Sunday, January 10, 2016

Learning to Work Smarter, Not Harder

My co-teacher and I work too much. If we were both single, it might not be too much. However, our lovely families would prefer we cut back significantly. We have had many long discussions about why we work too much. It seems to be a combination of our ridiculously high expectations of ourselves, the lack of a curriculum in any subject except math that fully meets the needs of our particular students, and a mild deficiency in organizational skills.

We've tried to lower our expectations a bit, but we are overachievers. It is in our DNA. After a great deal of searching, we've yet to find an ela curriculum that is any better than the one we have now. Like many teachers, we find ourselves constantly supplementing. If you know of a third grade curriculum that incorporates grammar, writing, and reading skills into novel studies, please let me know. One day, Cathy and I may write it ourselves! Finally, we had to admit that the only solution was to become better organized.

The Rowdy Kids in 3

Luckily, Monday and Tuesday were work days and the children didn't return until Wednesday. It gave us a little time to reorganize. We are both the type of people that will do anything in the world for someone else, but tend to put off anything for ourselves. The beauty of being in your forties is that you know enough about yourself to make realistic goals. Cathy and I made a list of all of the planning duties for the week and divided it up evenly. I knew this would not be enough to keep me on task. I am easily distracted. So, I made a list of all of my planning periods. These are arranged around my students' enrichment classes. I assigned a few tasks for each planning period being careful not to overfill any one slot. I still need time to go to the bathroom, deal with a student issue or return a parent email. Each task is for the following week, so we will always be a week ahead.  This should allow us some extra time to come up with those wacky, creative, last minute ideas we love. Since we were doing the tasks for each other and not just for ourselves we are hoping it will help us hold ourselves accountable.

It was a wonderful and workable plan. I was very proud of myself. Unfortunately, I became very sick on Tuesday morning... very, very sick. I will not go into the gory details, but I assure you I was not going anywhere near my little darlings. It was Friday before I returned to school. Missing my students coming back from Christmas break was the worst and I was so sad that I hadn't been able to keep up with my lovely, little schedule and plan for the following week. Refusing to be defeated so quickly, I stayed until 5:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon catching up on all my tasks. I was tired, but it felt great to walk out of school completely caught up. 

The Rowdy Kids in 3

On Saturday mornings, I usually wake up before everyone in the house and work on plans. Since that wasn't necessary, I took the time to improve a science activity. Every year as we review the water cycle, I let my students write and produce a play explaining the process. Sometimes we do it in small groups. I usually film it and call it a movie instead of a play. They create make-shift costumes and backdrops. It takes about three class periods to complete. In years past I've just explained the assignment to the kids, but yesterday I created a cast list, task cards for each student job and a rubric to judge their final product. I added teacher directions and posted it on TeachersPayTeachers. My students love creating movies and hopefully other students will enjoy it now, too.  Wish me luck! Perhaps 2016 will be the year I finally find my inner organizing neat freak.

The Rowdy Kids in 3: Task Cards