Cameron's Coffee Mug on desk with notebook and laptop

Morning Mug Series: Back to School Tips with Sarah Lancaster

Before most people are awake, there are those who are up brewing coffee and thriving. Those who seize the day and do something unique with their mornings. In this series we’ll be introducing you to some of these people, what their mornings look like, and what motivates them. We recently spoke with 2022 MN Teacher of the Year, Sarah Lancaster, to hear about her morning routine as she preps for a school day, tips for the upcoming school year, how she fills her morning mug, and so much more.

Read on for a smile and let us know your best back-to-school tips in the comments! 📚

2022 MN Teacher of the Year, Sarah Lancaster

What grades, subject do you teach and where?

I currently teach 1st grade at Onamia Elementary. My first and only job has been at Onamia Elementary and I’ve spent the last seven years teaching 1st grade and for the two years before that I taught third grade. I teach all subjects except for Social Studies. In 1st grade we have one teacher do Science and one do Social Studies so all of the students get the experience of having more than one teacher.

How long have you been an educator and how did you know that educating our youth and scholars was your path?

I am going into my tenth year this upcoming fall! I knew I was meant to be an educator at the same time I became a student. Being in the school setting was always something I craved as a child; I looked forward to packing my backpack and getting on the bus every morning. My Kindergarten teacher had me read a story out loud to my peers one day and from that moment on I knew that’s what I was going to do with my life.

You were Minnesota’s teacher of the year! That is amazing, how did it feel to be recognized that way?

It was absolutely amazing and still a bit unbelievable. My immediate reaction was surprise and then pride. I am so proud to represent so many amazing groups of people and different organizations.

How were you recognized as MN Teacher of the year? Is there a banquet in your honor or other recognition?

Earlier this year there was the 2022 Minnesota Teacher of the Year banquet at the Saint Paul River Center in May. After I made it to the top 11 finalists we had an entire weekend with activities and interviews. On the last day they had the banquet celebration and there were almost more people in attendance at the banquet than my entire home town! The previous Teacher of the Year Natalia Benjamin announced the recipient at the end and this may sound a bit cliché but hearing my name called on stage felt like getting a golden buzzer on America’s got Talent. For some odd reason, I had the chorus from the Calum Scott song ‘You Are The Reason’ playing on repeat in my head as I made my way around the stage to accept my award. When I revisit that memory, instead of clapping or cheering all I hear is that song.

The school year is fast upon up, how do you use your summer off to recharge and prepare for the school year?

I try to spend as much time as I can with friends and family. Relationships are so important, and I make sure to use my time to connect with those around me. We meet up for lunch, go on trips, spend time outside and just enjoy each other’s company. When I have down time (which is not very often being the mother of a 2 year old) I love to try out new recipes, enjoy comfort food, and take as many naps as I can!

What types of summer prep do you have to do to stay organized and prep for an upcoming school year?

I always describe summer time for teachers as one long weekend. June is Friday night, July is Saturday, and August is the eternal Sunday! Usually when the calendar changes to August I start to get the itch to get back into the classroom and start getting ready for the upcoming school year.

There are always workshop opportunities and professional development sprinkled throughout the summer for teachers. This year I focused on a few speaking engagements, connecting with my teaching partner about our new math curriculum, helping to interview our new principal and teacher candidates for the upcoming year, and cleaning out my classroom cupboards.

What time of day does school start for you?

My school day starts at 7:30 a.m., but the first 45 minutes are spent getting ready for the school day or meeting with colleagues. My littles can officially start their day with me at 8:15 a.m. but many take their time in the lunchroom to eat breakfast at school, especially at the beginning of the year!

What types of prep must happen each morning before students arrive?

Each teacher has their own list of items that they go through each morning. Over the years I’ve recognized that there is a physical prep such as getting things ready in the classroom, as well as a mental prep. One of the most important things I do each morning is look over my plan book and think through each of the lessons. Sometimes I’ll even practice the language I plan to use out loud or go through it with the other 1st grade teacher. It does get easier, especially when you’ve taught for a number of years like I have now. When I see a particular lesson I usually have a pretty good idea of how I like to go through it but things are always constantly changing. The students may not understand it in the same way as the year before or it just doesn’t click. Every few years we also adopt new curriculums for the different subjects we teach; this means a whole new set of lessons for an entire year. This always makes me feel like a first year teacher all over again!

