Sherry Hatton | October 2021
Setting Yourself Up
From hayrides and haunted houses, Autumn represents the start of the holiday season, packed full of traditions. Those first weeks of school are filled with so much excitement and joy… It is almost a sensory overload! The beauty of the changing season, trees and leaves changing colors, sounds of football and let’s face it, pumpkin-spiced everything! There is so much to love about the fall.
We spend our time structuring well-planned lessons and getting to know our new students and their families. And we are ever so grateful to the parents and students that deliver clever “teacher survival kits”. Items we need to keep us smiling, cheerful and content through the beginning rush of the academic year. But what happens when those supplies – and your smile – become more difficult to find?
A Balancing Act
The novelty of the beginning of the year excitement slows down and our workload becomes greater! We hit the winter months and lose the energy and creativity needed to be effective in the classroom. You know – the phases of teaching! Once those cold months hit, you feel like you cannot keep up and want to give up. In a study from just 5 years ago, teachers were leaving the profession at a rate of 35% in the first 5 years of their career and of those, 8% leave teaching for another career. Why are teachers leaving the profession? And how can we avoid this frustration now, instead of trying to overcome frustration in the future.
NPR Ed cites specific reasons for teacher frustration, including the lack of resources and poor preparation as the main reasons teachers are leaving the profession. Of course there are other factors, but one constant throughout much of the research describes teachers leaving our profession due to the lack of preparation needed for success. Poor preparation will lead to ineffective teaching, attitudes and inability to meet the needs of the classroom.
So let’s take the lack of organization and preparation out of the equation. Let’s focus on planning for the entire school year now to avoid the unsettling consequences later. What can we do now to make sure our expectations and schedules have a focus for each month, week and day in our classroom? To be a successful teacher? Let’s start with unpacking!
The Successful Teacher
Most of us are familiar with the method of unpacking our unit lessons. It starts with finding our end goal and then we move backwards to our starting point. Creating learning goals, strategies and assessments along the way. The same strategy for organizing our year long classroom goals from the end to the beginning.
Let’s start with a calendar. Put your big ideas on a calendar dictating when they will be completed. Month, quarter, week. Even if you are unsure, give yourself a rough idea. Then, take a look at school calendars, your personal calendar, holidays and all the little things that may impact your success. List everything!
Once you begin unpacking each big idea, and visualize distractions that are out of your control, your schedule will start to take shape. You will see how to organize activities and assessments with a bit of wiggle room to compensate for those items you cannot control. As you begin to unpack each big idea, find the materials you need and prepare now. Supplies and funding run low as the year progresses. Have items ready in the fall to avoid the last minute lesson overhaul and stress that may come from budget restraints and last minute lesson restructure.
Online Storage for Plans and Activities
Once you have your plans created, add these to an online calendar or drive to save for the following years. Online calendars are simple and free to create and use. Taking the time to add your activities, lesson plans, rubrics and assessments to a calendar now may seem a tedious task, but it will save you time in the future. You will have access to these resources for years to come. Features in online storage provide ways to save documents in one space and link materials or folders into your calendar.
All of your work can be edited to make them applicable at any time. The time you spend creating rubrics and assessment becomes less, allowing for personal time.
Prioritize & Delegate
Don’t be afraid to ask for help – from both your peers and from your students. In your classes, you will see leaders from the littles to the seniors. Students love the responsibility you give them and thrive on helping their classmates. Create partnerships with other teachers, or develop “student leaders” in grade levels higher than your class. Invite older students into your classroom to help those struggling. Keep an open dialogue with your colleagues and other teachers that you can call for a break. Sometimes a walk around the school or breath of fresh air will save you from frustration and stress.
Administrators can help too! When highly effective teachers are feeling disengaged, they will find another district or occupation. School leaders need to find a developmental path for their staff to feel effective and engaged in their craft. In my current school district, our administration plans events for us to participate in. Small, weekly activities such as trivia, painting classes and walks. The time spent with other faculty and staff members is not only a much needed break from the classroom, but allows you to discuss classroom management, engagement, motivation, etc. in a low stress environment.
The American Psychological Association lists the top ways to avoid stress is to set up boundaries and find time to sleep and relax. One of the largest complaints from teachers last year was the feeling of being “on call” 24/7. We felt obligated to answer parent emails at all hours. Make sure you set up boundaries and create a designated time for work, and time for yourself. Keep a consistent schedule. Take care of yourself and prioritize what is important to you.
Prepare for Substitutes!
It is beyond stressful when we have to be out of the classroom. No one likes the idea of writing sub plans. So take the time to prepare now for those unexpected days. Don’t just have a bank of worksheets ready, but pull together great activities that make your sub feel at home, and make sure the students are on task and still learning. Similar to our unpacking, create plans for weeks, not just days. Again, it seems like a lot of work now, but you can save materials and edit them from year to year. In addition, it will save you time and stress from doing this work if you become ill or an emergency surfaces. I create 2 substitute folders. One for my substitute, and one for my students.
Don’t be afraid to give lesson plans to your students. Allow them to run class in your absence. They love the trust you put in them and it teaches leadership and responsibility. I love coming back from an absence and hearing a substitute tell me the kids ran class on their own and it was a pleasure to sit back and watch their progress!
Make sure your plans and materials are easy to find. Having a substitute you can rely on and trust is like gold! If they are successful, your students build a relationship and trust. They continue learning and you can be at ease knowing when you return, there is continuity and uninterrupted learning in your absence.
It may be hard to think about doing all of these extra things now that we are in the thick of it and time feels like a precious commodity. However, chipping away at the preparation will pay off in the long run and your frazzled last-minute self will thank your thinking-ahead self when the unexpected arises!