We all know that part and parcel of being a teacher are the extra hours that you have to put into your job. Evenings, weekends and early morning starts take their toll. Here are seven tips that I have found helpful in keeping my sanity during the school year and to claw a little time back.
1. Set out your clothes the night before
I know, right, this seems so minor. But on a dark morning, stumbling around looking for that cute scarf and matching Tieks (who am I kidding, I can’t afford Tieks) is more than I can handle. I am lucky if I have brushed my hair. So setting everything out the night before (down to the undies, earrings and shoes) saves me 15 minutes in the morning when my brain isn’t functioning and cannot make simple decisions until it has had three cups of coffee.
2. Make your lunch the night before
As much as getting dressed is hard for me in the morning, prepping my lunch in the early hours for the day ahead is a nightmare. On a bad day I tell myself that I won’t need lunch that day anyway (who needs three meals a day?), or if I get hungry I will just get something from the vending machine. At the end of the day I come home $7 lighter having eaten Lays ‘Nip-Chee’ crackers and a Snickers bar, washed down with a Dr. Pepper and feeling bad about myself. So instead I make myself get a lunch ready the night before. These are my go-to lunches:
- Some kind of sandwich with whatever filling we have with apple and almonds
- Left-overs from the night before (my absolute favorite kind of lunch – I do a happy dance knowing that lunch is taken care of and all I have to do is find a container to put it in – no mean feat)
- Make ahead burritos – make 16 at a time and freeze them. Grab and go! Recipe here.
The key is to have your lunch box plus water bottle ready and sitting in the fridge. Don’t kid yourself that you will make your sandwich in the morning. You won’t. Do it while you are cooking supper and make it a habit.
3. Get up when the alarm goes off
Don’t think about it. Don’t hit snooze. Jump out of bed and get in the shower before your brain has time to think about what just happened. Is it easy? No. But by forcing yourself out of bed you have given yourself an extra 15-20 minutes to regroup in the morning. Give your brain time to catch up with what is going on, write a list of things you need to get accomplished during the day, meditate or do yoga. Savor your coffee instead of drinking it on the go. Successful people get up early. You are successful.
4. Find apps to streamline your productivity
How many apps do you have that you never use taking up space on your phone? Get rid of them and find some that will really be of use. My favorites are Remind and Scannable. You can read more about them here, plus others that I think are essential.
5. Transition time
We know that our students need a few minutes to transition from one lesson to the next, but we are not good at recognizing that it is difficult for us to cut off from one part of the day to begin the next. Specifically from when students get on the buses to the time you have left in school that day. Not many teachers are able to just leave and go home – we have too many things to do, but how many times have you found that an hour has drifted away and you still have a list of things to accomplish?
After students have left, give yourself a few minutes to chat with co-workers and then excuse yourself. Go close your classroom door and take 15 minutes to reset your brain. Find somewhere to hide. This is your time, so do something that you enjoy – make a fresh cup of coffee, scroll through your social media, or use Headspace or Buddify to practice mindfulness. Don’t do anything school related – no checking parent emails or grading papers. Just breathe. The aim is to create a clear dividing line between the first part of your school day, (the teaching part), and the second part of your day in school, (planning and organizing).
15 minutes only. And then start working on your list of things to do.
6. Set a timer
I am all about the timer, can you tell? I have a whole post on using timers to motivate yourself. They work for me. I have found that I can get more accomplished if I set a timer because I only have that amount of time to get a job done. If I don’t set a timer it might take me 30 minutes to get something done that should only have taken 5.
After you have finished everything you can manage in one afternoon (there are always more things to do, put them on a list and set it aside for tomorrow. I love lists too) set a timer on your phone for 5 minutes. Set yourself a task – it might be different for each day
of the week or the same one everyday. Launch yourself into a frenzy, clearing your desk, or going through junk mail, sorting a math tub, setting out morning work, sharpening pencils. Choose something that is going to make your life easier.
5 minutes, everyday, before you lock your classroom door.
7. Stay in your own lane
This is something my principal would say to his staff. Stay in your own lane. It is a great one to remember. Basically, don’t concern yourself with what is going on in another classroom, in the office, in anything that doesn’t directly impact you. Schools are full of drama, even when the students are not there. Don’t get caught up in it. It is much easier to stay in your own lane when you are new to a school – you don’t know anyone and you are focused on your own students. But the longer you spend at a school, the more you are invested in relationships, friendships, cliques and the pettiness that goes alongside. I would be kidding myself if I said I didn’t love a bit of gossip – but try to keep it outside of school and keep your work time professional. Don’t get bogged down by negativity of other teachers. Smile and tell them you have a ton of things to do. Kill negativity with kindness, keep your head down and get your stuff done. Stay in your own lane.
Hopefully one or more of these tips will help you navigate through the year ahead. I wish you all the best for a happy and productive year. You have an extremely important job – don’t forget to keep your eyes on the goal!