We all know there is no tired like teacher tired. And that is because there is no busy like teacher busy. There is not a single day in my 11 years of teaching when I left my room with a completed teacher to do list.
Even though I try to be efficient and plan ahead, I admit there are moments when I get too much into a particular kind of activity that is not the best use of my precious little time. In fact, sometimes I can make more work for myself. Whether it’s caring too much about how that new bulletin board looks or getting lost in social media, I look up at the clock and suddenly two hours have gone by with little to show for it.
All is not lost, though. I’ve put together some obvious culprits and suggestions for avoiding from these common teacher time sucks.
1. You overthink or overdecorate your classroom
I confess, I spent more time than I probably should have getting the alphabet poster in my classroom just so. I also have some REAL THOUGHTS about what makes bulletin boards look polished. (White fadeless paper and blue borders on all of the boards.) My room may look great, but I’ve stayed later than I wanted to on nights when I needed more sleep rather than less.
What I’m saying is the Pinterest-ready classroom is almost never worth losing sleep over …or missing time with your family. And you really, really don’t need 25 individualized Quidditch brooms hanging above your classroom library.
2. You get sucked into the black hole of the planner.
Something happened when the bullet journal met the teacher planner. Suddenly, our place to record staff meetings and special schedules became something much more, well, elaborate. And not always for the better.
You can certainly record tomorrow’s taco lunch in five different Flair pen colors, but you could probably use that time better. How about taking an extra minute in the bathroom or getting coffee from the staff lounge? Sure, draw the occasional banner, but don’t let color-coding get in the way of doing.
3. You try to create elaborate, cutesy gifts.
Around holidays and at the end of the year, social media teacher groups are filled with with photos of red-carpet-style swag bags containing picture-perfect gifts for students.
I understand giving students a small gift, but I also know that zero kids are mature enough to appreciate a well-curled ribbon or a personalized water bottle. They would like a sticker that smelled like pizza just as much. Trust.
Take the swag-bag time and money and invest it in a more-lasting gift: a short, handwritten card from you. Tell them they are kind, hard-working, and creative. Encourage them to read. You don’t have to spend hours wrapping and taping to show you care.
4. You start report cards without a game plan.
The expression, “Failing to plan means planning to fail” could very easily have been coined by a teacher caught off guard by report cards. For example, failing to gather information about your students in the weeks before you sit down to write your reports adds hours to the process.
Conversely, with a good set of notes about each student, you won’t waste time trying to come up with something to say. And having data makes straightforward work out of giving a letter grade or a rating.
5. You respond to emails immediately.
Like photocopies, grading, and creepy dolls in horror films, you can never get ahead of emails. They will always keep coming. Some habits, like responding immediately, fuel this cycle further. (How many of us have replied to a parent, only to have them email back within minutes?)
Don’t be afraid to let an email sit for a few hours if it is not time-sensitive. This slows down the cycle and sometimes even gives the emailer a chance to answer their own question. It also helps to batch your email replies, so you can save time responding.
6. You feel guilty about setting boundaries.
If you feel bad just thinking about not responding to emails right away, you might want to consider why. It is absolutely okay to stop checking work email at 5pm. In addition, there is nothing wrong with saying “no” to demands on your time. People will learn when you are available (or not), and will go on with their lives completely unharmed.