Do Not Join That Unpaid Committee

The start of the school year is closing in fast, which means that in mere weeks (maybe even days) you will be welcomed back, told how important your job is and how appreciated you are, and then, before such words have even dissipated into the ether, asked to give away the most important thing you have, your time.

Your boss will want you to join a committee (or three), be a team leader, or serve on a school improvement council. In some cases, you’ll be asked to do this work for nothing.

Say no.

You’ll be tempted to say yes. It’s the start of the year. Optimism is high. The summer worked its rejuvenating magic and you and your fellow teachers are bursting with energy. You can practically taste the positivity.  Idealism runs rampant. You’ll do whatever is necessary for this school, for these kids! The job ahead of you is hard, but together you can do it!

Say no anyway.

Say No For Yourself

You are going to be overworked. You will be stressed. There isn’t enough time in a week for teachers to do everything they know they should be doing, and that’s if you do nothing other than teach the kids in front of you. By Halloween, you will be exhausted. You will resent whatever extra work you agreed to in that heady fog of feelgood at the start of the year. You’ll dread sitting through an hour-long meeting after school when you should be at your kid’s soccer game. Jumping off a bridge will sound preferable to the prospect of filling out another stupid survey that the state has mandated and the principal has pawned off on your team.

Teachers complain about not having enough time and then they give it away for free. Teachers complain about how much they’re paid and then work for nothing. Do not allow August exuberance, guilt, fear, or the opinion of others to cause you to do something you know you shouldn’t do. And don’t be a martyr. We have enough of those in education already.  The work you do is difficult and tiring. It makes zero sense to voluntarily take on even more of it, and even less sense to do so without pay.

Say No For Your Students

There is only so much time in a day, a week, a school year. The more of it you spend in one area, the less you have in another. If you want to help your students, spend more time on things that will help your students and less time on stuff that won’t make a difference in the classroom. Most committee work does not affect the students under your care.

George Couros says that teachers shouldn’t be classroom teachers, they should be school teachers:

““School teachers’ can do all of those things that classroom teachers do within their own classrooms and subject matter, but when they walk out of their room, every child in the school is their child.” 

Teachers should be careful with this mindset. It’s easy to go from smiling and encouraging every student you encounter to signing up for every committee because you tell yourself that every committee is doing good work that will, in some way, benefit some kids somewhere inside the school eventually.

The best thing you can do for your students is fully commit to them. That means saying no to anything that won’t make you a better classroom teacher. Burning yourself out with extra work won’t help your students. Resentment over being stretched too thin is not an attitude you want to carry into your classroom. Being overwhelmed and stressed out won’t make you more effective.

An hour spent in a meeting is an hour not spent planning better lessons. Or reading your students’ writing and providing feedback. Or communicating with parents. Or reading the latest research on best practices. Or anything else that might make a direct impact on your students. You cannot do it all, even if all of it benefits kids.

Say no for your students.

Say No For Your Profession

In too many schools, teachers who give away their time resent or look down their noses at those who don’t. They see them as selfish or lazy and feel aggrieved that they are working so much more than some of their colleagues. That’s a script that needs to be flipped. Instead of assigning virtue to those who help perpetuate exploitative practices, let's honor those who stand up to such practices. Click To Tweet

You are a professional. Pros get paid. The reason teachers get asked to donate their time is because they’ve always been willing to donate their time.  The asking won’t stop until the answer is consistently no. You can’t blame an employer for trying to get employees to donate labor. Blame the teachers for continuing to give it away because they are undermining the teachers who want to be treated with the respect employers afford their workers in other fields. Put bluntly, they are the problem. When every teacher says no to unpaid extra work, only two things can happen:

The committees disappear because there’s no one on them, or teachers are paid to do the work.

The only way to change the way teachers are treated is to change the way we respond to the treatment. Click To Tweet Saying no to additional, uncompensated work is good for your colleagues, it’s good for teachers you don’t even know, and it’s good for those who won’t step into a classroom for years. Saying no gains respect and it’s good for the profession.

Do yourself, your students, and your profession a favor. Say no to unpaid extra work, and get your colleagues to say it, too.

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.

