How to work a 40 hour week as a teacher

October 4, 2012

in classroom management ideas, ideas from my book, tips and tricks

Tips for being a teacher and still having a life!A 40 hour week for a teacher is almost unheard of. The growing number of teacher-bashers out there have somehow gotten the idea that we work far fewer hours that. And of course, anyone who’s ever worked in the field knows that the time spent at school combined with the time spent on paperwork at home often averages out to 50-70 hours a week…or more.

I believe there’s a healthy balance between the perception of teachers working only from 9-3 and the unfortunate reality of them working 7-7.  As a classroom teacher, my goal in finding a work-life balance was to dedicate 40 hours a week to my job. Sure, I might spend additional time in the evenings looking online for new lesson ideas or making manipulatives while I watched TV, but those were tasks I really enjoyed. They didn’t feel like work to me, and I didn’t do them every day. My goal was to complete my “work-work” tasks during the course of an 8 hour day: grading, paperwork, photocopies, etc.

I succeeded about 90% of the time. The beginning and end of the school year were the major exceptions. At those times, I was always prepared to work as many hours as it took. 70-hour weeks were not atypical for me in August and September (weekends included). And during those years when I was new to the grade level, school, or school system, I sometimes had to settle for alternating 8-hour days and 10-hour days, or spending Sundays working from home, but I did always manage to get to a 40-hour week by late October. Usually, the only time I’d go beyond 40 hours in a normal work week was if there was a special project or event coming up.

So that means I don’t have a fool-proof system that will guarantee you’ll leave the school parking lot before sundown every night. But I do have some tips to share that made it easier for me to work a reasonable amount of hours. I’ve shared seven pages of timesaving tips for teachers in chapter 34 of The Cornerstone Book, Timesaving Strategies: Discovering How to Be a Teacher and Still Have a Personal Life. Here are six additional ideas ideas for lightening your workload:

1) Replace worksheets with hands-on activities.

The more paper and pencil work you give, the more stuff you’ve got to photocopy, organize, pass out, collect, grade, record, and return to students. Not only are hands-on activities more meaningful for students, but you’ll spend less time making photocopies and grading papers. It’s a win for everybody.

2) Make the most of Morning Work or Bell Work.

When your kids come in the room in the morning and after lunch, there should be something on the board for them to get started on right away. While they are doing morning work, you should be able to complete attendance, check all homework, read and respond to parents’ notes, and so on. My goal was to get this done in 15-20 minutes, but typically I didn’t end the morning work time until I finished these tasks–I wasn’t about to leave myself with a messy pile of half-sorted papers and someone’s class picture money just lying out on my desk. I felt no guilt about this because my students’ morning work assignments were meaningful and open-ended: the kids were actively engaged in projects, reading books, etc. When my administrative tasks were done and I was comfortable with beginning our day, we started.

3) Choose bulletin boards that are timeless.

The background paper and border you put up in August can be left there until June. Switch out student work once a month (or every 6 weeks) and choose stuff that’s not tied to the holidays or seasons. (What’s the point of putting up Valentine’s Day work on February 8th when it’ll look dated on February 15?) You can also put your students in charge of the bulletin boards: let them choose their best work, self-reflect on the back of their papers, and hang them up. At the end of the year, their monthly work sample choices can serve as a portfolio.

4) Keep your room neat and clean during the day instead of staying after school to straighten up.

It only takes a few seconds to push student desks back into position and remind students to pick up their belongings that are on the floor before you take the class to lunch. Tape up that poster that’s falling off the wall while students are writing the heading on their papers. Clear or at least straighten piles of papers on your desk during a moment of downtime instead of checking email for tenth time. Tidying up for two minutes here and two minutes there can easily save you a half an hour that would otherwise be spent staying late after dismissal.

5) When you work beyond your contracted hours, try to choose times when few other people are at school.

I was contracted for 35 hour weeks when I taught in Maryland and 37.5 hour weeks in Florida, so a 40 hour week for me meant coming in an hour or so early or staying an hour late. I found that I could remain completely undisturbed for at least forty-five minutes if I came in early, but staying late was pointless because I’d end up hanging out in a co-worker’s room or slumped at my desk in exhaustion. There’s no point in working long hours if you’re not really working. If you’re too tired, someone is constantly coming in and asking you for things, or you’re tempted to wander next door to chat, pick your “overtime” hours wisely…or even complete them at home.

6) Create a self-running classroom that frees you to teach.

I’ve shared a lot of resources on this topic on my website and even more extensively in my book and webinar series. Creating a self-running classroom means empowering students to take charge of their learning and learning environment. It means giving students ownership over the learning process instead of carrying all the responsibility yourself. Teaching kids simple procedures for every task in the classroom will save you countless hours of instructional time throughout the year because your classroom activities will flow more smoothly and have fewer disruptions. Automate your routine tasks so that not a moment is wasted and you can focus on what matters most about your job: teaching and connecting with kids!

