Do you start your school day full of big plans of all you will accomplish before you go home? Do you dream of going home when your contracted time ends, so you can take care of yourself, your family and pursue other interests? But…. do you get derailed regularly at school? Read on to learn my best tips for staying focused and using all of your available time during your work day!
Not all of these tips will work for everyone, but I use all of these, and I can honestly say that most days, I am extremely productive and don’t take a lot of work home. I will also be upfront and admit that my school day is not as fun as it maybe could be. I don’t socialize with my colleagues nearly as much as I used to. However, the demands of this job coupled with my desire to get home to my family make this system the best one for me, at this time in my life. If you see yourself in this same “etapa” of life, read on!
Get To School Early
School starts at 7:30 at my school and students arrive at least 20 minutes before that. I get there at 7:00. I go into my classroom, shut the door, and put the curtain down over my window. After the first few weeks of school, when the kids are comfortable and less nervous, they are fine to take a few laps and talk with friends before the come into my room to sit and watch Tic Toc on their phones. During this time, I get everything open on my computer that I will need to teach class, read and answer email, fill out forms for 504s and PPTs, send documents to the printer, work on college recommendations, etc. At 7:15 or 7:20, I open the door. I still have at least 10 minutes to talk to my students and answer questions.
I hate the feeling of being rushed in the morning while my brain is still not fully awake but firing on all cylinders as I try to prepare for the day. I get overwhelmed when I’m trying to get all my programs open on the computer and students are coming to ask me questions. I find that I am MUCH more pleasant and eager to talk when I know that I am ready for my day BEFORE I start fielding questions!
Keep A To-Do List For Your School Day
I LOOOOVVVEEEE lists! I think it’s a sickness! I LOVE crossing thing off the list… maybe that’s my true love, not the list itself!
I keep a constant “to do” list going for several reasons.
- It helps keep me organized and less likely to forget something important or miss a deadline.
- I have a visual of the endless things that need to be done. Having this visual allows me to quickly decide what task I can do given the window of time I have.
I update my list constantly, but before I go home for the night, I look at what’s still there, and make a game plan for the next day.
Use Class Work Time To Finish Tasks
There are times during class when I am giving direct instruction. There are times during class when students are working, and I am walking around to guide and help. And there are times in class when they really don’t need me! During a warm-up activity, for example.
When students are working independently, and I don’t need to be monitoring them or answering questions (of course only YOU will know when those times are) I try to get some small task done. For example, sometimes I enter grades. I can do a quick check through on google classroom to see who has/has not completed homework. I can plug those grades in very quickly. If I do that during each of my classes, instead of needing to enter 5 classes of homework grades during planning, now I can use that time to…. PLAN!
Another task I can sometimes do during this time is start or finish an activity for the future. If you haven’t read my post on my lesson planning systems- that’s a really good post for saving time too! But yesterday, 4 of my classes had a warm-up activity. We’re working on the uses of the Preterite and Imperfect. Over the course of the 4 classes, I was able to create a one-page handout with both reasons and endings. Now, when I start class tomorrow, the students won’t need to look at the board or have several different note sheets out while they are working! But I did this during “found time” instead of just waiting for kids to finish, or instead of circulating the room for an activity that was just a warm-up. We went over the answers and moved on to new learning!
Every minute in a teacher’s day is precious, and those minutes add up. Having “intention” to use these minutes goes a long way to getting more done during your day.
Use Your Lunch Time
I’m not suggesting that you don’t eat your lunch! I used to eat lunch in the teacher’s lounge and socialize with my colleagues. It was wonderful. I miss those days quite a bit.
But…. having 2 children at home, the many negative conversations that take place in the teachers lounge, Covid…. all of these things slowly drove me out of the lounge and back to my classroom. Everyone will have to decide for themselves what they need to survive and thrive during their school day. For me, at this stage of my life and career, I need time to do my job more than anything else.
So. I eat lunch in my room. Let’s face it. I’m a teacher. I can eat in less than 10 minutes. And…. if I have to warm something up, I put it in the microwave and then visit the rest room while it’s warming. (Saves time!)
When I’m done eating, I have another 15 minutes to work! And 15 minutes is 1/3 of a planning period. I can get a heck of a lot done! What do I do? I set a goal. Correct 3 more tests. Plan 2 more days. Create one new activity. I try NOT to get sucked into things that won’t be helpful to getting my work done. (For me…. looking at my email often derails me!)
