Being a better teacher

Teacher’s Bullet Journal

When in August I was just planning to start my bullet journal for work only (I have another one for the rest of my life), I quickly learned that there are not so many inspiring examples. And if we remove the pages for homeroom teachers in primary or college professors with very different teaching context, there were just a few helpful pages left.

So I created my own version of teacher’s bullet journal and I want to share it with you what worked well and which pages are left empty and forgotten.

This year appeared to be quite a hectic one (as it was proved by the first semester), so i was looking for a bright design to cheer me up and to stand out among other books and papers.

I do not use online planners even though this year we have moved to Canvas full scale, not talking about teaching online, grading online, having online meetings, etc. The luxury of having a paper-based notebook is hard to overestimate.

Where do I start?

Traditionally, bullet journals start with a calendar. So, without further ado it was my very first step. Interestingly, when you write by hand each school week, each date, you get a better feeling of the length of the school year. How much one can do in that stretch of time!

It’s going to be a long year

I filled this page before we had our first meetings. Once the academic school calendar was shared, I added all the important dates (holidays, exams). As time passes, I also started adding some ‘big-change’ dates such as ‘students return to school’ or ‘everyone is sent back home’.

The map of the coursebook

Ok, this is something I am particularly proud of. I keep returning to the page time and again. It’s a compilation of all the material the coursebook has to offer. If you wonder why doing it with a ready-made content page each coursebook is provided with, here is the deal. I cannot say about other subjects, but in ESL the coursebook is more of a starting point, how exactly you want to use it is an open question. By the time I created this page, I have taught the course twice so I had time to develop my own way of presenting the course. What I have on the page is not always even mentioned directly in the book.

Let’s say, one of the early units offers a text with a diagram. You can read the text, answer the questions and move on. Another teacher would carefully pull out useful collocations or draw everyone’s attention to a certain grammatical structure. I preferred to open a new section in the unit – how to describe graphs. It was never originally in the book, but I know for sure that my students need this skill and specific vocabulary to do it for other subjects.
This map is a great time-saver when you prepare your yearly plan; moreover, it makes the plan realistic. Your bullet journal is always with you (unlike the coursebook), so you can consult your notes or answer the questions about the course content at any moment.
I have these pages for each coursebook I use and I check the maps every now and then.

Exam summaries

To start with, IGCSE ESL is compulsory to our students. Many senior students take A levels. In any case, I have to know the content, structure and question types of the exams in detail. As I constantly work with those courses, I have learned all of them long ago by heart. meanwhile, there is a set of proficiency exams our students take to take when they apply to universities and they often ask me for help. I do not remember by heart all the timings and the overall structure of IELTS, TOEFL, SAT, Cambridge First, so I prefer to keep all the notes in my notebook. Checking the updates in the exams yearly is another courtesy of a good teacher.

Assessment options

Ok, this one I honestly copied from some page I came across online. I cannot say that I use it a lot, but at times of total creative breakdown, I check the options. And it helps.
You know how some time by the middle of the semester you get lost in the endless flow of assignments, lessons… You mean the best but can get repetitive way too early and not for the advantage of your students.

Check out this summary of the book about assessment for even more ideas: https://alisaerce.com/book-notes/2018/assessment-for-learning-and-teaching-in-secondary-schools-review-quotations/

Course structure

This part appears just because this year we use Canvas. As it was my first time ever building a course on the platform, I needed a structure. So I created those lists of components I wanted to use for each module.

I should say that it was a perfect world image and after a couple of weeks ‘in the fields’ I simplified many aspects. Still, I tend to double-check if I am on track and if I have forgotten something crucial.

Self-care

Being a teacher is not so easy in general. Being a teacher in our challenging times is even more demanding. There are times when burning out seem to be approaching way too quickly. And this is the time to open the page with a panda and to pick one thing from the bingo field.

And yes, I always have a little colouring page at the back of my bullet journal, good tea in my locker and our school team is extremely supportive. So, lucky me, I don’t check this page to often. Still, it is good to have as a reminder.

Weekly plan

I keep my weekly plans very simple, with minimum time required to build up a page. After trying a number of arrangements, I ended up with this:

As you can see, some weeks I feel more creative and I arrange the page in a nice way. Some weeks I want to make it through with no spare time, so I keep it extremely plain.
For each day I write the classes I have, a very brief explanation of the focus. The ‘Notes’ section is used for my to-do lists, the information from our meetings.

What else?

Due to the privacy reasons I have not included a few more pages I use (or used) a lot. These include:

  • My schedule. It takes some time to memorise all the classes in the order they happen. The bell times have changed a few times this school year. Room allocations have changed more than anything else. The schedule page is the spread I keep open on my table during the school day. Now I don’t need it that much, but in case of doubt, here it is.
  • Class roster. During the first month, I used it to take the attendance (later I would transfer it to the school system). Also, we usually have a growing number of new students joining us in the first two months of school, so I could easily keep track of the numbers. If needed, I could also take brief notes for each student if they replied or not (for example, during a warm-up). Starting from November I do not really use those pages as I have learnt all the names by heart and the electronic school system is more than enough.
  • PD notes. If I read a book or an article about teaching, I take notes in my bullet journal so that I can look through the notes when in search of inspiration. Notes from online webinars, quotes, everything work-related I would keep in the same notebook.
  • Student profiles. Ok, this one did not work out at all, mostly because I settled my Canvas courses to do all the job for me. The idea is to create a half-page entry for each student to note down common mistakes, recommendation, progress notes etc. It would have been incredibly helpful last year, but entered my work life too late to be helpful. But if you do not have a centralised system, it may be a handy tool.

Stay organised, stay creative!

Make the most of your bullet journal

Check other articles about teacher’s life on this website:

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