 

 

 

I Quit Teaching and Won’t Go Back

“I Quit Teaching and Won’t Go Back” is the second of a three-part series written by Dan Laird, a teacher of 17 years who left education to work in private industry. Part one, “Why I Quit Teaching After 17 Successful Years” can be read here. Part three, “The Teacher’s Guide to Changing Careers” will be published in the coming days. 

Dan Laird

It has been almost ten months since I started my new career giving me a chance to see the world from a set of non-teacher eyes. Each day, I’m happier I left. Each day, I want to lead everyone I left in the classroom on a revolt. The grass on the other side is greener. I’ve seen it.

Let’s “yada yada yada” our way through the obvious reasons why: the pay is better, the benefits are better, my retirement savings now grow three times as fast, I have an hour for lunch which gives me enough time to eat at home if I’d like, I can use the bathroom at any time without needing to find someone to sit at my desk while I’m gone, and my office building is modern and doesn’t smell like a gym locker. But you already expected that.

The real reason I will never go back to education is the culture. I discovered that teachers have been conditioned to believe that everything must be harder than it actually has to be. We are trained to think that the reasonable is unreasonable, that anything we are afforded should be considered a favor, that guilt should accompany permission for the most basic accommodations.

As it turns out, the professional world does not operate like it does inside the walls of a school. In the first month of my new job, three events solidified my departure from education as one of the best events that ever happened to me:

1.  Part of my job description includes the creation of digital interactive tutorials and the monitoring of the company’s learning management system. As if being paid to be creative every day isn’t monumental enough, that isn’t the most incredible part. When I asked my manager if I would have access to the designing software at home to continue working when needed, her response was, “The short answer is ‘yes,’ but we don’t expect you to take work home.” She went on to tell me that the company feels family is important and that an employee shouldn’t have to sacrifice one for the other. Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t have deadlines or that I still haven’t brought my laptop home from time to time. But I find that I accomplish more at work because I’m allowed to do my job uninterrupted, unlike teaching, where classroom instruction is the least respected part of the job.

As teachers, there is an expectation that large parts of your required duties are to be performed on your own personal time. Not only are you expected to teach during classroom hours, you are expected to give up your lunch and planning hour if a student requests it. The request never seems unreasonable to anyone other than the teacher. Saying “no” is a guaranteed PR nightmare because, once again, not being willing to sacrifice on command clearly means you don’t care about kids.

As teachers lose their planning time, their 25 minutes to shovel down a microwave meal, and their early mornings and afternoons in order to spend more time working with students, the other half of the job awaits them during their personal time, their time with family, their time to unwind. There is no such thing as “off duty” when you are a teacher. What you do to go above and beyond as a teacher quickly becomes the norm, which means you then have to figure out a new way to go above and beyond.

First, it was important to have your grades prepared for report cards at the end of the trimester, then it was important to have your grades prepared for progress reports in the middle of the trimester, then we were required to send grade notices home to give parents a heads up regarding what they will be seeing on the progress report. Now all of a sudden, you’re unable to work on long-term projects because you won’t have a grade in time for the next update and we all know that if you don’t have grades, then clearly it’s because you’re lazy.

The same thing happens with parent communication. You update a website regularly with daily class information and downloadable materials? How am I supposed to know when it’s updated each day? Oh, you’ve added a class Twitter account to announce updates to the website? But I prefer text messages. Oh, you have a website, a Twitter account, and a Remind texting account? Well, we didn’t have time to check it. Can you just send home everything my child is missing?

My work hours are a little longer now. Instead of 8 to 3, I work 8 to 5. But I wouldn’t say that my work day is longer. As a teacher, 8 am was the time work started but it wasn’t the time I started working. I was usually at school by 7 am at the latest (earlier if I didn’t have to take my kids to school or daycare) in order to get everything ready. And when 3 pm rolled around, I was packing multiple hours worth of work into my bag to take to my other office, also known as my dining room table.

