Throwing Your Hands Up Will Not Make Things Better

The other day, I shared the first in a series of articles I wrote last winter on preventing teacher burnout. The end of the article included links to the rest of the series. There are articles on saying no, leaving soon after students do at the end of the day, leveraging technology to decrease your workload, getting paperwork done while students are working, and a number of other topics. I recognize that not every one of my suggestions will work for every teacher out there. Some of us have tyrannical principals. Others may be hamstrung by awful contracts. I’m sure there are many teachers whose students do not have one-to-one devices. I get that not everything I suggest teachers do can realistically be done.

But a comment left by a reader illustrated the kind of defeatist thinking I hear from too many teachers. She told me my solutions weren’t practical for most teachers. When I asked for specifics, she wrote:

Many times teachers don’t have the luxury of individuals having their own technology. After-hours activities are often mandatory, and when students are doing independent work the teachers need to monitor for behavior issues, students who need assistance, etc. Coming in early and staying late are often the only opportunities to clean the rooms. One janitor for an entire school doesn’t cut it, and reports, progress notes, lesson plans, IEPs, and state-guided binders all have to be done after hours.

All of that may indeed be true. But the sentiment behind the words strikes me as something along the lines of, “Well, I’ll never be able to get my life back and feel less overwhelmed because all of these obstacles are making it impossible.”

The solutions I offer in articles and books may not work for everyone. They might not even be possible for some teachers. But I know what definitely will not make your teaching life better: resignation. Throwing your hands up in the face of challenges that make it difficult for you to remain enthusiastic about your job, that prevent you from getting home to your family and having needed balance in your life, and that make it more likely you will become discouraged, frustrated, and burned out is not a solution.

The point of my advice is not that you do x,y, and z and everything will be hunky-dory. The point is that you do something to make things better.

If your students do not have one-to-one devices, most of you can still use technology to cut hours off your workweek. Take students to the lab. Check out the Chromebook cart. Rotate students through centers to take advantage of the six laptops you do have. Write a grant for more devices. Get on DonorsChoose.

If your contract requires you to attend after-hours activities, then go. But don’t go to the ones that aren’t required. And stop telling yourself events are mandatory when they aren’t. A principal “expecting” you to be there isn’t a requirement. The fact that the rest of the staff has been guilted into attending does not obligate you to follow suit. If you’re worried about fallout, then talk to some veteran teachers. Ask them how many teachers in the past five years have been fired for not attending after-school events. I’m confident you’ll find the number quite low.

As for getting work done while you students work, yes, you may have to deal with behavior issues. But some of those can be solved proactively. Sit the troublemakers at the table where you’ll be doing your work. Name some high-performing, early-finishing student mentors to help those who need it. Partner those who almost always need help (it’s not like you don’t know who they are) with those who like helping and are always asking you what they can do next. Most importantly, establish early on what independent work looks like and have procedures students can follow when stuck that don’t require your constant availability. And if none of the above works, try something else. You have the right to go home at night and not have a pile of paperwork to complete, but that will only happen if you do something to reduce the piles of paperwork you are taking home. So do it!

If you’ve been teaching more than five years and you’re staying after school for three hours every night, then do something different. That’s not tenable. If the room is filthy and your one janitor can’t get to it, then figure out why it’s filthy and make a change. Papers ending up on the floor? Collect them as soon as students finish. Pencils littering the linoleum? Pass them out at the start of class and collect them at the end. Stuff falling out of kids’ desks? Take everything out of their desks and have them retrieve needed items from a central storage area. Stop ten minutes earlier and have students clean.

If you’re swamped by lesson plans, progress reports, IEPs, and state-mandated paperwork, then start using other people’s lessons, ask yourself if anyone is really going to miss a progress report once in a while (and if they are, can you simplify them?), push your district to schedule IEPs during the day (and if they won’t, talk to your principal about maybe lightening your special education numbers next year since you got hammered this year), work on the stupid state-mandated nonsense while kids take stupid state-mandated tests (and don’t put much effort into them–do you really think anyone is going to spend much time reading it?)

We all have obstacles that make our jobs harder than they need to be. If your goal is to reduce the feeling that you’re overwhelmed and to gain back hours of your day to devote to things you want to do instead of things you feel like you have to do, then do what it takes to make that happen. Go around the obstacles. If that doesn’t work, go through them. But whatever you do, don’t stand there pointing at the thing in your path, telling others how it stubbornly refuses to move out of your way.