That’s what has worked for me.  How do you make the most of your time at school so that you can spend your evenings and weekends relaxing and enjoying your family?

 

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Angela was a classroom teacher for 11 years and currently works as an instructional coach and educational consultant based in New York City. She's created a webinar series on pro-active behavior management and has written 3 books for educators. Check out the blog and free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 74 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Audrey October 4, 2012 at 7:43 pm

These are some great tips. So basic, but so obvious!! My goal is to have a 40 hour week by the end of October as opposed to my 75 hour weeks as of now!!

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2 Angela Watson October 4, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Awesome, Audrey! That’s a great goal. Hang in there–the beginning of the school year is tough, but your hard work will pay off.

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3 Matt October 4, 2012 at 7:44 pm

I’m NOT anti-social, but I try to work through many lunches AND keep my door closed in the am sometimes to get stuff DONE and not spend lunches and planning periods chatting away.

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4 Angela Watson October 4, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Great point, Matt. I didn’t really take a lunch break, either–maybe 10 minutes to eat, 5 minutes to chat, and then the last 10-15 minutes working. Sometimes I checked email while I ate. It was worth it to me because I could leave earlier. If I was having a bad day though and was super stressed out, I tried to just unwind during my break so I could be geared up for the afternoon.

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5 Debbie October 4, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Hi Angela … you’ve given some great pointers here! As a high school biology teacher, I also have labs that are required by the state that the students need to complete. I must keep very close track of how many lab credits each student has so that I’ll know when to start “nagging” them, or unfortunately sometimes, inform them that they cannot take the State exam in June that they must pass to graduate. So this all adds a lot of extra administrative and paperwork on top of the “regular” work.

One way I’ve found of streamlining this is to grade the students’ labs AS THEY FINISH THEM. They bring them to me and I actively grade them while the student is standing there. This way, I can have them fix anything that’s incorrect right away, and the students benefit by getting immediate feedback. When the lab meets my standards I initial it, date it, and file it right away (since we must keep labs on record for 6 months after the school year ends), recording the grade on my checklist. It sounds like it would be very slow, but it really isn’t … and the kids are good at waiting patiently.

This has freed me from the HOURS of time on weekends that I used to spend grading labs. I hope this idea can help some other science teachers out there.

Thanks for writing such a great blog!

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6 Angela Watson October 4, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Debbie, I really like that method, too. (I used this Quick Skill Assessment form to record the grades: as students brought the work up to me, I marked their level of proficiency on the form, addressed misconceptions, and then sent students off to do either skill reinforcement or enrichment activities, based on the level of understanding they demonstrated during the assignment.)

It’s cool to hear how that works at the high school level. Thanks for explaining your system in detail so other teachers can replicate it.

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7 Ramiro Antonio Sequeira October 8, 2012 at 9:22 am

Hello Debbie:
I am a Biology teacher but at a school in Honduras, this is Central American country.
And I would like to have people dedicated to the same activity so I will be able to share some experiences with in the classroom. is it possible that you answer me some mails asking for some advices. I graduated as a agriculture proffesional, now dedicated to teach.
Thans for your time and attention.
Ramiro

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8 Debbie October 8, 2012 at 11:11 am

Hello Ramiro …

Yes, I’d be happy to. But I don’t want to clog up Angela’s blog … lol. Please contact me at my blog (just click on my name) and we can exchange ideas.

Have a great week!

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9 Jessica March 2, 2014 at 6:56 pm

I really appreciate this method being shared. As a new teacher I find grading takes me way too much time, I figured out it is because I leave feedback notes on each of the students papers. I can’t believe it didn’t dawn on me to grade them as they wait, thereby giving them the feedback verbally and while the lesson is fresh on their mind. Thank you so much Angela and Debbie!

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10 Erika October 4, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Great tips! I’m learning that #5 makes a huge difference. I get so much more done in the morning and it sets the tone for my day. Peaceful mornings without the rush yield days with limited frustration.

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11 Angela Watson October 4, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Mornings worked best for me, too, Erika! I found that teachers who came in early usually just holed themselves up in their rooms so I could work with no interruptions and really get myself prepared for the day.

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12 Nicole October 4, 2012 at 8:18 pm

I learned my first year that the easiest way to get copies completed was to come in an hour early when there is no one at the copier. Also, the copier is less likely to jam due to overheating or already be jammed and broken for the day if I am the first to use it. Additionally, if I know that I will be teaching the same course/grade the following year, I will often make my beginning of the year copies at the end of the previous year and store them (to avoid that copier rush at the beginning of each school year).

