Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dear E: Time Management

Dear E:

As the calendar clicks closer to your departure for your first teaching job, I'm going to continue with my offerings of Useful Things To Know. It's been a while since I was a first year teacher, but I've certainly watched plenty start out since then, so I can pass on what I've seen.

I'm sure your college gave you some of the standard practical rules for teaching. Don't smile until Christmas. Make friends with the secretaries. But here's one of the major things they never tell you when you're starting out.

There won't be enough time.

Everything takes longer than you expect it to, and lots of things you end up doing over as you discover how you should have done it the first time. Grading papers. Scoring tests. Entering grades in the gradebook. Creating lesson plans and designing materials and then redoing all of it based on how well things went the first time. In my first year, I made the mistake of living across the street from my high school. I got up in the morning, ate, walked to school, did as much paperwork as I could before classes started, taught all day, worked in my room for an hour or two, walked home, got some supper and sat on the couch with supper and a stack of papers on the coffee table in front of me and worked till I went to bed. Rinse and repeat. On Saturdays and Sundays, more of the same. And that wasn't enough.

Granted, I'm an English teacher, and that comes with some expectations about paperwork, but your discipline isn't that different. We all start out with a well-developed idea about what a Really Good Teacher would be doing, and then we have the slowly dawning realization that we won't be able to do this.

The point here is not to discourage you. The point is for you to realize that 1) this is normal and 2) it gets better.

You can focus on all the things you aren't getting done and all the ways in which you aren't measuring up the image of a Really Good Teacher, and by focusing on the negatives, you can convince yourself that you suck and are no good at this and you've made a terrible mistake in your career choice.

Don't do that.

This is normal.

The longer you do this, the more efficient you will become. You will be faster at doing things, and you will be smarter about what things need to be done. In the meantime, the need to perform pedagogical triage, to figure out how best to use the not-enough-time you have, is a great opportunity to reflect on your practice, to teach even more mindfully. It will be a chance to think about what is most important and how best to work toward that objective. This is a great opportunity, so embrace it and don't beat yourself up when you drop a ball or two. Every part of this process is a chance to get better. It is why even the roughest first year in the classroom can teach a teacher more than all four years of college.

One last note on the too-little-time thing. No matter how behind and beleaguered you feel, take time to care for yourself. Skype your brothers and niece and nephews. Play a dumb game. Watch a dumb show. If you are a scrapped down shell of a person, you can't give your students what they need. This will take all of your time if you let it, but you have to save some time selfishly for yourself. You're out of college now-- this is a great time to drop the high-maintenance relationships from your life, because you don't really have time for them.

You can totally handle this. Now get back to packing-- you don't have much time left.



  1. All true. And the bitterest part is, the entire educational industry agrees that there's nothing wrong with a goodly fraction of students getting a sub-standard education while their new teachers learn to do their jobs well at their expense. Or, if not 'nothing wrong', certainly nothing that can be done within the budget and practice of school as we know it.