Somehow, working for free became an expectation for teachers. Every day, in every school, teachers arrive early, leave late, and work through their lunch to make sure their students are educated and the job is done. Personally, I think this is an expectation that needs to die. Let me help you get your time back with these tips to stick to a 40-hour work week.
How to Work 40 Hours a Week Tip #1: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
You’ve probably been told this, but what does it mean? Nearly everything in education has been taught before. Yet so many teachers feel the need to create all of their lessons from scratch. Why?
There are so many resources available now to find great lesson plans–and many of them are free!
One of your best resources is your own colleagues. Have a co-worker who’s taught your class before? Ask him or her for their lessons, syllabi, or ideas.
Most teachers are happy to share with their colleagues. And knowing what’s already working and failed for students in your school can be such a time saver!
A quick Google search can also lead you to promising materials. I like to add the keyword “PDF” to any of my search terms to find ready-to-print worksheets.
I’m usually not a fan of the lessons provided in textbooks, but they are often great jumping-off points. If you’re really drowning in work, it’s okay to use a mediocre lesson and try to improve it the following year.
And if you still can’t find anything that works for you, try Teachers Pay Teachers.
I resisted spending money on teaching resources for so long, but when I finally gave in, a $30 unit ended up saving me hours of time and a ton of stress. Plus, the unit was so good, it gave me great ideas for how to teach and structure my own lessons in the future.
How to Work 40 Hours a Week Tip #2: Simplify Grading
If it’s not lesson planning eating up all of your time, it’s probably grading.
First, remember that not everything has to be graded. It’s okay to review work in class instead of correcting it. It’s also okay to give students credit for simply doing an assignment if the intention was to just provide extra practice.
Secondly, when you really need to cut down on time grading big assessments, assign a group project. Instead of twenty individual projects, you’ll only need to grade four or five group ones.
Your Biggest Tool, However, is Technology
Make use of today’s technology, too. I give all of my quizzes using Google Forms.
Forms can reliably grade multiple-choice and short-answer questions automatically. If an assessment doesn’t need students to write long-form to prove they’ve learned the material, then use Google Forms to give a simple, self-grading quiz or test instead.
For long-form assessments, like an essay, I turn to Google again. I’ve saved common comments so that I can provide in-depth feedback for students without wasting time writing the same one over and over.
For example, comma splices are pretty common grammar errors in student work. I have a comment that not only labels a sentence a comma splice but explains what a comma splice is and how to fix it. If a student receives that comment, they know exactly what the mistake was and how to correct it.
In addition to Google, I’m sure your school has some paid programs they invest in. Take time to explore these tools and use what works.
Before you assign any assessments, have a plan in place for how and when you’ll grade them. Make sure due dates for assessments allow you time to grade without stressing. If students can submit their final product digitally, consider making that a requirement if it smoothes out your grading system.
How to Work 40 Hours a Week Tip #3: Use Support Staff
Have some empty spaces in your calendar? Not sure how to present a lesson? Don’t teach it at all! Instead, pull in a support staff member to do it instead.
My school’s librarian had digital citizenship classes she was required to teach. Instead of trying to jam these in last minute, I always reached out to her whenever I was taking a personal or sick day. Instead of creating a sub plan, I planned for her to come in and teach one of her required classes. It was a win-win for both of us!
Instructional coaches are also a great resource. Many miss teaching in the classroom and don’t have “guinea pigs” for all of the new instructional ideas they learn about. Reach out to your instructional coach and ask if he or she would like to teach or demonstrate a lesson using your class.
If you have a special education teacher or other support person in your classroom, you could invite him or her to take a more active role in your classroom.
Maybe they’d like to lead a station when your class does rotations. Perhaps they can take some grading off of your plate or plan a few of your upcoming lessons.
Education teachers are just as trained and educated as every other teacher, but they’re often relegated to a support role. Let them take the lead one day while you provide support instead!
How to Work 40 Hours a Week Tip #4: Set Boundaries Around Your Work Time
Lastly, the real trick to sticking to a 40-hour work week is time management. This means using all of your allotted work time to, well, work.
No gossiping in the main office. No hemming and hawing about what you should work on during your prep time.
Know your priorities every day and work on them every spare minute.
If you want to leave the building at quitting time, you need to be mindful of how you structure your day and what extras you say “yes” to.
You might not be able to work a 40-hour week every week of the school year. Some weeks will be tough, afterschool meetings will be called, and late papers will be turned in–ruining your perfectly planned grading window.
But if you commit to and follow these tips, I guarantee you will be walking out of your building on time more and more. Build on your progress every year and you just might achieve some of that elusive work-life balance we hear so much about.