As a secondary teacher, I put students in charge of emptying pencil sharpeners and straightening desks. Most are thrilled to help or be out of their seats. I allow students to put up bulletin boards as a reward too. One teacher’s chore can be a good student’s pleasure!

Thanks for the great advice!

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13 Angela Watson October 4, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Wonderful tips for handling copies, Nicole! I remember one year the copier situation was so bad that I made all my copies for August/September in June and just prayed that I wouldn’t be transferred to another grade! What a relief it is to go back to school in the fall and know that a huge chunk of work is already done.

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14 thoma October 22, 2012 at 8:30 pm

I find our copier empty on Friday afternoons. I try to copy everything for the upcoming week on Friday, that way I don’t have to worry over the weekend about if I remembered to pull something to run, cause it’s always done and ready to go

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15 Angela Watson October 22, 2012 at 10:05 pm

That’s very smart, Thoma. You never know what will happen between Friday afternoon and Monday morning!

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16 Molly October 4, 2012 at 9:20 pm

I think this is such an important topic. I get kind of annoyed with teachers who are constantly “so stressed out,” but they don’t put anything into place to rid themselves of unnecessary work.
I’ve started grading writing with the students so I don’t have to take it home. I think it’s valuable for them to see what I’m thinking as I read their writing.
I’ve also found that I’m much more productive when I come in early to work, rather than stay late. Also, when I come in early I feel good about myself and empowered. When I stay late, I get depressed and like I don’t have things together. That being sad, I do have 1 or 2 days a week when I decide ahead of time to stay late and finish a report. When I plan it ahead, and it doesn’t happen every day, it doesn’t bother me as much.
Thanks for the extra tips!

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17 Angela Watson October 5, 2012 at 9:48 am

Well said, Molly! Grading writing with students is a great idea–much more meaningful than just handing a paper back to them with red marks all over it. Grading writing has always been one of my least favorite things to do, too–so time consuming!

And you’re right, something about staying late always made me feel depressed, too. It created anxiety, like “I SHOULD be out of here by now!” Coming in early just made me feel like I was on my A game!

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18 Katie October 21, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Molly,

Can you explain to me how you grade writing with the students? This overwhelmed English teacher would really appreciate it. Thank you.

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19 Molly October 22, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Katie,
I teach learning support in elementary school so I’m guessing that not only do I not have as many students as you do, they also are writing significantly shorter pieces.
That said, I still think it’s a really valuable part of instruction so if you think you can swing it, it would be good for the students and save you time at home!
I have my rubrics ready and I just pull each student to conference with me. The student reads their essay to me and I go through and explain my thinking as I score each component according to the rubric. Other students are either finishing their essays or doing other independent work.
Hope that helps. :)

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20 Susan October 4, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Great article! More specifics on how to achieve a self-running classroom would be appreciated!!!

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21 Angela Watson October 5, 2012 at 9:50 am

Hi, Susan! There are some links in the article to places where I’ve shared resources for that–definitely check the Routines and Procedures section of the site to start. My entire Cornerstone book is basically about creating a self-running classroom that frees you to teach. :-)

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22 Karen October 5, 2012 at 9:14 am

I love this article. It made me feel better to know that other teachers struggle with getting away at a reasonable hour. Unlike some of those posting here I get my best work done after school. I’m rarely disturbed then, although it would be easier if I could get straight into it as soon as the kids leave, rather than doing 15-20 minutes gate duty, but life’s like that. I also find if I put in one good solid day at the weekend, then I can get away by 5pm during the week, and some days even earlier. That’s still 10 hours, but better than 12 hours!

I think I need to set a goal about getting away by 4.30pm 3 out of 5 days by the end of October. That sounds doable! Thanks for the great day-to-day tips.

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23 Angela Watson October 5, 2012 at 9:52 am

Hi, Karen! Thanks for sharing your plan. It’s cool to hear how different things work for different teachers. I do know people who prefer to work a day over the weekend so the weekday is not so draining. I did that for a short time, actually, when I was new to my state AND grade level. Sundays I worked about 12 hours to plan and prepare, but I was able to get away by 4 or 5 during the week so it was worth it to me.

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24 Penelope October 5, 2012 at 11:51 am

I’m teaching a new subject, AP government, for the first time this year and I’m finding it impossible to work reasonable hours. The problem is that not only have I never taught an AP class before, I haven’t taught government before. Sure, I took it in college, but that was 10 years ago! It’s not like asking me to start teaching a class on 20th century history or the Renaissance – I’m doing a lot of learning with/just ahead of students. On top the regular work of planning/grading I’m doing all the readings I assign the kids 3 times (skim to preview weeks ahead, read and take notes like they will, read to review just before teaching that section) and also a ton of “research” to find outside resources to bring in because if all I’m doing is teaching what’s in the textbook, why bother teaching?

