New teachers often wonder how they’re supposed to do all of the things involved in teaching within a limited amount of time. It’s like packing for a ski trip with only carry-on luggage – you can try to shove everything into that small compartment, but eventually, your snowsuit is going to bust everything open.
As a veteran teacher, I understand the frustration of these beginning teachers because there are so many interwoven parts in our day that make up our teaching and classroom. Some of these take intense mental energy while others are more automated.
Once you’ve been teaching for a while, it’s easier to move things into automation so that you can focus on other tasks. This allows some teachers to use this extra time to take on more roles and responsibilities in school, others take on second jobs, while others also add more elements to their plate.
I decided to do the latter and start a blog and a podcast while also mentoring beginning teachers. People often wonder how I get so much done in so little time without losing my mind.
I’m going to share my “trick” for Tetrising a ridiculous amount of stuff into every day and every week. This will not only streamline your processes but also free up time so that you can get (mostly) everything done during the school day.
Here it is: I take the time when I’m at school to be as efficient as possible. We’re all allotted a certain number of hours during our duty day, and I squeeze out every ounce I can.
Thought I had something more profound? It’s actually quite simple!
An intense focus at school
When I’m at school, I’m a machine. It doesn’t matter if I’m tired, hungry, grumpy, stressed, etc. – I will be on my game for the 6.75 hours that make up my duty day.
This means that I don’t waste my planning period, I make full use of our advisory period, and I allow myself to be social with my coworkers during our lunch (building relationships with your colleagues is one of the many keys to surviving as a teacher).
At the end of the day, I feel completely spent because I went full throttle while in teacher mode.
Your 100% and my 100% will look different, but the point is that you show up each day ready to maximize the time when you’re actually getting paid so that you spend less time working when you’re not.
Get the most out of your planning period
The majority of teachers I’ve spoken to have some sort of planning time during the school day. If you do, utilize every second of it and get stuff done. If you don’t, you may have to create this time before or after school.
During that time, you may be tempted to hit up Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, or Facebook, but you need to save that for maybe lunchtime or any time outside of school. These are activities that require very little brain power, so you don’t want to waste any mental energy on them when you’re supposed to be optimizing your time.
Remember: If you want to work less outside of the school day, you need to make every second of the school day count!
Plan your planning
You might also find an increase in productivity if you plan out your planning periods. This will allow you to maximize your time for each day so that you’re not sitting there wondering what you should work on or stress out about all of the stuff you need to get done.
You don’t necessarily have to write down the exact activities for each day, but if you create a list of things to do for the week, you’ll find that you can attack them with greater efficiency.
You also want to batch similar tasks together. It takes more effort to switch modes, such as going from grading to checking email, so designate days or times to do them all at once. Planning this way also takes advantage of how efficient you can be when you’re in the zone.
An example of this is taking Sunday to plan out your lessons for the entire week. Don’t just plan one day at a time – this is such a waste and is sure to lead to anxiety and panic!
With your entire week of lessons planned and scheduled, you can then make a list of things to accomplish during your planning period on certain days like grading, organizing your classroom, answering emails, making copies, etc.
Taking it to the next level, if you’re tired of slaving away at the copy machine every day, you could plan ahead to have everything ready to copy just one or two days a week rather than trying to sneak in before the first bell.
The moral of the story is that if you don’t have control of your calendar and week, your calendar will control you!
Give a TON of feedback while in class
One of the biggest mistakes and time-sucks that teachers make is grading every little thing that students do in class. This is a waste of time and doesn’t necessarily help move your students forward.
Remember that the more important thing you can do to in terms of student learning is giving quality and timely feedback, NOT spend hours grading and running yourself ragged. As your students are working – either individually or in groups – they will benefit from real-time feedback rather than an after-the-fact score.
Don’t sit at your desk while they work! Circulate around the room, closely examine what they’re doing, and catch their mistakes before those errors become habits.
If you give them real-time feedback, you can actually spend less time grading assignments later!
Be purposeful with your grading
Also, plan which parts of the assignment you’ll grade. I know this sounds crazy, but you don’t have to grade every question on a worksheet! If you have 20 questions addressing the same skill or standard, then you probably only need to closely examine 3 or 4 of them.
If students are writing anything for me, I don’t grade every part of it, only the standards and skills that we’re addressing at that point.
It also helps to schedule which days to give assignments that must be graded (do this when you schedule your week). If it’s possible, have those fall on a day when you can easily grade them during your preparation period, after school and/or at home (always try to batch!).
It’s worth reiterating again: the more intense and intentional you are during the school day, the less you have to do once the day ends.
Your mileage may vary
I realize that everything I’ve covered works with my Type A personality, and if that’s not yours, it may seem overwhelming or undoable. Just remember that the point of it is to fine-tune your calendar and the routines that occur during the day so that you do less at home.
Notice I didn’t say “do nothing” at home. Let’s be reasonable here – sometimes we have to take stuff at home.
Yes, there are people who refuse to take anything home, and I completely respect that. However, I also know that sometimes we feel like we have no choice but to take it with us and get it over with.
Either way works, just don’t let others shame you about which choice you make.
Start with one small change
If you start with making one small change like planning out your entire week or planning periods, you’ll find yourself buying back more time and feeling more accomplished.
Or maybe you want to streamline your in-class feedback so that you don’t have so much grading to do later.
Just be sure that you set your intention at school and are as efficient as possible!
What are your productivity hacks?