July 7, 2015

Why I Don't Own a Teacher Bag

There's something kind of bugging me. 

I've noticed that teachers take home a giant bag of stuff every single night. Now, I don't know if they're actually doing all the stuff in that bag or not. But, want to know a secret?

I don't even OWN a "teacher bag."

I used to.My first year, I took it home every night. I cut out file folder games on my free time. I graded papers every night. I stayed at school until 6:30 almost every day. It was horrible. School was my entire life.

So, then for a few years, I just brought the bag home on weekends. And, I would sit on my Friday nights and grade the entire week's worth of papers. Then on Saturday, I would staple them into packets to return and then I'd enter all the grades into my grade book. It took me several hours. It, too, was horrible.

Now, like I said, I don't even have a bag. I don't bring anything home. Ever.

I guess it's not the bags themselves that bug me. It's the idea that we're never doing enough. It's the thought that in order to be a great teacher you have to work morning, noon and night. You have to feel guilty if you walk out of school at 3:30 when you finish dismissal duty. I hate that. 

I didn't even tell anyone for the longest time that I don't take stuff home. Because, honestly, I didn't want it to seem like I don't work hard. And, I do. I work crazy hard. But, guys? As much as I love teaching and think that teaching is my calling and truly enjoy my job, I have to keep it in check. Because, it's not my entire life. And it shouldn't be. 

So, I'm going to tell you how I avoid taking a teacher bag home. And, just know that this is what works for me. I'm honestly, honestly not trying to lecture you! But, if you're wanting to gain back your nights and weekends, maybe you'll find something in here that will speak to you. That's my intent. 

And, if you LIKE bringing your teacher bag home every night and grading papers while you watch the Bachelor? Then, go on with your bad self! No judgement here.

Ok. You ready? 

1. Don't be a perfectionist. 

This is the number one thing that I want to emphasize. I think that Pinterest and blogs are amazing. And, ya'll. I pin all the time. Daily. Hourly. (And, I realize the irony in the fact that my classroom is all over Pinterest and I'm currently writing this on my blog. I'm not saying I'm guiltless. At all.)But, I think somewhere along the way, it's all kind of become a bit much. Am I crazy? It just feels like you can never, ever do enough. At least it does to me. With every single "classroom tour" I look at, I start to feel like my classroom isn't up to par. And, that's ridiculous. I think we've somehow equated good teaching with having the cutest classroom, the most colorful anchor charts, the most pin-worthy Valentines for our kids and lots of likes on an Instagram post. Guys, you're doing enough. Things don't have to be "perfect." I am not coming in to school on the weekends to make anchor charts. It's not happening. The anchor charts that are the most beneficial to my kids are the ones they actively help me make, anyway. And, I have enough poufs hanging from my ceiling. Once school starts, I'm not coming in on the weekends to hang more. And, if those test papers don't get passed out until Thursday? Or next week? Ehh. I don't think that stuff matters. I don't think any of that is the important stuff that we need to be worrying about. None of that stuff impacts children or changes their lives. I think that teachers, as a whole, need to give themselves a little grace and let all the perfectionism go. I'm not saying don't do anything special for your kids or decorate your classroom. I think if you've read my blog before you know I don't think that. But, I always ask myself "Is this something I'm working on after school because it's something cute 8 will enjoy or because it's something that will help the kids learn." And, if you're doing it  and it doesn't impact your kids in a meaningful way, then don't waste your time. 

2. Stay late. But, only when you need to. 

This year, my team planned together on Wednesdays. We would meet after school and during our planning period and get our next week planned out. And, some of the teachers on my team were able to type it in as we talked and had it pretty much done when we finished meeting. Which totally impressed me and I was kind of jealous! But, I need some time to process. I need some time to just sit and think about how my week will go. So, since I was already staying late on Wednesdays, I just made that my "late day." And, I stayed really late. After our team finished, which was usually around 4:30 or 5:00, then I stayed in my classroom and worked until I was done with my plans. Or, at the very least, mostly done to the point where I could quickly fill stuff in during my planning period the next day. I found, for me, that if I stayed until 6:30 or 7 one day a week, I could pretty much leave close to 4 every other day. It just worked. And, I know what you're thinking. 7:00? That's insane!!! Well, it was rarely that late. It was usually 6:30, which I think is very doable if you aren't staying late every other day. I basically forfeited one night to gain four others. Ha! And, I found a friend to stay with me and we would work together to talk through the plans and it was kind of fun, to be honest. Plus, it felt amazing to walk out of school Wednesday night and know that I had my lesson plans done for the next week. And, it gave me the next two days to work on getting books, materials, worksheets, etc. ready to go. 