That said, the point about grading stuff right then vs taking it home is one I need to remember more often. When I grade things right away, not only does it save me work later, but it’s also more valuable to me than the students. When an assignment sits for a week before I grade it, any feedback I give is pointless to most students and I honestly don’t care as much about it because I’ve moved on with them.

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25 Angela Watson October 7, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Thanks for leaving such a thoughtful response. I’m glad this post is sparking so much discussion about grading things right away–that’s something I really haven’t thought about much, and it’s so important, both in terms of time management and in terms of being meaningful to students. I know your year will get easier as you become more experienced in teaching AP government. Hopefully you’ll be teaching the same course again next year and can reap the benefits of all those long hours this year!

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26 Jenny October 23, 2012 at 2:27 pm

I was lucky enough to receive one iPad for our class this year, and this is one of my favorite uses for it. I use Engrade, which is a free online gradebook, and their app has a really fast scroll-bar for inputting grades. For something like math journals, especially, I find that it’s so much easier to grade an entry as students finish by walking around the room with the iPad instead of collecting all of the notebooks to grade later and then passing them back out.

I think it would work just as well with a paper gradebook, but as someone who prefers an online gradebook, it’s so nice to be able to carry it with me!

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27 Angela Watson October 29, 2012 at 9:33 am

Jenny, that’s a wonderful tip! Thank you for sharing it.

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28 Sherry October 6, 2012 at 10:04 am

Thanks for the great suggestions! It makes me feel better to know teachers outside my school are working as many hours as I am! I live about 5 minutes from the school where I teach. I also like to go in early to make copies or to do last minute things to prepare for the day. I worry about neglecting my own children so I go to school at 5 am and work for an hour or so and then go back home. That way I can get my kids up and take them to school. As they have gotten older , their afternoons are busy with school activities and this is our best time to “talk”. I would love to hear how other teachers are coping with the many changes from the Common Core Mathematics Standards. I have a new course of study, new textbooks, new TI Nspire CX calculators, and new class management software. More to do than I could get done in a 40 hour day!

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29 Angela Watson October 7, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Ah, yes, CCSS, the biggest time suck of them all! I can’t imagine how many billions of hours have been spent by educators nationwide as we learn, prepare, and implement the new standards. I am counting on that hard work paying off, and am hoping it will be for the benefit of students.

I know many moms who worry about balancing their own kids with their students. Most teachers I know seem to work fewer hours once they have kids. They adopt the attitude of “If it doesn’t get done, it doesn’t get done. My own kids are more important.” I can totally understand that. Sometimes it becomes more apparent how much extra work we create for ourselves and how much we can actually scale back and still give our students a fantastic education.

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30 Rachel October 6, 2012 at 3:11 pm

We all get those kids who come begging to help…let them! As long as you insist that they get outside and have some playtime too. ;)

I had a group of six kids who turned up at my office every lunch time, and I’d give them the piles of writing books to rule off and be sticker’d. Since I edited and wrote in comments during the writing lesson, by the end of lunch, after ten minutes from my little helpers, the writing books were ready for the next day, saving me a good 40 minutes of work.

The kids who get to school early (at my school, they’re allowed onto school grounds at 8:15, 45 minutes before school starts, and I always had four who arrived the instant the bell rang at 8:15) love time with the teacher. I saw so many of my colleagues staying late at night to trim art, mount it on other paper, hang it, etc. I would do that in the morning with my early birds. I’d do the sharp bits, they’d do the rest. They felt involved and NEEDED and it was the perfect time for them to share thing they’d been worrying about, since it was in a small group, and they were doing something else at the same time.

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31 Angela Watson October 7, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Glad you mentioned this, Rachel–the students can be a tremendous help in the classroom, if we are willing to let go of our expectations about things being done “our way”! Your tips are great. Thank you!

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32 Fern Smith October 7, 2012 at 11:20 pm

#5 is so true. As team leader I answer my team’s questions during lunch and recess…I constantly ask them not to wait/worry until our meetings. It gets a lot done, but we also enjoy being together during this time. Many people say they work 70 – 80 hours and have so much to do on the weekends, but those are the people we NEVER see working, just walking around “hanging out.” Many times I pack up at our 3:15 end of day time and go to the public library a few blocks away. I can put in a good hour uninterrupted and be done with my workday by 4:15! Then when I do get home, my teens, my dad, my dogs and my hubby have me as a person and not a teacher still working….
Thank you for the great post!
~Fern

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33 Angela Watson October 8, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Hi, Fern! You bring up a good point–there’s a big difference between working and being at work. There are certainly people who waste time and hang out and then complain about leaving school late. It’s really important to consider how we use our time and cut out habits that don’t serve us well. I like your idea of working at the library–that way you’re not distracted by anyone like you would be at either school or home.

