I pretty much lived at school my first year teaching. I remember one night it was probably 8pm, and I was still back in my little portable working away, and I get a call on the school phone. “Sarah baby,” it was one of the sweet custodians, “you going home tonight?” I didn’t even realize the time and finally decided to call it a night. I had probably been at work since 6:30 am, too. And I probably brought a bag home. That’s just how it was for a while.
A teacher’s work is truly never done. There are always, always papers to grade, lessons to plan, assignments to create, emails to send. Always. That doesn’t mean that teaching has to take up your entire life, though. And I was admittedly a terrible manager of time back in those days.
During my second year teaching, I began working on my Masters degree and had class several nights a week. That meant I actually had to leave school at a reasonable hour in order to get to class on time. By reasonable hour, I mean, sometimes I actually had to leave at the end of my workday. Gasp.
Because I had to, I developed some habits that carried over even after I finished the degree. By the last year I was in the classroom, I rarely got to work early. (I blame my husband because we worked at the same school for a while, and he is a get-to-work-on-time kind of guy.) I usually didn’t stay more than 15 minutes late, except on Fridays. And I almost never brought work home. Ok, I brought it home, but it sat in my bag and didn’t get touched until I carried the bag back to school the next day.
Here are some tips for getting work done and not living at school:
1. Make sure you are good for tomorrow.
As you are going through your day, think about everything you need for the next day. We’re teachers; we’re expert multi-taskers. When you are teaching math, think about what you need for tomorrow. Get it out if you can, or write it on your to-do list. At the end of the day, get out everything you need for the next day. That way, if you don’t have extra time to stay and plan, at least you are ready for the next day. Sometimes you just gotta take it one day at a time.
2. Lesson plan daily.
Lesson plans are probably one of the biggest time-consumers (wasters?) of a teacher’s life. Find or create a template that you like and is easy to use. Then, try to plan for the next week one day at a time. For example, on Mondays I plan all of next week’s math. Tuesdays, plan all of next week’s reading. And so on. If I actually get an entire planning period to work, rare I know, but it happens sometimes, then I might even be able to plan for a couple of weeks for that subject. Writing lesson plans a little at a time makes the task much easier.
3. Stay late one day.
I usually chose to stay late on Fridays, and late was usually no later than 5. I stayed and made sure I had everything ready for the next week. Copies, library books, centers, etc… I also graded everything and entered all grades if I wasn’t able to get to them earlier in the week. Also did a little cleaning, organizing, throwing away, too. Mondays are rough, so it’s always nice to come in to a somewhat clean and ready classroom.
4. Five minute tasks.
Keep a bin on your desk where you put short tasks such as writing receipts, filling out a rating scale, writing names on something, notes to parent, etc… I also kept lists–to do, to make, to copy, to find. Lots of lists. Then, establish a rule in your class that whenever students have an independent assignment, you are “off” for the first five minutes. This gives students a chance to be independent, and it gives you time to cut away at your to-do pile. In five minutes, you can write copy orders, answer e-mails, hang student work, check AR points, all those little tasks that add up to staying forever after school. After five minutes, then you can circulate, check on students, answer questions, and offer assistance as needed. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish in 5 minutes.
5. Grade as you go.
Don’t save up piles and piles of things to grade because that is a daunting task for anyone. Try as much as possible to grade as you go. If you are doing a math test for example, you are going to have some kids who finish fast and some who take longer. Start grading the tests as kids finish them. This way, you can also catch the kids who skipped an entire page or who really, really don’t get it and need some extra lessons. If you spend 10 minutes of your planning or after school time grading, you will be surprised at how much you can accomplish. Plus, if you gave a short assessment and grade it three days later only to realize that most of the class failed, but you’ve already moved on. It really doesn’t do anyone any good. So grade as you go, and then you aren’t left with a huge pile.
6. You don’t have to grade everything.
You really don’t. Look over homework to make sure students ‘get it’ and give it a big fat check. Or check plus. Or check minus. But you don’t have to check every, single question. If it was a fun or thinking activity. Put a cute sticker on it and call it a day. That is all the accountability you need. Students know you look at it. They assume it’s for a grade, because I tell them everything is for a grade. If it is something that clearly everyone struggled with, don’t bother grading it because you are going to be re-teaching it anyway. Of course, grade tests, projects, and assessments. These are important, but you don’t have to grade everything. A big time saver.
7. Learn to say F!@* it.
No really. Know what is the important part of your job (the kids). And prioritize from there. You are going to be hit with a new mandate from someone or the other every other week. You will learn real fast the things you need to do and the things that you don’t need to do. I would ask my self is this something that is helping me be a better teacher? Is this helping my students? Or is this just another piece of paperwork? (Obviously for the sake of your job, there are some that you just can’t get out of. But you get the point.) Truthfully, I probably said F!@* it a little more than I should, like to the IPDP F!@* it. District mandated spiral review a month before the big test because everyone knows you should cram for the FCAT? F!@* it. FCAT. F!@* it. Kinda. Also with that, learn to smile and nod at meetings as if the things in your F!@* it pile are top priorities. Learn to say F!@* it, and if the F-word is not part of your vocabulary, then ‘screw it’ will suffice. Your blood pressure will thank you.