So this is your first year teaching.
You’ve set up your classroom, you’ve attended orientation, you’ve filled out all of the paperwork and you’ve put some lesson plans together. You’re a month into the school year and you’ve started to really get to know your students, your content area and how to go about the job of teaching. You’re starting to really feel the impact you can have on the life of your students.
Then, you take a moment to think about where you are. You’re teaching in an urban or inner-city school; you may or may not be used to the atmosphere and culture of the building. You may work in a traditional public school or you could be working in a charter school. You realize the demands of the job are not limited to lesson plans, developing student growth objectives and managing personalities all day. Calling parents, figuring how to differentiate student learning and also juggling actual teaching with teaching to the test can occupy much of your time in addition to all of the regular “teaching” functions that you’re responsible for. You may begin to wonder if you’re cut out for the job. You might begin to question whether or not you belong in an urban or inner-city school. You’re may be fearful that you cannot meet the demands of the job; that you cannot meet the needs of your students… Then you say to yourself, “It’s only October.”
You never quite know what you’re getting yourself into when you decide to become a teacher. We often think about that one teacher that made a major impact in our lives as our inspiration for joining the profession. However, fond memories are not enough to keep any of us in the profession. The stress and frustration that leads to burnout can overcome any altruism. You may wonder if it is possible for teachers to get burnt out in just the second month of the school year; the answer is YES WE CAN! I’ve witnessed teachers leave the classroom after two weeks. I’ve witnessed a principal leave after in November of a school year… things like that happen. In the best of conditions, the circumstances of your students and the gargantuan task of having them perform on grade level weighs heavily on you. If you work in a school where professional development is non-existent, where your administration is not the most thorough where discipline is concerned, where you are constantly asked to do things above and beyond the scope of teaching, you may get drained. So the million dollar question for those of you feeling overwhelmed is, “how do I prevent that from happening to me?” The answer is that you’ll never be able to lessen the demands of being a teacher in an inner-city or urban school. However, you can develop habits that will prevent immediate burnout.
- LEAVE YOUR WORK AT WORK! Teachers tend to do much of their work at home. You may hear those teachers complain about how they have no life. That is their fault because they’ve made their job their life. After-work hours is your personal time. You can give as much of it to your job but they won’t pay you for it. If at all possible, do the bulk of your work at work. If this means staying at work for an extra 60 to 90 minutes after quitting time, then do so. But you should not take your work home – specifically during the week. Designating 1 weekend day for lesson plans and assignments is fine. But you should avoid doing any work during the workweek. Your home is your sanctuary; the place where you can rest and recharge. You cannot do either of those things when you’re working.
- DO NOT CHECK YOUR WORK EMAIL AFTER AN APPOINTED TIME. It may be tempting and there may be some important info that you may need to see. Check the next morning before work. There is no problem you can solve when everyone is no longer at work. If you use your email to communicate with parents, give them a time where you will stop checking and responding to their emails. Again, you need your life and your sanity. Administrators get paid to send emails at twilight hours, you do not.
- SET BOUNDARIES WITH PARENTS AND STUDENTS. If not, they will call and email you at their convenience and some will talk to you, especially parents, about everything under the sun well after the sun has gone down. Again, you have a life and possibly a family. Your time is valuable. Use it for yourself. A good way to do this (especially with phone calls) is to use google voice. With google voice, you can have your students and parents call a number that is connected to your phone rather than calling your actual phone number. There is a do not disturb feature that allows you prevent calls from coming to your phone for as long as you wish.
- DO NOT REINVENT THE WHEEL. When it comes to lesson plans and lesson, you should have to start from scratch every time you start a new plan or lesson. You should find out the lesson plan format that your administrator requires of you and develop a template where the only thing you have to fill in is the date, unit, topic SLO (Student Learning Objective) the prompting questions and the activities for the class. This should help cut down on the time you use on drafting lesson plans. Concerning your lessons, use the internet to help you. Online, you can find presentations and assignments, in addition to various resources that can help you with your lessons. Developing new presentations and assignments is cool but it takes time. If you want to be effective and also expedient, use the web to help you.
- MAKE ALL OF YOUR COPIES AFTER SCHOOL ENDS, ESPECIALLY ON FRIDAY. If you desire to make copies at the beginning of the day, plan on arriving an hour before school starts. For some that may be 6am. If you’re not the first to the copier, you’ll be frustrated because you and about 5 to 10 other teachers are trying to get those assignments copied before homeroom; probably because they finished planning at home (See No. 1). Do yourself a favor and wait until the end of the day to make copies. 9 times out of 10, everyone has gone home and you won’t have to fight to use the copier. If you’re staying late to do your work so you don’t have to work at home, this makes even more sense.
- DO WHATEVER YOU ADMINISTRATORS TELL YOU TO DO. Even if none of what they tell you to do makes any sense. Whether it concerns a school-wide directive or a set of directives to modify your instruction… just do it. They are in charge and you are not. The responsibility of what happens after they’ve given instructions falls on them as long as you follow exactly what they said. This protects you if something goes wrong and it also forces you to not think about how ineffective or dysfunctional a directive may be.
If you do these few things, you may save yourself headaches and heartaches during the school year. People often say it’s not about how you start but how you finish. The reality is, it is about not running to the exit.
Let’s continue to press towards the mark.