My sweet reader Tina (hi Tina) sent me a message on FB over the weekend with some questions and topics she’d love to see me address on teaching specifically (which I love – please do this anytime), and I thought you all might appreciate a little break from the Working Mom posts too, so today I’m sharing my thoughts on one of her questions regarding balance and keeping up with ALL that is on our plates as teachers while still making time for ourselves/a family/ etc…
Being a teacher is HARD. I have never worked in another field, so I cant say this with complete certainty, but I’m fairly positive other jobs leave their employees feeling stressed, exhausted, and like they can “never catch up” too. However, I do think that teaching has some unique challenges because your actual “work hours” are spent doing direct instruction (i.e. teaching kids) and the majority of the real work has to be done in the margins – during your 45 minute planning period (if you’re lucky) or, more likely, at home in the wee hours of the night and on weekends. Or, as Tina described it:
I am STILL at the point in my life where I feel like I canNOT do this forever – similar to what you described in the 8/26 post. I feel like I bring HOURS of work home. I plan, prep and grade for hours every single night. When I allow myself an “off” evening for school stuff, I am still not off because then I have to do stuff for my M.Ed. I feel like I am “on” every single minute of school, from the second I walk in to the second I leave – and i NEVER get as much accomplished during planning. I rarely get to read for myself, and I love what I do, I really do, but I get so envious of people who have other jobs in which they can enjoy their coffee and slowly check their email while waking up. Grading papers and essays are the worst. I procrastinate on them until I am embarrassed that I haven’t touched them. I am so tired and stressed all the time, I leave and show up to school with wet hair. 60% of the time I have no idea if my classroom, lesson plans, or what I am doing looks like what it is supposed to. I worry about what my students think of me, my lessons, and my class.
Oh girl, I SO get it. I’ve been there. We all have. In fact, on any given day or week – even in my eighth year of teaching now – I can easily end up right there with you again. As teachers, we are incredibly fortunate to have a job that truly makes an impact in the world; but, it does not come without its negatives. All of the things you mentioned (including, especially, those blasted essays that I always keep assigning and then putting off grading) are the things that people don’t realize when they call teachers “glorified babysitters” or gawk at our extended winter & summer breaks. Maybe one day we will live in a world where teachers are treated better – where we teach less classes, have more planning time, and are actually paid for the real hours we put into our jobs – but, until then, here are three tips that have helped me survive the (never-ending) teacher workload and stay sane: (Not that I’m particularly great at either of those things, but maybe something here will work for you.)
1. Make a master To Do List & assign specific tasks for each day.
Y’all already know my feelings about To Do lists – I love them! For work, especially, I really like keeping one very big/very long To Do list where I write down every little obligation that comes up on a day-to-day basis (and we all know there are a lot). Once I have them written down, it frees my mind from worrying about it or being afraid that I’ll forget something and helps me to prioritize.
I use the above list – which I keep on my desktop – and spend about five minutes at the beginning of each work day highlighting specific items that need to be completed that day. These are usually things that are absolutely necessary for my lesson the next day, have specific due dates, etc. When a day is a little lighter – or I find myself with some “extra” time – I try to check off some of the non time-sensitive tasks.
Bottom line: As a teacher, it’s true that you will NEVER be finished. I could work around the clock for a week straight and still have a full To Do list because things would just keep being added to it. But, when I hold myself to a manageable and “top priority only” list and focus only on accomplishing those tasks, I can leave at the end of the day feeling at least a little successful and not worried about important deadlines being missed etc.
2. JUST SAY NO when you are “off duty” and SHUT YOUR DOOR when you’re on.
First of all, take your stinkin’ lunch break. Trust me, I know how easy it is to want to use every single second of your work day to “catch up” so that you won’t feel like you are taking too much work home. However, you NEED that little break in the day. Get the heck out of your classroom – the stacks of papers will only haunt you there – and eat with colleagues. Make a “no talking about school” rule. (Try talking about Scandal or Parenthood instead. Everyone watches those shows.) The same goes for when you are home… What you determine to be “off duty” time is going to be different for everyone – and most of us are still going to have to take home some work – but, regardless, do establish some time at home to really BE at home. Once you are done for the day – before Sam I used to stay at work until 5PM because it seemed perfectly reasonable for someone to work form 8 – 5, right? and then whatever didn’t get done at that point would have to wait until tomorrow – BE DONE. Seriously. I know this is easier said than done, but having time off will only make you a BETTER teacher. Read a book. Go for a walk. Meet a friend for coffee – and don’t talk about school. I promise you, you will not lose your job or fail at life because your powerpoint isn’t perfect one time or your little lovelies have to wait one more day to see how they did on their essay. Really.
