Teaching Smarter, Not Harder

Today I was in my classroom from 7:45am until 6:30pm. It’s one of the very few days of the year I will work that many hours, but we had a family Ice Cream Social and even though it wasn’t required, I wanted to at least make an appearance. Most days, I show up a little bit early, and get out by my contracted 4:00. But as the new year has started, tons of my teacher (and principal) friends have been lamenting how late they are staying at school and how little they are sleeping.

I’ve had several of those same friends say things like, “I just can’t get out the door,” or “I have too much to do so I have to stay.” I, too, remember the pressure to stay late my first year of teaching, but I knew immediately that it working ten, twelve, fourteen hour days is a fundamentally flawed system. How many people on their deathbed say, “I wish I had stayed later at work…” ?? No one. That’s who.

Working late means you exercise less, sleep less, eat crappier food, and so on. On the most basic health level, it’s not good for you.

So how can you get out the door on time when the mountain of work seems insurmountable? I pride myself on efficiency; on working (teaching) smarter, not harder.

First off, checklists. Have you read The Checklist Manifesto by Atwul Gawande? Without a prioritized checklist, you are most likely wasting time on items that can wait, and not checking off the things that really need to get done. I even make my OWN checklist notepad.

IMG_2869Are you getting enough sleep? You may think that all those extra hours you are putting in are efficient, but studies constantly show that sleep deprivation makes you super inefficient. It also kind of makes you depressing and an asshole. No one wants to be around that. And on a vanity level, you’re ruining your complexion. Look at this excerpt from “Three Reasons You Need More Sleep” on Forbes:

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 9.26.11 PM


As a teacher, I expect my students focus and engage in their work, but at a certain point, they have permission to just put it aside and come back later. If they are managing their time well, then no one can fault them for not finishing an assignment.

Which brings up inefficiency and inefficient processes. I always tell people I didn’t get two Master’s Degrees to learn to use a copy machine. A teacher’s job is never done, but with some strategic delegation it can actually be easy at times.

For years I have created a “classroom internship” that gets high quality college students into my school to deal with the minutae of my job. It’s a win-win. They get real-life experience and a stellar recommendation, and I get someone to make copies, put stickers on student work, and make cool artwork displays. I also employ parent volunteers, student teachers, and students themselves…the message is that we must work together to achieve our goal. (That being said, I never want to exploit my help…I try to always repay them in a different way.)

I also highly recommend analyzing your habits and processes on a regular basis to figure where your effort should really be focused. One of my favorite books is Do More Great Work by Michael Bungay Stanier because it’s super interactive. A really easy tool is to use this map to plot out how you spend your day:

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 9.49.06 PM

Then you do one of how you wish you spent your day (within reason, of course…you can’t say 100% of the time on tropical beach). Then the book helps facilitate a change from your current reality to your desired reality. It takes some intentional thinking, but I can vouch that it really helped me find a lot of clarity in how I spend (and waste) my time.

What’s the most important part to getting home on time? Understanding that you are your worst enemy. You must be willing to change your current habits, but for me I rarely say things like, “I can’t…”Looking for more reading on this topic? Here’s a couple I also refer back to for my own personal and professional growth:

The Inefficient Frontier: Work-Life Balance

10 Signs Your Burning Out and What To Do About It


2 thoughts on “Teaching Smarter, Not Harder

  1. I get the Great Work Provocations from Michael Bungay Stanier – they are so great! I totally agree that a 12 hour work day system is so flawed. I worked in finance for a few years, and having mountains to do meant I got on intimate terms with a to do list – a total lifesaver.

    I’m still a student teacher, so expecting that there will be a huge amount of work for me in the first few years. On the flip side, however, it’s really important to prioritise time for our own lives too! Great post.

    • Thanks for reading! I always try to show my student teachers my systems for handling the workload so hopefully they come up with something once they get their own classroom. It can make or break that first year!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s