The less time you spend working on school, the happier and better teacher you are.
I took this from another teacher at my student teaching placement. We chatted during our plan periods, and she taught me a lot about valuing my time and respecting my outside teacher life. As a new teacher bent on being the best I could, I fell trap in the beginning to stay up late and perfect every single power point and write paragraphs of feedback (yes, literally paragraphs) to every single student’s piece of writing. I would come to school each day, dreary-eyed and half-zombied, and be devastated when my plan I worked so hard on fell hard on its face.
I wanted to blame it on the kids; I wanted to blame it on the district; I wanted to blame it on my program; but in the end, I needed to look at myself. That was the only thing I had control over. When I looked at myself, I (emotionally) realized that my plans weren’t working because I was no longer on my A-game during class. I was exhausted.
I put a post-it on my computer with the question,
“How much is what I’m doing right now going to benefit the kids?”
20 minutes trying to get the formatting to work on Word for a two-sided paper instead of 3? Not much. Writing comments on final papers that I knew the kids were not going to look at anyway? Just, stop. Slowly I started pulling myself away from perfectionistic tendencies, and I started looking at my own health and happiness as an invaluable asset to the classroom.
Another tip this same teacher that taught me this gave me was this: don’t go into your after-school time with a to-do list (teachers, we never get through that thing–why tease yourself?). Go into your after-school time with a time limit of how long you’re willing to work. Yes, willing. Not “need to”. Then, prioritize your to-do list with a number system:
3-this is critical to do NOW for my student’s learning
2-this is pretty important for students’ learning
1-this is just something I’d like to accomplish, but not critical
In your time-limit, cover your 3’s first, then 2’s, then 1’s. Most times, I wouldn’t even get past my 3’s, but at least the things that were critical were done, and my mental health–which was just as critical–was intact. I’d go home, eat dinner, watch a movie or read in peace, and be ready to be a nice human being the next day (I was also a nicer human being to my fiance at night). I have faltered through this system (in fact I’m realizing I’ve been getting pretty far from it lately), but whenever I get back on, I feel the effects in my teaching. We are dealers of learning and motivation, and we need our patience, love, and kindness in full strength, every day.