At my new job, an 8 am start means I leave my house at 7:40. And at 5 pm, my bag returns home as light as it left. Again, this doesn’t mean that my new colleagues and I aren’t working hard, or that we don’t bust our asses to go above and beyond expectations, or that we don’t still take work home with us. In fact, right now my work hours are a blur because of the extra time being put in to plan the company’s annual national conference in Orlando. (Did I mention my job includes an all-expenses-paid trip to Florida?) But in the world outside education, we sacrifice our time when needed as opposed to being expected to sacrifice our time as a matter of course.

2.  In the year before I left teaching, my daughter started pre-school, so I enrolled her in the district where I taught. Of course, this meant that I dropped her off and picked her up from school. This created a problem when I had a staff meeting after school. The problem wasn’t picking her up. It was where to take her during my meeting. I asked if she could just sit at my desk since the meeting was in my room fully expecting a “no problem.” Instead, I was made to feel like the request was unreasonable, that an institution for teaching children was no place for a child. Instead, I had to find a student to babysit her in another room. Perhaps it was for the best. Who knows what could have happened had my 4-year-old daughter been privy to Homecoming planning details and SAT data.

When I started my new job, I was faced with a similarly difficult situation when our after-school care provider called in sick. My now five-year-old daughter couldn’t just stay at school for another two hours and she certainly wasn’t going to walk home by herself. I expected an awkward conversation with my manager. Instead, my manager and my team were practically giddy with excitement. They told me that I could work from home for the rest of the afternoon but that they would love it if I brought my daughter back to work with me.

“Are you serious?” I asked cautiously, as if this were a setup for being so gullible. I assumed the answer was “yes” since they immediately began planning activities for her. When I returned with my daughter, she was greeted by everyone with coloring pages, candy, and even a toy car with the company logo on it from the president of the company. Now my daughter always wants to know when she can come back to work with me. In that moment, I learned that respect for people’s lives outside of work exists. Way too often in teaching, teachers are treated as if caring for their own families means they are neglecting their students and that their job is putting everyone else’s children ahead of their own. It doesn’t have to be like that.

3.  I’m not going to lie and tell you that a part of me doesn’t feel guilty about leaving. Public education is currently waging a huge battle for its survival and I walked away. Despite the way teachers are perceived and disrespected in a social context, it’s a little bit easier to stand up tall and declare you are a teacher when someone asks what you do for a living than it is with a job title that requires explaining. However, I don’t regret leaving for a single moment and I have the rest of my teaching colleagues to thank for it.

When I made my departure official and announced it to the world, I was humbled by the response of kind words and expressions of sadness for losing what I had to offer the classroom. But I was also alarmed by the number of responses I received from teachers asking how I managed to do it. I received texts, emails, and phone calls from teachers all over the national network I had been a part of declaring that they wanted out, too. These messages weren’t coming from young teachers who decided they couldn’t hack it for the long haul. These were established teachers, leaders in their field, authors of respected educational research. Many, like me, could even see the finish line of a retirement from education within the next decade but decided that it wasn’t worth it. The requests for information started spreading. I began receiving messages from friends of friends and even a few strangers. I had somehow become the exodus guru. I still receive these messages, with the most recent just last week from a woman I once met at a conference who found me on LinkedIn and wondered if I could give her friend some advice.

With so many wanting out, my guilty feelings quickly subsided. However, I’m left with a fear for our education system. In my state of Michigan alone, enrollment in college teacher programs has declined drastically to the point where schools are hard pressed to find someone who will even be a substitute. For the last decade, teachers in my state have seen repeated attacks on their paychecks, their credibility, their voice, and the profession in general. We’ve reached an era where parents don’t have to dissuade their children from becoming teachers. Their kids no longer see any appeal. Pretty soon, the fight for public education might have to come from the outside because there will be no one left to throw punches on the inside.

I will continue to be one of those fighters on the outside, but I will also enjoy a well-deserved life outside of the trenches. Instead of phone calls to parents or stacks of papers to grade, my evenings are filled with time to play with my daughters. I use some of my new extra income to pay for those subscription home meal delivery kits and I’m learning to cook. I take a Florida vacation in the middle of winter at a time of my own choosing. I go to bed at a decent hour and have time to read a book before I go to sleep. It truly is amazing how stress-free my life has become. Part of me is pretty sure that my grey hair is getting its color back. While that might be a slight exaggeration, I do truly believe that I have drastically increased my odds of seeing my future grandkids grow up.

