Looking back at the kinds of teachers I have had throughout the years, professors included, I think I can safely lump all of them into two general categories: those with enough down-time and those without. This major distinguishing factor can have a very serious effect on how well a teacher works in the classroom.
Let’s take a look at two specific examples:
One of the English teachers in my internship school was telling me about the year she was chair of the department and how that changed her perspective on involvement in the classroom. “I was quite awful that year as a teacher,” she had remarked. “I knew my students could tell that I was always distracted with other things that I had made more important than them.” The duties of department chair were staggering, and besides scheduling and budgeting things for the English department that year, she was still expected to take on three classes of core English III juniors- all with only one planning period at the beginning of the day. “It was the seventh period afterschool that I ignored first. Credit recovery could be pretty self-sufficient, so I didn’t feel too guilty. Then it was my juniors that started to feel it. Then my seniors. Pretty soon I felt like I didn’t know who any of my students were, and that was not okay with me.” Her struggles pushed her to the edge, and the stress also made her physically ill on a number of occasions. She may have done a good job as department chair, but her guilt stemmed from the cost of that decision: her own students felt neglected by her in the end.
Another teacher I know talked to me about the importance of his down-time. “There’s never a single moment where I’m not doing anything,” he said with a smile. “I’m the kind of guy who appreciates the little things. Its busy work that keeps me going through to two o’clock.” I had asked him how much grading he does from home in comparison to his load at school. “I’d say it’s about 3:1 in favor of hours of work at school. For every three hours of work I get done here, I usually have about one hour at home to finish up.”
I found this to be an impressive feat, especially as I pushed along with my own classes this last semester. There were some weekends where I would spend six or more hours both days of the weekend just getting a stack of papers graded or a bunch of worksheets read. I couldn’t understand how he got so much done while he was at school.
“My secret,” he replied, “is my system of organization. My planning period is sixth period, right at the end of the day. Some teachers might take that as an opportunity to leave early every day. Granted, I have done that a couple of times, but I’m usually here well past three in the afternoon. I’m planning tomorrow today. It lets me always play catch-up during the day and grade things as I go. No matter what my students are doing at the time, I am always keeping ahead of them.”
I hope to emulate this teacher’s ability to balance schedule time with down time. I am not usually an exceptionally organized person, but I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten a lot better since I began actively teaching. The difference has been working ahead and having a plan. Once I felt secure in my plan, I could keep moving and get the next week done, or the whole unit done. It’s all about the timing.