Till the Heels Fall Off

The following is a guest article by Anthony Meals, an 8-12 grade agricultural educator from Kansas. He’s in his fifth year of teaching and blogs at ProfilesinLearning.org.  You can also find him on Twitter here: @Mr_Meals. This article was originally published on Anthony’s site. It’s republished here with permission. 

Personal fashion isn’t a strong suit of mine. Typically, I don’t buy my next pair of black dress shoes till I’ve gotten as much mileage out of them as possible. I vividly remember walking with students at a National FFA Convention a few years back beneath the bridge between Lucas Oil Stadium and the Convention Center in Indianapolis. Suddenly, on my next step and without warning, my foot dropped hard. I looked back and saw that my right shoe heel had ripped off completely. The timing couldn’t have been better, though! We were walking to the charter bus and it was our last evening in Indy…so I didn’t have to try thinking of how I’d need to patch my heel for a few more days of walking! 😉

Then there was my students’ favorite shoe incident my first year teaching. We got to work on landscaping projects around our community and I was shoveling up old landscapes in my dress shoes, competing with a group of boys to clear a section out the fastest, when my right heel got stuck on the shovel. We got some great laughs and figured out an epic story for the Payless ShoeSource salesman.

Though these shoe incidents bring back great memories and joys, the metaphor speaks to a lie…a lie that was destroying my passion for working with young people, a lie that almost destroyed my marriage, a lie being widely peddled by society.

This lie: It is a badge of honor to work yourself till the heels of life fall off. 

It earns no badges to be burned out. It earns no badges to neglect the most precious relationships of your life. Yet, what do societal pressures say? MORE. MORE. We don’t remove spinning plates. Instead, we try to find ways to balance them all and then maybe add a few more.

I won’t mislead you. I’ve been a very slow learner of this and there are times even now that I am struggling. This year has been a hard reality check; I cannot be it all for all people. Though I thrive off my current schedule, it is by no means healthy for me or my young family, notwithstanding that it is in no way sustainable. I’m wearing out the heels of my life much too fast and I’m only 27.

All of us need to be strong, healthy models for those newly entering our teaching profession. We need to be teaching them how to be strategic in saying ‘Yes.’ We need to provide opportunities for personal reflection and growth.

I’m blessed that my school administration has allowed me to come down to San Antonio this whole week for the National Association of Agricultural Educators Conference. It has recharged my battery and equipped me with tools to enhance my teaching, but above all, it’s expanded my support network in the profession. This week is shaping up to be a game-changer, but the goals I’m developing for myself look different than ever before.

I’m looking at strategically scaling back in different facets of my work life, starting this spring semester. Putting First Things First at home, so Annelle stops getting the leftover pieces of me…

The following observation will come off as harsh…please be aware it is for me not my readers…

What did I do with the shoes I wore out? Did I idolize them? Hang them on a plaque?

NO, THEY GOT THROWN IN THE DUMP…IN TATTERED PIECES! They served only a fleeting purpose…

ouch…this cannot be my life!

We must start talking about teaching differently because it is unlike any vocation. Our goal should not be to seek balancing competing silos. This compartmentalizing is wrong. We need a holistic view of an educator. Many of us find our life’s mission in this field, so how do we harmonize that with our desires and need for family and personal development?

I don’t have the answers. I’m a young pup, but I know that I need to be better. I know that I can be better! It starts with the first step in harmonizing my schedule to reflect the values of my life.

I’ll finish with a final anecdote:

My wife loves her pairs of boots. One pair in particular she has taken great care of and has taken to be resoled over the past ten years close to three times. They are still functioning like new and show little wear. Yet, she uses them constantly!

I’m not disposable. It’s not a badge to view my life as disposable, even if my time seems to be filled with worthy work…I need to be resoled. Lord give me the resolve, strength, and courage to do so!