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34 Lyn Huston October 9, 2012 at 8:30 am

Great suggestions! I also choose to go in quite early and try to get out the door in the afternoon on time, because I recognize that I’m far more productive early in the morning, undisturbed, than in the afternoon. The phone rings far less often between 6:00-7:00 in the morning than it does between 3:00-4:00 in the afternoon! The periodic cleanups of a few minutes throughout the day really does work, as well. I loved your suggestion that bulletin boards (beautification) should be something you can change out with minimal effort throughout the year, and that students can have a large part in their creation.

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35 lori reurink October 13, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Our school district is requiring more and more janitorial duties to be done by teachers. Something I’ve done for many years is assign each child a job each week. These jobs range from mailbox supervisor, to desk cleaner, to garbage can specialist. At least the some of the house cleaning is done every day and by students who are learning to be responsible and having pride in the way our room looks. Credits to flylady.net :)

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36 Angela Watson October 15, 2012 at 9:33 am

Lori, I agree that student jobs can be tremendously helpful to the teacher! You’ve done a great job picking tasks that are actually valuable and not just busywork to make the kids feel like they’re contributing something. (I have more on class jobs here.) Flylady is awesome! Glad you gave her a shout out.

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37 fred October 13, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Hi Angela. I’m a french school teacher and for now I spend often 60-70 hours a week for my work and actually… I’m sick (burning out). So I’m going to try to follow your advice. But in my country (or rather in my city) kids are in class from 8:00 to 5:00 pm. It’s late. Not so much time after the class pour correct, photocopies, etc….
More : “Replace worksheets with hands-on activities.” : In France we have to do write lots of things to our students which must be check of course. Too bad!
I already use the advice 2 and 6 :) and 4 is a very good idea.
So thank you and sorry for my english. I hope I’ve been clear…

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38 Angela Watson October 15, 2012 at 9:30 am

Wow, those are really long days! That must be very difficult. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

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39 Gretchen October 15, 2012 at 7:53 pm

I think the best way to save time is to make my students as independent as possible. The more they do, the less I do and have more time to accomplish other things. Of course, the beginning of the year is a lot of ME and not so much them. But, believe me, this time of year…I am gladly passing on those duties. Classroom jobs are the easiest way to accomplish this. Also I want to add that it is a good idea to take care of yourself or you won’t be able to take care of your students. BALANCE is key. Start delegating today. They can handle it! :)

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40 Angela Watson October 21, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Great advice, Gretchen! I love classroom jobs, too–I would be lost without them!

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41 cbyr October 22, 2012 at 12:27 am

As a high school teacher, when I was looking to delegate a job to a willing student I found the best way to find that willing student was to write the wrong date on the board. I usually just “forgot” to change it from the previous day. The one who comes up to helpfully point out that the date is wrong is usually the perfect person for the job. :)

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42 Angela Watson October 22, 2012 at 11:13 am

Hah, that’s funny! I love the way students will naturally start taking over responsibilities in the classroom when they feel a sense of community. There are many times I’ve seen kids just step in and do things that need to be done without being asked. That’s awesome.

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43 Ellen October 29, 2012 at 8:13 pm

I’m a first year teacher in middle school and I am overwhelmed with hours. Not only do I have to prepare the usual stuff, I’ve never taught anything before so I have to spend twice as long thinking of ideas, creating materials and copying them! I come home every evening between 7 and 8 with a terrible headache. I can’t make it to bed before midnight and my alarm rings at 6. I’ve kind of given in to the idea that this is how my life will be for a year or two before I can get the hang of it. I just hope I don’t end up changing schools this year!

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44 Jacqueline October 30, 2012 at 9:29 pm

I am a intern in a kindergarten room right now and it is amazing to hear that I am not the only one struggling. I agree with coming in early to get work done because I have found I am wiped at the end of the day. It gives me the time to get things done so little busy hands can be occupied. After reading this I realized I am presently experimenting with all of these right now and trying to find a balance. As a intern, I really think this is something every intern should read to help and teach us how to find that balance because at the start it is really tricky.

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45 Angela Watson November 1, 2012 at 10:31 am

Hi, Jacqueline! Interning is an exhausting time, no doubt! Keep experimenting and finding your balance. I don’t think anyone ever straightens their priorities out once and for all; it’s really an ongoing process.

