- Using your Mission Statement to Establish Classroom Routines - February 27, 2017
- Why you need a Classroom Mission Statement - February 21, 2017
- Not My Secretary of Ed (Why the butt that Occupies the Federal Seat Matters to my Classroom) - January 27, 2017
- CA politician discusses willful defiance, educational priorities - October 7, 2014
- Teacher-Saving Web Tools, Part I: Differentiate reading news with Newsela and Readability - October 2, 2014
- CA Bill Addresses Suspensions and Expulsions - September 11, 2014
- Teaching Ferguson: Resources for High School - September 3, 2014
- Meet the Parents: A Young Teacher’s Back to School Night - August 28, 2014
- Minimize Homework to Maximize Your Classroom - August 22, 2014
- The State of Education: Funding Control Changes in California - February 26, 2014
Welcome to The New Teacher's Survival Guide! This is part two of a five-part series. Read the first installment on creating a support network here.
It was 6:30 p.m. on a Wednesday – and I was still at school.
I was getting better at leaving at a reasonable time—I really was!—but this lesson was so important to me. We were going to learn about the 2010 Supreme Court case ruling in Citizens United which opened the floodgates of campaign spending. It’s a really complex topic, but I knew it would rile up my students to see how much money there is in politics, and who is spending it.
But still, I shouldn’t still be in my classroom at 6:30, a whopping four hours since school let out. I already make it a habit to arrive at school 45 minutes early, despite having first-period prep. My husband was already home. The dog needed her walk, and I really needed dinner, especially after having skipped out on lunch earlier in the day.
And it was in that moment when I realized I needed to really improve my workload management.
Approximately 46 percent of teachers leave the profession within their first five years. Two of the major reasons cited are the workload and the lack of planning time (Forbes.com 2011). I want to stay in this profession beyond five years, so it is very important I start with myself right now and establish a meaningful work-life balance.
Sitting next to my desk are two photographs: one of my husband and I dressed up all fancy, and another of my best friend and I at Disneyland. On top of my computer sits a “brain slug” I crocheted. These remind me of my life outside of school: the Dana who is a wife, a friend, and a crafter. On my wall hangs a bulletin board full of student art and pictures accumulated from my student-teaching last year. This reminds me of why I’m here in my classroom, and why planning an awesome lesson around the Citizens United ruling matters.
How can I retain the engagement and meaning in my lessons and teaching, without having to give up on any identity I hold outside of teaching? Here, one academic term in, are my four best attempts at managing the workload:
Come up with a weekly skeleton plan. Every Sunday, I sit down and write out the main concepts I want to cover each day the next week. I make sure to revisit my course’s central question: how does that week’s material fit in to the larger story of my class? I keep the specific activity planning for the afternoon before, but that planning is significantly streamlined by having this skeleton plan which already situated itself in the “big picture.”
Maintain a lesson index. I teach a government class and an economics class. For each, I have a two-inch binder which corrals all articles, lesson plans, worksheets, and activities by unit. Each unit section has a few yellow papers, one for each concept/theme covered, which lists all the tangible and electronic sources I have for that topic. It’s like a tangible Pinterest board. This has seriously been a lifesaver when I lesson plan, as I can simply look up the yellow paper for the concept I want to cover the next day (as written in the skeleton plan), and then I have something with which to start. The rest of the planning focuses on updating the unit PowerPoint and filling in the blanks with any additional, related materials.
Utilize TAs effectively. I am so fortunate to have Teacher Assistants assigned to me, but the trick is to actually make use of them! I have a special TA desk set where I create piles of work that need easy grading (e.g., checkmark if completed, 1 point for each question answered) with a post-it of grading instructions. Once graded, TAs record scores on a gradesheet. This makes entering grades so much easier, as I can enter a bunch of grades at once, and they are already recorded in alphabetical order. Furthermore, the gradesheet keeps a hard-copy back-up of grades.
The magic of interactive notebooks. Since the Teachers’ Curriculum Institute (TCI) introduced the concept, interactive notebooks have gained in popularity. You know the trick: teacher-given information (like notes) on the right side, student-produced reflections and applications on the left side. Last term I did not use an interactive notebook, but I’m really excited to implement one starting this week. I think this will really increase student accountability on note-taking and warm-ups – but perhaps more importantly, it will greatly reduce the quantity of papers I’m shuffling, as most of that work will instead happen on the left side of their notebooks. I’m planning on collecting a random few each week to grade as they do text annotation in class.
One of the difficulties with being a new teacher is psychologically giving yourself the pass on having a life outside of work. You know you are lesson planning from scratch, grading all the things, and generally adapting to a new school culture and profession. Yet it’s so meaningful to make a commitment to yourself that life matters, too. I’m still a wife, still a friend, and still a crafter. Hopefully I’ll continue picking up on strategies to make my workload even more manageable so I can happily maintain those non-work identities!
Survival mode continues next week with a related topic, how to create meaningful lessons. Now that I got my workload fairly well managed, how can I make sure my lessons matter? Come chat with me next week, and we’ll see how we can rock that.