Create a List

List Name

Rename this List
Save to
Back to the Top Teaching Blog
September 1, 2016 How to Teach and Still Have a Life This School Year By Genia Connell
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    Hello, my name is Genia and I'm a teach-a-holic. I suffered for years from a need to stay at school ridiculous hours. I've always felt being a teacher was woven into my identity. It's not just what I do, it’s who I am, I'd tell people. Somewhere along the way though, I seemed to have gotten the words teacher and martyr confused. I arrived early each day and stayed late. Once I did get home, I'd stay up late working on the computer. I'd frequently avoid making plans because I had too much work to do. I was a teacher, after all!  When Friday rolled around, I’d be sound asleep on the couch by 8 o'clock, completely wiped out from a 60-hour work week. Exhausted all the time, teaching was taking over my life.

    Last year, after using way too many sick days for stress-related ailments, I realized something had to give. (Actually, the doctor may have been the one who told me that!) Staying at school for hours after dismissal wasn’t making me a better teacher, it was literally making me sick and tired. For the last half of the year, I set a goal of leaving within 30 minutes of dismissal. And it was hard!! I had to actively work on being more efficient with my time while I was in school so I could walk out the door by 4:45. The payoff, however, was immediate. Spending less time at school meant I enjoyed the time I spent there more. My husband and I got to spend more time together too. We actually started making plans on weeknights and Fridays! And what do you know — all of my work still got done and not a single student was harmed or damaged in any way by my leaving school before the sun went down.

    While it may sound strange that I needed to work on leaving work behind, I’m sure there are teachers who can relate. For those teachers who can sometimes let teaching get in the way of living, I’m happy to share with you some of the tips and tricks that I use to help me teach and still have a life.    

     

    Prioritize With Checklists

    Each morning when I come in, the first thing I do is write down a list of everything I want to accomplish that day, outside of working with my students. The list might include making copies for an upcoming assessment, setting up a science center, or just making an overdue phone call to a parent. There is something about seeing my to-do list in writing and the satisfaction gleaned from physically crossing each item off that helps me focus on what truly needs to be done during the work day.

    To Do List

    Download and print my weekly to-do list

     

    Schedule Repetitive Tasks Repetitively

    When I was little, my mom did laundry every Monday. When my own kids were young, I made spaghetti for dinner every Wednesday. Why? It made my working-mom life simpler. My mom knew what she had to get done every Monday morning and on Wednesdays, I never had to think about what to cook. I’ve applied the laundry and spaghetti theorem to my teaching. To make life easier I schedule days and times when I always do the same thing.

    For example:

    • Monday: Update class website during recess break.

    • Thursday: Finish next week’s lesson plans during prep time.

    • Friday: Make copies for following week and blast email newsletter to parents.

    Doing these tasks at the same time each week means they become habit. If something comes up and I can't complete the task at my normally scheduled time, it becomes the first thing on the To-Do List I shared above.

     

    Turn Off the Computer!

    This one was the game changer! While my students are packing up to go home, I shut down my computer. The computer was the number one thing that sucked me in and kept me mired to my desk after the kids left. I’d read emails, send emails, start working on creating something for a lesson, check Facebook, read emails again, check the price of a flight I wanted for a vacation six months away, and so on and so on. When the computer is off, I am free to go. Without the screen holding you captive, I guarantee you will find leaving is much, much easier.

    How to Teach and Still Have a Life This School Year

     

    Limit How Often You Check Email

    Choose two or three times a day that you regularly check your email and let your students’ parents and the office know. When I used to check email constantly throughout the day, I would find myself using an entire planning period sorting through and responding to emails that could have waited. While I read emails, I wasn’t getting my copies made or papers checked. Now I open up email when I arrive at school, during my planning period and right before I shut it down at the end of the day. I try not to check school email at all on the weekends. If it is urgent, someone from school will text or call. Once people learn you aren’t on call and attached to your email 24/7, they won’t expect you to respond to them at all hours. Detaching from email on the weekends is one of the most freeing things I've done and I haven't felt like I've missed a thing.  

     

    LTDBAS!