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46 Olga October 30, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Well I work in Texas. I teach 5th grade science and social studies. Our school day starts at 7:45 am! It lasts until 3:30! I only have a 30 minute lunch and a 45 minute conference time while my students are at PE. I do have kids trade and grade as I review homework. I also utilize bell work although there is no way I could do administrative tasks while they do their bell work. My principal expects us to constantly, actively monitor by walking around. I am required to format all my lessons onto a PowerPoint template that follows the same routine each day. The experiments change daily but throughout the unit we must review the key understandings, vocabulary and guiding questions daily. After the lesson we are required to do small group instruction during which time I will target specific, prescriptive skills with struggling students. This involves keeping a running record of participation, skills covered, progress monitoring etc. for each group. I do get students to maintain their organization and cleanliness. Plus, I rely on student helpers for tasks such as feeding the fish, watering plants, organizing books, and writing the date on the board among other things. Students are always ready to help. I would love to structure my classroom the way I want it, but these are the expectations set forth by my principal. Many times we have prior obligations to attend to during our conferences- such as meetings, parent conferences, or assemblies with the students . After school, I have copies, lesson plans, diagnostic reports, prepping for tomorrow’s experiments, meetings, practices for my academic competition team, PTO meetings and maybe I get a moment to check my email. I always look at the clock around 4:30 and say, “Today I will leave early!” But come 5:30, I am still there, trying to finish up!

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47 Angela Watson November 1, 2012 at 10:30 am

Hi, Olga! That is a long school day–wow. Your principal’s expectations sound pretty familiar. They make sense, but they’re not sustainable for 8 hours a day. You have to sit down sometimes, but you don’t have to sit at your desk. Sometimes when my students did independent work and I needed to do paperwork, I’d sit at a table in the back of my room and have a few students who typically needed extra help sit there with me. That way if anyone walked in the room, it looked like I was either teaching a small group or providing individual assistance to students while they worked. And of course, I was–whenever those students had questions or got stuck, I was right there to help. I think that as a teacher, you have to do what you have to do to keep from burning out and take care of yourself, and sometimes that means coming up with creative solutions. :-)

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48 Marissa October 30, 2012 at 11:55 pm

I am a student teacher in second grade who was just given her own classroom last week! I am taking over a class that seemed to have no structure what so ever and the classroom is a mess! I find myself staying very late to try to catch up. It feels like the first week of school all over again. I am hoping with these tips I can get myself to a more reasonable schedule! Thank you for the advice!

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49 Angela Watson November 1, 2012 at 10:23 am

You’re welcome, Marissa! Congrats on getting your own room. I’m sure you’ll be working long hours at first, but it will get better over time!

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50 Mindy Lee October 31, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Regarding bulletin boards, using fabric is an even better time saver. I have used the same piece of fabric for 12 years. Put it up at the beginning of the year and leave it up all year. Use a plain color that will look good with anything you put up – navy blue and black work well.

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51 Angela Watson November 1, 2012 at 10:20 am

Great tip, Mindy! Thank you!

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52 Michelle R. November 1, 2012 at 9:37 pm

The biggest time saver I implemented this year was my AM book and buddy time as students start the day. I used to do AM activities but am teaching a 2/3 split this year. My new teaching partner has done book and buddies for ages. After the kids get checked in, lunch card, and what not, we do announcements, then the flag salute and then brain dance. After that they find a buddy and they read aloud to each other, switching after 10 minutes. They get to read any text, and many pick non-fiction. I can get all of my check in stuff done, and meet with kids for RtI time for math. No papers to grade, and it’s simple for subs too! I love it! I try to implement the other stuff you suggested, but sadly, my days are longer due to my commute to work and back (it’s long so I leave early to get to work early and avoid traffic).

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53 Angela Watson November 2, 2012 at 10:59 am

That’s really cool, Michelle! Sounds like there are great benefits for you, your teaching partner, AND the kids. Awesome!

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54 Nicole November 1, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Great article! One way I have saved so much time with planning is to plan each work day as a specific task day. Monday is a day to make sure I have everything made and ready for each day of the upcoming week and putting it in folders that I have marked for each day of the week. Tuesday is my planning day for the following week, figuring out what to do, what I need to gather, make, or copy by making lists. Wednesday is a day of checking off that list. Thursday is to sit down and plan, making sure I have everything I need and know what I want to do. Friday, last but not least, is to clear out the room from unneccesary items, file things away and pick up. Every now and then I have to stay a little late or take things home, but I usually have my nights and weekends free. I do all of this throughout the day, during planning, and usually lunch.

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55 Angela Watson November 2, 2012 at 10:58 am

Love that system, Nicole! I’m so glad you shared that!

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56 Elizabeth November 24, 2012 at 5:40 pm

I am not a teacher who gives kids work to do and sits at their desk and watches. I am an active teacher who likes hands on activities. However, I have found that that having a class period for the kids to work on their own is a tremendous help to me. I teach four different classes a day (2 grades, but 4 ability levels) and I have found that if each class has one period every two weeks were they work on an assignment on their own I am given a tremendous amount of time to work. The kids don’t mind one period of working on an assignment (like a chapter review) every two weeks, because it is not an every day or even week thing. However, with two classes doing an assignment each week I am given two extra “grading” times each week. I don’t set the day in stone and only give an “assignment” day when it fits into our schedule and I can see an academic benefit from independent work. I have found that this time is invaluable!