3. Don't go into the weekend without your weekly plans done. 

My first year, I just felt like I never caught up. I couldn't get my plans done during the week so I worked afternschool and then some on Saturday. And, I either had to come in on Sunday and work to get stuff ready or I was going day to day to get stuff together. Both were awful. So, starting the next year, I just resolved to get my weekly plans done by Tuesday of each week. Which, yeah, seems early. But, for me, it helped me so much to have a few days to get papers copied, materials ready, all that stuff. Like I said, this year I did it on Wednesdays. But, I NEVER am in the copy room making copies for the current day. The only reason I do this is if I change my mind about something, which happens. Or if there's a grade level test we decide to give or something. But, overall, I'm copying stuff for the next week. It helps me a lot to have all my papers and stuff for the week all ready to go by Friday afternoon so that the next week, I can start working on preparing for the week after that! Always stay ahead. 

4. Grade papers as they are finished.  

Guys, this is a big one. We all know that grading is an all-consuming situation for teachers. And, I've already told you how I used to handle that. By working on the weekends. Now, I do it a little differently. As my kids start a test, I take the extra and make a key. (I don't stay after the night before to make one. Wink, wink.) Then, as kids finish, they bring them to me. And, I stand there and grade them. Shocking, I know. Here's the thing. You know and I know that it takes some kids forever to finish tests. And, I'm big on taking your time and being careful and highlighting in the text and all that. So, it takes a while. And, they all finish at different times. I'm not going to pull a small group while half of them are still working. Or teach a whole group lesson. So, as they finish, I just start grading. Do I always finish every single one? Nope. But, I get a lot of them done. A big majority. And, it's a lot easier to run back after dismissal to grade six papers than 22! Sometimes, I even grade them in front of the kids. Did I just hear you gasp?!? I do this because we talk a lot about grades and we set goals a lot. So, the kids are usually genuinely interested in what they got and I find that they enjoy standing there and watching me. They immediately know what their grade is and whether they met their goal. I also grade at some other times. Since I pretty much only give tests on Friday, this is only one day a week. So, while kids are cleaning up from centers, I grade some papers. They don't need me, I've trained them WELL! When I go to lunch, I grade some papers. While the kids are packing up for dismissal, I grade some papers. Somehow, I always get it done. And, I have my planning period, too. It really isn't a problem. Then, I stack the graded papers on my desk so that I won't forget to enter them into the grade book. As soon as dismissal is over, I run back to my room and I enter those grades before I leave Friday afternoon. If I don't get them all done and I'm ready to leave? Ehh. I'll get them Monday. I don't take them home. Who made the rule that papers had to be returned on Monday? I have never, in eight years of teaching, had a parent ask me why I didn't return a test the next day. Not once. 

(I also want to say that I realize some teachers need to read the tests to the students. I did this, too, when I taugh first grade. At least in the beginning. And, I did it this year in math for my EL students. So, obviously if you're administering tests, you can't be grading them, too. But, I still got it done. I just used all extra time on Fridays to grade or I stayed after a few minutes Friday to get it done.)

(And, I also see how someone might say "Well, if you stay after a little Friday anyway, why don't you just take it home?" I feel ya. I see how that's confusing. But, for me, it just feels healthy to seperate home and work. I don't mind working on school stuff when I'm at school. But, when I'm at home, that's my time to relax, watch tv, enjoy family and friends, read, whatever. I want to be able to do those things without having a bag sitting in the corner taunting me and making me feel guilty that I'm not working. That may sound crazy. But, for me, I can't relax when I feel like there is school work sitting right there that I need to be doing. So, I truly, honestly forget about school and being a teacher most nights. It's just how I am. School stuff happens at school, not my home. )

5. It's okay to throw things away. 

I don't give a lot of worksheets. I used to give a lot more but I like to think I'm a little more evolved as a teacher now. Ha! But, we all know that there are things you have your kids work on that just don't need to be graded. I used to feel like I still needed to go and put a check mark on all the papers and then pass them out to go home and all that stuff takes up time. Time that I don't have. So, now? You guessed it! I toss them in the trash. And I don't even feel a little bit bad about it. I'm not talking about test papers and things that need to be graded. I'm just talking about all those papers that are laying  around that I know good and well I'm not going to grade. Practice sheets, morning work, sheets that we read from and they highlighted in the text. That stuff. I just discretely tossed that stuff in the garbage after the kids left and they were none the wiser. Don't waste your time doing things that don't make an impact on the kids. There's no reason to. 

