Clearing Physical and Emotional Clutter

Why the hype on shows like Tidying Up With Marie Kondo? Is there any solidity behind the idea that of getting rid of excess stuff? If you are feeling overwhelmed, or constantly searching for a way to streamline your classroom so that it feels more organized, this post is for you.

Our physical environment is a direct reflection of our mental state. This is true for our homes as well as for our classrooms. If your classroom looks anything like mine does at the end of the year, you are probably chuckling right now. One research study found that when there are multiple forms of stimuli (clutter) competing for neural representation (your focus), most humans were already doing a small form of multi-tasking by IGNORING THE JUNK.

As teachers, we already have a million different things to focus on… clutter vying for our attention should be the least of our worries. Yet the benefits of keeping an organized classroom go beyond aesthetic.

Having a clear space physically boosts your energy.

Have you ever came home to a crazy house with things all over the floor, dishes in the sink, laundry in a pile and disorder everywhere? How did you feel? Chances are, you felt low-energy and overwhelmed immediately.

Re-imagine walking into your home, things are in their correct place, the dishes have been scrubbed and put away, laundry is neatly placed in dresser drawers… how do you feel now? Refreshed? Ready to put your teacher things down and enjoy being home?

Exactly. Your physical space allows for you to have a fresh slate. Your energy is much higher when you come home and don’t subconsciously start pulling together a to-do list a mile high of chores that, quite frankly, will not get done when you’re already tired from teaching.

This same principle applies to your classroom. Students respond on a energetic-level to the organization of a room. If the room appears put together, then they subconsciously assess, “Mr. Teacher values order and organization. I will need to make things neater.” One less thing to try to teach! Another positive? Coming to work each day to an organized classroom will also lift YOUR energy!

Having a clear space provides clarity of thought.

Without a mental to-do list a mile long (grade those papers, drop off that form to the principal, fill out mentor worksheets, email librarian about books, etc), your brain is now free to create new thoughts. Ever felt bogged down with brain fog? One reason you may be experiencing this is because your brain is overloaded with things to THINK about, all reflected from your physical environment!

Student are also affected by clutter in a similar fashion. When THEY are organized, they do better on longer projects and in general. When they are in a CLASSROOM that is organized, their mind is more able to wonder deeply. The human brain appreciates order, especially when students are absorbed in a digital world that is so hectic for a large portion of their life!

Counter: Some kids thrive in clutter.

I know someone out there is thinking this – some kids thrive in clutter. They probably have a creative brain that processes information differently. Their brain can handle the madness. However, as adults, we cannot assume all students thrive in this environment. It is our job to provide a clean, orderly work space that all of our students can thrive in. Our clutter-resistant students will need to get their clutter-fix from their bedroom at home!

How Do I Clear My Classroom of Clutter?

  1. Get ruthless. Look at your classroom walls and, before you do anything else, take done the posters that are NOT aiding in your students’ learning. That one poster with tiny text? Take it down. That other poster with a TON of text? Take it down. The information on posters should be able to be consumed within a few second of glancing at the poster itself. You are not trying to teach students through a poster (I hope not, anyways). If it is a topic you value, make it into a mini-lesson that you give periodically throughout the year. Get rid of anything on your walls that is outdated, not colorful, boring, or just too busy.
  2. Clean Off Your Desk. Seriously. Take ten minutes and clean your desk. File away papers, throw away wrappers, dust off that inch of dirt from the school year. Once it is clean, sit down in your chair. Doesn’t it feel better?
  3. Air Out Your Cupboards. And by air out, I mean, completely go through each of the cupboards in your classroom and start tossing out materials from fifteen years ago that you are keeping “just in case you need it someday”. If you aren’t emotionally ready to throw away some things, keep a specific place for outdated materials. Then, next year, look through them again and see if you still want to hang on to them. Organize supplies in containers, papers in folders or binders, and make everything have a specific place. Make each shelf a certain grade level, or a certain subject area, and only put things there that belong. It is AMAZING how much easier the school year goes when you know where everything should be.
  4. Go through your units and determine what is working and what needs to meet the flame. My love of Game of Thrones came out in this one, mainly because I am SO bad at throwing out old units/worksheets that I used to love. I cling to them like a long-lost child, promising myself I’ll find time next year even though I haven’t found time in four years. This is the time of year I shake myself by the shoulders and get – it – together. My recycling bin is usually full by the time I’ve combed through each unit (you caught me, I don’t actually light my papers on fire).
  5. Toss old supplies. Then, make a list of supplies that you will need to replace for the following year. This is essential to having a hassle-free year, and will save you multiple headaches next year.
  6. Organize your Google Drive. Someone had to say it… get in there and tackle that unruly beast. My first four years of teaching I never once organized my Google Drive, and when I finally got around to it, OH MY GOSH WHAT A NIGHTMARE. Color code your folders, develop a system of organization (I create one folder for each grade level, then I create folders for each novel we read, then I create folders for each skill I teach during that novel.)

