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.

Paying Teachers to Play

One of the more indelible characters from my childhood was a bear of a woman we knew only as Mrs. Selby. Mrs. Selby existed in one place only, on the school playground. To my eight-year-old mind, she simply appeared on the blacktop, as if emerging from an underground lair at the sound of happy children. Mrs. Selby was tall and broad-shouldered. Although her spring attire must have differed, I can only recall her wearing a long maroon coat and black boots. I never saw her without sunglasses; they were as much a part of her as her scolding voice and shrill whistle. Large and dark, those glasses totally obscured her eyes and half her face. A turn of her head and half of the playground had the feeling that they were being watched like a bug under a microscope. She seemingly saw every infraction. My brother and his friends nicknamed those sunglasses “Selby Sensors.”

Mrs. Selby never ran. She strolled, wearing out a path of about 50 yards on the blacktop that divided the equipment from the elevated field where the more athletic boys played kickball and football. I played on that field and never was a game commenced without first naming a lookout, invariably a less popular boy whom we had allowed in our presence in return for the thankless but vital task of providing a warning should Mrs. Selby stray from her route and threaten to derail our obscenity-laced game of two-hand touch shove.

Like all villains, Mrs. Selby had minions. They were always girls, usually three or four of them, who, without friends of their own, mistook Mrs. Selby’s tolerance of their presence as something more than it was. They were her Crabbe and Goyle, willing to do anything, including rat out their classmates, to remain in her good favor. This retinue turned Mrs. Selby into an ant, giving her a compound eye that could scan the entire playground at once.

As a child, we feared Mrs. Selby. As a teacher, I’m wondering where the Mrs. Selbys of the world went.

I don’t remember anyone else monitoring the playgrounds of my youth. Certainly, I never saw any of the school’s teachers out there. Maybe they were lucky, but I think it’s more likely that my experience was typical. Teachers didn’t do recess duty back then, but I know of very schools where they don’t do it now. I’m not sure when the transition occurred, but I’ve been teaching for 19 years and I’ve had recess duty every year. Early in my career, it was one day a week. Then it became two. Eventually, we traded days and covered every other Friday. Now, an afternoon recess doesn’t go by when I’m not expected to share the playground with the kids.

It’s not the worst thing in the world. Breaks are important, and this short video by Daniel Pink shows that an outdoor recess might be just what a teacher needs to recharge. Recess can also give teachers a chance to connect with students we might not have had a chance to visit with in class. We have the opportunity to witness our students in a different environment. Many students who struggle in the classroom thrive on the playground. We can learn about their talents and interests. We can also meet students from other classrooms and build relationships with those who might be in our rooms in coming years. We can swing, shoot hoops, or impress nine-year-olds with prodigious punts of soccer balls (not that I would ever do such a thing).

There’s a lot to recommend about recess for teachers, and teachers should take the opportunity for a break when they need it.  But it doesn’t make sense for districts to require teachers to be on the playground. It’s dumb to pay teachers to play. Consider:

  • Teachers are the number one in-school factor for student achievement.
  • The job of a teacher is overwhelming. There is never enough time to do everything we must do, and certainly not enough time to do those things well.
  • Relative to other developed nations, the United States provides little paid planning time to its teachers.
  • It’s generally believed that more planning leads to better execution. For teachers, more planning means better lessons.
  • Teachers are expensive.
  • Watching kids play is unskilled labor that can be done by almost anyone (no offense, Mrs. Selby).

It just doesn’t make sense for school districts to require their teachers to stand around on a playground every day, especially when the solution is simple and cheap. That they do is yet another indication that schools care more about money than they do about achievement. If we agree that better-prepared teachers do a more effective job of teaching, then why are we forcing them to waste 15-30 minutes standing around? That’s time that would be used to plan more engaging lessons,  provide quicker feedback to students, and communicate more promptly with parents. It’s time that would allow teachers to recapture some of their after-school hours, which would help them detach each day and come to school more refreshed the following morning. It might even help lengthen their careers in the classroom.

It’s hard to imagine such a thing happening in other fields. No industry takes its most highly skilled employees and requires them to waste 20 minutes every day.

There is a simple way school districts can provide elementary and middle school teachers (and yes, middle school kids need recess, too) more time to do their jobs — which is something everyone in education recognizes as a need — and that is to find their own Mrs. Selbys.

If teachers want to use recess time as a break, then they should be allowed to do so. But districts ought to stop wasting their teachers’ most precious commodity. They should end mandatory recess duty for teachers.