 

Original Article: Till the Heels Fall Off

Autocomplete, Buffets, and How Schools Are Set Up to Fail

There are all sorts of fun things you can do with Google’s autocomplete function. You can start typing strings of words and see what pops up. (I just tried “what do people” and Google suggested “see in Birdbox?”) You can play Google Feud, which is more fun than you might expect.  You can also read this or watch this:

But if you hate fun and would rather be frustrated, then start a query with the words, “Schools should teach” and be prepared to be blown away by the sheer number of problems people think schools should attempt to fix (which is weird, considering how many of those same people seem to have little faith in schools’ ability to teach anything).

If you follow “Schools should teach” with every letter of the alphabet, you will soon understand exactly how schools are set up to fail and why teachers feel like pulling their hair out trying to keep up with the expectations.

To save you the trouble, here is what Google “suggests” schools teach:

cursive writing skills

etiquette

life skills

taxes

entrepreneurship

sex education

character education

home economics

religious education

reading with only digital materials (I didn’t make that up)

students how to fail

students to protect the environment

classes on friendship

you how to be happy

intelligent design

emotional intelligence

practical skills

world religions

abstinence-only education

a second language

art

sign language

self-defense

foreign languages

financial skills

good behavior

gun safety

handwriting

keyboarding

Latin

how to cook

values

conflict resolution

morals

manners

mental health

meditation

media literacy

 

At least there’s nothing that starts with ‘q’ or ‘z’.

Yet.

More is not better

You may have noticed that reading, writing, math, social studies, spelling, and science do not appear. I didn’t omit them. Google did. Which says something, though I’m not sure what.

You may have also noticed that a lot of what people want schools to teach are important things. In fact, you may have agreed with many of the items on the list above. If so, you can understand why legislators, school board members, and superintendents eagerly accept responsibility for so many subjects and skills. It’s hard to be against teaching kids manners, or conflict resolution, or handwriting.

The problem isn’t any one thing on the list. The problem is the list in its entirety. It’s like my diet. No one food is making me fat, but when you put them altogether … well, let’s just say I need to reread my own book.

While most schools don’t try to teach everything, they also don’t do a very good job of drawing some firm lines about what they will and will not teach. My guess is that most schools take a stab at about 80% of the items above and many others that aren’t included (it doesn’t take much effort to come up with things not suggested by Google).

Schools suffer from the same fallacy that buffets and genre-mashing movies do: They believe that more is better. Click To Tweet

A larger variety of food will appeal to more diners. Offering crab legs, lasagna, and sirloin steak pretty much covers everyone, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t love a buffet?

Mixing genres will attract more moviegoers. Because if you like buddy movies,  comedies, and mysteries, then why wouldn’t you want to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie starring Will Ferrell and that other guy?

Offering more to students will make more of them (and their parents) happy. We’ve got something for everyone! Latin, cooking classes, mental health screening, boater’s safety, and AP Chemistry!

The problem with that kind of thinking is that when you do more things you invariably sacrifice quality.

If you want a good steak (or good crab legs or lasagna), you don’t go to a buffet. Buffets offer a lot of food, but none of it’s the kind of thing that’s going to impress a date.

If you want a good movie, you don’t watch Netflix’s genre-mashing Brightwhich Rotten Tomatoes said, “tries to blend fantasy, hard-hitting cop drama, and social commentary — and ends up failing painfully on all three fronts.”

One can easily imagine a similar review for the many public schools that make the same mistake of trying to please too many people:

“The school tries to blend rigorous academics with conflict resolution and proper etiquette, along with a focus on life skills such as tax preparation and gun safety — and ends up failing painfully short of the mark on all six hundred fronts. Three thumbs down.”

Critic Brian Lowry called the movie a “bloated, expensive mess.” The New York Times called it “a loud, ungainly hybrid that does not serve police procedurals or fantasy spectaculars very well.”

Our public school system might aptly be described as a “bloated, expensive mess” that doesn’t serve its students, their parents, or the people working inside of it very well.

When you try to do too much, you end up doing very little well.

We should stop asking schools to solve every societal problem. Until we do, we shouldn’t expect any more from them than we do from a buffet dinner or the latest Hollywood mash-up. Schools won’t get much better until Google completes the phrase “Schools should teach” with the word “less.”


