Preventing Teacher Burnout – Part 8: Leverage Technology

teacher burnout

“If the computer can grade it, it should” — Alice Keeler

I used to attend the Michigan high school basketball finals. I was always struck by how many assistant coaches these high schools had sitting on the bench. One school, a perennial power that happened to be a private academy, had six assistants. They had seven coaches for a team of 15 kids. Imagine what we could do in our classrooms with that many caring, knowledgeable adults willing to donate their time and energy to helping kids learn.

I’ll avoid a digression here about the value our society places on sports over the value they place on education, and just say this: Most teachers would love to have even one assistant teacher in the room. One of them could teach the lesson while the other worked with those who needed more intensive help. One could instruct while the other monitored behavior. One could grade math tests while the other lectured.

Thanks to technology, teachers can do exactly that. They can clone themselves. Flipped lessons make you a double. They save you time.

If your teaching is anything like mine, a lesson that should take 20 minutes often takes 30. I stop to redirect students. I repeat things that I know students missed. I’m interrupted by the damn intercom.

There are other problems with whole group instruction. I’m never sure if I’m going too fast for students. I don’t always know when I need to hit an important point again. A kid asks to use the restroom right in the middle of a lecture, and despite knowing he’s going to miss important information, I let him go because it’s far, far worse to risk him having an accident in his seat.

All of those problems are solved with video lessons. I never have to stop teaching. Students can rewatch parts that are confusing. If their neighbor is distracting them, they can hit pause, move somewhere else, and replay the parts they missed. They can stop the video while they go to the bathroom, or get a Kleenex, or sharpen a pencil. They can even be absent and not miss anything upon their return.

And while you’ll need to invest some time up-front to make the videos, you’ll save it on the back end. While students watch the video, you are freed up to do other elements of your job. Meet with a small group.  Pull students back one at a time to discuss a math concept they’re struggling with or to conference about their writing. Take care of a few administrative tasks while they’re busy learning from your digital clone. Assign some work in Google Classroom. Grade a few tests. Provide digital feedback on work they’ve submitted. Since you’re not physically teaching, you’ve created time that never existed before.

Making instructional videos is my favorite way to leverage technology to save time and get other things done,  but it’s far from the only one. If you’re fortunate enough to have a class set of devices, you might also consider trying some of these three other ways I use technology to save time:

Google Docs

I still see the value in the printed word, so my students do their brainstorming, planning, and drafting in a journal. But once they’ve put their ideas on paper, I have them type their work in a Google Doc. I do this within Google Classroom so I can look at their work at any time. In fact, once the mini-lesson for the day is over, that’s what I do. I stand at my computer and try to get through 10 students’ writing in a 20-30 minute writing period. I provide feedback, both good and bad, and I try to limit the number of comments I leave because no one needs 10 things to work on. In this manner, I save time because commenting digitally is much faster than meeting with students.  There are a number of other advantages to having students write in Google Docs. I’ll talk more about this in part 9 of this series, “On Writing.”

Ask a Question in Google Classroom

I love Google Classroom. It serves as the central hub for my resources and students complete most of their assignments inside of it. One of my favorite features is “Ask a Question.” Instead of reading and then answering comprehension questions, students read or listen to selections from our reading program and then answer a question I pose in Google Classroom. This is where I have students practice responding with text evidence. Once they’re done, they’re required to give three classmates feedback on their answers. I also try to provide feedback on each answer (and I usually can, something that would be difficult on paper), but even if I don’t, I know that they’ll hear from a number of their classmates. In the past, I would have had a stack of papers to take home. Now, as they write their answers, I sit with my Chromebook open and read their responses as they come in. If they need to fix something, they know within minutes based on the feedback they get from me and their classmates. I’ll write more about other uses of the Ask a Question feature in another post. There are lots of applications.

