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  • Writer's pictureDonna Gerard

TEACHING: MAKING YOUR JUGGLING ACT WORK

Updated: Oct 6, 2023



Teaching is not for people who need their hands held. As teachers, we are responsible for designing our lessons, setting up our classrooms, grading assignments, looking after the well-being of our students, communicating with parents, submitting a crazy amount of paperwork, attending meetings, preparing for and administering mandated testing, and maintaining an environment conducive to learning. Oh, and we teach.


The life of a teacher is a busy one and juggling is a mandatory skill. The good news is that, besides compulsory schedules and due dates, how we manage things is up to us. It’s no secret that is not possible to do all we need to do in the course of our prescribed workday, in my case 8–2:45. I managed my time any way I needed and never apologized for having a life outside of school. Need to come in at the last minute because you’re dropping your own children at school or just because you’re not a morning person? That’s fine. Want to stay late to grade your papers? Do so. The silent classroom after dismissal is a thing of beauty. But if you want to exit as soon as the students leave, that is your prerogative. Maybe your catch-up time is in your pajamas in front of your TV after your kids are in bed. That’s perfectly acceptable. But don’t feel guilty if you decide to enter grades while the students are taking a test or if you are jotting notes for next week’s plans while you’re monitoring the students doing group work. Some teachers opt to work through lunch while others need adult conversation to maintain their mental health. Make it work for you and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about when you get things done.

In my experience, micromanagement of teachers isn’t a thing. Keep the class and the room in reasonable order. Get your “paperwork” in on time. Educate your students to the best of your ability. Show up to mandated meetings. Beyond that, you get to decide how to run the show.


Let’s talk about specifics of the balls we all juggle. (Just a few- there are many more!)


Lesson Plans: If it is at all possible, team up with someone else who teaches the same content and grade level as you. Spend some time preparing a unit complete with links to worksheets, videos, labs, and websites that you can use again year after year. If you and your partner teachers are keeping the same pace, submit the same plans. Ask your principal if you and your colleagues can take a professional day to write these units. The answer might be no, but it never hurts to ask. If you are told no, ask again in the future. For some teachers who read this, it’s a no-brainer. In my experience, I’ve had to deal with working on my own because my “partner teachers” never had the same prep or lunch and there was no time to get together to collaborate.


Testing Data: As a teacher in New Jersey, and in a school district that seemed to do everything the hard way, I had to prepare SGO reports for mid-October. This necessitated hunting for data about students that I didn’t know in any depth for the purpose of setting expectations for test scores I would acquire throughout the year. I needed to find, for example, their grades, standardized test scores, and attendance from the prior year. As there was no print-out or specific online location with this information, I spent hours searching for this data, student by student. This was a colossal waste of time. All teachers have tasks that are a colossal waste of time, depending on our particular situations. Here’s by advice: when you are spending time on reports, save time somewhere else. This is the time to refrain from giving students assignments that need to be graded. This is the time to let them play (educational) games on websites, watch a relevant movie, or do research that you will only peruse. Is this what you would like to do ideally? Probably not, but teachers should not have to work on their personal time to make up for the timewaster assigned by administration. They prioritized report work over teaching.


Grading: I spent a lot of time on grading, and it was my choice. But as I came to the end of my career, I realized that I could have saved a lot of time by grading more selectively. Unless there is a district policy, you can decide not to grade homework ever. You could collect three sets of essays which you only marked as completed, hand them back to the students, and let them choose one that you will grade. You can let students pair off after completing a math test and check their answers against each other. They will have to analyze their answers to correct discrepancies, forcing them to look critically at their work and discuss why each answer is right or wrong. Students put both of their names on both tests. You only collect one. You have reduced your grading time while providing an additional learning experience for your students.


Time is always at a premium in a classroom and in a teacher’s life. Analyze how you use your time and take note of how much of your personal life is eaten into by professional responsibilities. There will be times that you work “overtime”, but you get to choose how much of your time you will give. When extra work is being foisted upon you in one area, find another area where you will underwork to compensate. It is up to you.

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