Tie Yourself To a Tree

Every year, I read the Shiloh series to my third graders. It’s the story of a boy and his dog. Marty Preston, an eleven-year-old living in rural West Virginia finds a mistreated beagle, discovers the owner is an abusive lout of a man named Judd Travers, and makes it his mission to make the dog his own. By the third book of the series, Shiloh belongs to Marty and Judd has made some steps toward becoming a better human being.

There’s a scene near the end of that third book that holds a valuable lesson for teachers.

The Preston parents have been called away, and the kids — Marty, his best friend, and his two younger sisters — have been left home. After receiving what turns out to be a prank phone call about a body floating down Middle Island Creek, the kids rush to the bridge to see for themselves. Disappointed by the truth, Marty turns to leave. His sister Dara Lynn has, however, climbed atop the bridge’s railing and is leaning out over the water, watching it rush beneath her, the rapids wild from a recent flood. As Marty yells at her to get down, she falls in.

Panic ensues. Neighbors arrive, alerted by the kids’ shouting. Dara Lynn manages to grab a tree branch and pull herself to the bank, but in all the hubbub Marty hadn’t noticed that Shiloh, the dog he worked so hard to rescue from his abusive owner, has jumped into the water to save his sister. Marty steps into the water to go after his dog but is pulled back by a neighbor. He watches as the current carries Shiloh farther away. The dog is just too small to save himself.

That’s when Judd Travers arrives in his pickup. From the book:

“You want to get yourself killed?” he calls, right angry. And then, “What’s the matter, Marty?” Sees Mr. Ellison comin’ up the road behind me, thinks he’s chasin’ me maybe. He gets out of the truck.

I’m gasping. Point to the creek. “Shiloh! He’s in the water and we can’t reach him!”

“Marty, that dog will have to get himself out!” Mrs. Ellison calls from far behind us. “Don’t you try to go after him now.”

But Judd crashes through the trees and brush, half sliding down the muddy bank, and I point to the head of my beagle back upstream, out there bobbing around in the current. Once, it looks like he goes under. Judd don’t say a word. He’s scramblin’ up the bank again and grabs that rope in his pickup. Hobbles down the road, fast as his two bum legs will carry him, goin’ even farther downstream, me and David at his heels. Then he ties one end of that rope to a tree at the edge of the water, the other end around his waist, taking his time to make a proper square knot, and I’m thinkin’, Don’t worry about knots, Judd — just go!

Judd pulls Shiloh from the water, redeeming himself in the process.

As teachers, we have students in our class who are like Shiloh. They’re in danger, struggling to stay afloat as the rushing waters carry them away. Like Marty, we instinctively want to help. We want to throw ourselves into the current and pull those students to shore.

So we do everything we can. We build relationships with these students, investing extra time and energy on those we know need us most. We keep in close contact with their parents. We encourage and cajole, inspire and counsel. Some of us go so far as to attend their after-school events, even their birthday parties. Recognizing their need, we might buy them snacks, or books we hope they’ll love, or backpacks full of the school supplies their parents can’t afford. We give our all to help those unable to help themselves from getting carried away by the floodwaters of their lives.

And we exhaust ourselves in the process. We put ourselves in danger. We make it more likely that we too will be carried away.

Had Marty rushed into the water to save his dog, it’s likely they would have both drowned.

Shiloh was saved only because Judd took a minute to tie himself to a tree.

That is what teachers should do. Tie yourself to a tree. Protect yourself first. You can’t be any good to your students — and that includes the ones who need you the most — if you’re exhausted and in danger of burning out.

As the start of the year approaches (or has already started), put yourself in the best position possible to help others. Do these five things:

Undercommit

The beginning of any year is a heady time and the enthusiasm can be intoxicating. It’s easy to rush in without thinking. Signing up for five committees might not seem like a terrible idea now, but you can be sure you’ll regret it in November. Start by not signing up for any and only join once you can gauge how demanding your teaching job is going to be. Most committee work doesn’t make much of an impact on your students, and your main job is to impact your students.

Read more: Do Not Join That Unpaid Committee

Make a Plan

Decide now when you will commit extra hours to the job and stick to it right out of the gate. If you’re coming in an hour early, don’t also stay an hour late. Draw some lines in the sand for yourself and don’t cross them. Build in time now to detach. Pick at least one weekend day when you will nothing related to your job.