Focus Your Planning Time
My planning period is sacred time. It’s the most minutes in a row I have to self-direct and concentrate. I ALWAYS have a plan for my planning period. And almost always, I save that time for things that require my full concentration. Lesson planning, activity creation or correcting are my main things.
Good lesson plans need to flow. The days’ activities should connect and scale up in difficulty as you work towards your next assessment. I am not capable of planning one day at a time, and from what I’ve observed, it’s not an efficient way to plan either. I have been teaching for 22 years, so I have had lots of practice, but I can plan a week of lessons at a time for both of my courses in 1 planning period. The lessons connect, they reflect thought about what goals I’m trying to reach with my students, and they are organized. This is much easier to achieve when I make them in one sitting.
Creating new activities is my favorite thing to do! This is the creative part of teaching that brings me joy! I use my planning period to look at the lesson plans I wrote, and make them come to life. As I create the new activities, I link them into my lessons. (I have a whole post about lesson planning here.) I make sure to move each new creation to the appropriate folder too, so I can find it again in the future. I can get so much done in a 42 minute planning period when that is the ONLY thing I’m doing!
I HATE having things on my list of things to do that are not DONE! Lol! On top of that, I have a LOT of students. If I procrastinate on correcting, I will end up with a backlog that is so overwhelming that it paralyzes me. Best to get started right away. Again, having 42 minutes in a row is what I need. I know that I will use that planning time to correct, I close my door, put down the window curtain, and focus. I don’t look at email. I don’t look at my phone. I ONLY correct. I can be very focused when I correct, and that leads to getting a lot done in not so much time. I think this takes practice- to hone your focus. But it can be done, and it has saved me so much stress, late nights, early mornings and time away from my family.
Plan When To Leave Your Room
Again, this idea may not be for everyone. Making the most of my day, for me, means getting a lot of work done. For others, it might be making connections with their colleagues. I kind of avoid my colleagues. Gosh that sounds awful when I write it down!!
Though I love and respect my colleagues and count many of them as true friends, I need to be careful about socializing while I’m at work. One quick “hello” can turn into a 15-20 minute catch-up conversation that I can ill-afford. So, I work hard to save those conversations for times when I am caught up with work, or for personal time outside of the school day.
I actually plan when I will leave my room. If I need to use the copier, I know when others might be there. I plan to use the copier at times when it is least likely that I will need to wait in line or get into a conversation that’s hard to leave. I do the same with the ladies room. I do the same with going to the office to check my mail. I really think about these things because minutes are important to teachers. I know myself, and I know how much I can get done without distractions in those minutes. And I also know how easily I can be distracted by my friends/colleagues, because…. I LIKE them! As bad as it sounds to say, I try to avoid them until the times when I know I have extra time to chat.
Take The Lead During Meetings
In our school, we meet with a Professional Learning Team several times a week. In the past, these meetings were a great source of stress and anxiety for me. We had specific work we wanted to accomplish, like creating a new assessment, or designing a new rubric. You know. Things we need to teach our students. However, given that we are friends as well as colleagues, each day it would be someone else with news to share or frustrations to vent. Very little got done. This was a very tricky situation. No one wants to make another teacher feel bad for sharing, and we all need to at one time or another!
After several years of this, I found the opening I needed. I will admit, I started a new school year with this request of my team members. I pointed out how our job has gotten harder. There are more things for us to do, and more students for us to serve. I pointed out that all of us had different responsibilities after school. (Grad school, children, aging parents). Before we even got started with the first task, I made a plea that we try our absolute best to have an agenda, stay on task and redirect ourselves when we veered off into “personal land”. I explained that if we used our time together wisely to focus on our work, we would relieve some of the pressure and stress we were all feeling.
It worked!! We all try hard to stick to that, and we are so productive! It has reduced the anxiety and stress I feel over being given time to produce, but having nothing to show for it. It has reduced the anxiety and stress I feel over needing to create new things all the time, because now we are doing just that in the time we are given to collaborate!
This was a really long post. Hmmmm. Maybe no one wants to read it because they’re TOO BUSY! 😊
Bottom line: be very purposeful with how you spend your time at school. Make rules for yourself that work for you, but commit to them. Sticking to these rules will result in more productivity at school and less to take home. Therefore, you will find better work-life balance!
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