate several randomizations of each of your class rosters. That way you have a fair, randomized list ready to go for games or presentations, etc. Also, I like to print several copies of student rosters in a spreadsheet format followed by blank boxes. I can use these blank boxes to keep track of attendance, behavior, tardies, homework, etc., then enter the info. in the computer when I have more time later.

Get yourself a good desk chair.

Should your school provide you with a comfortable, ergonomic desk chair that’s appropriate to your height and body build? Yes. Will they? Probably not.

When I was in college, I interned for my city government and they stuck me in the corner of what was already a shared office with a little square chair with little square wooden arm rests. I whacked both of my elbows on those wooden armrests all day every day for a couple of months until it was time for me to return to college with my battered elbows. It never dawned on me to ask for a better chair!

Don’t be like college me. Just bring your own dang chair.

Brighten your learning space and celebrate seasons and special days with these fun banners that you can quickly print and switch out!

Don’t allow students to leave papers on your desk.

I know plenty of teachers have a designed inbox and that works well for them. For me, I preferred to collect papers at a designated time during class- the old-fashioned “pass forward your homework” deal.

This served several purposes: students weren’t trying to finish up homework during class if I just collected it at the beginning; I could go through the papers right then and check for no-names, and make a quick list of whose was missing.

If a student wanted to turn in an assignment late or early, I required that they hand it directly to me, and I would mark it “late” or “early,” and add to the stack or file right then. This reduced the chances of it getting lost in the paper shuffle on my desk, and reduced the chances of the frustrating scenario in which the student claims he left his assignment on my desk, and I claim I never received it.

Have an emergency binder/ emergency kit nearby.

Your school probably already has this set up for you, but if not, take it upon yourself. In a wall pocket right next to my classroom door, I had an emergency binder with all my class rosters and other important info., an emergency spill clean-up kit (think body fluids), an emergency kit with a CPR mask and gloves, and right under that was a first-aid kit. That way, if we had a drill or true emergency, I could grab my rosters on the way out the door, or if there was an emergency in the hallway, anyone could reach just inside my door and grab the needed items.

Make your classroom an attractive, coordinated space with this red & black poppies theme created especially for secondary classrooms.

Consider having your own printer.

You know how often the school copier breaks, and how long the line can somehow get on a good day when it’s working. When you need something printed quickly, or you don’t want to go all the way to the office, it’s nice to have your own little printer. I cannot recommend HP Instant Ink enough. When I first heard about Instant Ink, I thought it was kind of gimmicky, or least just too good to be true. Turns out it’s not! Believe the hype.

If you’re not familiar, the HP Instant Ink program allows you to pay for the pages you print as a monthly subscription, instead of buying ink cartridges. At the time of writing this post, I pay just $4.99 a month to print 100 pages! That includes color! It does not matter how much ink you use per page at all- they are only counting the number of pages printed.

I was pleasantly surprised at the print quality as well. Your printer stays connected to the internet, and HP monitors your usage and ink levels. They automatically ship you more ink before you need it. If you don’t use up all the pages in your plan, they roll over, and if you use more than the pages in your plan, they just bill you a little more in increments. I honestly have no complaints.

You do need a compatible HP Printer to participate in the program, but they are reasonably priced as well! (This is the one I have, and really like.) I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to using a regular printer and buying ink.

If you want to try it out, here’s my affiliate link to learn more, and get a free trial!

Set office/ available hours.

At the beginning of the year, in writing, let your students and parents know when and how you are available. And stick to it.

I strongly suggest that you not offer yourself to be available on evenings or weekends. Do not give out your personal cell phone number, not even to the most chill parent. (Trust me.) I personally prefer email because I can answer at designated times, and I have the opportunity to think through my response, rather than being blind-sided and put on the spot with an issue.

Let students and parents know when you are available for meetings. Require that parents schedule the meeting with you, and if possible, find out a little about what the meeting will be about beforehand so you can prepare with the students’ most recent assignments, file, grade reports, etc. If students or parents try to catch you at a time that isn’t one of your designated ones, confirm that what they need isn’t an emergency, then redirect them to connect with you during one of your available office hours. Be kind but firm, and don’t feel guilty about it.

Students and parents both will push you as far as you will let them. They don’t realize the million little things we’re thinking about all day every day, and that we just don’t have the bandwidth for conversations and meetings without warning. Usually these conversations or meetings will require you to make a decision, and if you’re not in the right frame of mind to make that decision you might choose something that isn’t best for you or for the student.

Your syllabus is the perfect place to let students and parents know about your available times and best contact. Grab mine for free!

Make your classroom comfortable and pleasant for you.

When I first started teaching, I spent hours and hours trying to dream up decorations and accents for my classroom that I thought my students would love. Turns out, someone would laugh or criticize it, no matter what I did, or how hard I worked on it. One of the best decisions I ever made was to just curate a space that I loved in my classroom, and not worry over whether the kids thought it was cool. And ironically, the year I quit trying to impress them was the year they seemed the most intrigued with my classroom decor. *shrug*

Don’t be afraid to bring in lamps to use instead of those harsh fluorescents. Hang string lights. Set out some potted plants– fake or real, doesn’t matter. Get some spring rods and hang some curtains! Get a rug, if you want. Bring in a small fan or small space heater (with safety features!) [I understand not all schools allow all of these items, but take advantage of the items you are allowed to have].

