Keeping your Head Above Water

Ask any teacher, and they’ll tell you the same thing: teaching is complex. It is far harder than it seems at first glance. There are so many different activities to stay on top of: lesson planning, classroom management, testing, differentiation, field trips, record-keeping, communication, faculty committees, professional development, oh—and loving each one of the youngsters (or not-so-youngsters) who walk through the door every day. And then there is the constant demand to make a hundred spur-of-the-moment decisions each day—and the knowledge that each and every one of them has the potential to backfire in some unforeseen way. It is no wonder that come Friday, most teachers are exhausted and ready for a break from all things school. Unfortunately, for many of us, school follows us home. There is simply too much to do, and not enough time in the school day/week to complete it. What’s an exhausted teacher to do?

In this week’s OnPractice, I’d like to offer some practical suggestions relating to time management and organization to help stay on top of the workload. After all, the holiday season is almost upon us, and with it comes even more demands on our time and resources. This is a huge struggle for many of us, so if you’ve got some ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments section below!

Get Organized:

A messy work space can leave you feeling overwhelmed and discouraged.  Taking the time at the end of each school day (or, for you morning people, the start of the following day) to straighten up your desk can make a world of difference. Set aside five minutes to record and then throw away all the stray bits of paperwork that you’ve accumulated throughout the day (e.g., that tardy slip from Susy; Pascal’s early dismissal slip). Neatly stack (or better yet, file) the extra worksheets, quizzes, etc. that are around. Grab all those pens, markers, chalk pieces, etc. and put them in your drawer or pencil box. And don’t forget to close all the open windows on your computer. (Yes, clearing your digital work space is also important!) It’s surprising how much of a difference a neat work space can make in your outlook and your productivity.

A Place for Everything:

And while we are on the topic of organization—what do you do with all the paper that comes in each class period? If you don’t have a system in place to keep track of this, it is well-worth developing. Many teachers use color-coded folders: red for work yet to be graded, blue for work to be returned, green for worksheets or handouts that have yet to be assigned. Other teachers sort the work by subject or class period. At the very least, take the time to sort papers by assignment and paper-clip like assignments together—and if there is an answer key, add that to the pile. Then, when you are ready to grade, everything you need is in one place.

Set Bite-Sized Goals:

Whether you are tackling the stack of grading that threatens to overtake your desk, starting to develop a unit plan, or planning that class holiday party that you’ve been dreading, it can help to break up the job into a series of smaller tasks. Prioritize which tasks are the most important (or, in some cases, the most time-sensitive).  Set goals for each planning period or each day:  This period I’m going to finish grading the math worksheets and make the parent phone call I’ve been putting off. As you check these goals off your list, the progress you make can help motivate you to complete even more.

Schedule an Extended Work Day:
Setting aside a day once a week or once every fortnight to stay an hour or two longer at school can help you protect the rest of your non-working hours.  Use this time to catch up on your filing, write your lesson plans, or update your school’s on-line record keeping system. Knowing that you have this time already planned into your schedule can help you prioritize what needs to be done right away, and what you can put off until this extra day. (Just don’t plan on doing everything this day, or you’ll never make it home!)

Recognize Your Limits:

You get more done when you are fresh than when you are tired.  So when you find yourself reading the same line over and over again, or staring out the window unable to focus, stop.  Take a walk. Grab a bite to eat. Give your mind a break. The work will still be there when you come back, and if you tackle it while you are fresh, you’ll finish it in less time—and probably give better feedback to the kids in the process.

For more ideas about using your planning periods wisely, check out this article on the Edutopia site.
Becky Hunsberger
Teacher Education Services

Photo Credits: I see the light. denn via Compfight cc

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