In this episode of the Truth for Teachers podcast, you’ll get to listen in on a coaching call I conducted with a graduate of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club.

Her name is Taylor, and she’s a 9th and 10th grade ELA teacher. Over the past year, she’s been able to trim an astounding 20-25 hours off a typical workweek. Taylor described the club as her “lifeline,” because just over a year ago, she was, as she puts it, “at my wit’s end and very sleep deprived.” So she’s obviously doing a lot of things right when it comes focusing on what’s most important and letting go of the rest.

Taylor is now committed to being a class advisor, and that’s causing her to work a lot of additional hours. As we talk, it becomes clear that she’s going to have to eliminate some things from her schedule.

But, she’s getting stuck on figuring out what she can realistically say no to, especially when it comes to grading, which is what takes up the majority of her time. And, she’s having a hard time saying no to students when they ask her to do extra things for them.

Taylor’s given me permission to record our conversation and share it here with you. If you’re struggling with trying to say no to eliminate obligations from your schedule, click the player below to listen in, or skim through the show notes below.

Click the downward arrow above to download the audio and listen on the go!

The list-making system from the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club worked wonders for me. I’m doing so much better compared to before when I was working 80 hours a week. Now I’m at 55-60 hours on busy weeks and 48-52 hours on average. But I’m still hearing from my peers that I take on too much, and they’re right. What advice do you have to help me continue managing my time better until I can achieve some semblance of an out-of-school life?

  • If you’re hearing from others that you’re taking on too much, believe them. People don’t say this unless it’s true, and a real pattern in your life, and they’re seeing you suffer because of it. Take that seriously.
  • It’s time to eliminate some things. It’s very likely that you’ve been spending time trying to come up with systems to work more efficiently on tasks that really shouldn’t be done at all. If you feel like you are working all day long but aren’t making progress or getting ahead, you might be doing things RIGHT, but not doing the right things.
  • It might seem like, “But everything I do is important. I can’t cut anything out.” But listen to your gut feelings on this, and don’t let your brain start trying to make excuses or talk yourself out of it. What comes to mind immediately that you might be able to eliminate? Even if you don’t yet know how you’d do it…what does your gut instinct tell you needs to be eliminated?

I need to grade smarter. I get 5 page papers from each of my students and am spending 15-20 minutes grading each paper. I’m also grading lots of smaller assignments throughout the week.

  • In an ideal world, you’d be grading all of that and giving personalized and individual feedback on every assignment. But this isn’t realistic or sustainable.
  • So let’s think about what’s sustainable for you and meaningful for the kids. Is there anything you could change the way you grade? If it’s not a critical piece for assessing student progress, and if it isn’t genuinely strengthening student skills, consider eliminating the assignment or changing how you use it.
  • Avoid being nitpicky and correcting every error for students.
  • Use codes to give feedback instead of writing everything out.
  • When looking for more ways to streamline, ask yourself, “If I don’t grade this, will I still have an understanding of students’ progress? Is it really critical that I grade this assignment or can I still feel connected to what my students know without assigning a formal grade for this?”
  • Just because you would like to grade everything, doesn’t mean you actually can. This is a big mindset shift–there are a lot of things you’ll want to do as a teacher that you just can’t do from a realistic standpoint.
  • Ask yourself if and how students’ skills are improving because you’re reading and grading every single written response. If the kids are benefiting from the practice and not from your assessment/corrections, think about self assessment, peer assessment, or other methods of reflection.
  • For your weekly discussion questions, have students work on them in groups to talk about them and then present the results to the class (rather than you grading all of them yourself.)

I need to manage time better after school–a lot of it is taken up with handling make-up work. There are always at least 3 kids missing from class every time and so there’s constantly make up work. Even though students know what they’re missing, I usually take responsibility for reminding kids about deadlines, who still owes something, etc. I spend time after school trying to figure out who owes what.

  • Batch the grading: when possible, wait until all the make-up work has been turned in and grade the whole class’ work at once, instead of student by student as the work is turned in.
  • If you’re doing that and the problem is mostly collecting make up work–meaning it’s one more thing you have to keep track of–create a system in which students are in charge. Set something up (perhaps digitally) so the kids can check off the work as they turn it in and you can see at a glance who still needs owes work. It’s good for the kids to track their own assignments, but it should also be an obvious way for you to tell what’s outstanding without having to dig around.
  • I used to display a wipe off board with students’ numbers on it, and when they turned in the assignment, they erased their number from the board. I could easily see that students #3, 18, and 21 still needed to turn in X assignment.
  • Another idea is to keep a clipboard, with a list of who’s missing what. Teach students  a new procedure for turning in the work and checking off or crossing out their name. This will take the burden off the teacher and put the responsibility back on the students.
  • Setting up these systems takes time initially, but will really in help with student accountability AND clearing your mental head space so you don’t have to remember and track everything.

I’ve got a plan now! I’m going to focus on learning when to say no and deciding what I can cut out of my already busy life that’s in OUR best interests–mine and my students–instead of trying so hard to make everyone happy.

This podcast episode is sponsored by TheTeacherToolkit.com, a free website with over 60 teaching tools designed to help make your instruction engaging and meaningful. For each strategy, you’ll find step-by-step instructions, editable templates, and even video footage from real classrooms to show you the strategy in action. To check out these free tools and the growing collection of affordable online courses, visit TheTeacherToolkit.com.

Truth for Teachers podcast: a weekly 10 minute talk radio show you can download and take with you wherever you go! A new episode is released each Sunday to get you energized and motivated for the week ahead.

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