Saturday, February 21, 2015

#Teach2Teach Q1: The Balance

How do you balance the workload between teaching and planning? 

This is a question that I have grappled with every week since I began teaching.  There are thousands upon thousands of new, great, creative and inspiring ideas out there...and I, for one, have been known to spend hours upon hours just pondering the philosophy of what I do in my classroom and why.  But, when the bell rings and the students file in, at some point I am going to have to actually teach, explain, and model all these fantastic thoughts.  And, if I'm not careful, my passion for deep thoughts will impede my effectiveness as a teacher.

I hate that last sentence.  But it has been true at different times in my career.

So, here is my best advice for anyone embarking on this intimidating adventure of education:  prioritize.  You cannot do it all today.  You cannot do it all this week.  But you can do it all (to some degree) this year if you prioritize your goals.  Easier said than done, for sure. If I'm being honest, the following tips are best case scenarios for me...they don't always happen.  However, they have become vital to me this year in particular as I try to manage time with my 5 month old and time at school.  So, take everything with a grain of salt and fit it to your style, but if you're like me this might help you balance your enormous "To-Do" list:

1. In one sitting, plan out an entire "unit" (chapter of a textbook, project, etc).   As any good education major knows, start with the end in mind.  Focus on 3-5 objectives that are vital to your students' success.  Look at a calendar and vaguely map out how long you want to spend on each topic.  If you're new to teaching, this might be a MESS at first.  Just jot it down, even if it changes daily, to give yourself a timeline to work from.  I write down what formative assessments I think I'll need along the way (not specifics, just where I think I'll want to quiz) to give myself some short-term goals.  If I have any specific activities already in mind, I write those down too, but I don't spend time "lesson planning" per say.  Just over-arching themes here.  This is normally a Saturday or an evening a couple of days before I begin a unit.
Calendar in my classroom for student use.

2.  Now focus on step-by-step lessons for one day at a time. I know not everyone has to do this to be a good teacher, but I definitely did at the beginning (and still do when coming back from summer break, Christmas break, etc until I'm used to it again).  Using the general timeline you made for the whole unit, look at the activities you want to do on the first day.  I usually split mine up into a "Para Empezar", a few activities as a class and a "Tarea/Salida".  I go into school, sit at my desk, and open all my files and cabinets for this step.  I make my copies for the week.  I post as many details as possible on my Teacher Webpage.  Rarely do we get to everything I've planned for a day, so as I look at specific details for Day 2, I adjust.  When I first started teaching, this was something I did literally the night before a lesson.  Now, I can do most of my detail planning on Saturdays for the following week.  The more detailed I get at this step, the easier everything goes on the day of the lesson.

3.  Mentally plan to spend 1 evening a week at school. When I say evening, I mean an additional 2 hours after school.  I advertise to my students that on Thursdays from 3-4 I am theirs.  They can study with me, ask questions, make up assessments, work ahead...whatever they need.  Then, I usually stay until 5 working on my own organizational nightmares.  When I first started teaching, this was every night of every week until 6 or 7...or 10pm.  I simply cannot commit to that anymore, so I make stringent limits for myself.  This is not planning time; it is essentially additional teaching.

Baby Girl comes to Momma's study sessions.

Students at study session after school.

4.  Grade immediately. My policy has become that if I cannot grade it and get it back to them the next day, it is not worth assigning.  My first year, I was the teacher who put stacks of worksheets in a random desk drawer and ended up throwing them away the day before grades were due out of total frustration.  I've learned now that feedback must be immediate and consistent in order for it to affect learning.  So, when baby girl goes to sleep, Momma gets out a stack of exit tickets or quizzes and grades while she watches old Tonight Show episodes online.
First year frustration:  Why did I assign this nonsense?!

5.  Dream!  After you have mapped out your unit, zoomed in on what you will do tomorrow, set aside time for students, and graded what you've you can change the world!  Or, at least, this is what I tell myself.  It's like a reward system:  if I've done the tedious items above, I will allow myself to #langchat, to read up on blogs (Maris Hawkins, Amy Lenord, Sr. Howard, yeah, I'm looking at you!), fantasize about future field trips and delve into what practices I've let slip into my routine that are not aimed at proficiency.  If I do not let myself get to this step, I wither away.  If I let myself start here, I'm about in tears by 2nd period because nothing seems to be going right.

Field trip to La Carniceria!!

As I look over what I've written, I'm amazed by how crazy it looks. But, it is honest.  I force myself to plan the little things (what I assume most people see as teaching) and reward myself by planning the big things (the things I LOVE to incorporate, but the things that are sometimes too huge to tackle everyday).  To teach, you must define what is most important for your students and put that first.  To teach effectively, happily, and for many years, you MUST define what energizes you and purposefully put doses of that into your life as well.  

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