Related:

Schools Should Do Less

 

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The Best Gift Teachers Can Give Themselves

Teachers across the country have started their holiday breaks and the feeling among most of them is one of giddy anticipation (and relief). Teachers I talked to this past week can’t wait to sleep in. They’re looking forward to spending time with family, Netflix bingeing, or taking a relaxing vacation somewhere warm and sandy.  Few spoke of material goods they hoped to get for Christmas. They were already getting what they wanted, time.

Teachers, like all other working stiffs, value time off because it gives them the one thing they don’t have enough of most of the year, and that one thing happens to be the most precious commodity on the planet. Time off from work means time away from schedules dictated down to the minute by someone else. It means time away from mindless meetings and baffling policies. It means time spent with loved ones instead of co-workers, nice people though they may be. And, if we’re being honest, it means time away from kids who aren’t yours to spend more time with the ones who are.

Time, long stretches of it, hour upon hour, where we can mostly do whatever we want, is the one gift everyone appreciates. And it’s a gift teachers can give themselves.

It’s strange that many of the same teachers who so value their time off around the holidays think nothing of wasting it once school is back in session. They devote hours of their weekends to checking papers and planning lessons. They go to school on Saturdays to run copies or put up new bulletin boards. Some voluntarily give their time to committees they don’t even care about.

Help is Available

Many of these teachers simply don’t know how to do things any differently. They realize that they’re exhausted, but aren’t sure how to break the cycle.

If you are one of these teachers, there is help available. There is a way for you to get yourself the best present any teacher can ever receive. Small investments now can chop hours off your weeks so that next Christmas you aren’t as overwhelmed.

You can read some previous posts on this blog. Start with these:

Dear Teachers, Please Go Home

Be a Better Teacher By Doing Less

10 Things Overworked Teachers Can Stop Doing Tomorrow

 

You might also check out my 10-part series on preventing teacher burnout, which starts here or read my books, Leave School At School and Exhausted, which go into more detail. If you have trouble telling people no, then you’ll want to subscribe to Teacher Habits so you can purchase my upcoming book, The Teacher’s Guide to Saying No, at a low, members-only price.

And you should give the 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club a look as well. To date, 45 Teacher Habits readers have joined the club and are now benefiting from increased efficiency, lower stress, and shorter workweeks. You can read some of their stories here

85% of members who joined the club last January trimmed at least three hours off their workweeks. If you cut just three hours off each workweek, you will have given yourself an additional 108 hours each year to do whatever you want with.  That’s almost five days, the length of spring break. Wouldn’t you like to give yourself a second spring break?

And you get to use the knowledge you gain from the club the rest of your career. Over ten years, you will have gained 45 full days. Over 20 years, you will have given yourself half a school year.

Is the Club Worth the Money?

How much is your time worth? If you don’t know, consider the question this way: How much would your district have to pay you to attend a one-hour voluntary professional development opportunity after school every Friday that offered you nothing except the chance to earn a little extra spending money?

Would $20 get you there?

Would you need closer to $30?

Would no amount be worth it to you?

Even if you value your personal time at a measly $10/hour, by saving 108 hours each year you’ll realize a value of over one-thousand dollars in the first year alone and that’s if you only save 3 hours per week and only value your time like my local McDonald’s values its teenage employees’ time.

So how much would you pay to save three hours every week and have those hours to yourself? The math is simple. Right now, the cost to join is $129 (it goes up January 1). Almost everyone who joins gains at least three hours per week, which works out to about a dollar an hour. Isn’t your time worth more than a dollar an hour?

There are only four reasons to not consider the club:

You don’t think it will work for you.

You don’t value your time.

You’re not good at math.

You don’t think you have the time to read the club materials.

You should know the following:

Only 2 out of every 100 teachers who join utilize the money-back guarantee and ask for a refund. The club does what it promises. It works. And one reason it works is that you can work through the material at your own pace and you don’t need to do everything to derive huge benefits. You can pick and choose and still save hours. The club’s content is also available in audio form, so if you don’t have time to read it, you can listen in the car.

And of course, if you don’t have time to learn how to give yourself the gift of more time, then I’d suggest that you need the club more than most.

Give yourself more of the best gift any teacher can ever receive. Give yourself more time to do the things you want.