Instant Feedback

I no longer grade any math except the paper tests I give students 12 times each year. That’s because Alice Keeler is right. If the computer can grade it, it should. Most of the math students do is practice. They need to know whether or not they’re doing it right, and I need to know who needs more help. Our district-adopted math program has daily practice aligned with each day’s lesson in digital form. After the “I do, we do,” part of the lesson, students work independently and the program provides instant feedback. There are also resources that allow students to understand and correct their mistakes. When students are done with their daily work, they have a number of other online options for extra math practice. I use Prodigy, Xtra Math, and Multiplication.com. All give students feedback that would take hours (if not days) for me to provide were they doing everything on paper.  The reports I can generate also let me know very quickly who gets it and who needs reteaching and extra practice.

One criticism of technology in the classroom is that it’s sometimes unnecessary. Having students do what amounts to a digital worksheet is no better than doing a paper worksheet. That’s true. Except when it comes to my time. Copying a paper worksheet and then taking a stack home to review takes much longer than assigning one in Google Classroom and having the ability to pull up each student’s work with a click or two. While technology can be used to improve instruction and to engage students, it can also benefit teachers by streamlining processes and creating time where it didn’t exist before.

There are, of course, a ton of ways to use technology in the classroom. Two of my favorite go-to people are Matt Miller and Alice Keeler. Follow them on Twitter and you’ll get a steady stream of ideas. Look for those that benefit kids but also help you by freeing up your time so that you have less work to take home at night.

Have you checked out the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club yet? If you’re serious about reclaiming hours of life, click here to see what it’s all about.

Other Articles in this Series:

Part 1: Why Teachers Fail to Protect Themselves From Burnout

Part 2: Make a Plan

Part 3: Say No

Part 4: Slash Your To-Do List

Part 5: Optimize Planning Time

Part 6: Ditch Homework

Part 7: The Common Core Advantage

Preventing Teacher Burnout – Part 7: The Common Core Advantage

teacher burnout

Note: Parts of this post first appeared in my book, Exhausted.

Do you make your own clothes? Do you grow most of your own food? Did you build the car your drive? Not me. Those things are time-consuming, I don’t know how to do any of them, and I can go somewhere and buy all of them for less than I can make them (especially when you factor in the costs of inevitable mistakes).

Have you ever designed your own science unit? Do you make your own writing rubrics? Write your own tests? Ever create your own worksheets? Why?

Once upon a time, people did have to make their own clothes and grow their own food. And once upon a time, teachers did have to create their own instructional materials. They don’t have to anymore. Times change. And one of the biggest changes to education in the last twenty years was the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) by most states.

It’s safe to say that the Common Core wouldn’t exist without Bill Gates’s money and influence. Gates once participated in an interview with the American Enterprise Institute, and spoke about his efforts to promote the Common Core:

“If [states] have two [sets of standards] they’re comparing, they ought to probably pick something in common because, to some degree, this is an area where, if you do have commonality, it’s like an electrical plug, you get more free market competition. Scale is good for free market competition.”

Scale is also good for teachers looking to spend less time making stuff.

Since nearly every state, even those that have nominally rejected the CCSS, has essentially the same learning expectations, there is now a mountain of available resources that align with the content educators are required to teach. Publishers have benefitted from the standards (as have sellers on Teachers Pay Teachers) because they can now sell to an entire nation of educators, not just those in their own states. Almost all of the online sites I use with my students did not exist before the Common Core State Standards.

No matter what you think of the Common Core or the motives of Bill and Melinda Gates and corporate publishers, every teacher should take advantage of the opportunity the standards provide to create less. There is almost never a good reason to spend your most precious resource making content anymore. Somebody somewhere has already invested the time and mental capital to do so. Take advantage of it, and spend your energies elsewhere.

The first place to start is your district-adopted curriculum. As much as teachers might resent being handed a program and told to use it, your district is doing you a favor when they do so.

