Every teacher on the planet knows what I’m talking about when I say I had “the dream” last night. You know, the one where you show up to the first day of school dressed in shorts and a tank top. Your walls are completely blank, and you can’t find any prepared lesson plans or materials.

You don’t recognize any of the kids who are sitting in straight rows with their hands folded, staring blankly at you, and you have no roster to tell you who anybody is. Right when you scream one of those horrible dream screams that don’t make any sound, your principal and superintendent walk in to do your 45-minute teacher evaluation.

Sound familiar? Why do we always have “the dream?”

It’s because teacher preparation is key. We know that if we’re not ready to go when school starts, it sets the tone for our students and possibly gets them started on a path that leads to less than their best because of their low expectations for our class and how well we will teach them.

So, do teachers acutely feel that pressure to perform? You bet we do.

However, there are lots of strategies that can be implemented by teachers of every kind to help lessen the stress as we head into a new school year, and they’re not as much work as you might think. Here are five:

Throw Out the Junk and Get Organized

Teachers tend to be hoarders. That’s because we often spend our own money on supplies and resources. Don’t blame us if we get a little attached and won’t let go of anything we might, maybe, possibly could need someday!

But let’s get realistic. If you haven’t used those math tutorial books or those animal research units in two to three years, are you going to randomly decide that they’re worthy again?

This also applies to your electronic files. About 90% of my lesson tools are stored on my Google Drive. But those pile up quickly, especially when compounded with data spreadsheets, accommodation folders, notes and memos from the office, and all those student pics that you took during fun labs and activities.

Be OK with throwing things away! Devote one day before the year starts to visit your files and any stored “teacher stuff.” Leave the feels behind you and go in with a clean-it-out mindset.

Then, create folders with names and the school year so you are ready to put things in mindful places and know where to find them in the shortest period of time. You will feel much more prepared if you start the year with the exact materials that you need.

Get Better — In Little Bits

Who doesn’t want to instantly be the best at what they do? Teachers are no exception. So, to start every year, you promise yourself that you will set up a new classroom management system, add an extra reflection piece on the end of every lesson, master additional technology to implement, and write a note of encouragement to everyone on your campus each month to improve morale. And, a million other things.

Stress and anxiety will come from too many self-improvement promises and too much on your plate. Keep in mind that you already have important commitments to your family and community as well.

Keep it simple. Take a moment to reflect on your performance last year and pick two things you would like to work on. It doesn’t seem like much but mastering two new skills will make a greater impact on your students and your abilities than initiating six new goals and petering out on all of them by November because you’re exhausted.

Besides, you know you don’t give yourself enough credit for all the ways your classroom is a wonderful and fun place to be. Chances are your students and parents already think the world of you.

Plan To Relax

Every year, we start our school schedule with that twinge of excitement for fresh faces, events and activities — and teachers tend to give 110% of themselves to make sure all these things are the best that they can be. So by October, we’re already feeling it.

To avoid the instant burnout, take some time before your district’s in-service days to plan a few “relax and recharge” opportunities for that first semester. Whether you choose something simple once a week or something more involved or expensive once a month, make it work best for you according to your time and resources.

The point is to have them already decided, booked and on your calendar before school anxiety and demands convince you to shove them aside.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Find a podcast that makes you happy (i.e., food, culture, entertainment) that’s NOT related to your job and listen with your feet up.
  • Procure babysitting to give yourself a few hours of reading at the park, heading to an estate sale or going on a movie date.
  • Lock down a spa treatment, outlet mall adventure or lunch meetup with friends who WON’T talk shop.
  • Map out and make arrangements for a road trip or buy those concert or airline tickets now for a romantic weekend with someone special.

Give Up Summertime Only When Necessary

Every teacher everywhere hears the huge boom from that giant, slow-motion calendar page slamming down like an iron door, announcing the first day of July. It’s the awful “summer is half over” moment that pops the cork on our plugged-up teacher brain.

First, you peek at your school email. Then you glance at Pinterest for one cute lesson idea.

Before you know it, professional development starts, and you’ve already snuck into the classroom and worked for two solid weeks decorating your fairy-tale teacher kingdom.

Don’t do it! Make a reasonable list of things you feel are necessary enough to give up your summer fun time to get them done.

Decide on only two or three available workdays, prioritize tasks and try to take a friend or family member who can help. After that time is up, get back to relaxing. Hit the pool again, crack that thriller novel back open, or go enjoy that fun painting class. Your best teacher self will be grateful you did.

Know Yourself

Finally, to start this new school year, I challenge you to decrease your stress by knowing who you are. Make an actual list of how you light up your classroom and campus and then post it in your space or notebook.

Anxiety pops up by seeing what everyone else is up to and immediately thinking it’s better than your own capabilities and skills. Block out those doubtful thoughts! Your plans are engaging and fun!

You will build relationships with kids who will adore you for the time that you put in to make them successful. It doesn’t matter what everyone else does. It’s not better, it’s just different! That’s what makes a great school a wonderful place to be!

Utilize these tips to create wellness in your thought process, and don’t let that stress crush the beginning of your year. Get ready, take care of yourself and believe in what you do!