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Links to the 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club are of the affiliate variety. That means I get paid a commission if you join. It’s a great way to support yourself and Teacher Habits!

 

10 Things Overworked Teachers Can Stop Doing Tomorrow

If there’s one common thread that runs through the most popular articles on this blog it’s that teachers ought to do less.  I suspect those articles generate the most shares and responses because the topic is divisive. Some teachers read them and nod along, their beliefs affirmed in digital print. Others read them with varying degrees of bafflement and anger. The self-righteous will insinuate that those of us who want a life outside of school aren’t as dedicated as our more exhausted colleagues. Others, like one Facebook commenter on my article Dear Teachers, Please Go Home, ask some version of, “Then when are we supposed to get it all done?”

Which is a revelatory question.

Such a question presumes that most teachers have relatively equal amounts of work to do and that the only way to get it all done is to devote untold hours to the job, usually at the expense of other areas of their lives.

But such an assumption is wrong. Teachers vary greatly in how much work they have to get done and it’s not because they teach in different buildings or teach different grade levels or have different bosses. Some teachers have less to do because they’ve decided to have less to do. It’s usually that simple.

There are a number of items you can likely take off your to-do list tomorrow if you’re willing to swallow some pride, care less about what other adults think of you, and stop trying to knock every lesson out of the park. Here are ten.

Stop Decorating Your Classroom Like It’s In a Magazine

I know teachers who spend weeks getting their rooms looking just so for the start of school. They then devote even more time to maintaining its immaculate appearance throughout the year. They organize, straighten, color-code, label, redecorate, change bulletin boards, hang curtains, and dangle doodads from the ceiling, and for what?

Hardly anyone is going to see it. Of the people who do see it, at least half of them won’t care. Of those who are impressed, what does it matter? How does their being impressed help you or your students? I don’t know of a single study that shows a connection between teachers’ interior design talents and student performance. In fact, the research that does exist indicates that a heavily decorated room actually disrupts student attention and learning. Save yourself a ton of time and stop decorating your classroom like it’s in a magazine.

Stop Writing New Learning Goals on the Board

I’ve watched a lot of TED talks and I’ve never seen a speaker start their speech by displaying and reading aloud the thing they’d like me to learn in the next 15 minutes.  Having a goal for your lesson is important. Writing it on the board isn’t.  Prominently displayed learning goals aren’t for you; you know what students are supposed to learn. They aren’t for your students; a good lesson makes clear what students should come to understand. The requirement to write learning goals on the board exists for one reason and one reason only: administrators want you to do things that work, but they don’t really want to spend a ton of time in classrooms actually watching you do those things. With learning goals, they can peek their head in your room, see them on the board, and tell themselves that in their buildings, teachers are using research-based practices. They can check it off a list and pat themselves on the back.

Writing new learning goals every day is busy work. By themselves, they will do nothing to move the student achievement needle. So write some beautifully crafted learning goals using whatever format your leadership has decided is best. Then leave them up all week. Or all month. See how long until someone calls you on it, and when they do, claim you forgot that day. Most administrators spend so little time in classrooms, this is one tick-suck you can cross off your list.

Stop Creating Lessons

Once upon a time, teachers had to create their own lessons. They don’t anymore, and they shouldn’t. For today’s teachers, finding lessons isn’t the problem; choosing among hundreds of them is the greater challenge. Creation takes time that others have already invested (and in many cases, been paid for). Take advantage by teaching their lessons instead of creating yours; they’re probably better anyway because of something psychologists call the IKEA effect, which is a cognitive bias where people place disproportionate value on products they had a hand in creating.

The IKEA effect poses two problems for teachers. The first is that what you make is likely not as good as you think it is. Your lesson is not better than another teacher’s. You just think it is because you made it. You would almost assuredly be better off using a product made by someone else. And as much as you don’t want to hear it, you’d be best off using products created by people whose job is to create those products. So while it may offend your sensibilities, stick with the program your district spent thousands of dollars on because it’s probably better than anything you’re going to design.