To read more on this topic, check out this article: Expertise, Experience, and Ed Reform

I don’t love being told what (or sometimes, how) to teach. I resent the declining autonomy teachers have over the curriculum. But I’m also a realist and a pragmatist. I know that just because I create something does not make it better. I also know that when my district tells me what to teach and provides me the materials to use, they are freeing up hours of my time that I would have used locating or creating instructional materials. I can use that time for more important things. Stop looking for better lessons. Teach the ones your district paid for. Use your energy to bring life to them, not to create whole new units.

If your district hasn’t approved a curriculum, and you’re left to find lessons on your own, then hop on the Internet. Thanks to widely adopted standards like the Common Core and the NGSS, you’ll find no dearth of content. Don’t recreate the wheel. Use what someone else has already made.

Finally, If creating is really important to you — if it’s one of the main reasons you went into teaching — then go for it. Create as much as you want. Sell your stuff on Teachers Pay Teachers. There’s nothing wrong with creating content. Some people love to do it. The rest of us benefit from these creators’ work.

Just don’t complain about working 50-hour weeks.

Nobody is making you. There is no need to create yet another lesson on friction or another personal narrative rubric (I recommend a single point rubric, incidentally). That’s your choice. Recognize it as such. And if cutting hours off your workweek is a priority for you, then stop using your precious time making stuff that already exists.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can do fewer things better, check out Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Workweek Club. You’ll get new tips every week and access to a ton of resources to help you cut back without sacrificing effectiveness. In fact, prioritizing your time will help you be a better teacher.  It’s great stuff! If you’re not sure if the club is right for you, then click here to take the 12 question, personalized quiz to see what results YOU can expect with the club.

Preventing Teacher Burnout – Part 6: Ditch Homework

teacher burnout

Homework: It’s as American as apple pie, baseball, and crushing consumer debt.

But why do you assign it? Have you really thought about it, or are you assigning it because you think it’s expected, or because parents might think you’re “easy” if you don’t, or because your principal wants you to, or because it’s just what teachers do? You had it. Your kids have it. Why shouldn’t your students?

I don’t know whether homework “works” or not. There are all sorts of studies that people on both sides of the argument cite. I do know that grading it is a huge waste of time. There are only three reasons to grade student work:

1. to assess students’ learning in order to adjust instruction or intervene with students who don’t understand

2. to provide feedback to students on their work so they will use that feedback to improve

3. To report a grade that represents student knowledge or skill acquisition

Grading homework doesn’t do any of the above.

Once the work goes home, you have no idea who actually does it. You therefore have no clue whether the information you receive from grading it has any validity. A student who completes the work correctly may need more help, but you’ll never know because her brother did it for her. A student who understands the concept perfectly may not have completed the assignment at all because a.) it’s a waste of her time or b.) her parents weren’t around to make her do it.

Most students don’t care about your feedback once the work is done. For them, the assignment is over.  All of those comments you wrote in red ink might as well be invisible. Some teachers try to get around this by allowing students to improve their grade by fixing the areas in need of improvement. Whether you make this voluntary or required, most students balk at the offer. It’s like telling a chef who has prepared a meal to re-season the food and stick it back in the oven. They could, but they’ll resent it, and you probably still won’t love the final product anyway.

It’s wrong to use homework for report card grades. Grades should be summative. Homework is supposed to be practice. Practice is for getting better so that when the game is played we have a chance of winning. Practice is for making mistakes and learning from them. Students shouldn’t be punished for doing the very thing they’re supposed to do when they practice.

If you’re including homework as a factor in your students’ grades, you might very well be grading your student’s mother. Whether or not the homework gets done is more a reflection of the student’s family and not the student. Students shouldn’t be rewarded or punished based on how well or poorly they did in the parent lottery.

Maybe you’re assigning homework as a way to teach responsibility and time-management skills.  First, you should know that no study has ever been conducted to see whether homework increases students’ responsibility. Second, even if you believe that homework teaches important soft skills and keeps parents informed, you have to consider the trade-offs. Teachers complain about giving up hours of their personal time to grade student work, but don’t think twice about eating up students’ and parents’ nights assigning the stuff. Time spent on homework –for all parties involved — is time not spent on other things. 

