Treading water

I’ve never been in a career other than teaching, but I imagine that there are many jobs in which, when you clock out and leave at the end of the day, you are actually done until you clock back in the next morning. In fact, I know for a fact that this is true. From retail to medicine to food service, unless I am mistaken, there is neither need nor mechanism to prepare for the next day at home.

Punch in time clock time card
I know that there are many other jobs in which the work extends beyond the contract hours, too, but with teaching, I feel like I can’t get ahead. I used to wonder if this was a symptom of my inexperience, but I no longer believe that that is true. Though some parts of my job get shorter or – dare I say it – easier each year, it seems that there’s just something else to take up the few moments I’ve spared. Even if I get a few days ahead on lesson planning, I have copies to make and materials to prep for said lessons. If that’s done, I have papers to grade, because in the meantime, my kids are still doing work. If I am in that rare spot in which I’ve graded everything they’ve turned in and they’re still working on the next assignment, there will be grades to enter into the grade book, emails to answer, paperwork to turn in, etc.
Then there are the things that can’t be taken care of until the day of – for example, fielding parent phone calls, tutoring students, or attending meetings. Because things like this are ongoing yet unpredictable, it’s hard for me to find a schedule or routine to get into.

My hope for this post is not to sound like a giant complaint; it’s twofold: to inform those who are unfamiliar with teaching about what goes on outside the moments we spend directly instructing kiddos as well as to elicit solutions from others who have it more together than I. Do you have “office hours”? Do you just say no to things more often than me? Do you get help from your spouse, kids, or student assistants?

I do have some tips to share myself:

  • Pre-plan which assignments you will grade and which ones you won’t. That way, you can make them more easily gradeable (add an extra question so you are calculating points out of 10 instead of 9, for example, or make the answer multiple choice rather than fill-in-the-blank.)
  • Collaborate with colleagues whenever possible. On my team, we each have our areas of strength: finding resources, breaking down standards, writing lesson plans, creating student materials, writing test questions, formatting and copying, and more. We’ve identified and agreed upon these, so when one of these tasks needs done, we know who to turn to. Of course, we help each other out in times of need, and our “jobs” are not set in stone. Still, it’s nice to be able to divide and conquer when we will all be teaching the same thing, anyway.
  • Prioritize. This is easier said than done for me. But I know that, when I get the most pressing or high-leverage things done first, I am more motivated to finish up the smaller, leftover bits. I’ve seen various systems to aid in this process, from ranking 1-10 to sorting by task (grade, copy, plan, file) to plotting into quadrants according to urgency/timeliness and importance.

Urgent important Merrill Covey matrix
It’s almost December, and we all know how busy the holidays can get. I’m hoping to keep my head above water this year.

B T Bubble Sheet


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