In brief: Teachers seeking better work-life balance would do well to consider these ten major time-wasters.
No doubt like many other teachers nursing a glass of wine on New Year’s Eve, munching on gingerbread men in peace and quiet, you made a few resolutions….
“I’m going to make more time for my family this year.”
“I’m going to take care of my health and exercise every day.”
“I’m going to stress less and be more positive. I’m going to be God’s light!”
How’re those resolutions working out for you?
Let me guess…
Somehow the business of teaching has overcome you. Within a few weeks of January, you’ve turned from your jovial, light-hearted, Christmasy, all-is-right-with-the-world self to a snarling, spitting cat. Your resolutions, written neatly on a sheet of paper on your fridge, go unnoticed. When they are noticed, they serve as a bitter reminder of how teaching is once again overwhelming your personal life.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
While you may think you must be busy to be a good teacher, there are ways to slash serious time from your day to get back into your car and home to your kids at a reasonable hour. Here are the biggest time-waster traps I see teachers fall into (I speak from experience) and some ideas for fixing them. While my ideas may not suit everyone, they’ve certainly helped me. Take what fits you from this list of ideas:
“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”
― Seneca, On the Shortness of Life
- Sleeping in. Early morning, before students and other teachers come to school, is the best time to work. Motivation and self-control are at a peak at this time. No one is around to bother you. No one is around to ask for favours or seek tutoring. It’s just you, your desk, the paperwork, the marking. The Miracle Morning is a real thing. If you’re a late-riser, I suggest you make changes to get to school early. I did, and I started getting to school by at least 6:30 daily. It’s made all the difference. (Read about my miracle morning).
- Checking email more than twice a day. If you check your email at odd times in the day, you’ll fall prey to distracting emails. That email from an angry parent or an office manager can de-rail your whole day. Instead, check your email first thing in the morning and after school if you wish. Please, don’t check your email on the weekend.
- Hovering over students. When you’re done teaching a lesson, do you hover over students, checking if they understand, asking them if they need help? While you have noble intentions, your hovering only makes students more dependent rather than independent, and it cuts into valuable time you could use to mark or contact parents. I’m not suggesting you ignore your students, but I do suggest, as Michael Linsin does, to give students a chance to learn on their own and in the meantime get your work done. You’re only a few metres away if they need help.
- Venting & gossiping before and after school, and during preps. Many teachers who complain about not having enough time to get work done are also often to be found after school in the staff room or in halls dishing about the day’s events. Trust me, I know the allure of venting with colleagues because I’ve been there. But venting/gossiping wastes precious time and it poisons the school well. It also makes you appear untrustworthy. Instead, I suggest that you spend time with colleagues at lunch (or part of lunch) and then guard your time. If that means locking your door and shutting off the classroom lights save your lamp to get marking done, so be it.
- Staying long after school to mark. Many a teacher (especially teachers who sleep in, see #1) stays after school to mark once the kids are gone. Let’s be real. Ain’t no real marking being done. By the end of the day, teachers are too tired to mark properly or efficiently. Your willpower is exhausted. After at most an hour, get yourself into your car. (Read Paul Murphy’s article about why teachers are so tired at the end of the day or why teachers should just go home)
- Holding perfectionistic standards. Other teachers are held hostage by their own expectations. While editing a worksheet or a powerpoint, they agonize over the font type or the whether or not the picture of Shakespeare they uploaded is the right one. They wring their hands over the appearance of their classroom bulletin boards. Perfectionist teachers would do well to study their condition and realize when they’re deep in crazy-making perfectionism and say “not today.” (Read about perfectionism in teachers).
- Marking every little thing. Some of us believe marking everything our students write makes us A+ teachers. I disagree. It makes us B teachers– burnout teachers. Why not engage is more peer editing and mark selectively? What about marking an assignment for just one thing? What about using a marking code? (Read 11 grading hacks every teacher should know).
- Taking marking home. Like #5, recognize that marking at home often never gets done. If it does get done, it breeds serious resentment. Aim to come to school early to mark instead. If you must, do lesson planning on the weekend: it’s more fun.
- Signing up for too many committees. If your default response to any administrator/colleague request is “yes,” you will struggle. Of course, we all must do our part in the school and help out, but be reasonable. If you’re already coaching a team or running a club, limit your involvement in committees. Saying “no” to another obligation that drains you isn’t just about taking care of you; it’s about ensuring you can teach your students well.
- Caring too much about what others think. Many teachers are empathetic, social, and sensitive people. As a result, many spend far too much time thinking about what others think. Do my students like the class? Are my administrators happy with my work? Are the parents happy? Am I as good as teacher X? Deliberating these kinds of questions wastes time. Even worse, these kinds of questions leave us powerless because we put our worth as teachers into the hands of other people. There is another way- the teacher’s inner score card. It starts with recognizing your thought process and deliberately shifting to something else.
My hope for you is that the New Year’s resolutions you set come to fruition this year. Maybe this was the reminder you needed to cut out the time-wasters and make your goals a reality in 2019.
Are there any other ways you see teachers waste time? Please, share in the comments below!
To your teaching success and work-life balance,
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