Whatever you decide to do with your future, whether it is holding strong in the trenches or seeking a more peaceful life, remember the most important point that I’ve gathered through this whole experience: You have worth outside of the classroom. In my case, I found a job that respects my professional accomplishments as a teacher more than those who employed me as one. You have not locked yourself into a career you can’t get out of. There are options. You just have to discover what they are. You may use this discovery to begin planning your exit. Or you may use this discovery to strengthen your resolve to fight for what is right in your school because now you know your school needs you more than you need it. For the sake of my children, one of which started kindergarten this year, I hope there are enough of you that choose the latter. But if you choose the former, I seriously doubt you’ll regret it.

_________________

In part three of this series, Dan will share the lessons he learned when he quit teaching and started searching for a new job. If you’re considering getting out of the classroom, you’ll want to learn from his experience. Subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss it. The article, as well as future ones, will be emailed to you.

You can also follow Dan on Twitter at @DanDanLaird and if you’d like to contact him directly his email is [email protected]

 

 

Why Protecting Your Time is Unselfish

I just finished publishing a 10-part series on how teachers can prevent burnout by vigilantly protecting their time.  Over the course of it, I recommended not grading homework, not creating new content, not taking student writing home, and saying no a lot more often.

One might read those articles and get the impression that I’m advocating for teachers to be selfish. To only look out for number one. To not do anything that doesn’t benefit them.

Clearly, a school can’t function if every teacher acts only in her own best interest. Compromise is essential. Many hands make light work. No organization can succeed unless it’s composed of more givers than takers.

But schools also don’t function very well if they’re full of burned out teachers. And the data suggests that lots of teachers are burned out or well on their way.

It’s hard to find research on how many teachers experience burnout. But we do know that six in ten teachers describe their job as always or often stressful. Only 30% say they are engaged at work. Just 15% “strongly agree” that they’re enthusiastic about the profession.

We also know that the great majority of teachers don’t stick with the job long enough to collect their full pensions. According to pension expert Chad Aldeman, only one in five teachers reach retirement age (Check your state’s numbers here). In spite of a financial incentive to remain in the classroom, only 20% do so. And one has to wonder how many of those are merely hanging on, teaching because it’s all they’ve known or because they’re old dogs who don’t want to learn new tricks. It seems likely that a lot of teachers burn out before they’ve spent 30 years on the job.

Protecting your own hours is important for career longevity, but it’s about more than you. It’s also about helping others. Just as people who have taken intentional steps to accumulate wealth have more money to give to others,  teachers who proactively protect their time and energy have a greater capacity to give at school. Who do you feel less guilty about asking for assistance, the overwhelmed rookie or the veteran who always seems to be two steps ahead?

The best thing — the most selfless, giving thing — that teachers can do for their coworkers and their students is to protect their time and energy. They should go home shortly after the kids have left, and find ways to reduce the amount of work they take with them. They should detach from work and eat an early dinner, followed by exercise, relaxation, fun, or time with people they care about. They should get at least seven hours of sleep. Happy, well-rested teachers, like every other professional, are better at their jobs. They’re also in a better position to help others.

There’s a tweet I read a couple days ago that sums it up perfectly:

Amen.

If you’re struggling with this mindset or you just need practical tips for how to effectively cut back on the hours you work, you’ve got just one more day to sign up for the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make for yourself. It’s also a great choice if you want to have the time and energy to give more at work. Enrollment ends tomorrow, January 9. Act now!

 

Preventing Teacher Burnout – Part 10: Use Class Time

teacher burnout

I don’t know any teacher who thinks she has enough time during the school day to get done everything she needs to get done. That’s because most teachers split the time they have at work into two distinct categories. There is time with students and time without students. While we’re with students we are constantly interacting with them. We’re teaching, leading discussions, reteaching, modeling, helping, chatting, conferencing, and problem-solving. This constitutes the great majority of our workday. Time without students is used for all other aspects of the job: planning, grading, email, phone calls, making copies, locating resources, meetings, creating, and lots of other things.

