The 5 Stages of Going Back to School

Going back to school after a long, relaxing summer can be a difficult adjustment for even the most seasoned educator. Typically, this transition is experienced in five stages. Read on to discover what stage you are currently experiencing.

The 5 Stages of Going Back to School

Stage 1: Denial

feet in the sand

After a few weeks of summer vacation, you begin to think of yourself as a person of leisure. You enjoy long breakfasts, try new restaurants, and go to fun places like museums or the beach. You don’t want it to end.

“No!” you think, as you walk by a back-to-school display in early July. “There are many more weeks left.” You try to savor the end of your summer, but the weeks fly by until there aren’t any more.


  • Refusing to look at a clock
  • Not knowing what day it is

Stage 2: Avoidance

messy room

That first work day back you have every intention of getting things done. But then you have a meeting and a training to go to, and then you have another meeting. Plus, you have to spend some time catching up with all your friends at work! There will be plenty of time to get everything done and, anyway, there’s not that much to do…


  • Adding to your “To Do” list with reckless abandon
  • Visiting other classrooms for a “short chat”

Stage 3: Frantic Preparation

concerned face
You are out of time! It’s the day before the kids come and you still have so much you want to do. You spend 12 hours at work creating handmade signs and organizing everything by color. You start getting ready to leave but then you remember that you still need to prep all your supplies for tomorrow, so you set your keys down and get back to work.


  • Deciding at the last minute to totally re-arrange your table set up
  • Reiterating to your significant other that you’ll be done “soon”

Stage 4: Anticipation/Excitement

When you get home, you are dead tired from all that work, so you fall asleep the minute your head hits the pillow…and wake up again half an hour later. You are wide awake, so you start thinking about the amazing lesson you planned for the first day of school. Then you wonder what lesson you should do next. You get so excited about all these ideas you can’t wait to start working on a whole new curriculum plan. Maybe you need to build a website too?


  • Sleeplessness
  • Inability to shut off your brain

Stage 5: Acceptance

smiling face

You’ve made it through to the last stage! Yes, you were pretty tired that first week back, but seeing all the students love your amazing lessons helped you get through. By the time a few weeks have gone by you are used to having sore feet and random paint stains on your clothes. You feel at home in your classroom and love what you do, plus you’re kind of amazing at it!


No matter what stage you’re in, we wish you a wonderful school year!

How do you transition from summer back to school?

Would you add any other stages to this list?

Melissa Purtee


Melissa teaches at Apex High School in North Carolina and is the author of The Open Art Room. She’s passionate about supporting diversity, student choice, and facilitating authentic expression.


  • Heidi Hurley


  • Lindsey Moss

    I NEED a “paint water” coffee mug. Great article!

    • Thank you! I have one that reads “not paint water” as well! :)

  • Ellene McClay

    the scary thing is I did google ‘comfortable teacher shoes’ about a week ago!!!

  • Denise Tanaka

    this felt like reading my own journal, if I had a back to school version, to a tee!!! :0 Thanks for the smiles!

    • I’m so glad you liked it! Thank you for taking to time to tell me!

  • Rachelle Kaufman

    I start getting up earlier the week before school starts. I also start planning what I need to bring from home first. Then there is always the comfort that the first two weeks are mostly rules and procedures with everyone doing the same art project for simplicity. Then there’s the realization that the school systems are not up and running for 3 weeks so my work load is less. I have more time to learn about the students and just share love.

  • Gloria Budz

    Stage 3 and my stage 4 I am calling ANXIETY!!!!!!

  • Reno

    The other stage I would add to this list is the slug stage; generally I was so exhausted by the time the school year ended, it took a couple of weeks of resting/reading just to get my head back to “me.” Then I could start to enjoy the summer…..

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