Recess Duty and 5 Other Moments Busy Teachers Should Prioritize

My teaching life is better when I make time for these things.

Recess Duty and 5 Other Moments Busy Teachers Should Prioritize

I’m a mom and a teacher. I have two kids, a husband, and a full-time job. This naturally means that some things fall by the wayside. Mount Laundry continues to grow at home, and I occasionally file a minor assignment in the trash can at school and then, when asked about it, claim that I already returned it. But I’ve found a few things absolutely worth making time for as a teacher, no matter what has to slide a little to make room.

1. Recess duty.

I always have a pile of papers that need to be graded during recess duty, but I rarely use that time for paperwork. Instead, I watch my kids.

This accomplishes a couple of things. First, it lets me troubleshoot social issues before they become full-fledged problems. If I notice that a kid is being ostracized, I can figure out why.  Second, it reminds me of how much I love my kids. Watching them play soccer and choreograph dance moves is such a different facet from what I see in the classroom, and it’s important to remember that side of their personalities, too.

2. Conferencing with students. 

I used to grade papers meticulously. Every grammatical error was marked, and every missing comma was added in red pen. You know what my kids did? They glanced at the grade, maybe read the comments on the rubric, and then stuffed it in a math workbook to be forgotten until the end of the year.

Now, I meet with kids for about five minutes each whenever they write papers. I say things like, “You’re doing a lot better on following your thesis statement, but I really want you to work on capitalization next time. Look at the first paragraph, where I marked all the things you forgot to capitalize, and see if there are any you’re confused about.” The time I gain by not marking every single error goes toward these conferences. And I’ve seen real improvement in my kids’ writing.

3. Student journaling.

I usually give kids topics for their journals, but once every couple of weeks they can write about whatever they want. This has been an invaluable resource for me as a teacher.

Our counseling department can always tell when my kids have had free writing time, because I spend all day running down to the office with sticky notes that say things like “J.A. dad being deported?” and “Vision screen for K.S?” The kids write about what’s on their minds, and they let their guard down. It gives me a chance to remove some of the obstacles to learning that they face, and it’s invariably worth the time it takes.

4. Reading books that make me a better teacher.

Whether it’s Maya Angelou or Christopher Emdin or a young adult novel I know my kids will love, reading helps me stay focused and reminds me why I do what I do.

5. Writing and reflecting about teaching.

I blog. I talk to other teachers when I should be supervising study hall. We compare failures over a round of margaritas. All these count as valuable reflection. They help me work through what went right and what went wrong, and give me ideas for how I can change things up next time.

6. Exercising.

I make my kids exercise for five minutes a class period, and I join them, so that helps. My dog and I go for a walk after school whenever we can. I take the stairs to the computer lab. Anything that keeps me moving tends to make me feel a little more energized when exhaustion threatens to swamp me.

My classroom is dirty and I’m hoarding stacks of ungraded review sheets like a survivalist hoards toilet paper.  I’m still stressed out and frazzled half the time, especially around testing season. But having my priorities in order and devoting time to the things that make me a more effective teacher makes the workload seem a little more manageable.

Teachers, we’d love to know—what moments would you add to the list?

Elizabeth Peyton

Posted by Elizabeth Peyton

I teach at a small urban middle school for refugee and immigrant kids. I spend all day with the most challenging, hilarious, exhausting group of people I can imagine, and I'm extremely grateful for it!