I could go on, but so many other people in education already have. If you want more information check out the following three books, which go into much greater detail on why teachers should stop assigning homework:

Ditch That Homework

The Case Against Homework

The Homework Myth

Since this is a series for teachers who want to avoid burnout by cutting hours off their working career, let me be blunt. Even if you require homework (or your district requires you to assign it), you shouldn’t be grading it. Check it in or just throw it in the circular file. Don’t waste time on it because it doesn’t give you useful information. Getting rid of homework is an easy way to cut hours off the amount of work you take home, and it’s easily justified.

My personal feeling here is that if you’re not going to look at it (and there’s really no reason to, except guilt), then you shouldn’t assign it in the first place. If you don’t assign homework, you don’t have to grade it. Choosing to not assign homework is the easiest way to cut the amount of work you take home at night. You want your nights for yourself. That’s why you’re reading this series. Your students want their nights for themselves, too. So do their parents. Save them, and yourself, the time. Just ditch the homework.

If you’re interested in a more comprehensive program for cutting hours off your teacher workweeks, check out Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club (Affiliate link). You’ll get weekly emails for a whole year that will help you focus on what really matters so you can do less, better.

Other Articles in this Series:

Part 1: Why Teachers Fail to Protect Themselves From Burnout

Part 2: Make a Plan

Part 3: Say No

Part 4: Slash Your To-Do List

Part 5: Optimize Planning Time

If you’d like to receive the remaining four articles in this series as they are published, please subscribe to Teacher Habits. New articles will be emailed to you.

 

 

 

Preventing Teacher Burnout – Part 5: Optimize Planning Time

teacher burnout

Every minute of planning time that you waste is a minute you will have to work some other time. So if you want to cut the number of hours you spend on teaching, do not waste a minute of your planning time.

Many teachers do. Angela Watson, in her 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club, calls them “unintentional breaks.” Over at Smart Classroom Management,  Michael Linsin says, “Most teachers prepare inefficiently. They get distracted.”

We tell ourselves we’re working all day but sometimes we’re actually chatting with colleagues, making personal phone calls, checking personal emails or Facebook, or just sitting there staring off into space and trying to catch our breaths. It’s understandable. Teaching is exhausting and sometimes we just want a break.

But if your goal is to cut down on the amount of time you spend on the job so you have more time to spend on the rest of your life, then maximizing your planning time has to be a priority. You can’t do anything about the number of hours you are required to spend in your classroom with students. So if you’re looking to eliminate taking work home, then a large part of that has to be optimizing your planning time.

Personally, I hate donating time. Unlike money, I can’t make it back. So I protect my hours vigilantly. For me, that means making the most of the 45 minutes my school district gives me, as well as using class time to complete some of my professional responsibilities (a topic I’ll address in Part 10 of this series). Here is how I optimize my planning time:

Make a To-Do List Before Going Home

The last thing I do before walking out the door is sit down at my desk and write down the things I will do when I arrive the next morning. That way, as soon as I roll in, I can get right to work and start checking off items. Remember to consider each item carefully and ask the three questions all time-saving teachers must ask:

1. Is it necessary?

2. Is there a more efficient way to do it?

2. Could students do it instead of me?

To read about slashing your to-do list, see Part 4 of this series.

Come In Early

Most days, I have two planning times. The first is contractual. I get 45 minutes of planning time when my students are in specials. The second is voluntary. While this series is about avoiding burnout by cutting your hours, the one part of the day where you will need to donate some time to your district is before school. No matter how efficient you are, there just isn’t enough time in the contractual day to do everything you need to do. But if you arrive an hour before school and leave within 30 minutes of dismissal, you’ll still be on track to work 40-hour weeks, as long as you don’t take work home and remember to say no to additional responsibilities that will sap your energy and detract from your effectiveness in the classroom.

