It’s officially fall, and I’m not quite sure where the time went. As I wrote in the late summer, this school year marked the beginning of a new chapter in my teaching and personal lives. My worlds collided when my son began kindergarten at my school.
Back in August, I knew I needed a plan in order to adjust to all of this. I thought I had it all worked out: How I would get all my schoolwork done. How I would leave with enough time to go work out at the YMCA. How I would get home and whip up a fabulous meal for my family. #guessagainteachermama
About two weeks into the year, I had what I would call a minor meltdown. (If you ask my husband, he’ll call it something way worse.) I posted a photo on Facebook of my son lying on the rug in my classroom watching shows on the SMART Board while I got caught up on schoolwork late one Friday afternoon. This image did not line up with the ones I’d pictured before the school year started.
I do what is required and spend the rest of my time doing things that benefit my students.”
I’m no stranger to extended days and taking work home, but things were clearly not working for anyone in my family. I needed a new plan. After some reflection and adjustment, here is what I’ve been doing to save time and get it “all” done (quotes intentional).
1. Always ask if the task will have a positive impact on my students
When deciding whether or not to do something with my time, I ask myself if it’s really required.
I love a beautiful Pinterest room as much as the next person, but I know that that is not what makes a classroom or a community. Student work, anchor charts created together, and general feelings of safety and joy are what make my students feel at home. I do what is required and spend the rest of my time doing things that benefit my students. It really comes down to quality over quantity, as I mentioned in a summer 2018 post.
2. Plan out my plans
There are so many things I need to remember: Email the family of the class zoologist for the week to see if they want to take home our gecko. Write my newsletter. Send home the cricket cage with the student buying crickets that weekend. Write a morning message. Set out homework. And, oh, yeah, plan and implement lessons each day.
My to-do list is definitely long. Yours, too, right?
Trying to remember my repeating weekly to-do list overwhelms me, so I wrote it down in my plan book. I have a daily morning planning period, plus 40 minutes after school before my son shows up at my door, so I wrote down when I need to get each repeating task done every week. Here’s a bit of what my plan book looks like:
Having this already recorded in my plan book each week lets my mind rest a bit and respond to those unexpected to-do items that come up each day. The things I just can’t plan for. Also: Siri is my best friend. Among many other things, she reminds me to “Send home cricket cage” on Fridays at 2:00.
When thinking of my year-long plans, I return to my tried-and-true routine of using different MAP® Growth™ reports at different times of year. That helps me be more efficient with the time I spend looking at reports and parsing the data I use to plan instruction that’s right for my students.
3. Close my door
This one is simple. In order for tip two to work, I had to implement this tip.
I love my team and my faculty. That’s precisely why, this year, I have told them that I will be shutting my door in order to use my time efficiently.
I am not being antisocial. In fact, I consider myself to be very social. I make sure that when I see people in passing, I smile and say something kind, and I go to the teacher’s room almost every day to take a much-needed mental break during lunch and talk about important matters, like This is Us and Grey’s Anatomy. But when I need to focus, I close my door to avoid tempting distractions.
4. When I have extra time, I get ahead
Sometimes the stars align and I find myself with a little extra time, so I try to use it well. I finish answer keys for new lessons, for example, or gather copies for the next social studies unit. Is there anything coming up in your classroom you could get started on during your next bit of unexpected downtime? Like the saying goes, there is no time like the present.
There will be some days—report card time, a week full of meetings—when I will need to find other time to do my job well.”
5. Train my students
My students erase the board, put up the schedule for the next day, and clean up materials throughout the day (even though there is always a stray pencil lying on the floor! I swear those things move on their own). I train my students how to do these tasks using the strategy interactive modeling. I believe that if they can do it, they should do it. It not only builds responsibility and saves me time, but it also helps my students feel proud of our shared space and builds our classroom community.
Success (so far)
The last few weeks have gone much better as I’ve tried to stay true to these strategies. But I also know there will be some days—report card time, a week full of meetings—when I will need to find other time to do my job well. It may mean taking a day to stay late or bringing more home than I like, but that’s ok. As my assistant principal once said, “There are seasons of life and even seasons of the year,” those times where the balance shifts. I cannot control those shifts so, instead, I adjust.
I’m certainly not perfect, but I’ve learned it’s more important to set manageable expectations than to try and do it all. Because, sometimes, the “all” isn’t actually necessary to be a great teacher, mother, and wife.
I remind myself to focus on what is important: my students, my family, and my sanity. With them in mind, the “all” suddenly changes, gets redefined. What is most important rises to the top, and the rest just falls off the page. It’s then that I can get it “all” done.