6. Clean as you go.

I hear this all the time. "I need to stay for a little while and straighten up my room!" Yeah, you know you've heard it too. Very rarely do I say that, though. Because, I put things back where they go. Right then. I've found that it really doesn't take that much extra time for me to go put those manipulatives back on the shelf instead of leaving them on the counter. Or to go put those extra papers back in the drawer instead of throwing them on my desk. I teach my kids to help me, too. I don't teach until every desk chair is pushed in. I just stand there until the "guilty" get up and go push their chair in. We don't go to P.E. until those markers are put back on the shelf and that bean bag gets put back in its proper place. If you consciously keep your room picked up, you won't have to spend your afternoons doing it. I never leave with my room a mess. Because, mostly I can't stand it. Ha! But, also because my kids keep it clean because I teach them to do so. Teach those babies to be neat freaks, ya'll. I promise you won't regret it! 

7. Use your time wisely. 

I like to talk. Hence, this little ol' blog. Ha! And, I can be kind of bad about spending my planning period chatting. In the office. To a parent I run into in the hall. To other teachers. You know, pretty much anyone who will listen. But, this last year, I made a conscious effort to stop wasting time talking. And, no, that doesn't mean I stopped socializing. Far from it. But, I did stop spending my whole planning period in my friends classrooms talking. And, I used those planning periods to, um, plan. Make copies, grade papers, you know. All that fun stuff. It helped me to make a list of stuff I needed to finish each day. Then I moved a lot faster and got more done. It also helped me to shut my door on days when I needed to get something done. Not to keep others out, mind you. Oh no. To keep MYSELF in. Just trust me. It had to happen some. 

8. Make a lot of guided reading plans at once. 

One of the things that really takes up a lot of time for me is guided reading plans. They're the worst, am I right? Because, you have to make them for five different groups. Every week. Or more. So, one thing I started doing was setting aside one afternoon. Or I would sometimes use a planning day to do this. I would get three books for each group I had. Then, I sat down at my table and made plans for ALL the books. Now, I realize that sometimes your plans change. And, you realize that kids need something more specific. But, pretty quickly, I found that I knew my kids well enough to make some plans for each book. And, at the very least, you can find themes, make up questions, pick out vocabulary words and choose a comprehension strategy for the book. It just really helped me to not have to stay after school all the time making guided reading plans. And, whenever I finished a book, I was just able to grab another set of plans and book off the shelf and I was good to go. Another thing I did was use books over and over. Most of the time, my groups stairstepped. I'd have a group of 28's, 26's and 24's. So, when the 26's finished a book, I'd put it in the pile for the 24's to use when they were ready. You can always tailor the lesson to be more specific, but it's nice to already have the basics down and the hard work done. It worked really well for me this year. 

9. Come to school early. 

For me, if I come in a good thirty minutes or more early, I can get a TON done! Now, in all honesty, I came in later and later this year as the school year wound down. But, I was always at least thirty minutes early. Almost always. Ha. But, you can use that time to run copies (for next week, not today!), grade papers, do paperwork, whatever. For me, I'd rather come in early and get to leave at 3:45.

10. Make a conscious effort. 

Mostly, you just have to tell yourself that you're not going to bring stuff home and stay late every day. And then, just don't. Once I decided that I wanted to stop staying late every day and bringing home papers every week, I just did it. It was a lot easier than I thought. A big part is just letting yourself believe that it's okay, you're still a good teacher and you're still working hard. 


Do you all think I'm a terrible slacker teacher now? I promise I'm not. I'm a good teacher who just wants to be able to have some downtime. 

And, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. 


Jordan said...

Great post. I left teacher guilt at the door this year and it has helped so much. I have a 45 minute drive, so I have to leave at a decent time so I can see my family.