On the contrary, don’t feel bad about closing your door – I know some teachers who even work in the dark so people think they aren’t there, no lie – during planning. You can socialize later, but treat that planning period like SCHEDULE GOLD. Guard it with your life. You aren’t being selfish or anti-social, you are being smart. Close the door and get in the zone. (You know the zone I’m talking about.)
3. Ask for help & “don’t try to reinvent the wheel.”
I think our nature as teachers is to want to do everything for ourselves and prove that we truly are – superwomen. The fact of the matter is – we get as many hours in the day as everyone else does. Especially if you are a new teacher, but even if you’re not, know that it is OK to ask for help. Befriend a teacher at another school that teaches the same class as you and swap lesson plans – “I’ll make a unit on Lord of the Flies if you do one on The Great Gatsby.” You will be a huge blessing to each other. ALSO, the internet is a wealth of great resources. You can almost always find what you need – a powerpoint, a review game, study questions, etc. – for free with a simple Google search; but, if all else fails, check out Teachers Pay Teachers. Honestly, when I’m pressed for time, $5.00 is MORE than worth it to have someone else write a test for me. This isn’t cheating, this is being resourceful. I want my students to learn how to use the resources that are all around them, so I need to be practicing what I preach too.
BONUS: Walk in to a neat classroom every morning.
Since I first started teaching, I’ve been devoting 5 – 10 minutes at the end of every day to straighten my desks, file papers, and just generally clean and organize my classroom. I also try to set out handouts I will need for class, write announcements on the board, and glance at my To Do list for the following day. Not only do the custodians love me (and that’s important), but it makes the start to my day the next morning SO much better. Even if I’m running late, my hair is wet (been there), and I spilled coffee down my blouse on the way in, walking into a neat space and knowing what I can expect to find there makes a HUGE difference.
I hope this was helpful!!
In the future, if you have questions for me or just teaching (or otherwise) related topics you’d like me to cover here, please feel free to email me or reach out via social media. I love it!
Liz Balazs says
Oh, the inevitable time suck of essay grading and teacher to do lists! I remember my first year teaching and I always stayed late and arrived early. It wasn’t long before burn out loomed. I completely agree with taking your lunch, eating with colleagues and NOT talking about achool. It’s really important for your mental health to guard your time: at school, at home and on weekends.
I grade 100 essays per week minimum, and yes, it can become daunting! My suggestion would be providing a 4 or 5 point grading rubric for your assignments, and have students staple them to their essays when they turn them in. It makes grading faster, more efficient & provides students with immediate feedback on their ‘score’ and what elements they did well with or were lacking. It helps on all fronts to make the assignment requirements clear and grading can become a little easier on you. I have rubrics for everything! Literary analysis, rhetorical analysis, current events and research papers: great resource rubrics are available online and you can adapt to suit your class needs.
Another suggestion: get on the online bandwagon. I have students submit via Schoology and grading can be done anywhere you have wifi- and yes, I grade during meetings, in the copy room, at the doctors office. It’s so much easier than lugging around folders of papers and nothing gets misplaced.
For beginning teachers – it does get easier! You become quicker and once you’ve taught a subject for 3 years, you get a bit of breathing room & all the planning time pays off.
Good luck teachers!
Thank you for sharing these tips!! I’m going to check out Schoology now!!! Essays are killing me-I’m hauling them back and forth from home to work. I’m so scared I’m going to lose one!! And I agree about rubrics–they make it so much easier!
Nikki Miller says
I am in year TEN and there are still days where I feel super overwhelmed. The fall is always hardest for me when the kiddos are still learning all the routines.
Love suggestion three!!
