How does this sound? You arrive to school about 15 minutes before your contract day starts in the morning EMPTY HANDED because you took nothing home the previous evening. Then, you walk out the door at the end of your contract day EMPTY HANDED again, ready to enjoy your evening. Does this sound like an impossible dream? It’s not!
Let me tell you what my first few years of teaching looked like… I stayed until 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. most evenings. I took home a rolling cart full of work to grade and textbooks to use while planning lessons. I rolled my cart over the bumpy, uneven pavement during all types of weather and said bad words when the snow or rain would dampen my ungraded math worksheets. I would get home and grade papers while watching television and flip through my textbooks while filling in my lesson plan book. I look back on those years and I can feel the exhaustion and desperation. I was so close to burn-out. I loved my job and students but it was all just too much. I have yet to find a teacher who doesn’t give his/her personal, unpaid time to the never-ending job of teaching. That being said, I was taking it waaaay overboard. We have a large turnover rate for teachers in this country and there are many reasons for that but feeling overwhelmed with work is definitely a major reason.
One day, I decided I’m not doing this anymore. I still want to be a teacher. There’s no better job! However, I told myself that some things are going to have to change. Once you read this blog post, it is my hope that you will take some of my suggestions to heart and lighten your workload, have more time to yourself and to spend with family, and feel like you are completing everything you need to accomplish during the school day.
- Don’t do anything for students that they can do themselves. Have papers to file? Put a student in charge of it. Need packets stapled together? Give one of your guys a stapler and tell him to get to work! If I have a task that my students can possibly take care of, I hand it over. By giving up small tasks to your students, you will free up some extra minutes for teacher tasks and you will help your students to feel ownership and pride in their classroom. Students love to feel needed and enjoy making contributions to the classroom.
- Every minute counts. Every minute is precious to a teacher and you must protect your time. One way that I make my minutes count is to multi-task. While I walk around monitoring my students, I always have a stack of papers that I’m grading. Teachers can do two (or three or four) things at once. It’s just in our nature! Another way to protect your time is to close your door during planning time. Those coworkers that you love to talk to will usually keep right on walking if your door is closed. Also, put your phone away! Facebook can wait until your free time in the evening. You will be shocked at how much more you will get done during planning time if you have no distractions
- Reduce your grading! Yes, you are responsible for a certain number of grades per week or grading period but you can certainly make grading easier on yourself. Cut down your grading responsibilities by using five to ten question quizzes for understanding. Another of my favorite time-savers is to use “insta-grades.” Give students a short assignment on notebook paper, on a worksheet, or in students’ interactive notebooks. As students complete the assignment, they will bring their work to you and you will check over it quickly and put a grade into your computer gradebook right then. You just bypassed the grading AND you gave your students immediate feedback. Depending on how you approach group assignments, they can really help you reduce your grading. Create groups of students and give them an assignment. All students in the group must agree with the answers before turning in the assignment. Now, you have only a fraction of the papers to grade and you facilitated cooperative learning in your classroom!
- Say no! Yes, every teacher is required to be on a certain number of committees, but learn to say “NO” to extra things that come up. Do you really make that much more money (if you make any extra money at all) taking on extra assignments?
- Don’t be the host or hostess with the “mostest!” When participating in a team meeting, try to plan it somewhere other than your classroom. When the meeting concludes, people will stay to talk and you can’t get done what you need to get done.
- Don’t recreate the wheel! Stop spending your time making learning materials for students. Look to colleagues for materials or look on teacher-tested websites, like teacherspayteachers.com!
Your dedication and commitment to your classroom and students has nothing to do with the amount of extra time that you donate. When you are in your classroom, work hard. When it’s time to go home, leave the work behind (even if that means leaving a pile of ungraded papers on your desk) and enjoy your evening! You’ll be a better and more refreshed teacher if you have a life outside of school!