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January 2016 | Volume 58 | Number 1
The Wonder Years
For many years, I participated as a leader in our district's new teacher induction program. We would share with our rookies a chart from the New Teacher Center that outlines the rather intense emotional periods that new teachers encounter: from anticipation at the beginning of the year to survival in October to disillusionment mid-year, and then from rejuvenation in the spring to reflection and then back full circle to anticipation. As a 13-year veteran, I've noticed that almost all teachers experience these phases—and sometimes we need to strengthen our resolve.
The only way to pull yourself away from the disillusionment and exhaustion that mid-year can bring is to prioritize. Teaching, I have often remarked, is a lot like housework. You will never truly be finished, and even when you are caught up, something new lands on top of the pile. Here's how I advise my mentees to prioritize, in order, what is often a prodigious workload:
1. Student welfare. Anything that has to do with a student's well-being eclipses other concerns. A student might be experiencing problems at home, issues with friends, anxiety, bullying, or other challenges. Taking care of kids comes first.
2. Lesson planning. Preparation is a huge component of classroom management. Spend your time developing organized lesson plans that support the learning standards for your subject/grade and account for student engagement and responsibility. Include all the necessary components: a do-now, the meat of the instruction, activities to support the instruction, plans for closure, and built-in formative assessments. Have all of the materials prepared before you execute the lesson and keep a back-up plan in mind.
3. Parent contact. As a new parent, I often wonder what I would want my child's teacher to do. As a general rule, I respond to parents as soon as possible. If I can't reach them by the end of the school day, I apply a 12-hour rule and respond by the next morning. When it is impossible to immediately address a parent's concerns, I will do my best to let the parent know that I will be in touch at a mutually convenient time.
4. Administrative contact. Concerns from the administration are often connected to the first three priorities. If you tend to the first three in order, there is a good chance that any issues brought to your principal or assistant principal may resolve on their own. For example, when you receive an e-mail that says "see me about a student" and you've already been in contact with that student's parents, you are aware of issues that need attention.
5. Grading. Turnaround time on tests and writing is of the utmost importance because feedback from both summative and formative assessments informs instruction. However, grading (much like the laundry) tends to pile up if you are prioritizing the first four concerns. To avoid being buried in grading, set your own grading deadlines ahead of other deadlines (before the report cards are due!). I have found it helpful to set personal deadlines for each grading task, incorporating into the next lesson when I will review that particular assessment.
Prioritizing helps create time and space in your workday and at home. Consider using some of the reclaimed time to take care of yourself, because as Stephen Covey says, "Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have—you." Prioritizing brings a sense of balance to one of the greatest assets any student can have—an inspiring and motivated teacher!
Would you like to write for the next "Road Tested" column? Visit www.ascd.org/educationupdate for submission details.
Elena Heglund is an English teacher at William T. Rogers Middle School in Kings Park, N.Y.
Copyright © 2016 by ASCD
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