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!