Do you have a ritual, routine, or meditation you do to prepare yourself for a day teaching?

If I’m feeling ambitious I like to workout in the morning before I get ready for work. Otherwise I like to take a long shower in the morning and spend time at the breakfast table with my son before I have to leave. I absolutely am not a breakfast person which drives my husband crazy. My breakfast every morning throughout the week consists of a protein shake!

Teachers have the hardest job! How do you bring optimism into the classroom at the start of each new school year?

I always try to remember that each day is a new day for everyone in the room. There is a fine balance between being energetic and upbeat for your students while also communicating to them that their teacher is a real person who sometimes has off days. As we build our relationships in the classroom that becomes more natural, and I look forward to learning from my students as much as they look forward to learning from me. I make sure to keep us busy with lots of engaging activities and also planning some brain breaks throughout the day, especially in the first few weeks of school!

Tell us about your morning routine as related to prepping for a school day?

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I’m a creature of habit. When I get to my classroom the first thing I do is turn on my computer and Smartboard. I put up the Morning Message for my students which gives them information about our day such as our schedule, lunch menu, special changes, and our specialist classes (gym, music, art, library). I check my plan book and run through our day mentally. After I’m done with that I take out any materials or worksheets we are going to use for the day, and I check in with my teaching partner Cyndi. If there is any extra time we use it for planning, prepping materials, making copies, or just taking care of the classroom and getting things organized. That is if we don’t have any staff meetings of course!

Do you have a special spot in your home, yard, neighborhood other where you reflect and enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning?

More often than not during the week I like to make a protein shake with coffee and take it to work with me to drink throughout the first few hours of the day. If I’m enjoying a cup of coffee at home it is usually during the weekend at the kitchen table or out on the patio. I do have a wood and iron baker’s rack where I keep all of my coffee items like my coffee maker, grinder, beans, filters, and milk foamer. This is where I also keep all of my house plants. Each one has a name and gets greeted each morning!

Are you able to bring some coffee along with you to drink at school and do the students allow you to sneak some sips?

Since I’m not really a breakfast person the only way I’ll have coffee in the morning is in a protein shake or during the weekends. However, I love to have an afternoon cup of coffee and have a coffee maker just for my classroom! I keep flavored creamer in my mini fridge next to my lunch. There is nothing better than a steaming hot cup of coffee after monitoring outdoor recess on a snowy day in winter. When we come in, we settle down in the Reading Corner with the pillows and bean bags where I can enjoy a cup while I read a story to my kids to get us calm and ready for learning again. My students always love the smell!

We consider Cameron’s to be the bright and cheerful brand and children are just naturally bright and cheerful most of the time, have you learned any important lessons from spending so much time around young people?

I’ve learned that kids have such a unique way of thinking, and if you allow yourself to see the world as they do each day you will always learn something new. This takes a lot of trust and empathy, and requires you to meet kids at their own level. This can be tough, especially after forming my own habits or ways of thinking for 31 years. Kids love to be helpful, share, and have infinite curiosity.

What is the funniest thing a student has ever said to you?

One time a student seemed rather uncomfortable and kept fidgeting around. I asked him if something was bothering him, and he told me his socks made his feet feel like they were whispering! It was hard to keep a straight face, but I suggested that he take his socks and shoes off, then try putting them back on. He seemed pretty satisfied with that, and his socks apparently quieted down.

Another vivid memory I have which is from my first year of teaching is not something a student said but rather what they did. I was in the middle of talking to a student, and I felt the weirdest sensation on my arm. I looked down and one of my third graders was trying to get my attention by gently tugging on my arm hair! The student will be a senior this year, I can’t wait to watch him graduate!

What is your favorite mug? Send us a pic if you can!

My favorite mugs are always the oversized ones. I like giant mugs that hold a lot of coffee, and I’m usually too impatient to wait for the coffee to cool down and end up putting ice in with it. In fact, anytime I order a cup of coffee at a restaurant I always ask for a cup of ice to go with it. Mugs are something teachers are familiar with; I’ve gotten many throughout the years and so I am able to have lots of favorite mugs! My current favorite is a large, round pink and white mug with the words ‘Be Happy’ on each side.

Interested in learning more about Sarah? Check her out on Instagram and Facebook! For more on our Morning Mug series, head here!

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