    LEAVE THE DARN BAG AT SCHOOL! So many nights I would lug my heavy school bag home filled with work I should be doing. No matter what I was doing, that bag was always on my mind. Even if I sat down to read a book or watch TV, that bag kept staring at me, a reminder of what I should be doing instead of relaxing after a long day at work. So now, at least once a week I LTDBAS. Walking out the door without a tote bag on a weekday is a very liberating experience — like I’m heading off on vacation. So, I highly suggest that for at least one day of the week, don’t let the bag control you! LTDBAS! (PS: I don't say Darn!)

     

    You Don’t Have to Check Every Paper

    (Sometimes you don't even need paper!)

    You know that bag I don’t lug home every day now? More often than not, the papers inside that bag only came home with me for a visit. They never made it out of the bag and they’d go to school in the morning then come for another visit the very next night. For years, I felt I was failing my students if I didn’t check every single paper and give valuable feedback so I carried those papers until I had the time and the energy to do so. Now I’ve realized that on some papers, especially those that we've worked on together, a smiley face or a Good Job sticker is enough feedback on paper for my third graders. I've replaced the long comments with more time spent conferring with my students during the day. I've also reduced the amount of paperwork my students get. More work is done on iPads and laptops then shared with me and classmates via the cloud. They use journals for math and language arts which means we often have rich discussions about the work they are doing in those books without a single thing being collected to be checked. I can almost guarantee that if you stop pouring over every piece of paper that comes across your desk and you give feedback to the students face-to-face, your students won’t miss the long essays you wrote on their papers and neither will you.

     

    Just Say No!

    My good friend and I joke about this one all the time. We both have a habit of agreeing to whatever is asked of us at work. Why do people ask us? Because we both have a habit of agreeing to whatever is asked of us. Not anymore. After a major health scare last year, my friend has dialed it way back this year, and I’m so proud of her. With fewer committees and councils competing for her time, she’s already feeling better and healthier. I, too have found an inner peace comes with not volunteering to jump in every time a committee is being formed and not attending every single afterschool fundraiser. Having a life means saying no to extra commitments so you can say yes to things you enjoy more.

     

    Commit to an After School Activity

    Nothing makes you scoot out of school like having someplace you need to be. One of my tricks to make myself leave earlier on a Friday was to call and order carry-out for dinner from a restaurant near our house just so I would be forced to leave school to go pick it up! Towards the end of last school year, I had physical therapy sessions that required me to leave 10 minutes after the students left. I never missed a single appointment because I knew I had to be there on time. To start off this school year, my friend Dave, (who also regularly works past 7 p.m.) and I have signed up for six weeks of boot camp classes that start at 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. We’ll be sure to leave school to get to class on time because you really don't want to be late for boot camp! If you have trouble leaving work behind, taking a class or making some standing appointments for something you enjoy is the way to go!

    How to Teach and Still Have a Life This School Year

    Can't stay late at school if you have a standing appointment!

    Other Quick Ways to Help You Get Out the Door:

    • Close the Door: Seeing a teacher without students can often be an open invitation for someone to come in and chat or want to hold an unscheduled conference. Closing your door is a polite way to send a message that you are busy.

    • Straighten and Organize! Take ten minutes each day to straighten and organize your work areas. Looking for misplaced papers or resources eats up time. On Fridays I make copies for the following week and keep them organized in drawers in the order they’ll be used.

    • Use the Buddy System: In our grade level, we split up recess duties. When one teacher takes the class out, the other two have 15 additional minutes that can be used productively. With 10 recesses a week, that time adds up! We’ll also do the same thing during all school assemblies when possible.

    • Pack Your Lunch the Night Before: What does lunch have to do with leaving work on time? There were many days I would head off for work without a lunch. That meant taking time away from my priority list to leave the building to go and get lunch.

    • Recruit Parent Volunteers: School starts next week and I already have a mom scheduled to help out once a week. A reliable parent can copy, file, cut materials, place book orders and so much more!

    Just remember: There are no prizes for arriving first or leaving last!

    If there were, I probably would have won something by now. I take comfort in knowing that as I start this school year, I’ll arrive before school with just enough time to make my priority list, look over my day’s lesson plans and to get a cup of coffee. I’ll be able to walk out at the end of the day knowing I’ve given my students everything I have during the school day and I can look forward to some time to do as I please that evening. By spending less time at school, I know I’ll be there rested and energized to do the same thing the next day! No martyrdom required.

    How to Teach and Still Have a Life This School Year

    And to think, not a single one of us was given a prize that night!