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57 Claire@Keepsmeoutofmischief December 1, 2012 at 10:35 am

As a teacher in the UK I’m contracted to work 1265 hours throughout the year. Last year I kept a time sheet of the work I completed at home and at school and I’d completed these hours by the middle of February (our school year starts in September). I achieved this (possibly the wrong choice of words there!) despite scaling back the hours I did once I found out I was pregnant. When I go back after my maternity leave I’m determined to have more of a work-life balance; I don’t want to spend more time with my work than I do with my little boy.

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58 Susan December 20, 2012 at 8:38 pm

I love this! You have some great tips in this article- many of which go hand in hand with best teaching practices (like more hands-on activities.) I’ll be linking to you in my weekly recommended reading post.

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59 Andrea January 2, 2013 at 2:42 pm

I was a new teacher and taught for only 5 years. I have “retired” for the past few years to be home with my kids. That said, I was glad to take a break. I did all the management ideas you suggested from day one, super organized, went above and beyond for my students, and firm but kind. All of this was never enough for parents. All of these high expectations and ridiculous new hoops are due to parents and admin. I have not yet returned to the field but learning how to manage parents and admin would help me so I can keep doing a great job as a teacher. I should mention it was not that parents did or did not help in the classroom, the issue was they always wanted more for each student – insisting on telling how teachers do their jobs. Would you walk into a doctors office and order your blood work? No. There is simply a lack of respect these days and parents want things to be customized for them.
I wrote a huge thesis on Differentiating, which seems to always be a huge expectation. Differentiating lessons for each child every day is simply not practical nor realistic in the real world. A boss will not help you do your job by differentiating. I am concerned for our future, as teachers are blamed when students’ don’t thrive, and yet no one looks at how parents are raising their kids to be so entitled and disrespectful. Every year I would really help my students become better students but more importantly better citizens with life skills by learning how to work with others, be autonomous, being caring and respectful and simply always putting in their best efforts. Although my students and some kind parents praised my efforts, this always seemed to never be enough. I think I still need a break unless you have words of wisdom.

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60 Marisa January 3, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Andrea, I completely agree with you!!! You mentioned a thesis-do you have your Master’s? If so, consider teaching college. The responsibility is placed squarely on the students’ shoulders (as it should be!). If they are unsuccessful, it is their own fault. No one points the blame at college instructors like they do at public school teachers.
I teach in a school where 90% of our students are on welfare (read:coming to school sleepy, hungry, unprepared, no homework completed, etc) and yet my pay is based on their test scores! It is crazy! As soon as I complete my master’s my goal is to teach English at a Community College. Better pay, better working conditions, and far less work!

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61 Marisa January 3, 2013 at 11:45 pm

I love the first tip of more hands on activities!
Here’s another-a teacher once told me, “Never do for the children what they can do for themselves.” I teach kindergarten and you would be shocked at how those 5 year olds understand how to run the classroom! They handle snack, hand-washing before lunch, passing put materials, setting out centers, and even agendas. I do not do one single thing for them that I think they can handle on their own. Once I figured this out, my day went 100% smoother! PS, subs LOVE my class cause the kids do all the work!

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62 Erin January 18, 2013 at 9:37 pm

I have taught kinder for several years, and moved to 1st this year. One thing that helps me is a weekly accountability list. I have planned out and given myself a task to complete every day during my plan period. That helps me have a “focus” for that time, instead of wasting it away. I also have a list of which kids I meet with for 1:1 reading and writing conferences. So, my list may look like:
Monday – plan period focus: alternate math and literacy workstation activities as needed; Reading conferences: Students A, B, C, D; Writing conferences with Students I, J, K, L.
Tuesday – Plan Period: meet with mentor teacher; Reading conferences with Students E, F, G, H; Writing conferences with Students M, N, O, P.
Wednesday – plan period: go to book room to gather guided reading books for small groups, conference with same kids from Monday
Wednesday after school – meet with grade level team to plan together for next week
Thursday – write weekly newsletter, make copies for Friday Folders and for next week’s activities, Conference with kids from Tuesday
Friday – Stuff Friday Folders, Make up conferences with anyone who missed out, or with struggling students
This helps me hold myself accountable to use my time wisely. And I quickly realize if I’ve wasted my time when I find myself having to do these activities during an evening or weekend!

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63 Angela Watson January 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Very helpful–thanks for sharing!

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64 Giuseppina February 6, 2013 at 10:49 pm

Thank you so much for these great tips! Do you have any ideas for high school? Although these are super useful, it’s a different dynamic when you have 160+ kids in and out of your room every day.

Thank you!

