“To the true teacher, time’s hourglass should still run gold dust.” ~Douglas William Jerrold
“These are the times that try men’s [teachers’] souls.” ~Thomas Paine
Conversation Starter: With all the demands on teachers beyond the classroom (extra duties, campus committees, new initiatives, etc) how do we capitalize on the time we have and keep our focus on our learners?
Amy: I am lousy at self-care, yet I know that is an important part (maybe the most important part) of time management. It is hard to take care of ourselves, physically,
mentally, emotionally, and spiritually when all require at least a little of our time–usually alone time–and others put demands on us we have little control over. My trouble starts within the school day and bleeds over into home time: excessive meetings where little get accomplished or co-opted conference periods or new accountability systems or school initiatives that do little to promote academics, especially literacy, are the biggest time swamps to the workday. New things so often trump what actually needs to happen regularly in classrooms. Every good teacher I know takes work home, and this is the work that usually requires the most mental capacity and relates directly to student learning. I think administrators forget that all too often.
Lisa: I spent some time in a school improvement meeting today, during which I wrestled with this very notion. How do we continue to work eight, nine, twelve hours a day without burning out? How do we face the fact that “hour number twenty-five” is never going to come to the rescue of our ever-expanding task lists? How do we devote ourselves daily to the exhausting pursuit of teaching, and have anything left over for family, friends, or even the pet goldfish? (I marvel at Doc’s resilience as the often neglected Dennis Family goldfish)
Most importantly, how do we make sure the precious few hours we have with our students in class, best reflect all the work we do outside of class on their behalf?
Amy: That’s where the routines of workshop keep me sane. No matter what anyone else demands of me, when I keep my focus on student engagement via reading, writing, listening, talking, and thinking together about issues they care about, utilizing our classroom library and writer’s notebooks, we accomplished something good that day. I
remind myself to step back, slow down, and focus on what really matters in growing confident and accomplished readers and writers: choice, access, volume, time, and my expertise as literacy instructor and discussion facilitator.
Lisa: Yes! I find that when I’m spinning out of control with all the “other,” my solace lies on the shelves of books that guide my work with kids. My refined definition of what it means to be a good English teacher includes taking time to lose myself in books, with the express purpose of bringing the mirror, window, or door back to my students through book recommendations, excerpts for mentor texts, and even just the calmer, happier teacher that reading makes me and that they deserve.
Now, as for overcoming all of the additional demands the job places on us these days, I am slowly coming to terms with (very slowly, as my mental health is still a bit tenuous in this regard) the fact that only I can create the personal boundaries around how much work comes home with me both literally and figuratively, and I absolutely must make it a priority to limit the extent to which this job becomes my entire life. This happens when I let go of what I think I should be doing, and focus instead on what’s most important.
Amy: Personal boundaries! Yes, yes, yes. I am pretty lousy at those, too. I am working on it though. One thing that’s helping me set myself up for success (and cope with everything else) is a combination of two time management techniques. It works like this:
- List 3 big (urgent, important, make-everything-else-easier-when-this-gets-done) tasks
- List 2 other important, but not so pressing, things
- Then, do #1 on the big list in sprints of the longest time chunk I can manage. Within the school day, this might be 15 minutes. Unplug, shut the door, and keenly focus.
Imagine the possibilities if we had the time to keenly focus on our students all the time?
Lisa: It’s so true. There’s always a ton to bring home. However, having a kindergartner at home has really put into perspective for me how much time I should be putting in at home when it now feels like it’s not only at the expense of my mental health but the well-being of my child. I limit the amount of work I do at night these days because spending time with my family and then trying to get a reasonable amount of rest before my alarm goes off at 5:00 a.m. may be the only thing between me and burnout right now.
I’ve taken the practice of one of our district administrators to heart this year and I’ve worked to keep my “school hours” to a twelve-hour window. I do not check my email before 6:00 a.m and I do not check it after 6:00 p.m. I am more than connected to colleagues and school happenings in other ways, so should there be an emergency or change of plans big enough to impact the following day, I’d still know about it. Beyond that, the homework “emergencies” of my students can be addressed the following day. I can follow up with a parent or colleague when I get into work. In this way, I can be more present at home when I’m there, and at least attempt to draw that line between my work and my life so that my time is better spent in both places. Now weekends…that’s another story. I’ve got some reevaluation of time management to do there, for sure, not to mention guilt around working AND not working.
Amy: Smart, Lisa! Your twelve-hour window is generous, and you are so right: That kindergartener of yours–and Doc the goldfish–need you! Everything else can wait.
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