The other problem is the time required to create this stuff. If you spend three hours making a magnetism unit because you tell yourself it will be better than anything you currently have in your filing cabinet or that you can find online, then you’ve lost the opportunity to spend those hours doing other things, like going home at the end of the day.

More here: The IKEA Effect of Lesson Creation

Stop Creating Materials

Google is your friend. So is TeachersPayTeachers. Every worksheet, rubric, and graphic organizer you will ever want already exists. Spend more time clicking and less time creating and you will have more time for the important stuff.

Stop Controlling Everything

When students do more, you do less.

Teachers looking to trim hours off their workweek should constantly spend their days asking, “Is this something students could do?”

Most of the time, the answer is yes. Students can do bulletin boards. They can staple, cut things out, and rewrite the lunch choice every morning. They can organize your classroom library and replace all the science materials used in an experiment.  They can check their own work. They can help each other understand the math assignment. It’s true that your room might not look as pretty and the agenda on the board will be written askance and the books won’t be as neat as they would be if you had organized them, but it’s also true that most of that stuff doesn’t matter and students will feel a stronger connection to the room if they have a large hand in its appearance and day-to-day functioning. Save yourself time. Stop being such a control freak.

Stop Reading Everything Your Students Write

Students need feedback on their writing, but you do not have to be the only person who provides it. Technology allows students to share their writing with classmates and even parents. Ask them to provide the feedback. When my daughter was in third grade, she brought a journal home once a week and it was my job to write a response to her entries. For other low tech options, print students’ writing and put the papers in a three-ring binder. Insert a blank page after each piece and teach students how to leave useful feedback on it. Or set up a gallery walk where students place their writing on their desks and move around the room with a stack of sticky notes, using them to leave feedback on 10 different papers. You can also avoid taking student writing home by utilizing technology and the station rotation model. Catlin Tucker explains how here.

Stop Checking Papers

One enduring stereotypical image is that of a teacher, usually a woman, sitting at home on a Saturday with a stack of papers in front of her, vigorously scrawling across them with a red pen.  If we’re going to ask students to do all this work, the thinking goes, then we need to hold them accountable, and the way to do that is to give everything a grade. This isn’t where I argue against grades (although I certainly could). Instead, I’ll argue against everything needing a grade.  Consider most of the work your students do as practice and you’ll find it a lot easier to toss it into the circular file instead of bringing it home where it will cast accusatory glances your way all weekend. Instead of checking everything, only check assessments.

You can also significantly reduce the height of your stack by eliminating homework.  The research on homework is now well known and for elementary teachers especially, there’s no academic reason to give it; it just doesn’t work. The less work you assign, the less you have to look at. An easy and research-based way to reduce your own paperwork is to seriously curtail or eliminate homework.

Another easy way to reduce your stack is to take advantage of programs that do the grading for you. If you’re fortunate enough to have software that provides students with immediate feedback on their assignments, then your work is already done. You need only to look at the results. If not, go old school by having students check their own work as you go over the answers or do what I spent a fair amount of my school years doing and have students trade papers and grade each other’s assignments.

Stop Helping So Much

You can always tell the students who were “rescued” by their previous teachers. They’re the ones who can’t make it through a test without asking for help, even though you just explained that you can’t help on a test. A lot of teachers enable learned helplessness by constantly stepping in the moment students struggle.  Teachers have this notion that to teach means we must always be doing something. If students are in the room, we have to interact with them. We gotta teach! But sometimes, the best way to teach is to sit down and shut up.

Failure is part of learning. In fact, it’s the critical part. Sometimes, the best teaching is to let students flail, even fail. Because there’s more learning to be found in failure than there is in success. And while students are working things out, or seeking out others for assistance, or trying a different strategy, you can plan next week’s lessons, or grade a few tests, or locate resources online so you don’t have to do that stuff after school.

Read more here: Why Teachers Should Help Less

Stop Saying Yes

It’s impossible to do all the things you have to do if you’re spending hours every week sitting in meetings because you couldn’t bring yourself to tell your principal no.  We all have meetings we must attend, but too many teachers take on additional responsibilities out of feelings of obligation and guilt.