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65 Caitlin February 10, 2013 at 8:15 pm

I teach high school SPED (severe/profound) so my situation is different. Just a thought, have the students switch papers with a peer once or twice a week, go over the homework together. Have the peer put the grade on the top of the page, circle it and sign their intials at the bottom. This will take out some instruction time, but will allow you to see how the students are understanding the information and will save you time after school, all you will have to do it skim the page and insert grades into your grade book. I also used Fridays as catch up days for myself and the students. I would give a short quiz, then if the students had all their assignments in, they got to choose an activity of thier choice, if not, they had time to make up work. At this time you can also have students pass back assignments that you have graded and put into your grade book already. You can also use the quizes to make sure your students have understood the material from the week, if not, you know that Monday needs to be a review day. Hope this helps.

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66 Hadar March 14, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Great post! I am always tidying up! It’s bc I’m obsessed with my classroom looking clean, but it really helps! And my students never leave the classroom for recess, lunch or to go home without cleaning up first!

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67 Rojolow March 14, 2013 at 11:45 pm

You may have addressed this already, but what subject and grade did you teach? Also, how long we’re your periods? I get 50 minutes in 8 periods a day. Not a lot of time can be spent on start of bell work. I find that is the time my students do their forgotten homework.

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68 Angela Watson March 27, 2013 at 3:45 pm

I taught PreK, 2nd, and 3rd (mostly third). You’re right that bell work cannot be very lengthy when you have 8 periods a day. I had 5, and they were flexible because I had the same group of kids all day long.

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69 Grace March 15, 2013 at 7:29 am

Any tips for how to handle times when co-workers come to complain or hang out because they have student teachers who do a lot of prep for them, while I’m trying to get what I need done? It’s been a real struggle this year and I always feel so behind, while others have time to go out and enjoy their weekends. Teachers who aren’t willing to put in the time to prep seem to be coddled because other people hand over their prep and plans. I’m going to start trying #1 with your creative solution. ;)
#4 is difficult for me because I have students who will not do their work if I am not watching them around the clock. This leaves little time to straighten up throughout the day. It’s hard for me to not notice and do nothing so that I can do things I need to straighten-even for two minutes. How would you handle this situation?
I try to get to school at least an hour early daily to make copies and prep for the day, but it is still not enough (#5).
Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and experience!

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70 Andrea Drake April 2, 2013 at 9:02 pm

I’m a first year special education teacher still working 75+ hours a week and Im exhausted. Any suggestions? I’d love to do morning work but my students aren’t very independent along with hands on activities. Any other suggestions?

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71 Erika April 20, 2013 at 8:04 am

My best friend/co worker and I plan/work several intense days over the summer..At the end of the previous year we make a list of what worked well and our “to do” list over the summer..We meet at the school, or at a coffee shop and plan/ make things for the next school year..We have even gone on a trip and intensely planned..Of course, we always bring our kids everywhere so it is actually fun. Our husbands watch the kids while we plan and we take breaks as needed to take care of them as well..We know that whatever gets changed for the next year has to be planned over the summer..It saves us so much time during the school year..With small kids we just do not work more than about 45 hours during the week unless absolutely necessary..

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72 Cheryl P. August 6, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Debbie,

I love your blog and have been working on a 40-hour-week since switching careers to elementary education seven years ago. My dilemma… How do you write lesson plans during the week? My stumbling blocks… (1) I don’t know what I will have accomplished this week to know where to start next week – especially with my gifted students. (2) Staying after school isn’t effective, because my co-workers would prefer to chat and have called me anti-social if I don’t. (3) By the time I get home and do the necessities there, I rarely have the energy for effective planning.

Any suggestions?
Cheryl

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73 Hilary August 8, 2013 at 11:12 pm

My favourite way to keep my classroom tidy and organised with little effort from me is the “lucky spot”. At the end of the day I pick a lucky spot and don’t tell the children what it is. It might be a piece of paper on the floor, a box of equipment or a shelf of books that needs tidying, a window that needs closing – anything. We then have our 2-3 minutes of tidy up time and the person – or people – who get the lucky spot get house points or a ticket in my ticket box (I draw out two a week and those children choose from the goody box of little stationery items etc). Of course I don’t tell them what the lucky spot was till the end of tidy up time! Our school cleaner comments on how tidy my classroom always is :o)

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74 Whitney October 14, 2013 at 10:39 pm

Hi folks! I can’t say I’ve got it all figured out, but I have a pretty balanced work schedule when I stay 1 hour late 2 nights a week, and put in one strong Saturday a month (3 or 4 hours). Those Saturdays are when I can plan ahead in quiet. I can also write more meaningful responses for their journals (I teach sixth grade English) if I am in a quiet, student-free room. For the weekdays when I stay late, I set a time limit, and whatever gets done by that time, is it. I prefer not to take work home, and it works for me: my time at home is MY TIME. I think the most important thing is that each teacher finds a “system” that works for them. Thanks for all of the very helpful responses, and best wishes for all!

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