When you are done with de-cluttering your classroom, you should feel a sense of accomplishment but also relief. Cleaning your physical environment aides in also helping your emotional state as well. Anxiety and overwhelm are directly related to how much our brain is trying to tackle.

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have. If doing some organizing can sharpen that tool and allow us to utilize it to our best potential, then the time invested is entirely worth it.

 

 

Avoid These One-Pager Mistakes

 

The English Language Arts world seems to be afire with talk of one-pagers. This unique assignment allows students to have a creative outlet in an otherwise text-heavy course. Don’t be fooled, however, this assignment is extremely rigorous when it comes to analysis and deeper-level thinking. Not only is this assignment a breath-of-fresh-air for students, it is also MUCH easier for English teachers to grade compared to an essay.

English teachers would all agree, any assignment that cuts down on grading time, is an assignment worth giving. However, I’d like to share with you some of the mistakes that I fell in to when I first assigned this to my 7th grade class, in the hopes that you can avoid repeating them.


Mistake #1: Being Dazzled By My Students’ Artistic Skills…Not Their Analytical Skills

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I had a group of 7th grade students who were my pride and joy. These students had shown maturity from the start, and the majority of them were so passionate about their learning. I had never had a group quite this precocious, so I chose to try my very first one-pager with them.

I placed emphasis on the creative side of the project, and walked them through all of the required elements. I stressed that the project must show effort and thoughtfulness, as well as be creative and colorful. Looking back, I had emphasized the artistic elements far too much (as I was assuming that the students would need encouragement in that area) and not placed enough emphasis on the analysis and writing elements (as I was assuming they knew I wanted them to focus on them… this was English class after all).

We spent two weeks brainstorming, planning, illustrating and creating our one-pagers. The day came to collect these brilliant projects, and I was feeling pretty great about it all. That night, I sat down to grade their hard-work, and within 15 minutes I was wanting to invent a time machine that could launch me back two weeks.

These students had done STUNNING jobs on the illustrations, but their explanations were basic and quite frankly, did not showcase the intelligence they are capable of. They had put all of their energy and effort into being creative (as I had stressed) and writing neatly (as I had stressed), which had left little time for actual analysis and explanations of their work!

Do This Instead

Walk through each element of the one-pager together. Explain the rubric in chunks, and place the most emphasis on the analysis and explanation of their ideas. While the creative side is important, and many students will revel in this new-found freedom in English class, the artistic side truly isn’t the goal of this assignment. Showing effort, putting in the time, and making sure that connections are made in each is essential. Perfection of drawing is not.


Mistake #2: Not Providing Enough Structure For All Students

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When I first assigned this project, I had spent hours scouring websites to figure out the best way to assign this, created my One-Pager Final Project assignment, and had spoken with other English teachers about the project to the point where I knew everything there was to know about it.

When giving it to my students, I provided the requirements of the assignment, the rubric, and gave students a large piece of paper to finish their project on. I set them free after giving instructions.

