Depending on what job you have, the idea of only having 45 minutes (on average) during the course of your day to prepare everything you need to do for the other 6 may sound outlandish.
However, for those of you who aren’t aware, the teacher workday is broken up into a variety of tasks:
- Teaching and working with the students
- Prepping the work and materials that you’re going to be doing with the children
- Duties (hall, study hall, office, etc..)
- Fighting with printers/copiers/technology to make #1 and #2 happen
- Grading work that has been turned in
- Meetings (post-observation, 504/IEP, professional development….)
- Emails/communication with other teachers, counselors, parents, etc…
- Writing reports and/or lesson plans (which is a separate task from #2 because often the lesson plans for administrators look wildly different than what you’re giving the students)
- Bring pertinent information to administrators, counselors, etc…
- Other duties as determined by administrators (really this list could keep going but I’m going to cut it off)
For those of you who don’t realize, number 1 takes up 5+ hours of our day and we have to handle the other 9 during the rest of the day. Sometimes they can overlap with number 1 but more often than not we have to squeeze the rest into the other 2 hours of our work day along with lunch, going to the bathroom and sometimes just taking a breath so you don’t lose your mind.
There was a time when I tried to squeeze as many of the other tasks into a single day’s planning period. Most of the time it was because I thought I had to have it all done immediately. What happens when everything is important? Then nothing really is.
Over the course of the pandemic I’ve learned the way I need to balance my prep time is not by trying to do it all at the same time but by dedicating my prep time to very specific tasks.
I realized that there are three main things I usually do during my prep periods over and over again: developing/preparing new material for future lessons, grading, and communicating with others.
When I realized that these are the same tasks I have to focus on repetitively I realized that if I committed my prep periods to the single task then I could stay on top of the workload easier and was more productive because I wasn’t constantly jumping from one task to the next without finishing the first.
I actually started writing on my schedule for the year “planning new stuff” or “grading” and now, because I know that prep for the week is dedicated to that task instead of trying to do everything all the time I get more done in a single period than I did before.
I generally alternate the days so if today was a planning new stuff day, tomorrow will be grading and email (I can usually get them both done unless it’s a particularly heavy grading day) and I’ll go back and forth through the week.
Chunking out my time this way has helped me stay on track (mostly) teaching three different classes, one of which is brand new to me this year, without feeling like I’m overwhelmed and underwater with everything. It’s even given me the opportunity to take my lunch and read for fun while I’m eating instead of working through lunch.
By setting guidelines and structure to my work week I’ve been able to get back to a place of normal with my job and not constantly feel like I’m in fight or flight mode while also still handling my responsibilities and carving out some time to breathe.