Some amazing friends, Amy Lenord and Karen Tharrington, got together and hatched a plan to have veteran teachers answer questions from pre-service teachers as they embark on their aventura nueva of a new career. I promised I’d join in, but it’s taken me a bit to get to that line on my to-do list. However, today was an ice day and that made it a “ketchup” day–where I “ketchup” on many of the things on my list that have been lingering for a while. Here are my responses to a few of the questions posed so far.
“How do all these teachers balance the workload between teaching and planning? Now that I am getting ready to perform all this work, I am beginning to wonder how anyone manages it at all.”
Number 1: it’s never all done. You will need to set some priorities and boundaries around your workload, but never expect to be all caught up–except maybe after several snow days! Once you come to terms with this idea, it helps. Figure out what has to be done, and make sure it gets finished. Then start chipping away at other things. Over time you will find some ways to help automate tasks and some strategies for speeding things along. Here are some that have worked for me:
- No schoolwork on Saturday. It’s a guilt-free day of rest and recuperation and time with my family.
- Always have something to grade with you. When you are at lunch duty, waiting for a meeting, or sitting in carpool, take advantage of those precious minutes to get a few more things done.
- Schedule certain things for certain days. Fridays in our class are pretty much always the same, which means that all grading that I have to do is in on Thursday, and I already have the planning done. In one of my classes, Mondays and Wednesdays always have one activity that’s the same, so that’s one less thing I have to plan. It also means that I probably have 1-2 planning periods to deal with paperwork before more comes in.
- Feedback is more important than grading. Seek ways of providing feedback, but don’t collect every.little.assignment.
- Be proactive with contacting parents. See some trouble spots? Call now. Introduce yourself, and explain to the child’s parent that you want him to be successful, but ___ behaviors are getting in the way. Solicit the parent’s help and suggestions in how to deal with the situation before it escalates.
- See if your school has a program of teachers’ assistants who can tackle some of the clerical work for you.
- Remember that school is important, your students are very important, but your health and family are the most important. Put them first so that you can take care of the other two.
- Every lesson won’t be totally awesome the first time around… or maybe the second… or the third… Commit to improvement before complete perfection in your planning.
How do you stay inspired and not get bogged down by the politics of teaching?
Choose wisely. Who are the people who are positive in how they deal with challenging situations? Who are the ones who seem to have positive, healthy relationships with students? Seek out these people. If you have a teachers’ lounge/workroom, it can be a good thing… but if you’ve seen Mean Girls, then know that those people age but don’t necessarily grow up. The lunch table scene from the movie holds true at some schools only it’s in the workroom. PS, if you haven’t seen the film and are planning to teach high school, you need to queue it up soon.
Develop a PLN locally and beyond–#langchat on Twitter is an excellent place to start. FLTeach can be good too. It’s an email-based service that has been around for ages, and it has a deep archive of ideas and lesson plans that are real treasures. Developing a network outside of your day-to-day world often helps to add perspective to tough situations.
Invest in your language skills. The more time I spend doing things I enjoy, but in my chosen language, the more ideas I get for class, and the more inspired I get about what we are doing. This in turn adds more enthusiasm and excitement to planning and to class, which then inspires me to do more… and on it goes.
What has been your most troublesome experience with teaching and how did you handle it?
A trip through history on this question: I had to deal with an aggressive parent bordering on stalking and sexual harassment at point where neither were illegal and/or commonly recognized yet. In one case a parent followed me, blocked my car in with his to prevent me from leaving, and did some other way over the line things that would now get him in trouble. At that time the laws were such that since he didn’t *do* anything to physically harm me in the eyes of the law he hadn’t done anything illegal. Fortunately, one of the veteran coaches and another parent saw this happening and stepped in and it ended there, but it was a scary time to be young, female, inexperienced, and feeling alone. All the more reason to develop positive relationships with your colleagues!
In the case of the sexual harassment situation, the climate has changed dramatically in 25 years. Whereas putting up with that used to be part of “being a team player”, now cell phone video availability + district policies make the overt harassment situations much less likely. If it were to come up today, there are procedures in place to address it and I would follow them. Your administration should take these types of situations very, very seriously. Document what has happened, record it if you can, and report it to your administration. You don’t have to go through this alone.
I hope this has helped! What other questions do you have? Submit them here!