To their credit, these students worked diligently and figured out each section on their own. However, many students were overwhelmed by the options, and tried doing “a little here and a little there”. This was not the best approach for some, who forgot to go back to certain parts to finish them and had to rush before the due date.

Do This Instead

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Explain the project in chunks, over the course of a few days. Have them focus on ONE element a day, and really dig in deep. Middle school students get so overwhelmed when they have multiple requirements for a project, that they tend to panic instead of breaking it into manageable bits.

If you choose to use my One-Pager Final Project assignment, I give out page one the first day, and spend class viewing other outstanding one-pager assignments. I focus on sharing thorough explanations, thoughtfully placed images, and how color can play a part in presentation.

On the second day, I give students their Brainstorm sheets, and ask them all to focus on finding the quotes. Give students one solid example of a significant quote from the novel, then set them free to locate their own. I find that students try to ask me, “Will this quote work?” and I just ask, “Well, why is it significant to the novel?” They sometimes give a basic answer, so I prompt them again, “Okay, is that the MOST significant quote you can find?” Often, if you do this with a few students, the others will hear and start to truly dig. Just, be prepared to ward off a few students who want to get off easy.

The next day I have students brainstorm their Essential Questions. These are huge, and the main reason that they have read the novel – to connect to the bigger picture of life! I give the example of, “What makes a hero?” as an Essential Question. It’s not a yes or no answer, nor can it be explicitly found in the text itself. The students have fun with this one, but know that your lower-level students will struggle with this. Identify those students and spend class time prompting them with questions such as, “What does this novel make you wonder about?” or “When you were reading this novel, how did you connect it to your own life?”.

The following day, I have students choose their character that they will be finding character traits for. Have students write down the name of their character on their Brainstorm sheet. You can have them independently find their own character traits and quotes if they are an advanced group.If they struggle with this skill, break the students into groups according to the character they chose. Have them work together to identify character traits that relate to Head, Heart, Hands, and Feet. Then, they can return to their seats and locate evidence for the traits they all found.

The final day students come in and I ask them to locate their poem that relates to the novel. There are wonderful poetry websites out there, so have them Google search for poetry that matches a theme of the novel. One great website that I suggest is Poetry Foundation, as it is professional and has a wide variety of poems.

Once the brainstorming process has been done, I then ask students to take out a single sheet of paper. They are to sketch an outline of their one-pager, by indicating sections of the page that will be filled with the different elements. This step is CRUCIAL to students creating a beautiful one-pager. Trust me.

Final step – give students their large sheet of paper and emphasize that everything must be done NEATLY!


Mistake #3: I Did Not Review the Rubric

 

I know, some of you veteran teacher are cringing right now. I created a rubric that was really, quite wonderful for grading. However, I assumed that students would just understand what was exceptional work from my explanation of the requirements. Doh.

I have already explained that my students turned in beautiful illustrations with very little analysis so…I’m sure you understand how NOT reviewing the rubric went. *Sigh*

Do This Instead

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Review the rubric! I know that this can be boring to most students, but honestly, they need the reminder! If I had spent even 10-15 minutes reviewing what receives an “Above Grade-Level” and what would constitute a “Needs Improvement”, I’m absolutely certain that my students would have produced better work.

Worried they’re going to be too bored? I download the rubric page as a PDF and crop out out section of the rubric. Then, on the day we work on Essential Questions, I review only that section of the rubric first! It’s bite-sized, their eyes don’t glaze over, and they understand what they need to focus on!


 

I hope this helps other educators who have been considering doing this assignment! For those of you who do one-pager assignments, what elements do you require? Share your favorite one-pager student work with us!

 

 

9 Brain Break Activities to Incorporate In Your Classroom Now

I used to secretly blame children’s lack of focus on behavior, motivation, or poor upbringing. Katie can’t read for more than ten minutes without glancing down at her shoe, picking at her eraser, or staring out the window. This was frustrating to me, so I tried to find something or someone to blame.