Given that most teachers have a small amount of time without students, we struggle to accomplish all that needs to be done without taking work home or staying late after school.

But what if instead of dividing our time this way, we thought of our time at school as time to do the job of a teacher? 

Doing the job of a teacher involves interacting with students, but it also involves all that other stuff. Why should we limit those responsibilities to a small part of our day, thereby guaranteeing that we’ll have to work more hours before or after school and making the likelihood that we will burn out even greater? Why not structure your day so you can use your full eight hours to do all aspects of the job?

The first step to looking at your time differently is to let go of guilt. Guilt is the reason you feel “caught” when your principal walks in and sees you grading papers at your desk while students work independently. Guilt is why you walk around looking over students’ shoulders as they take a test instead of using that time productively. Guilt is what makes you reluctant to sit with your computer and provide students feedback on their writing instead of meeting with them in individual conferences.

Teachers have been conditioned to think that the only thing they should be doing when their students are in the room is physically interacting with them, even when doing so is detrimental.

It’s that way of thinking that creates the feeling that we never have enough time. If you want more time, create it. Carve time out of your time with students to do the things you used to reserve for time without students. Here are a few ways:

Give Breaks

Breaks are good for everyone. Everyone needs them. Give students occasional breaks and use the time to catch up on some of your other work. Read the whole article about this: One Simple Way to Steal Time for Grading

Use Student Mentors

I turned to students mentors our of desperation. The first year we implemented our math program, I’d have eight students needing help at the same time. I’d dart around the room trying to get to them all. Tired of waiting for me and unable to do the work, students would start talking. I’d have to stop and refocus the class. It was frustrating and exhausting. But while those eight students needed constant help, there were eight others who breezed through the assignments. Why was I spinning like a dervish when I could enlist their help?

You have students who can help other students. It doesn’t have to be you. You might not be all that great anyway. You “help” Johnny every day, but there he is again today with his hand up every five minutes. Send the message to your students that you expect them to do the work, and that if they are stuck, a classmate will help them. Then use the time such an expectation creates to reply to emails, sketch out plans for next week, or leave feedback on some student writing, only helping when your student mentors are unable to.

Test Time

Use student test time to get other work done. Quit watching students like a hawk. You can’t help them anyway and you’re sending them the message that you don’t trust them. Walking around the room while students are taking a test is a waste of your most valuable resource.

Independent Student Reading

I defended independent reading in another article, so I won’t repeat all of that here, but let me address one frequent criticism.

Research indicates that independent reading doesn’t work for the lowest readers. It doesn’t work for the lowest readers because the lowest readers don’t read.  It comes down to what you think the role of a teacher is. If you believe teachers must ensure students learn, then you’ll constantly guilt yourself into doing more. But if you believe that it’s your job to do your best to establish an environment where learning can take place and that ultimately, it’s up to your students to take advantage of opportunities, then you’ll have no trouble providing students with time to read, explaining your expectations for this time, teaching students why it matters that they read, making reading as appealing as possible, and then getting out of their way and letting them own their learning. If this is your philosophy, then you won’t feel guilty about working on other things while students have the chance to engage in an activity that will make them better readers, should they only choose to do it.

Video Lessons

In part 8 of this series, I wrote about leveraging technology. By making video lessons, you free up time for other things. Having successfully cloned yourself, the video version of you can do the teaching while the human version can do the parts of your job you complain you don’t have time for. Check some papers, reply to professional emails, enter test scores into your online grading system. These are all professional responsibilities. They are part of your job. You shouldn’t feel guilty about doing them, especially when you created that time without harming students in any way.

Finding time during the day to accomplish those tasks you normally take home isn’t abdicating your responsibilities as a teacher. It’s doing your job during the hours you’ve been given to do your job. Look at your whole day. Where are some other places you can carve out time so you can go home at a reasonable hour, keep burnout at bay, and extend your teaching career?

 

If you’d like more productivity tips, check out Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. She’ll help you find even more ways to do less while being a more effective teacher. The sign-up period ends Tuesday, January 9, so don’t delay!

 

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

Part 8: Leverage Technology

Part 9: On Writing