Beat the Daily Grind: It’s All About Timing

Sunrise

Sunrise (Photo credit: Diganta Talukdar)

What is the first thing that you do when you get to school in the morning?  Make coffee?  Say hello to coworkers?  Write your agenda on the board? We all have informal habits that we go through. But every day it seems like there are more tasks to do, more phone calls to make, and more paperwork to complete.

During my first year of teaching I was constantly exhausted and overworked.  I thought that it was normal to spend hours planning quality and innovative lessons, stop spending time with other friends, and still have pages of my to-do list left to complete.  At the beginning of my third year of teaching at a higher-performing charter school in DC I was still spending about 12 hours every day at work.  At the end of my first month, my principal gave me the most enlightening advice that I have heard about teaching. Teaching isn’t about working harder.  It’s about working smarter.

After reading “The Together Teacher” in my third year of teaching, I realized that I was wasting a lot of quality time in the morning before school and in the afternoon when the students were gone.  One of my biggest takeaways was “Daily Routines: Making the Most of Openings and Closings”.  

I now plan my mornings and my afternoons. I do the same things every day (except for when those emergency situations arise).  I know that I am a morning person.  Once I have a cup of coffee, I’m good to go.  Some people prefer to get to work a later and do their work after school.  The important thing is to find a system and stick to it.

Here’s my sample morning:

  • Get to work at 6:50 AM with a cup of coffee in the car
  • Go to my classroom, put my bag by my desk, and put my wallet in my desk drawer
  • Bring my lunch to the faculty lounge and fill my water bottle
  • Double check that all materials are prepared
  • Work on my major project for the day
    • Finish unit assessment
    • Grade exams
    • Make progress on lesson plans for next week
  • Go to hallway duty from 7:45-8:15
    • Check email
    • Review my lessons for the day 
    • Greet students as they walk up the stairs

Now fast forward to the end of the day.  All of your students are gone and you are facing your classroom.  I used to waste this time after school by straightening desks and sharpening pencils.  Now, I know that my energy levels are depleted by 4:45 PM.  After duty ends at 5 PM, the last thing I want to do is activate my brain.  Instead, I do those l tasks that need to be completed the next morning and delegate menial activities to student helpers (if you don’t have any, enlist some!).  I post my afternoon list by my desk so that I can stay focused at the end of the day.

Sample Afternoon

  • Refill water bottle, make copies, and breathe
  • Put on calming music (my personal favorite), change the date on the board, and write the next day’s objectives
  • Recycle any extra paper
  • Make parent phone calls
  • Scan email for any urgent messages: Set aside longer emails for the next day

Are you a morning teacher or an afternoon teacher?  What are additional time saving routines that you incorporate into your daily routine?

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