February 3, 2018

My 40 Hour Work Week as a Teacher

I'm sure you've read the title and thought..."yeah, right!" or "Maybe for her, but not for me."

But I can promise you that my system has worked and continues to work, it has helped me remain sane, keep my joy for teaching, still enjoy life outside of my classroom, and most importantly enjoy life INSIDE my classroom.

I love teaching, with my entire being - but it doesn't need to consume me.

Before I even begin, I need to clarify a few things....

1. This 40 hour work week that I have established doesn't include the extra school events, the random projects I think of in my brain that I decide to attempt, OR the pinteresting.....

2. Are there weeks that I work over 40 hours in my classroom? Absolutely. It especially happens the month of September! BUT the 40 hours always happens when I do follow my system (that you'll read about below)

3. By confining my work week to only 40 hours doesn't mean I'm skimping on my teaching or instruction, rather, it's making better use of my time and allowing me to be more focused and clear on my teaching. I'm more prepared for each day - but that's for the rest of this post. :)

I have recently developed a huge passion for preserving the joy I have in teaching and maintaining self care . Left and right, all around me, teachers were burning out by years 4, 5, and 6, sometimes later, sometimes earlier. I could see it, they knew it. It was scary.

Would this be me soon? Is a teaching career only short term? I'm on year 4 right now, is it going to be this year when I lose my spark?

My college debt would later tell me that my teaching will have to be more of a long term thing. ;)

All kidding aside, those questions were valid. and real. and right in front of me.

I decided to establish and do whatever I could to preserve my joy, have self-care, and enjoy my career as a teacher. Teachers are asked to do a lot. We are one of the few professions that has to plan and prepare ahead for work...but when we go to work we are teaching students and we don't have much time to plan or prepare..... it's really a vicious cycle! I was going in hours early, staying hours late, and going in each day of the weekend to make my classroom run smoothly.

I decided that enough was enough! I missed my husband, I missed my friends, I wasn't cooking or doing much housework, I felt consistently stressed about getting stuff done, I created thousands of to-do lists, and I realized there wasn't a balance to my life... while teaching is an extremely large part of me, it's not my entirety. I enjoy decorating and crafting and talking and coffee and shopping and pinterest and many, many other things that bring me joy and are ways for my brain to be turned off for a while. When I was working crazy hours, I wasn't soaking up any of those things! Those things bring me a reprieve from the day to day world and they bring joy! Without those extras that I love, I was very fuss.

By establishing this, I am able to be prepared, ready, and focused for my students each morning, more intentional in my instruction, and more detailed in my planning. I feel like I can properly go into each day!

okay, okay, okay. Are y'all ready for my random plan that I came up with that works so well it's not even funny?! Are you ready to arrive 30 minutes before school starts and leave EXACTLY when you can?! Are you ready to enjoy your time at home, attempt to keep your house clean, and to have time to socialize? Are you ready to care for your self?

I wasn't able to just implement my system all at once and magically stay at school for only 40 hours each week! It took time and I had to add pieces of my system in slowwwllllyyyy before it became a natural fit.

The first thing I did started during my first year of teaching....

  • I made a planning period schedule. Each day I have a planning period and I found that if I didn't have a purpose for my planning period, I often used it as a reprieve and could be found making random copies, talking to other teachers in the hallway, or putzing (spelling?!) around my classroom.
I pasted this pretty little diddy to my teacher table and there is no going back! 

Every Monday, my planning period is a lot shorter - and it's Monday, so I take that time to literally BREATHE. Grab some water. Put some things away from the Monday rush. Reset my room. 

Every Tuesday, I grab the units I will be teaching next week and I pull up any pinterest projects or pins that I found that I want to try this year and I get to work making all copies and materials. (I know this sounds backwards but I like to pull everything out and copy it before I plug it in my plans)

Every Wednesday, my Kindergarten team has team planning where we swap more ideas, go over school wide schedules and details, and figure out anything else we might have to figure out!

Every Thursday, I plug all of my materials into my lesson plans, I create my reading plans for my small group table and my assistant's small group table. I print those puppies out, hole punch them, and they go straight into my lesson plan binder!

Every Friday, I type up my newsletter during my planning period and put it in student's mailboxes to send home that day. I also reset my independent literacy centers. 
 I have 4 reading rotations and typically in a normal week, 5 literacy centers to reset. I make the centers to flexible so I can move groups and kids as needed, depending on differentiation!
This small focus for my planning period has helped me ease planning of Kindergarten! It's been a great system!
  • I organize my weekly materials by the day. 