Here’s how my schedule breaks down:

8:00  Arrive at school

8:50  Students enter

8:55  – 9:40  Contractual Planning Time

9:40 – 12:20  Teach

12:20 – 12:55  Lunch

12:55 – 3:51  Teach  (20-minute supervised recess included)

4:20   Go Home

Each day works out to eight hours and twenty minutes, minus a duty-free 35-minute lunch, which puts me at seven hours and 45 minutes. I usually have one 45-minute staff meeting every Wednesday morning, so altogether I typically work 39.5 hours in a week.

Coming in an hour early means I have an hour and 45 minutes each day to do all the parts of my job that don’t directly involve kids (planning, checking papers, sending and replying to emails, finding and gathering resources, making copies, assigning things online, etc.)

If at all possible, your voluntary planning time should take place before school. That’s because one hour in the morning is worth two in the afternoon. As I explain in my book, Exhausted, people are more productive in the morning. They benefit from a full tank of willpower. They’re less likely to give in to distractions and temptations. They also benefit from Parkinson’s Law, which states that work will expand to fill up the time available. By coming in before school, you are up against a deadline. The students are going to arrive at a set time. This will force you to be more efficient.

Prioritize your to-do list

Upon arriving at school and reviewing my to-do list, I put first things first. Anything I can’t do while students are in the room gets done first. This usually includes all the copies I’ll need for the week and assigning things in Google Classroom. It may involve preparing resources for social studies or science for that day. I may need to locate a picture book that introduces a new unit of study. Goals for the day are written on the board, since my district cares about that sort of thing.  If I’m making a video for a flipped lesson, I usually make it before school on the day of the lesson.

There’s a concept Angela Watson shares in her 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club that saves enormous amounts of time. She calls it “task-batching,”  and all it requires is some organization and preplanning. A lot of the time, teachers do things as they pop up. They need 25 copies of a math worksheet, so they hit print and run to the copier to get them, only to repeat the process seven or eight times throughout the week. Angela recommends batching similar tasks together. If you’ve planned out your entire week, you ought to be able to make copies for everything, all at once, saving yourself endless trips to the copy room. Same goes for digital assignments. Assign everything for the entire week in Google Classroom and use a numbering system to keep track of them, as Alice Keeler recommends in this post. Do the same with email. Instead of replying as you receive them, schedule time in your day to do nothing except read and respond to email.

Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do with students in the room.  In the last article of this series, I’ll explain how I create time during the day to chip away at work I used to take home.  Grading papers, providing students feedback on their writing, and digitally assigning things can all be done at nearly any time of the day.

Be Antisocial

My wife is a lot nicer than me. She has one of those friendly faces that induce strangers to walk up to her and ask for directions. They never ask me.  That might explain why teachers rarely swing by my room to talk, while, if my wife wants to get any work done, she has to go somewhere else or hide in her room with the door shut and the lights off.

And that’s just what you may have to do. If you’re a friendly person like my wife, it’s going to be harder for you to optimize your planning time. Coworkers like to chat and planning time seems to be a favorite time. If you’re an antisocial grump like me (especially in the morning), people tend to avoid you. Which means you can work without being distracted. Set clear boundaries, either with your words or your actions, and you’ll be able to use your planning time to get work done.

Remember the goal. If you want to cut hours off your workweek, you’ll need to make sacrifices. Save the socializing for lunch. Get your work done during planning time.

 

The rest of this series:

Part 1: Why Teachers Fail to Protect Themselves From Burnout

Part 2: Make a Plan

Part 3: Say No

Part 4: Slash Your To-Do List

 

This article is a part of a 10-part series on preventing teacher burnout by cutting hours off your workweek. A new article will be published each day. If you’d like them emailed to you, subscribe to Teacher Habits.