     

     

     

     

    Hello, my name is Genia and I'm a teach-a-holic. I suffered for years from a need to stay at school ridiculous hours. I've always felt being a teacher was woven into my identity. It's not just what I do, it’s who I am, I'd tell people. Somewhere along the way though, I seemed to have gotten the words teacher and martyr confused. I arrived early each day and stayed late. Once I did get home, I'd stay up late working on the computer. I'd frequently avoid making plans because I had too much work to do. I was a teacher, after all!  When Friday rolled around, I’d be sound asleep on the couch by 8 o'clock, completely wiped out from a 60-hour work week. Exhausted all the time, teaching was taking over my life.

    Last year, after using way too many sick days for stress-related ailments, I realized something had to give. (Actually, the doctor may have been the one who told me that!) Staying at school for hours after dismissal wasn’t making me a better teacher, it was literally making me sick and tired. For the last half of the year, I set a goal of leaving within 30 minutes of dismissal. And it was hard!! I had to actively work on being more efficient with my time while I was in school so I could walk out the door by 4:45. The payoff, however, was immediate. Spending less time at school meant I enjoyed the time I spent there more. My husband and I got to spend more time together too. We actually started making plans on weeknights and Fridays! And what do you know — all of my work still got done and not a single student was harmed or damaged in any way by my leaving school before the sun went down.

    While it may sound strange that I needed to work on leaving work behind, I’m sure there are teachers who can relate. For those teachers who can sometimes let teaching get in the way of living, I’m happy to share with you some of the tips and tricks that I use to help me teach and still have a life.    

     

    Prioritize With Checklists

    Each morning when I come in, the first thing I do is write down a list of everything I want to accomplish that day, outside of working with my students. The list might include making copies for an upcoming assessment, setting up a science center, or just making an overdue phone call to a parent. There is something about seeing my to-do list in writing and the satisfaction gleaned from physically crossing each item off that helps me focus on what truly needs to be done during the work day.

    To Do List

    Download and print my weekly to-do list

     

    Schedule Repetitive Tasks Repetitively

    When I was little, my mom did laundry every Monday. When my own kids were young, I made spaghetti for dinner every Wednesday. Why? It made my working-mom life simpler. My mom knew what she had to get done every Monday morning and on Wednesdays, I never had to think about what to cook. I’ve applied the laundry and spaghetti theorem to my teaching. To make life easier I schedule days and times when I always do the same thing.

    For example:

    • Monday: Update class website during recess break.

    • Thursday: Finish next week’s lesson plans during prep time.

    • Friday: Make copies for following week and blast email newsletter to parents.

    Doing these tasks at the same time each week means they become habit. If something comes up and I can't complete the task at my normally scheduled time, it becomes the first thing on the To-Do List I shared above.

     

    Turn Off the Computer!

    This one was the game changer! While my students are packing up to go home, I shut down my computer. The computer was the number one thing that sucked me in and kept me mired to my desk after the kids left. I’d read emails, send emails, start working on creating something for a lesson, check Facebook, read emails again, check the price of a flight I wanted for a vacation six months away, and so on and so on. When the computer is off, I am free to go. Without the screen holding you captive, I guarantee you will find leaving is much, much easier.

    How to Teach and Still Have a Life This School Year

     

    Limit How Often You Check Email

    Choose two or three times a day that you regularly check your email and let your students’ parents and the office know. When I used to check email constantly throughout the day, I would find myself using an entire planning period sorting through and responding to emails that could have waited. While I read emails, I wasn’t getting my copies made or papers checked. Now I open up email when I arrive at school, during my planning period and right before I shut it down at the end of the day. I try not to check school email at all on the weekends. If it is urgent, someone from school will text or call. Once people learn you aren’t on call and attached to your email 24/7, they won’t expect you to respond to them at all hours. Detaching from email on the weekends is one of the most freeing things I've done and I haven't felt like I've missed a thing.  

     

    LTDBAS!

    LEAVE THE DARN BAG AT SCHOOL! So many nights I would lug my heavy school bag home filled with work I should be doing. No matter what I was doing, that bag was always on my mind. Even if I sat down to read a book or watch TV, that bag kept staring at me, a reminder of what I should be doing instead of relaxing after a long day at work. So now, at least once a week I LTDBAS. Walking out the door without a tote bag on a weekday is a very liberating experience — like I’m heading off on vacation. So, I highly suggest that for at least one day of the week, don’t let the bag control you! LTDBAS! (PS: I don't say Darn!)