As soon as I'm finished plugging my plans in, my copies and materials go straight into these daily drawers. This includes everything for that whole day - my read alouds, my content units, my writing warm-ups and morning work, my math plans! Everything! I have my whole week ready at a drawer's notice! This has helped me feel extremely prepared. 

  • I copy materials that are month-long. 
This may sound a little crazy, but some of my classroom work items are monthly-themed. For example, I have writing warm-ups that we do each day, but they are themed by the month. January writing warm-ups, February writing warm-ups, etc. On Jan 31, I copy everything for February. I have them at a moment's notice and it's one less thing to worry about copying each week. I pull 5 off the pile each week and place one in each daily drawer! 

  • I established an Early AM Routine
I only arrive to school 30 to 40 minutes early, depending on how my morning has gone, hahaha! I created a routine to help me be prepared as much as possible and minimize any extra time!
1. Feed Donashello
2. Move Trash cans back inside the classroom
3. Set up lunch choices for the day!
4. Pull drawer materials out for the day, set out Writing Warm-Up and Morning Work
5. Check emails, CHECK EMAILS, check EMAILS
6. Send any parent messages/notes/info as needed

^^ people make fun, because I usually never have more than 4 emails in my inbox. I organize them all by folders if I need to save them for later. It's important to me that I stay on top of communication as needed! And I HATE having a full inbox. 

This all can be done in 30 minutes and I am beyond prepared to simply focus on my kiddos during the whole day! 

  • Resetting the classroom
  • Classroom cleaning schedule
These next two sortttaaa go hand in hand, so I am going to talk about them together. I do not stay after school to reset my classroom or clean my classroom. I have really instilled in my Kindergarteners that.....

this classroom is our space. 

So, we all take care of it together all day long! I have student jobs...

The students reset the room together each day, typically as we go through the day. The calendar is reset for the next day, the items and materials. This took a lot of intentional conversation and a lot of time in September and October. By November, they've nailed it and do a great job of keeping our classroom space always ready!

My class jobs encompass a lot of the other things I might have to do during the day, but because it is a student job, I don't have too! For example, I have two trash helpers who move the trash cans outside the room. I have a Chart Monitor to hands out stickers to those who earned them for their sticker chart. I have a paper passer, teacher's assistant, and so much more. I find that classroom jobs that help the students maintain the classroom have instilled much more appreciation and value in my students for their classroom space.

At the end of each day, there is one student who passes out wipes. My Clean Up Crew (class jobs) starts picking up the floors and everyone else wipes down tables, chairs, toys, tools, and puts all of our seating off the floor for the janitorial staff to vacuum. Within 3 minutes, our classroom is clean and ready, we grab our backpacks and head to the buses!

I feel the need to repeat... This took a lot of intentional conversation and a lot of time in September and October.

  • Self-stuffed Folders
I created mailboxes for my students in late December. My assistant and I were spending half the morning putting important papers into folders, trying to find who had a folder and who didn't. When we'd get a paper, we would have to sort through a stack of folders to find the right one...It was just taking more time! I'm all about saving time! 

So I created mailboxes. I took some leftover space in my paper sorter, put their names on binder clips, and created mailboxes. 

Sorry the picture is so blurry - do you just love my "pile" on top?! haha Real life teacher stuff right there. 

Anyway, now when we get papers, I just file them in their mailboxes. When the students are done with their work, they put them in their mailbox. No more crumbled papers in backpacks! No more crazy papers on the floor! 

ALSO - I have a folder passer who passes out folders at the end of the day. 


YES^^ it's true. You read that correctly! I have streamlined this situation, the students are responsible, independent, and LOVE it. Seriously.

When my students are completing their classroom jobs, what am I doing? I'm connecting. I'm dealing with the crying or hurt student. I'm celebrating with a student who wants to show me more of the work in their journal. Because I have slowly given independence to my sweet friends, they are able to take care of their logistical needs in order to get packed up or to go to another center, and I am able to continue to build solid relationships with them! 

I'm sharing this with you because it's helped me. It's helped me immensely. Maybe not all of this sounds like something you would want to do, and that's okay. Maybe it just wouldn't work out with your group of kiddos this year, and that's okay too. I just HAD to share because I know that the joy and life can get sucked out of teaching so easily. 

While my system might not be your system or the one that would work best for you, my system has allowed me to remain joyful. Intentional. Connected. In constant relationship. with my students. 

Find what works for you! Do what you need to do to make your classroom work and run!  But dear teacher friend, don't lose sight of who you are and what you love. 

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