All links to Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club are affiliate links.

 

Preventing Teacher Burnout – Part 4: Slash Your To-Do List

teacher burnout

 

Part One: Why Teachers Fail To Protect Themselves From Burnout

Part Two: Make a Plan

Part Three: Say No

Teachers have a lot to do. But how much of it really matters? What’s impactful? What will make a difference in your classroom? How much difference will it make? These are questions that teachers who hope to work fewer hours must ask. They must be willing to question everything they’ve done and everything they think they know about teaching.

In my book, The Teacher’s Guide to Weight Loss, I share how when I was growing up my mom never cooked fajitas. I didn’t have a fajita until I got to college. And when I had them there, I got them from a Mexican chain restaurant. I soon discovered that all of these restaurants served the meal in nearly the same way. You’d get a pile of steaming hot meat and vegetables served to you in a sizzling cast-iron skillet. You’d get three or four soft-shell tortillas wrapped in foil or hidden in tortilla-sized plastic container. You’d get a plate of toppings, some rice, and a pile of refried beans.

No matter where you went, you pretty much got the same amount of food. And it was usually more than I needed. When I started making fajitas at home, I made them the same way I was served them at restaurants, right down to the too-large portions and sides.

The same thing happens with teaching. We all grew up attending school and seeing teachers at work. We’re all conditioned to think certain things about the way we do our jobs. We accept timeworn practices like assigning homework, lecturing, and grading papers not because we’ve thought about them and declared them effective but because we haven’t thought about them all. They are the way things have always been done. They are the default.

But the way things have always been done isn’t really working for teachers. We’ve got a nation of stressed out, exhausted, disengaged educators who are counting the years to retirement or getting out altogether. Even many of our very best teachers jump ship at the first real opportunity.

If you want to stop burnout before it starts to sink its voracious teeth into you, you must start challenging the way you do things.

When looking at your to-do lists, ask these three questions:

Is it necessary?

Is there a way to accomplish it that will take less work on my part?

Can students do it?

Here’s a sample to-do list for a hypothetical third-grade teacher. See which things you can slash from the list without negatively impacting students. Are there things you just don’t need to do so you can have more time to do things that really matter, or, better yet, so you can have that time for yourself? Are there things students can do themselves?

  • Plan next week’s lessons
  • Create weekly parent newsletter
  • Update the class Weebly
  • Check student reading response logs
  • Send Remind message about today’s homework
  • Tabulate the percentage of students who did at-home reading and update the class chart.
  • Find games for the class Halloween party
  • Copy math homework sheets
  • Change the monthly calendar to November
  • Change bulletin board for the magnetism unit
  • Respond to emails
  • Copy math tests
  • Design the next science unit on magnetism
  • Locate materials for magnetism lessons
  • Copy spelling worksheets
  • Create an anchor chart for spelling patterns
  • Create a writing rubric for persuasive essays.
  • Find persuasive essay exemplars for practice scoring with writing rubrics

When you make cutting hours from your week a priority and you create a plan to make it happen, you’ll start looking for ways to optimize your teaching practice. You will question how necessary things are. You’ll ask if something that will take an hour is twice as impactful as something that takes 30 minutes. You’ll recognize that every decision involves a trade-off.

Starting with your to-do list forces you to ask the one question every teacher must constantly ask:

Why are you doing what you are doing?

Take the parent newsletter, a staple of most elementary classrooms. It takes you 15-20 minutes to create each week. How many parents read it? Don’t know? Find out. Put a simple request at the end of it. Even if parents do appreciate the information, do they need all of it? Would a simple three-sentence email sent to a group list get the job done just as effectively?

A colleague of mine got rid of her weekly newsletter and now only writes one a month. Not a single parent said a word about it.

Are you changing bulletin boards because the students benefit from them, or because you’re worried about what others think when they pop their heads into your room?