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My books, Exhausted and Leave School at School both offer suggestions for how to make your teacher life my manageable. Some of those suggestions will speak to you, some will not. If you find that my ideas aren’t cutting it and are in need of different ones, then give Angela Watson’s 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club a look. It’s comprehensive. Angela will talk you through every aspect of your teaching life as well as changes you can make at home. Sign up now, and you’ll start receiving the July materials, “The Self-Running Classroom,” including topics on designing your classroom for maximum productivity, planning procedures for a smooth first week, automating classroom routines, and establishing productive daily habits for you and your students.

 

The Total Time Transformation for Teachers

I started worrying about money when my daughter was born twelve years ago. Before that, I didn’t keep careful track of it. I usually had enough for what I wanted, so I didn’t bother to make a budget or record my expenses.  I never bounced a check and I didn’t abuse my credit cards, but I wasn’t getting ahead. I wasn’t saving anything.

My parents were able to pay for my college education. My wife was not as fortunate. Every month, I watched her pay off a little more of her student loans, but it seemed as if they would always be there. I didn’t want that for my daughter, so I opened a 529 account on the day she was born. Then I had to figure out how much to put into it so she could avoid borrowing money at what at the time seemed a very distant future.

It seemed less distant when I started playing with cost-of-college calculators.

I also wanted to save for retirement. I wanted to travel during the summer. I liked cruises and wanted to go on more. None of those things were going to happen if I kept doing what I was doing. I needed to change, but I didn’t know what changes to make. I had to learn.

I started with Dave Ramsey. His radio show was on every day when I drove home from school. I listened. Then I found his book, The Total Money Makeover, in a bargain bin. I bought and read it. That led to other books and resources. I learned how to make a budget, how to assign every dollar, how to track my expenses, what to spend on and where to scrimp, that I should never buy a new car, I should cut up my credit cards, and how I could save money on food by planning meals each week. I learned what to do differently, and now, 12 years later, I have a decent chunk of money set aside for my daughter’s college, a nice start to a nest egg that will supplement my pension in 12 years, and I’ve even gone on a few more cruises. 

What does this have to do with teachers transforming how they use their time?

I have no doubt that many teachers have done what I’ve done where it concerns their money.  They have monthly budgets. They watch their money closely with apps on their phones. They have automatic alerts set up to let them know of odd activity on their accounts. They check their credit scores. They sign up for services like Honey or Swagbucks so that they don’t squander a single cent. They cut coupons and follow their favorite brands on Twitter to learn about deals. They’ve bookmarked deal sites, receive emails from Groupon, and compare credit cards to find the best cashback offers. Like me, as they aged they underwent a total money makeover.

What many teachers haven’t done is a total time transformation, even though time is far more valuable than money. The same teachers who watch every penny waste countless minutes, not realizing that when time runs out it won’t matter how much money they’ve accumulated. Who among us won’t be willing to pay whatever it takes for just one more good hour with the ones we love?

Many teachers don’t like how they use their time. They know that if they don’t make changes, they will continue to spend too much of it on things that don’t the matter most to them. Each school year follows a predictable, undesirable pattern. They start out excited. They overcommit. They spend time on things they either don’t care much about or that have little impact on their students. They become frustrated, overwhelmed, and exhausted. They can’t wait for summer. When it finally hits, they take a deep breath. But then, instead of fixing the problem like they did with their wayward spending, they repeat the same mistakes. They never get the things they want.

Teachers who want more control over how they spend their time should follow the same process they did when they wanted more control over their money. 

Start with what you want. Do you want more time to spend with family? More time to exercise or devote to non-education interests? Do you want to feel less tired and more in control of your life? List those wants out.

Now, how will you get those things? What changes will you have to make to make them a reality? Will you need to leave work earlier? Stop staying yes so much? Find ways to reduce paperwork? Let go of teacher guilt? Stop comparing yourself to other teachers? Will you have to get more organized, prioritize differently, or decide to stop doing something you enjoy doing?

Whatever you need to do to get what you want, chances are you don’t really know how to do those things. If you did, you’d already be doing them. You need resources that will show you how to do the things you want to do, preferably produced by people who have done those very things you aspire to.

