Do you find yourself bringing home piles of papers to grade every night? Staying up late working on lessons plans? Coming into school early AND staying late? Do you find yourself wondering where all of your time went during your planning hour?
If you answered yes to any or most of these you might be struggling to find a healthy work-life balance. As a new teacher, I thought the more I worked the better the teacher I would become. But after a few months of late nights at school and Sundays spent surrounded by piles of papers I knew I needed to make a change so I didn’t burn out. I decided I needed to work smarter not harder…and to not feel bad about leaving my teacher bag/pile at school (gasp!)
Some of my best advice I can give to new teachers is finding ways to eliminate meaningless tasks so you can focus on what is actually important…teaching your students!
- Have your students help! I was very lucky to have a “safety” in my classroom. She was an older student who came into my classroom 10 minutes before the bell rang and at the last five minutes of school. She did all of the small tedious tasks that take up my valuable time like; unstacking chairs, setting up breakfast, passing out homework/notes, and recording behavior chart data. If you don’t have a “safety” you could always ask another teacher for help from an older student or even invite a responsible student from your class into school early.
- Student Jobs– Just like my safety did tasks before and after school, my students helped save me so much time during the day so I could focus on teaching. My students would help me organize my library, pass out mail, and even check in homework!
- Smart Copying– I used to make a trip to the copy machine every day! It didn’t seem like it at the time, but these 5 minute trips really added up by the end of the week. Instead, I created a copy pile that I would gather the week before I was teaching the lesson. Then I could dedicate one of my planning hours to spend copying. After copying, I would file away my copies until I needed to use them. Not only did this save me time, it also saved me the stress of waiting for a machine to open minutes before your kids were ready to walk in the door!
- Smarter Assignments- At the beginning of the year I would “grade” everything; every worksheet, every reflection, every exit ticket…everything! But when I thought about it I realized I was creating way more work for myself than was necessary. Most of the time, I already knew how the kids did on the assignment because I was working with them…so did they really need a sticker or star on the top of their paper? Usually, the answer was no. Once I decided to stop spending time grading assignments that weren’t assessments I was able to save myself SO much time.
- Parent Communication- At the beginning of the school year I had notificiations for Class Dojo connected to my phone and I would check my email at any hour. It was hard for me to get out of “school mode” when I was at home answering questions about lunch money as I was getting ready for bed. Although it was hard for me I decided to let my parents know that I would not be responsing to any messages between 6:00 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. and to my surprise no one cared! I was so worried about them being mad at me for not replying right away but they were very understanding and this simple act really helped me separate my home and school life.
Hopefully one or more of these tricks will help you leave the stress of school in the classroom and help you learn how to work smarter not harder this school year.