It makes me sad to see classrooms that look like an ER waiting room or a prison cell. Even if the kids are only in your room for one class period a day, you’re in there all day long, friend! Make it cozy!

  Check out my Bulletin Boards and Classroom Decor Pinterest board for some inspiration!

Create a calming environment in your classroom with this succulent theme!

Don’t forget you have to eat!

When I read threads on social media where teachers are asking each other for lunch ideas, I’m always shocked to see teachers that are like, “Oh I have a handful of almonds and a cheese stick.” What?! And you don’t pass out around 2:00 pm? If you’re the almonds and cheese stick girl, I am not making fun of you. Just suffice it to say that I am not the almonds and cheese stick girl, and I couldn’t teach (or do anything, really) on an empty stomach.

My next door neighbor teacher put a mini fridge in her classroom and I thought she was such a diva… until I was over there asking if she had any space for my lunch in there too… If you can, having a little fridge is not a bad idea.

Along those same lines, if it’s allowed, you might consider a Keurig if you like tea, hot cocoa, or coffee. We had a teachers’ lounge with a coffee maker (and by teachers’ lounge I mean storage closet, where no more than two small teachers could fit comfortably, with a counter top and some old desk chairs), but it would’ve been nice to have my own thing.

Also make sure you have a nice big cup for water that you can sip on all day. Check out options with a built-in filter to make that water fountain water taste fresh.

One last idea that you might think is crazy until you’ve tried it: a Crock Pot Lunch Crock. This was another item that a teacher friend had and I decided was genius. It’s just a tiny Crock Pot with a handle that you can sit in your classroom or the “teachers’ lounge” *cough cough*, plug in, and have a nice, warm lunch whenever you’re ready!

Love quirky steampunk style? How about some free inspirational posters?

Have a safe space.

Whether it’s for answer keys, your own personal belongings, or just a place to hide the good markers, set up a drawer, cabinet, or even an extra locker with your own lock and key so that you have a safe place for valuables or sensitive items. Things have a way of disappearing, and it’s awfully frustrating. 

Keep key info. in front of your face.

This one is super simple, but super helpful. Post a copy of the school phone extensions list right by your desk phone. Also keep handy the school’s address and phone number (think of sending a student to make a phone call for emergency services, etc.– they don’t have the school’s contact info. memorized like you do). Post a copy of the daily class schedule on your desk. Have a wall calendar that you update with important dates and events where both you and your students can see. Any concise info. that you reference more than once a week, try to post it on a nearby wall or cover it with contact paper and stick it to your desk.

Always have a notepad at hand.

Again, simple, I know, but if it’s something you’re not actually doing, I promise it will improve your life. Keep a notepad and pen right on your desk or wherever you hang out the most. Jot down ideas and to-dos as soon as you think of them. This could of course be the sticky notes app on your computer or notes app on your phone as well. Just always be in the habit of keeping notes and keeping them all in the same place.

For more ideas of important things to keep in your teacher desk, grab my free checklist!

Turn your classroom into a cozy coffee shop with this fun decor set for older students.

Write notes on lesson plans.

Speaking of notes, the easiest system I found for keeping track of things was to make notes right in my lesson plans while I was teaching. Student was absent? Write their name on the lesson plan. Didn’t finish the lesson? Make a note where we stopped. Need more practice for a concept tomorrow? Jot it on the lesson plan. Changed the homework assignment? Write it down. At the end of the day, I could look back over my lesson plans and transfer any notes or to-dos to my master notes area I mentioned in the last point.

Pin it for later!

Give limited bathroom passes.

Before I go any further, please know that not everyone agrees with me on this one, and that’s okay. Every classroom culture is different, and you do what’s best for your kids and their needs. However, this is what I (and many other teachers) found worked best. [This is not my original idea, but I’m afraid I could not find the post where I first learned of this, so if you happen to know which teacher came up with this system, please let me know in the comments– I would love to give them credit!]

I only allowed students 3 bathroom passes per quarter.

I kept up with it on a simple spreadsheet that I would put a check mark on it each time they used a pass. I know some teachers give the actual passes to the students, and they could spend them like tickets. I found it was easier to keep up with it myself.

Our class periods were 50 min. long and students knew they were to use the restroom between classes. So typically those 3 passes a quarter per student were plenty to cover for those unexpected situations where they needed the restroom during class. If a student had a reason that caused them to legitimately need the restroom more often than that, all they had to do was let me know, or have their parents let me know. I didn’t ask for any details at all, of course, just took their word for it. And I think I maybe only ever had one student who needed extra.

The truth is, most students do not need the restroom as often as they would have you to believe. They’re just bored.

Quite the “chat,” huh? (I don’t think I’m capable of writing a short blog post!) But I certainly hope that you picked up a fresh idea or two to carry with you on your teaching journey.

I’d love to know your best teacher survival tips! Please share in the comments below!

I'd love to hear from you!