Fortunately, those resources exist. I recommend starting with the following:

Angela Watson’s 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club 

My last two books, Exhausted and Leave School At School

The Well-Balanced Teacher

These courses from Learners Edge

The New Brunswick School-Based Wellness Program’s website

 

Start there. Learn. Think differently. Try something new. Then, each June or July, once school is out and you’ve recuperated and can start thinking a little further into the future than what you’re going to teach next week, sit down, just like people do with their finances, review your goals, see if your plan is working, recalculate as necessary, and update to be sure you’re still on track to get you where you want to be.

Time is not money. You can earn more money. So devote more effort to tracking and protecting your time than you do to monitoring and saving your money and you will end up using it more wisely.

 

 

 

3 Tips for Staying Positive As a Substitute Teacher

Portrait of teacher in classroom with elementary school kids

Life surely has its ups and downs, and some mornings, the last thing you want to do as a substitute teacher is walk into a classroom you’ve never entered before and put your game face on.

When you’re dealing with life’s stresses, they’re hard to shelve. But the job demands that you push your personal concerns aside and focus on your students’ needs. It’s never easy to paste on a smile when your heart is heavy or your distracted thoughts are racing through your head like cars in the Indy 500.

You may not be feeling upbeat, but there are some simple ways to grasp a positive attitude in the midst of your mental and emotional turmoil.

 

Gratitude Is the Best Attitude

When you are facing difficulties or hard challenges, thinking about your blessings can counteract negative thinking. The more you dwell on good things in your life, the more present they will be in your brain and short-term memory.

Maybe something awful is wreaking havoc on your heart, but there are always things you can be grateful for.

Consider little things as well as big things. When your car is running without a hitch, the traffic is actually manageable, and you find a parking spot without having to circle the lot three times, that’s something to be grateful for.

Sometimes we have to “fake it till we make it.” Have you ever noticed how smiling is contagious? When we paste that smile on, even if we’re not “feeling it,” that can help shift our negativity. And it will attract smiles in response. Which will help us cheer up, and make us smile more. Without realizing it, we’ve pulled out of our funk.

 

Repeat Positive Affirmations

Affirmations are another way to help us “fake it till we make it.” We sometimes have to psyche ourselves into our positive attitude.

Choose a few affirmations that will help you as you go through your teaching day. How about: “I can handle anything that comes my way.” Or “Nothing will push me over today; I’m a rock.” Or “I can keep it together at least until the final bell.”Recite them until they become mantras that play in your head throughout the day.

 

Challenge Those Negative Thoughts

Every time your brain derails onto that negative track, separate yourself from it and picture it as something “over there” that you can manipulate. Don’t ride that train; pull the track switch and move it onto another set of rails.

If today you feel like a failure at everything you’re doing, tell yourself, “I haven’t failed. I’m facing a challenge, and I will conquer it. I’m going to try again.” Thomas Edison said of his attempts to successfully invent the lightbulb: “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

Because he had that positive attitude, he kept trying. If he hadn’t, we might all be teaching classes by candlelight.

Negativity is like a vise grip that squeezes and constricts our creativity. Negative emotions such as fear, anger, blame, and resentment narrow our focus in a way that obscures options. Worry, especially, paralyzes us.

So the sooner we bounce back, the better we’ll be able to serve the needs of our students.

 

Bouncing Back

Positive attitudes have been called “the undo effect.” They help us to quickly recover from negative emotions. When we generate a positive perspective, it helps us bounce back. And that “bouncing back” brings motivation or impetus.

Sometimes we feel we must change our situation before we can be positive and plow ahead. But there are times when we can’t change a thing. In that case, we can either accept the things we cannot change, and adopt a positive attitude of gratitude, or we can wallow in the mire of negativity.

The next time you get a sub request and you’re in that negative place, reach for the gratitude and a handful of positive affirmations. Challenge your negative thoughts and bounce back to a positive attitude. Focus on these tricks before you get to the classroom to make sure you make a great first impression. You and your students will be glad you did.

 

Author Bio:

Alex Murillo is the Director of Talent and Operations at Swing Education where he helps match substitute teachers to opportunities at local schools and districts. Prior to Swing, he was Associate Director of Operations at Rocketship Education.

Teachers Are Tired of Robert Marzano

If you don’t spend a lot of time on Twitter, you may have missed something revealing. Dr. Robert Marzano tweeted the above and caught hell for it from a lot of teachers. You can read the reactions here, and you should. Not unlike the teacher walkouts of this past school year, they represent a new willingness (maybe even eagerness) of teachers to speak up and push back.