I love your to do list! Such a good idea. And I also make rubrics for my big projects and papers. That has made grading much faster for me. I don’t know if you posted about this on your old blog, but how did pumping & teaching work for you? I go back to work in the beginning of November from maternity leave and that is what I am most nervous about
Sarah Koves says
I don’t think you have any idea how much I needed this right now. In addition to my full time teaching job, I help run technology for our whole district. Today I felt like I was failing everyone: grades not done, copies not made, read the book lessons in one class, and missing data in our tech system. I could have cried at lunch over the stress. Thank you so much for reminding me that I am but one human (with two girls at home) who can only do so much. So we had fast food for dinner? Thank you, thank you, thank you. After 10+ years today was the day I was going to loose it.
I agree completely withy the be DONE when you deem it to be DONE time. I am an elementary teacher and mom of one (with another on the way) and I usually stay at school until 4 or 4:30 each day. This is frustrating at times because of the fact that it cuts into my time with my kid and husband, BUT I take almost nothing home. Occasionally some papers to grade on the weekend, but basically nothing during the week. This means once I am home it is all about my son and my husband (or me)! So even though my hours with them might be shorter, they are more meaningful.
Thank you for sharing these tips! I am knee deep in essays and I am feeling so overwhelmed! I told one of my coworkers today that I feel like I meet myself coming and going everyday and I can’t seem to get caught up! It’s nice to know I’m not the only one!! I agree about spending the last few min of your day getting organized for the next day. It makes the next morning SO much easier. To all of you WONDERFUL teachers-hang in there!! I’ll be thinking of you all and wishing you the best while I’m grading essays!! 🙂
These are great tips! I’m in year two and while this year has been so much easier, its still hard. I find myself just leaving after school because I need to get away. I come home and sit on the couch, browse pintrest, and drink a diet coke. That little bit of time really helps me to unwind and get in a better mood so that I can go back and then tackle school things. I’m totally all about the to-do lists also. I just keep a running list on my desk and add every little thing I think of. I feel so much less stressed when everything is written down.
I love your to do list! Would you be willing to share your template?
Katie Elizabeth says
Thanks so much for this post. I added making a digital to do list like yours to my swarm of post-its currently covering my desk (the humor is not lost on me with that). You know its bad when the students who finish their work early ask you if they can help organize your desk. We’ve been in school for 8 weeks here and the wheels have almost completely fallen off the organization bus.
I’m glad I’m not the only one who basically hides during plan period. I’ve been known to go to the school library and find a corner to work sometimes!
Phyllis Grella says
I am in year 22 and I am home today only to get grading caught up. Don’t be afraid to use your sick time. Not a crazy amount. Once a quarter to catch up on grading, posting grades, cleaning up your web page and agendas, responding to emails~The list is never ending, but call it what you will: sick day, personal day, mental health day—you are allowed the time.
Hi I am reading this blog after FOUR years!!! Where was I???[ …In my classroom marking, most probably].
Thank you for this post! I loved it even though it may have expired!! It was such a refreshing read on an age-old problem. Four years to date and I’d say the complaints have not changed. 20 years in the profession and it’s deja-vu every single year. However , why did I not resign 10 years ago? Good question! The bottom line is, it takes a very special person to be a teacher.And it truly is, a calling. Only the gifted can be given less time to do more work and achieve the most benefit for the maximum number of budding artists, doctors, lawyers and who-so-ever walks out into a working world and can say, ‘a teacher taught me’. Maybe that is why it’s an uncanny sense achievement when a teacher reads this kind of article and can identify and still conclude ‘I love my job’ and if a teacher feels the need to not say this then clearly he, or she, needs a change of job because so many students depend on us, and if time and work overload happens to be our problem then that equal to the number of people we have affected and shaped in our line of work over a lifetime is worth it. I’d love to read more and this is precisely what new teachers into the profession need to keep them driven to do what every country needs… which are good teachers staying sane:-)) Thank you for posting this. Your article made me find my zing again and reignited my reason for I choosing my profession. Hope I can find more articles that inspire so well.
Lauren Crumbliss says
Hi, Elizabeth! Are you willing to share you Work To Do List template? That looks like something I could really use! I teach high school culinary arts. Thanks so much!