Read More: Make a Plan

Say No Early

Saying yes is habit-forming. The more you agree to take on extra work, the more likely you’ll be asked again in the future and the harder it will be for you to say no. Humans are remarkably consistent and salespeople regularly take advantage of it. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of the “yes ladder” sales technique, then you know how hard it can be to say no after you’ve said yes to five other questions. At the earliest opportunity, say no to your boss. Your future self will thank you.

Related: Why Teachers Should Object

Focus On What Matters

Your job is to teach the kids in front of you to the best of your ability. There are 100 things you can do as a teacher that have very little to do with student learning. The hour you spent on that pretty bulletin board just so parents would be impressed (maybe) for six seconds at open house could have been spent in better ways. Same goes for a number of tasks that could be done by students. Don’t peel the cellophane off 25 workbooks, neatly write student numbers on the covers with a Sharpie, and place the books into student desks when students of any age can do those things themselves. Think hard about how you use your time and save it for the things that matter the most.

Read more: Slash Your To-Do List

Learn

I write about all the above and much more in my books Exhausted (which will explain why you’re so tired after teaching and will offer the solutions you want) and Leave School At School (which could also be called “Optimizing Your Teaching”). I’d also recommend Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness, which will help you understand why you keep doing things that you later regret, Greg McKeown’s Essentialism, which will get you thinking hard about what you’re focusing on and how you’re using your time, and Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, which will help you decide what to care about (and it’s funny).

 

Wanting to help others is noble. No one can question Marty’s intent to rush into the water to save his dog. But good intentions can lead to horrible outcomes if we don’t think through the likely consequences. You aren’t much use to someone who’s drowning if you are drowning right next to them. Protect yourself first. Time yourself to a tree.

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Built To Last: How to Have a Long Teaching Career

About 8 percent of teachers leave the profession every year. That doesn’t sound like much, but with a workforce of over 3 million, it represents about 250,000 teachers. Less than one-third of those teachers retire. Speaking of retirement, on average, states assume that only half of teachers will qualify for any pension benefits and only one-fourth will reach full retirement age. It’s hard to last in teaching, which is why I asked some retired teachers how they did it.

The teachers:

Robin Klein taught for 42 years in upstate New York and suburban New Jersey. She presented at literacy conferences throughout her career and has been published in Booklinks magazine.

Debra Longnecker taught high school English for 38 years, retiring in 2014. She continues to teach grad classes and tutor at her local high school. She also raised two children who are now teachers.

Margaret Mason recently retired from a long teaching career in Australia.

Terry Weber, Carolyn Viereckl, and Sandra Lawrence also contributed.

What did you do early in your career to make it more likely that you would persevere for the number of years you did?

Robin:  Early in my career, I surrounded myself with positive colleagues who were supportive and did not compete. We became social friends as well as colleagues. I educated myself professionally by attending conferences and reading books in my field so that I would keep abreast of the latest trends and research in education from the beginning. I was also fortunate to have a mentor who was able to encourage me as well as provide positive suggestions for my growth.

Debra: I wanted to be a teacher all of my life, but friends were going into other fields, and I wondered if I’d chosen the wrong career. After gaining tenure, I took a “one year leave of absence” to pursue a job opportunity in sales. I got the thrill of having a company car and an expense account out of my system and returned to teaching the following year. Doing this gave me an appreciation for the teaching profession and all it offered me. I never questioned my decision again. I never complained about the long hours, hard work, or low pay. Taking that year off allowed me to compare jobs and know that I was where I should be and wanted to be.

Margaret:  I took a break of about 8 years while our children were young. I had always thought I would become a stay-at-home Mum once the children started to arrive. Frankly, I did not enjoy my first few years of teaching. New teachers were always given the lowest level classes and there was not a lot of help from Admin. Teaching science for an external exam to a roomful of some 30 completely non-academic boys was not much fun for a beginning teacher. Many of them have become well-respected tradesmen here – they were ‘hands-on’ and science at that time was very academic.

