#Teach2Teach Question 1: How Do You Balance Teaching and Planning

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My answer to Amy Lenord’s #Teach2Teach first question. I am coming late to the party, but I hope you like what I have to share!

Set Your Priorities

When I started, I was developing a curriculum basically from scratch. I also had the shock of going from teaching 150 students in an online university course, the kind where all of the assessments and assignments were provided by the textbook publishing company, to teaching 350 kids ranging in age from 6 – 14 and having a sixth grade home room. It was overwhelming for my first year in the classroom.

I stayed late, until 5:30 or 6:00 PM almost every day and I came in at least 1 weekend day per week, sometimes 2. Basically, I lived at school. Whenever my wife was at work, I was at school.

Then, in March of my first school year, my first son was born. He had some health problems (all better now!) and it was scary. It reset my entire outlook on life and time with my family. I had to ask myself, “What is truly important?” Yeah, I spent 2 years getting a Masters degree in foreign language education and that is super important to me, but is it more important that my family, than my new child at home?

Before my son was born, the question was a complicated one. I worried about work-life balance and how I would get everything done with a new baby. Then he was born. And that made the answer totally obvious–No, teaching is not nearly as important as my family. It is a very distant number 2 on my list. So, it’s still high on the list, it’s just that number one is waaaaaayyyyy bigger than I ever expected it would be. I had to look at what I was doing at school and pare it down to make time for being at home. I had to get organized…really organized.

Get Organized

It’s still a struggle to stay organized, but having a system that works for you is the best advice I can give. I had a lot of trouble with this and there were a lot of experiments to figure out how organize y school stuff. You have to know what you are willing to do. If you’re not willing to put all of your papers in a binder, then you won’t do it. After a lot of experimentation with different methods of organization, I found that I will. So that’s what I do. You have to think about what you will do rather than what looks like a great idea on Pinterest (disclosure-I got almost all of my organization ideas from Pinterest! I love that site).

A note about being organized: you need to have an end goal in your organization. Ask yourself, “What is my goal in being organized?” Then you can fit your organizational tools and tricks around that goal. For example, I need to be able to turn off school and go home and be with my family. I need to avoid bringing work home as much as I can and I need to avoid going back to school at night or on weekends. That was my reason for getting organized. I still bring home work sometimes and I still come in at night or on weekends sometimes, and I’m definitely thinking about school all the time now to write on the blog, but it’s a different thought process. Rather than being overwhelmed with work, I have time to be reflective about the things I do in the classroom. That’s a luxury that I hope everyone can fit into their day.

Figure Out What Works For You

I am a morning person. I am bright eyed and bushy tailed in the morning. Then, when I add coffee, I’m ready for the day! Knowing this, I can work with it to help me with my reason for being organized that I talked about above. I try to get to school at least an hour early, if not more so (school starts at 8). I get to use the computer in the classroom I share with 2 other teachers, I get to make copies without a line out the door behind me, I get to sit in my classroom and quietly prepare myself mentally for what I will do for the day, and I get to prepare for class- find pictures for PowerPoint presentations, cut up papers for activities, etc. I also use the time for grading class work. I don’t really give homework anymore because it didn’t really help the kids and just gave them lots of zeroes and I had to spend time catching up with them to find the work. This definitely did NOT work for me. No homework has freed up a lot of time – in other words, I now spend my time grading quality work that I know the kids have done themselves. There are some homework ideas, like that I’d love to start implementing, like real world homework Once I find what works for me in implementing this, I I will definitely assign more work outside the classroom.

Final Thought on Question 1

What we do is important. We are gatekeepers to a larger world that the kids might not be exposed to otherwise. That being said, we also do important things outside the classroom. As important as we are in it, sometimes, we are needed elsewhere. As teachers of any subject, we need to make sure that we know what our priorities are. We need to figure out what we are willing to do (example: organize lessons and units in binders-YES; assign, grade, and stress out about collecting busy-work homework assignments-NO). Once we know what is most important and what we are willing and able to do, we can develop a system to create the best class that we can for our students and our lives.

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