Don’t take anything home: how to beat procrastination, manage your time effectively, and save your sanity

Many teachers complain about how much time they have to put in to their profession. It’s almost a ritual to take a bunch of grading home to do while watching TV and drinking wine.

I’ve had other teachers tell me that “it’s a lifestyle, not a profession.”

While there is something to be admired about people who dedicate a lot of their time to classes, teachers don’t need to sacrifice their lives to keep things running.

This past semester, I only took about an hour of work home. Total. For the whole semester.

And I don’t think I did a disservice to my students. In fact, I think my classes went better than the previous semester, when I was taking hours of work home every week.

In this post, I’ll share some of my tips about how I did it.

Some disclaimers first:

I teach at an IEP at a major university. I teach three 16 week classes, 15 hours total teaching time per week. We don’t have many staff meetings. We have SLOs and textbooks are chosen for us, but otherwise teachers plan the curriculum, create assessments, lesson plans, etc.

I’m also not married and don’t have any children.

Schedule

At the beginning of the semester, you get the schedule of the classes you’re taking. Then you might get some meetings scheduled around those. Then you might have office hours. These are the parts of your schedule that are fixed. The rest of the hours throughout the day are for you to lesson plan, grade, respond to emails, make assessments, etc. Those are the activities that teachers often end up having to take home.

But if you manage your schedule well, you’ll be able to leave it all at work.

Get the early class

Our IEP has 8 am classes. Some of you might be wincing. I was too. I’ve been assigned the 8 am class the past two semesters, and I’m not exactly a morning person. But teaching at 8 am (or whatever the first class is at your institution) has some great benefits.

First, if you’re like me, you tweak your lesson plan until the last second before class. For me, I usually waste too much time fretting about small details. If I come in at 7:00, I’ll spend an hour before my 8:00am class tweaking my lesson plan (or putting it off by browsing Facebook or Reddit). But guess what? I don’t want to come in at 7:00 because that means less sleep. So I come in at 7:45, do my last minute tweaks, and teach my class (and it usually goes just as well as if I had spent a whole hour fretting over it).

What that means is you have to lesson plan for that 8am class the day before. Which is a good thing (more about that later).

Teaching an 8am class also means that you’re done with one class right away. One less thing to think about when you’re doing the rest of your work.

Divide your time

Like I mentioned previously, you’ll have your class times, office hours, and weekly meeting times that are fixed. But the rest of the time during your day is yours to use to get things done.

Dedicate certain hours to just grading, or just lesson planning. Switching back and forth wastes more time and is inefficient.

Here is how I divided my time last semester (bold means fixed times):

  • 8am – Class
  • 9am – Class
  • 10am – Emailing, other admin stuff, some grading
  • 11am – Lunch
  • 12pm – Grading
  • 1pm – Lesson planning
  • 2:30pm – Class
  • 3:30pm-4:30pm – finishing odds and ends.

You’ll notice I had a huge gap in the middle of my day. I had to stick to my assigned tasks religiously to keep from wasting time – if it was noon, I was always grading. If it was 1pm, I was lesson planning. Every day. This helped keep me focused and consistent.

I had this schedule printed out and taped to the wall above my computer so that I could look up at it and remind myself what I needed to be doing.

Seeing what you need to do sometimes puts that extra bit of pressure on yourself to stay on task.

Schedule breaks

Teaching, grading, and lesson planning are exhausting. If you barrel through the whole day without a break, your work will suffer.

You have to eat lunch. Take enough time to relax during it. Go outside, let your mind recharge. It’ll give you more energy to tackle whatever else you need to do the rest of the day.

I found that on those days when I just sat in my office with my butt slowly melting into my desk chair, I got less done, even though I spent more minutes in front of the computer and books.

Get up, take a break, and focus your energy.

Get the last class of the day

I had a huge gap in the middle of my day. Some other teachers thought that was terrible – I’d have to be at our building all day. But I’d rather be at the building working and getting stuff done than taking it home. Having that last class of the day meant that I had no excuse – I had to be in the office anyway, so I might as well be working.