Before you agree to extra work, ask yourself this question: Will the time spent on this new thing result in better outcomes for my students than the time I would have spent if I were not doing this new thing? Click To Tweet

The answer is usually no. So grow a spine and stop agreeing to waste time on work that won’t do your students any good and will leave you with even less time to do all of the really important stuff.

Stop Maximizing

Making every lesson shine is an honorable intention. Nobody will question your dedication, but they should question your long-term strategy. Teachers can’t escape trade-offs any more than the rest of the world can. Devoting two hours to planning a great civics lesson means two hours not doing all of the other things your job requires of you. It’s also no guarantee that the lesson will go well, and if it doesn’t you’ll feel demoralized on top of exhausted.

Many teachers are maximizers. They seek out the best option to arrive at the optimal solution, even if it means investing substantial time and energy.  Many are perfectionists, unable to let little things slide. Satisficers, on the other hand, are individuals who can accept good enough. They consider trade-offs. They know that you can’t “do it all” and they accept the reality that an extra hour spent on lesson creation won’t necessarily result in the kind of enhanced understanding from students they were hoping for. Sometimes, good enough really is good enough.

There’s also your mental health to consider. Psychologists have found that compared to satisficers, maximizing individuals are more likely to experience lower levels of happiness, regret, and self-esteem. While maximizers accept higher-paying jobs, they tend to be less satisfied once they start working those jobs because they second guess themselves. They constantly wonder if they made the best choice. They’re always looking over the hill for greener pastures. For this reason, maximizers have a hard time finding contentment in life.

Not every lesson has to be a Lexus. Most of the time, a reliable Camry will get the job done. Stop trying to make everything shine. Be willing to accept good enough, and you’ll be a happier teacher with more time for yourself.

A Disclaimer

None of the above are things you should stop doing if you love doing them. If it fills your heart with gladness to color-code your classroom supplies or if creating lessons from scratch gets your heart racing, then by all means, keep doing those things. Just don’t complain about how many hours you work. Those are choices you’re making, and there are plenty of teachers out there making different ones and going home a lot earlier than you are.

Stop wondering how you will get everything done if you leave work where it belongs and go home shortly after the kids. Instead, give yourself less to do.

If you need a step-by-step guide to the above and many more time-saving techniques, I recommend giving Angela Watson’s 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club a look. It’s the most comprehensive resource I know of for overwhelmed teachers. Angela offers a money-back guarantee that her club will help you trim hours off your workweek.

If you’re wondering if the club is right for you, take this fun quiz!

To get a taste of what the club has to offer, try Angela’s free 5-day challenge, “Goodbye, Teacher Tired: 5 Days to Doing Fewer Things, Better”

If you’d like to read reviews from club members, click here.

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Teacher Habits is a proud affiliate partner of the 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club and all links to the club are of the affiliate kind. That said, I’m a member and it’s good stuff.

 

 

Drawing Lines in the Sand

The beginning of the year can be a dangerous time for teachers, especially those starting their careers or starting over in a new building or district. You’re refreshed from summer and raring to go. The positivity among your colleagues is contagious, and everyone wants to put their best foot forward.  You want to be a team player. You want to impress the people you work with and for. You want to do whatever it takes. In such an environment, it’s easy to agree to things that you will later regret.

The choices you make in the first few weeks of the new school year will affect how stressed out and exhausted you will be later in the year. No matter if you’re starting at a new school or just starting a new year in an old one, the beginning of the year is the time to draw lines in the sand that will protect yourself for the remainder of the year. These lines are for you, but they’re also for the people with whom you will interact from September to June.

I recommend drawing four lines, one for each group of people who have the potential to dampen your enthusiasm, stress you out, and drain your energy.

Draw Lines for Administrators

Nothing will frustrate and exhaust you faster than committing to a bunch of extra work that won’t make a difference for your students. How you respond to early requests of your time will set the tone for the rest of the year and beyond. It’s not enough to say no to an early request, although showing that you’re willing to do so will go along way toward earning your supervisor’s respect.