     

    You Don’t Have to Check Every Paper

    (Sometimes you don't even need paper!)

    You know that bag I don’t lug home every day now? More often than not, the papers inside that bag only came home with me for a visit. They never made it out of the bag and they’d go to school in the morning then come for another visit the very next night. For years, I felt I was failing my students if I didn’t check every single paper and give valuable feedback so I carried those papers until I had the time and the energy to do so. Now I’ve realized that on some papers, especially those that we've worked on together, a smiley face or a Good Job sticker is enough feedback on paper for my third graders. I've replaced the long comments with more time spent conferring with my students during the day. I've also reduced the amount of paperwork my students get. More work is done on iPads and laptops then shared with me and classmates via the cloud. They use journals for math and language arts which means we often have rich discussions about the work they are doing in those books without a single thing being collected to be checked. I can almost guarantee that if you stop pouring over every piece of paper that comes across your desk and you give feedback to the students face-to-face, your students won’t miss the long essays you wrote on their papers and neither will you.

     

    Just Say No!

    My good friend and I joke about this one all the time. We both have a habit of agreeing to whatever is asked of us at work. Why do people ask us? Because we both have a habit of agreeing to whatever is asked of us. Not anymore. After a major health scare last year, my friend has dialed it way back this year, and I’m so proud of her. With fewer committees and councils competing for her time, she’s already feeling better and healthier. I, too have found an inner peace comes with not volunteering to jump in every time a committee is being formed and not attending every single afterschool fundraiser. Having a life means saying no to extra commitments so you can say yes to things you enjoy more.

     

    Commit to an After School Activity

    Nothing makes you scoot out of school like having someplace you need to be. One of my tricks to make myself leave earlier on a Friday was to call and order carry-out for dinner from a restaurant near our house just so I would be forced to leave school to go pick it up! Towards the end of last school year, I had physical therapy sessions that required me to leave 10 minutes after the students left. I never missed a single appointment because I knew I had to be there on time. To start off this school year, my friend Dave, (who also regularly works past 7 p.m.) and I have signed up for six weeks of boot camp classes that start at 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. We’ll be sure to leave school to get to class on time because you really don't want to be late for boot camp! If you have trouble leaving work behind, taking a class or making some standing appointments for something you enjoy is the way to go!

    How to Teach and Still Have a Life This School Year

    Can't stay late at school if you have a standing appointment!

    Other Quick Ways to Help You Get Out the Door:

    • Close the Door: Seeing a teacher without students can often be an open invitation for someone to come in and chat or want to hold an unscheduled conference. Closing your door is a polite way to send a message that you are busy.

    • Straighten and Organize! Take ten minutes each day to straighten and organize your work areas. Looking for misplaced papers or resources eats up time. On Fridays I make copies for the following week and keep them organized in drawers in the order they’ll be used.

    • Use the Buddy System: In our grade level, we split up recess duties. When one teacher takes the class out, the other two have 15 additional minutes that can be used productively. With 10 recesses a week, that time adds up! We’ll also do the same thing during all school assemblies when possible.

    • Pack Your Lunch the Night Before: What does lunch have to do with leaving work on time? There were many days I would head off for work without a lunch. That meant taking time away from my priority list to leave the building to go and get lunch.

    • Recruit Parent Volunteers: School starts next week and I already have a mom scheduled to help out once a week. A reliable parent can copy, file, cut materials, place book orders and so much more!

    Just remember: There are no prizes for arriving first or leaving last!

    If there were, I probably would have won something by now. I take comfort in knowing that as I start this school year, I’ll arrive before school with just enough time to make my priority list, look over my day’s lesson plans and to get a cup of coffee. I’ll be able to walk out at the end of the day knowing I’ve given my students everything I have during the school day and I can look forward to some time to do as I please that evening. By spending less time at school, I know I’ll be there rested and energized to do the same thing the next day! No martyrdom required.

    How to Teach and Still Have a Life This School Year

    And to think, not a single one of us was given a prize that night!

     

     

     

     

Comments

Share your ideas about this article

My Scholastic

Susan Cheyney

GRADES: 1-2
About Us