I know that scheduling is always an issue – you might not get both the early class and the last class. But no matter when you have to teach, make sure you spend enough hours at the office to get stuff done. If you finish all your classes before noon, for example, don’t just leave right after your classes because you’re sick of being in there (although I know the feeling). Finishing work at work means that you won’t have all those tasks hanging over your head while you’re trying to relax at home.

Make it easy on yourself

Teachers have enough work to do already. You don’t need to seek out ways to make your job harder.

Lesson planning

I’ll talk about this later, but don’t spend too much time trying to reinvent the wheel or make the perfect lesson plan.

Use something from the book.

Ask a colleague for a suggestion on a topic.

Browse the internet for resources.

Especially if you’re teaching something for the first time, look for help. It probably won’t be perfect if you’re teaching it the first time anyway, so don’t invest hours trying to make it just a little bit better. Get some ideas from different places, plan it, try it out in class, and then tweak it for next semester.

Grading

If you make your own assessments, make it easy on yourself.

Make rubrics that are clear for both you and your students (more on these in a later post).

If you’re teaching something that lends itself to multiple choice or fill in the blank, do it.

To do it quickly, grading should be like an assembly line. Find a way of organizing your grading so that you don’t need to think too much or make too many decisions about how to grade something.

Trust me, your good students will still get good grades, and the students that need to work harder will be shown that in their scores.

Also, again – don’t try to be perfect. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter too much if someone gets a 95 instead of a 94. Don’t stress out about those borderlines on your rubrics.

Eliminate distractions

Grading and lesson planning are boring, sometimes even painful. We all want to escape the drudgery at times, and what better way to do so than to slip off into the saccharine pleasures of social media.

Don’t. Do. It.

I know so many teachers who complain about how much work they take home, but when I see them at the office, they’re on Facebook.

Browse Facebook at home in your pajamas with a beer nearby! It’s better that way!

I’ll admit that I was one of the worst offenders of this for awhile too. But this year (2016) I went cold turkey on Facebook. It’s helped me focus on a lot of things that are more important to me. But it’s also helped me so much with my work. I can’t just click open a tab on my browser and get lost for half an hour.

I still get lost browsing news, or reddit (still have yet to cut that wonderful website out of my life). But I always remind myself that if I’m at work, I need to be working.

There are things you need to get done at work. Do them.

Be confident, but don’t try to be perfect

Many teachers (myself included) want everything to be perfect. But, since our job is dealing with people, it never is.

You could have a phenomenal lesson planned, but then your students were all up late the night before studying for a test in another class, they’ve only had three hours of sleep each, and they’re going to be nodding off in your class no matter what you’re doing.

Or, you could have a lesson that you think is garbage. You’re biting your nails beforehand – you know you should’ve planned more. It’s a certain disaster. Except… it isn’t. The students are enthusiastic and absolutely love the activity that you’ve planned. It just clicks that day for whatever reason.  It’s the best class period you’ve had all year.

I’ve had both these scenarios happen several times.

What they’ve taught me is to stop fretting. I’m confident in my abilities to teach well. I know what a good lesson plan looks like and I can replicate it (if you have any kind of training in teaching, or if you’ve even paid attention in classes that you’ve taken, you know what a good lesson plan looks like too).

You can always improve as a teacher. I’m not saying to stop striving to be great.

But even great teachers can never be perfect. Because they’re only human, and their students are only human.

Do your best and be confident in your abilities.

Don’t waste your time.

 

 

 

One thought on “Don’t take anything home: how to beat procrastination, manage your time effectively, and save your sanity

  1. I’m trying to be better about getting all my grading out of the way while I’m at school, too. I only have about 45 minutes between classes, and then another hour or so after my last class and before I go home, so lesson planning is out of the question (I’d rather do it at home, anyway; there are fewer distractions!) But last year I let my grading pile up on me and I kept finding myself every weekend with an unbelievably huge pile of papers to grade (did I even work that many papers in class?!?! It seems as if they multiplied on me!!) But this year, I’m grading IN CLASS whenever it’s humanly possible. If it’s a paper where I can run my eye over it and mark it correct with a check, or stamp it, I’ll do that as soon as the child finishs it, and s/he can hang it directly on the take-home hook (instead of doing it later and having to hang it myself!) Just being committed to doing it NOW and not putting it off has really helped me!

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