Does your classroom website help students learn? Does anyone other than you look at it? If not, why are you wasting time on it? Be honest with yourself. Are you doing it because it makes you look like a better, more tech-savvy teacher, or because your principal is a techy guy and you want to impress him, or because you’re lying to yourself that parents actually check it, or because what you really want to do is web design and not teach? If it’s not helping students, quit doing it. 

Is changing the classroom calendar the best use of your time, or could you have a student who regularly gets his work done early do it instead? Do you even need a calendar? If so, would printing off an already-made one suffice?

Why are you creating a writing rubric from scratch for your persuasive essay unit when there are a hundred available on the Internet that are just as good as anything you’re going to make? Do you really think your rubric creating skills are that much better than everyone else who’s made one and uploaded it?

Why are you still doing weekly spelling lists? Do they work? Are you doing it because parents like and expect them? Are you doing it to kill ten minutes every day? Are you doing it because it’s in your ELA program? Are those good reasons?

Can’t you create anchor charts while you’re teaching the lesson, instead of preparing them ahead of time?

You can ask these types of questions of everything on your list, and you should if you’re serious about cutting hours from your workweek. Minutes add up, and the fewer of them you spend on unimportant things, the more you’ll have for the good stuff. Become obsessive about questioning everything you do that sucks your time and you’ll end up with more time.

In case you’re wondering, here’s what the above list would look like if I had my way with it:

  • Plan next week’s lessons
  • Create parent newsletter
  • Update class Weebly
  • Check student reading response logs
  • Send Remind message about today’s homework
  • Tabulate the percentage of students who did at-home reading and update  the class chart.
  • Find games for the class Halloween party
  • Copy math homework*
  • Change the monthly calendar to November
  • Change bulletin board for the next science unit
  • Respond to emails
  • Copy math tests
  • Design next science unit
  • Locate materials for science unit
  • Copy spelling worksheets
  • Create an anchor chart for spelling patterns
  • Create writing rubric for persuasive essay.
  • Find exemplars for practice scoring with writing rubrics

Some explanations:

  • I actually create a weekly parent newsletter, but that’s because I enjoy it. Still, were I pinched for time, this is something I could remove and replace with an email or Remind messages.
  • I’ve had class websites. Huge waste of time. I use Google Classroom for everything now.
  • I don’t require reading response logs because they’re a good way to make reading a chore.
  • I send Remind messages, but not about homework. I only give homework to those parents who requested it for the year (11 out of 22)
  • I don’t track at home reading. I have in the past but those who read would have anyway and those who didn’t weren’t inspired to by my tracking of it.
  • Let parents plan the class parties.
  • I copy math homework for the parents who want it, which is a significant reduction over what I used to do.
  • The only calendar in my room is the lunch calendar, which works perfectly well.
  • I reserve bulletin board space for student work and class information.
  • There’s no point in designing your own science units when others have already done this work or when your district has adopted a science curriculum. Use what’s there. Even if you could make one that’s better, it wouldn’t be worth your effort.
  • No weekly spelling lists. They don’t work.
  • Find a rubric online or in your writing curriculum or check with a colleague.

When you look at every part of your teaching practice with a critical eye, you’ll find you’re doing a lot of things and you’re doing many of them for poor reasons. Slashing your to-do list is a way of saying no to those things that don’t accomplish your primary goal of educating the students in front of you. Break out of default mode and question everything. You’ll increase your focus and decrease the amount of time you spend on the job.

Angela Watson cares about the same things I do. She wants teachers to have long, fulfilling careers making a difference for kids in their classrooms. To that end, she has created the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. While you may not get down to 40 hours right away, you will carve out large blocks of time from your typical workweek. Like me, Angela is a big believer in to-do lists and prioritizing. As part of her club, you’ll get resources that will help you do just what I wrote about above. Check it out. The enrollment window closes January 9.

If you don’t want to miss the rest of this series, subscribe to Teacher Habits. You’ll receive an email each time a new article is published.