This article was written by Carol Caruso, M.S. Ed — an enthusiastic educator of 26 years, a wife, mother, and school counselor. She enjoys the peace she feels during times of prayer and meditation, especially when surrounded by the spiritual calm of nature. Mrs. Caruso has been published in Educational Leadership, Pastoral Life, and wrote a weekly column for parents in the Atlantic Highlands Herald.
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"My job is easy!" said no teacher, ever.
You’ve heard the old adage, “work smarter, not harder,” but has anyone ever told you how? As a teacher you’re overwhelmed with lesson plans, administrative duties, parent contact, and a plethora of other duties as assigned. So how can you accomplish more by doing less when you’re feeling so overwhelmed?
Here are five tips for doing fewer things better, building resiliency, and avoiding burnout:
1. Start your day with a pause.
Think about what needs to be done and write it down. A checklist can give you motivation, keep you on task, and provide a sense of satisfaction each time an item is marked complete. A written plan can keep you focused when the day throws something your way that feels urgent, but really isn’t. Seriously, how many things happen in a day that are true emergencies that have to be done right now? A teacher I know had a sign hanging in his office that expresses this sentiment perfectly:
“Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”
2. Relinquish control.
This is a tough one for us type-A teachers. If you can delegate something, do it. Ask yourself if you secretly think that no one can complete this task as well as you can. Perfectionism may be rooted in a fear of failure or an addiction to praise. Sit quietly with this thought for a minute and bring it out of the darkness. Is this you?
3. Work on something you want to do, not something you have to do.
Feel the flow as time passes when you are engrossed in a task that matters to you. Put the papers that need to be graded aside and work on something that moves your needle forward. What about that idea you wanted to present to your principal that has been floating around your brain for the past three years? Write it up, make an appointment to present your idea, and enjoy the positive comments that will inevitable don your next evaluation because you’re the type of teacher that isn’t afraid of change and moves things forward.
4. Let’s deal with those boring papers that need grading.
Create exciting lessons that engage your students without burying you in a mound of paperwork. Tweak the lessons year to year and give your students options. You create the “pick your lesson” assignment once and you don’t have to grade the essays of the students who demonstrated topic proficiency by creating a song and presenting it to the class. Recently, I watched a high school math teacher assess her students singing Christmas Carol tunes with lyrics that pertained to geometry. Not a lot of paper grading there.
5. Watch your data.
If you’re worried about not being busy enough and that by using these tips and techniques you might cause your teaching abilities to slip and ultimately harm your students enough that they decide to drop out of school and ultimately society; keep track of what is working. Use pre- and post assessments to measure learning. Create a Google Doc and ask your students what lessons they like and don’t like and why. Ask them what makes learning fun, and believe me, they’ll be (all too) happy to share.
We can do this, my fellow teachers. I know the pressures are real and we’re in a profession that is always on. Take some time to step back and enjoy the spotlight. We change the world for the better.