However, best laid plans…… My husband found it difficult to get employment and he suggested that I return to teaching (youngest was not quite 2) and he would become a stay-at-home Dad. This was in about 1977 – so we were almost pioneers in ‘role reversal’! Back at school, the 8 years off and kiddies of my own had allowed me to mature and to ‘learn’ some strategies. In that time, external exams had been abandoned here – so there was not as much pressure to teach for those ‘be all and end all’ exams.  Life in the classroom allowed for a little more relaxing with the kiddies.
Sandra: I did not do anything early in my career to make it more likely that I would persevere for 32 years. In my later years, I made sure to surround myself with coworkers who shared the same ideals and could laugh at the same things.
What are three pieces of advice you offer to young teachers hoping to make a career of teaching?
Terry: If I had to pick one thing that has kept me in for so long it would be changing up all the time. I am always looking for new units to teach so that my teaching doesn’t get stale
Carolyn: My advice is try to overlook as much of the baloney as you can. Focus on staying current–attend classes, go to workshops, keep learning and growing. You never know when taking the time to know and love a student will make a difference in their lives forever.
Robin:

1.      Find positive people, especially veterans, who can mentor you and give you advice and support.

2.      If your state/district has a union, join it. They should also provide mentorship (we have a New Teacher Orientation as part of our union opportunities) where you can talk to veterans and get further support and advice if needed. It is also a great place to meet colleagues, including those from other disciplines/buildings in the district.

3.      Find a balance. This is very difficult, and I admit that even after 42 years of teaching, the lack of balance was part of my personal decision to retire a couple of years earlier than I planned. You need to find/make time for your family and friends as well as activities that you enjoy doing—working out, reading, going to movies or restaurants etc. If you do not find this balance, you will run the risk of burning out.

 

Debra:

1.  Don’t be stubborn. If you stand rigid, you’ll break. If you bend, you’ll survive. No one will remember you bending. No one will forget you breaking.
 2.  Every day is a new day – a clean slate. It’s not, really, but you have to tell everyone that… including yourself.
 3.  If you aren’t happy, leave the profession. You’re doing more harm than good.

 

Margaret:

  1. It will all be worth it. Many of the kiddies (even the little horrors) will become good friends in future years. It is very rewarding to see them grow up and take their place in the community – and admit that you helped put them on their pathway. One lass I taught when she was about 14 – just after her Mum had died from breast cancer – I used to have ‘yelling matches’ in the classroom. I see her occasionally in the supermarket and we always exchange hugs.
  2. If it all becomes too much, take some time out. Explore the world, work in a different area and then re-assess. (My daughter has done this. She had several turnings on her career path before training to teach. After a couple of years at one school, she found the culture at it just too much to take, so decided to teach overseas. She taught in both Ethiopia and Libya. Her experiences there were not all that wonderful – largely due to incompetent principals (We decided many of them got to be principals in international schools because they weren’t good enough for promotion in their own country!). She took a few years break from teaching – but has now returned to it at a regional school.
  3. Don’t be afraid to show some emotion. Kids are not as tough as they like to make out, and they might just realise you are actually human too!

What is something you wish you would have been told when you were just starting out?

Sandra: I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career that being in charge of your own classroom is nothing like the student teaching experience. There was no such thing as a mentor when I started and it was tough not knowing who I could confide some of those insecurities in.

Robin: The number of hours this job will take is staggering these days. I never thought it was a 9-3 job with summers off ever, but now, with the advent of email, I feel like I was on call 24-7, including the summers. And, despite all the hours you will put in, there are times when you will not reach every student. You can strive for that, which I did, but you have to accept that there will be things you cannot change, because you are not living that student’s life outside of school.

Debra: I wish I had been told that a teacher wears many hats, including that of social worker, prison guard, clergy, police officer, drill sergeant, nurse, day care worker, entertainer, and parent. I’m sure I’ve left some out. I wish I’d been given practical experience in how to serve in each of those capacities. (Kind of like juggling with a candle and a chain saw at the same time, I think.)

Any other wisdom to share?

Margaret:

  1. Don’t be afraid to seek help from those higher up the ladder. They are paid extra so they can take on the responsibility of helping you!
  2. Network with other teachers to get ideas and share resources. It is so much easier now with the Internet than when I was teaching.

Debra:

-For what it’s worth, I found that 98% of all job aggravation came from sources other than the students. It usually came from administration, colleagues, parents, and the government.
    -A teacher’s job is to encourage the desire for life-long learning.
    -School is, for most students, an oasis. Let them know that this is probably the worst time of life (it was for me) and that they will make it through. But we are in it together, if they’ll have me.
    -We should not have to “jump through hoops,” but if we do have to, we can. Easily.
    -We are the most important profession in the world. Remind everyone. Remind yourself. Every morning.
Robin:  Please do not give up. We need you in the field to nurture and facilitate these students on their educational journey. It is challenging, and at times exhausting. The rewards of helping our children succeed are truly priceless. You will often go unrecognized for your efforts, but a piece of you will live behind as these students advance through school. Also, embrace the new technology. It will help make your lessons engaging and it is a way to reach many students.
_______________

 

 

 

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.