Hi There! REAL TALK here. Last year was the year I thought I was going to leave teaching. It was rough. My school was deemed a low-performing school and we were required to have an extra hour of reading instruction. We did get paid for that extra hour HOWEVER, let me tell you it was hard. We only had 30 minutes of planning time four times per week and with the extra hour, the school day ended at 2:45. Tack on bus duty and I wasn’t done until 3:30. Contractually, we could leave at 3:45. 15 minutes at the end of the day for planning. 15 minutes is not enough time to get much done. I ended up staying and working at school until about 5:00 every day. I was stressed, and tired, and bringing work home with me was causing resentment after such a long day. I had to find a way to streamline my workload. I developed a system to make every spare minute count.
Here’s the thing, if you want to leave your work at work you have to commit to making the most of your time at work and find a routine that works for you.
1. When are you most productive?
I’m a morning person. I like to get moving early and get to work while the building is still quiet. I turn on my computers, get a peppy playlist playing, brew my coffee and tackle a stack. I’ll spend 30 minutes grading or getting copies and lessons ready before the bell rings. There are NO distractions early in the morning – the phone doesn’t ring, colleagues don’t stop by, there are fewer emails, and no social media notifications. Those 30 minutes in the morning are usually my most productive! Maybe you are not a morning person – you might carve out your 30 minutes after school but my suggestion is to close your door to minimize interruptions.
2. What do your REALLY need to grade?
Don’t collect everything! Think about what you really need to look at closely to see how your students are doing and collect just that. For additional grades, I keep a clipboard with a a blank student spreadsheet that I use throughout the week. As students are working independently, I’ll write notes or do a scan for a quick grade (check +, check, or check -). I can easily input this as a classwork grade or use it to decide on my small group reteach activities. I will collect classwork after students have had a chance to practice a skill and do a more thorough grade for my grade book. I usually do one quick scan per day for each subject and collect at least 1 classwork assignment each week for each subject area. This helps to tame my paper stacks!
3. How do you like to plan?
I don’t like planning on the weekends! We give so much of ourselves to our students and our school community during the week that our weekends should be ours!
There are so many different ways to plan and it’s also very dependent on what your administration wants. I set aside 1 hour each month for each subject and plan a rough outline for the month. My outline will include the standards, essential questions, and a sequential list. I do not include dates so I can easily make adjustments as I teach. I use my curriculum resources, my own created resources, and search Pinterest or TeachersPayTeachers to fill in any gaps. (Our curriculum for EVERY subject has many gaps and I need to look for outside resources to supplement). Each week, I’ll firm up my monthly outline and make adjustments as needed. I put my outline on a Google doc so that I can access it from anywhere (and share with my colleagues) but my day to day plans are still paper and pencil in my beloved planner. I like to start this process at the beginning of each month and have it done by the end of the month. Some times I get this done early, some times I’m not able to carve out enough time during the month and barely make it but I rarely spend time at home doing this anymore.
4. What is your end of the day routine?
What do you do for the last 10-15 minutes before you leave school? Come up with a simple routine that will make your life easier the next day. I like to straighten out my desk and have my curriculum resources and copies organized by subject. I file papers I’ll need later in the week or month in a giant file tub with folders for future activities, interactive notebook pages, mini-assessments, and assessments organized by subject. I pull from this tub for the next days resources. I just stack what I need for the next day on my teaching table (where my document camera and teaching computer sit). You might like to keep a folder with materials for each subject or for each day of the week – just find the system that works for you so that you have materials where you can find them! Spending a few minutes before you leave will allow you to come in and just get to business!
Leaving work at work gives my life more balance than I’ve had before. I have more energy when I get home. I’m in a better mood for my family. I’m able to plan and cook healthy meals. I have more time for me – a nice walk, working in my garden, and more. Are there times where I need to work extra or stay late? Of course, but it’s not every, single day.
I hope some of my tips are helpful to you. What are some things you do to make the most of your busy work day? I’d love to hear how you make the most of each precious minute!