For years, teachers were asked (or, more often, told) to swallow a lot of crap. More and more of us are done eating it.

Robert Marzano has been an outsized part of my professional life for longer than he deserves, but for most of that time, no teacher would dare question him. I’ve sat in countless meetings where teachers were told to do things because Marzano said so. I’ve had to read a number of his books. I’ve sat through his training. My principal uses his system to evaluate me (which, given the above tweet, is more than a little concerning). During all of it, nary a peep of protest was heard. No teacher would raise her hand to say, “But surely you can be a good teacher without writing a learning goal on the board every day, can’t you?”

Blasphemy! The kind of which might just cause your administrator to question how serious you were about improving. So we shut up and nodded our heads, and thanks to our polite acquiescence, Marzano’s influence grew.

Today, for most teachers, Robert Marzano’s name is mud. It didn’t have to be this way. When Marzano’s first books came out, teachers recognized the value of his work. They even appreciated it. Here was a guy who cared enough about educators’ improvement that he had gone out and looked at thousands of education studies, performed some sort of mathematical wizardry hardly any teacher can understand, and then was able to tell us what things worked and what things didn’t. At that point, his heart was in the right place. He was Hattie before Hattie. 

But Marzano got greedy. He wrote more books. He offered professional development. His work was crammed down teachers’ throats by excited administrators, and once that starts happening, it’s no longer enough to provide good information. You better be one of us, lest we question your true motives.

Robert Marzano was not one of us.

There are many reasons Marzano’s tweet touched a lot of raw nerves.

First, those of us who have been in the arena for a while are predisposed to dislike whatever he has to say. Here’s a guy who barely taught, an academic who’d rather read studies written by other academics than remain in the classroom and teach actual kids, who writes books that are only possible because of the labor of other researchers (who at least visit classrooms), and who then has the audacity to tell teachers everything they’re doing wrong and what they should be doing instead. I’m not giving him the benefit of the doubt and neither are a lot of other teachers.

Second, the tweet reveals what most of us suspect: that he’s out of touch. It’s no surprise that a lot of the comments call Marzano out for not being a teacher. That’s a fair criticism. Don’t tell me how to do my job until you’ve demonstrated that you can do it.

Third, we’re sick and tired of being told that students’ failures are our failures. Not only is that frequently wrong, it’s not even desirable. Who wants to live in a world where individuals have no personal responsibility for the course of their lives, where their success or failure is dependent upon others?

Fourth, we’re really sick and tired of being told we’re failures by people who don’t have to courage to do what we do. Pernille Ripp expands on this idea in this article, which hits the nail on the head. Her conclusion sums up teachers’ thoughts nicely:

 

What Ripp focuses on is the guilt so many teachers feel and how when “experts” make statements like the one Marzano made, it leads teachers to feel like failures. It’s demoralizing, exhausting, and unfair. The fact that such sentiments are more often served up by people outside of the classroom than inside of one makes it particularly galling.  It’s the boxing announcer explaining to his HBO audience that all Tommy Noknuckles needs to do is start pounding his opponent’s body with jabs. It’s Alabama head coach Nick Saban having to put up with second-guessing from a fifty-five-year-old journalist who’s never thrown a football. It’s Lebron James dealing with social media criticism from people who can’t dribble.

It’s the voice of the critic and it reminds me of this:

 

That’s what teachers, a lot of them anyway, are saying to Robert Marzano and those like him. If you’re so smart, if you know so much, then put down the calculator and get in a classroom. Teach kids. And you know where someone like you –someone who understands exactly how to keep kids engaged — is really needed? In Detroit. In Philly. In D.C. and Baltimore. In a “failing” public school, since, let’s face it, it’s those teachers who have been most harmed by your work.

There may have been a reason to feel sorry for Robert Marzano years ago, when his research was hijacked by state governments and used for a purpose he didn’t originally intend. But Marzano was not some innocent victim. He could have said no. He could have looked into his crystal ball and considered some of the consequences of having teachers evaluated with checklists of 60 items. He could have easily foreseen how that would be received. Maybe he did and just didn’t care.

Regardless, he took the money and therefore deserves to be pilloried when he tweets stupid and insulting things that reveal a complete disconnect from the realities of the professional lives of those who actually have what it takes to teach students instead of sitting in an air-conditioned office in Colorado, reading education studies, and raking in taxpayer money by the bushel. Marzano deserves our anger. But at this point, what he really deserves is to be ignored.