But the truth is, we are an entirely unfocused society as a whole. Technology has reprogrammed our brains to quickly take in information. The skill of sitting quietly, comprehending slowly, reflecting and daydreaming has become nearly extinct. Yet, teachers are often asking students to complete activities that require such concentration.

Research shows that the average middle school student’s brain can concentrate on direct instruction for 10-12 minutes tops. With 40+ minute classes, the only way to get and keep the attention and engagement of middle school students (and all the way up to adults!) is to provide them with brain breaks. Brain breaks get students’ blood flowing, moving oxygen to the brain. This will not only let them relax for a few minutes, but research shows that students who take brain breaks produce higher quality work than students who are asked to work through an entire class period. Pretty cool!

First, I’ll share a list of the more fun brain breaks for the classroom. These are intended as complete breaks from the lesson. 

Silent Speed Ball

Find an area where you don’t mind students throwing a ball around. No one can talk or make a sound – being silent is the aim of the game.

The ball is tossed between classmates. Students cannot throw the ball back to the person who threw it to them. If a player misses the ball, talks or makes a bad pass, that student is out. The last two players are the winners.

Dance-Off

I love to pick some of the top hits that students are into for this brain break. Play the music and have the students dance (yes, this will be hilariously awkward). When the music stops, students have to freeze. Whoever moves, is out. Keep playing until there is one person left. Those students who are out are an extra pair of eyes to judge the others.

Heads or Tails

Write out a list of true or false questions (I write them on random life things so we’re still learning). If a student gets the answer wrong, the must sit down. The last student standing is the winner!

If students believe the answer is true, they place their hands on their heads.

If students believe the answer is false, they touch the floor.

Random Exercise

Create a list of random, easy exercises (such as jumping jacks, lunges, arm circles, etc) and have one student choose from the list. Students will complete the exercise to some music of your choice.

Stop the music randomly, and all students must stop their exercise. Whoever doesn’t stop in time must sit out. The last one standing is the winner.

Timed Chatter

Sometimes kids are just bursting to get a chance to chat with their neighbor. For this brain break, set a timer for three minutes and let them get up and chat with a friend. Ask them to use Cafe Voices (pretend they are sitting together in a coffee shop. Their voices are not loud, but also not whispering. Just, conversational).

Below are some educational brain breaks that sneakily keep kids learning as they get their blood flowing to their brains! 

Vocabulary Around the World

Get a list of the class’ most recent vocabulary words. I use Quizlet and display the definition on the SmartBoard. Two students stand next to each other and must call out the correct vocabulary term. Whoever says the correct word first moves on to the next students.

Once a student has gone all around the room back to their original seat, they are the winner.

Heads or Tails 2.0

Write out a list of true or false questions all based on subject matter that you have covered over the entire school year. This is a great review game as well.

If a student gets the answer wrong, the must sit down. The last student standing is the winner!

If students believe the answer is true, they place their hands on their heads.

If students believe the answer is false, they touch the floor.

Synonym Chase

Students should all be given a small whiteboard and a dry erase marker. The teacher asks all students to stand by their desk.

The teacher will write one word on the board, and students must write down the first synonym that comes to mind. Then, they must look around the classroom. Any student that has the same synonym written as them, they need to “link up” with. Those students can THEN work together to determine the next synonym.

Students that do not write a correct synonym must sit down. The game is over once all students have linked up together.

Memory Kerfluffle

Create a stack of cards with an example of one literary element on it. Around the room, place papers that have the different literary elements on them (on the door, on a cupboard, on the back table, etc).

The teacher will read the example out loud, and students must Shuffle (feet can’t come off the ground) to the literary element that they think it is. They must be touching the paper with their hands.

Any students who choose the wrong literary element must sit down. The last student to choose the CORRECT literary element each turn must also sit down. The game goes until one student is the victor!

 

 What are your favorite Brain Breaks?