The problem with a single no is that it’s easily defeated. Come up with an excuse to not sign up for the science committee and you invite negotiation. Your principal may offer to send a sub in your place for those two dates you claimed had a conflict. Or he may return with the offer to join a different team, at which point, having already turned him down once, you’ll feel obligated to join.

Claim you can’t make it to math night and your principal will attempt to guilt you into attending a different after-school event, using your colleagues’ willingness to volunteer against you.

Instead of saying no, draw a line in the sand at working for free. Instead of “no,” say “I don’t.” It’s more powerful and leaves you less open to arguments and follow-up requests.

Read more about saying “I don’t.”

If you’re worried how this line in the sand will be received, then you may need to elaborate. Say something like this: “I’m fully committed to being the best teacher I can for the kids in my room and I vigilantly protect against stretching myself too thin because that will harm my teaching. That’s why I don’t do unpaid committee work.”

Read: Do Not Join That Unpaid Committee

Draw Lines for Colleagues

If you want to get home at a reasonable hour (and you should, read this and this) then you are going to have to take full advantage of every minute you spend at school. This means coming in a little early and it means maximizing whatever planning time you have. It also means not squandering that time by chatting with colleagues.

Draw a line in the sand with colleagues by closing and locking your classroom door when you’re inside working. Hang a Do Not Disturb, Planning in Session sign on your door so they’re sure to get the message.

That may seem anti-social, but it beats the alternatives, which are being annoyed that you’re being interrupted and not fully participating in conversations, while hoping to bring them to a quick close, or being perpetually waylaid and consequently having to spend more time on work after school, which will eventually lead to a whole host of other problems.

It’s important to socialize and build relationships with your colleagues. Teachers who make connections with other adults are generally happier at work. Use lunch for that, not your planning time.

Read More: Optimize Planning Time

Draw Lines for Parents

Give some parents an inch and they’ll take a mile. Decide right now when and how you’d like to be contacted. Tell parents up front what they can expect in response. Just as you do with students, set expectations early, explain them clearly, and then do what you say.

If you’re sharing your cell phone number, be clear about how you would prefer parents get in touch. Let them know if you’d rather be texted or called. Tell them if you won’t respond over the weekend. Draw a line at how late you’re willing to reply.

If you’re not sharing your cell number, then be clear about the best way to get a hold of you and how quickly they can expect a response. We live in a world where everyone is immediately available. But teachers can’t just stop teaching to answer a call. Unlike many professionals, most of us spend very little time at our desks. Explain the reality, that you will likely not see their emails for hours, and tell them to call the office is their message is time-sensitive. Don’t assume parents understand how busy teachers are; tell them up front what to expect when it comes to communication.

Draw Lines for Students

While teachers like to say that the things that really frustrate them are factors outside of the classroom walls, the reality is that the kids can ruin your school year. Behavior can drive teachers from the classroom, so you’ll want a good handle on classroom management. But you also don’t want to be the only one in the room doing the work. In his book The First Days of School, Harry Wong describes an all too familiar situation:

“The reason teachers are so tired at the end of the school day is that they have been working.  If I worked as hard as many teachers do, I’d be as tired too.  But have you ever noticed what happens at 3 o‘clock when the students leave? “Yea, yea, yea!’  Why are they so full of energy?  Because they have been sitting in school all day doing nothing while the teacher does all the work.  The person who does all the work is the only one doing any learning!”

The kids are there to work, so draw a line in the sand with students early: You will not help them the second they ask for it. Let them struggle a little. That’s when learning happens.

It’s important to send this message early. This past week, a number of my students wanted help on a math assignment and raised their hands. When I went to check on them, they hadn’t even attempted the problem yet. So a rule was instituted: You cannot ask me for help unless you can show me how you tried to solve the problem. Kids are smart. They can figure stuff out if we aren’t there to bail them out the second they encounter a snag.

Protect Yourself

Every year, teachers burn out. Some walk out the door, never to return to education. Others press on, subjecting students to uninspired teaching for years. Teachers must get better at protecting themselves and it starts with being clear about what you will and won’t do.

Draw lines in the sand that you refuse to cross and that send clear messages to others that you are in control of your career, and that you will do what it takes to ensure you remain effective the whole year and for many years to come.