 

How I Make Literary Element Review Engaging

Literary element review is crucial for students before state testing. As a new teacher, it is easy to assume that they will remember all of the amazing lessons from September until now. The reality? Kids have a million things they are learning all year, and some review is a great way to boost their confidence in their skills before taking on the test.

Literary Element BINGO! is my go-to activity for engagement with review. We do a quick Q&A before beginning, with me saying one literary element and the students who remember the definition answering. This should take a total of 5-10 minutes, and is just a warm-up for all students.

Then I have students go to my Student Center and choose their Bingo Card, while also picking up some chips to use. My first few years teaching I cut up some bright Post-It notes to use as chips – the kids never seemed to mind I didn’t have real plastic chips.

Then, I show my students the prize for winning a BINGO! Usually I have a stash of small candy, suckers, Homework Passes, or other dollar store finds that students can choose from if they win. While winning is usually motivation enough, I love to give out small prize as well to up the ante. I teach in a high-poverty district, so providing them small gifts often makes their entire day.

Tech Set-Up

While my students are choosing their cards, I display the cover from my Literary Elements Bingo Slides and play some upbeat music. The students start to buzz with excitement, even though we are about to review. I see them sit in their seats quickly – they have been reminded that the quieter they are, the more games we can get through (and the more winners there are!).

There are two ways to proceed with calling out. One is my printing off the definitions of the literary elements and verbally calling them out. I use this with my higher-level students who know the terms on a deeper level. Two is displaying the definition of the literary elements and reading the definition to the students. I use this with my lower-level students and middle schoolers who tend to need visual directions.

If you want to save some time, head over to my TpT store and download Literary Element BINGO! for your next review session.

KEY NOTES

You must decide before the game starts if you want students to “call out” the answer after you reveal the definition, or if you want students to remain silent and have to figure the term out for themselves. You know your students best, so make sure you make this clear before beginning the game.

Make sure you are keeping track of what words you are calling out. It is easy to get caught up in the moment of teaching and forget to have your own BINGO! card in front of you. If you have a co-teacher with you, ask them to keep track so you can focus on the lesson and assisting students who are really struggling (a little review for them, too!).

 

What do YOU do in your classroom for literary element review?

Teacher, Stop Apologizing

This post and the photos within it may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.

With the new release of Rachel Hollis’ Girl, Stop Apologizing, I was inspired to write a blog post that held the same spirit but was directly for teachers. I asked many of my teacher friends and acquaintances from around the world to chime in on what was weighing on their own hearts… things they wished they no longer needed to apologize for as an educator of the nation’s youth. Here are the ideas that came streaming back to me.

1. The Expectations

Teacher, Get Your Graduate Degree – But We Can’t Pay You Enough to Cover Your Monthly Loan Payment

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Photo by Esther Tuttle

The majority of responses that came flooding back to me revolved around the low salary that most teacher’s make, especially starting off their careers. Reading through their words, it was clear that every single one of these people had an overwhelming passion for education and yet were extremely frustrated with the sky-high loan payments that were required to engage in this career path.

Long gone are the days were school districts offer to pay for a teacher’s Graduate Degree, and so this financial burden has been placed on teachers’ shoulders. Many teachers earning a single-income reported having to move back in with their parents in order to be able to make their required payments. Those with multiple income-streams admitted to relying heavily on their spouse’s income in order to make ends meet.

It goes without saying that most of the teachers I personally know have some side hustle going to help them pay those bills! Even though it isn’t ideal nor easy, I want to let those of you who fall under that category know – you are amazing, courageous and incredibly resilient human beings. If no one has told you lately, then I will tell you – I am SO proud of you and every damn thing you have overcome. I’ve been there, and man… do I know that it is HARD. 

Teacher, Have High Expectations… But Not Too High

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Photo by Ani Kolleshi

When a teacher first begins working at a district, they must determine what their district’s expectations are and adjust their own accordingly. Yep, you read that right. Multiple teachers wrote that expectations for students (in the same grade) were entirely different depending on which district they were teaching at. Imagine how confusing that might be for a student who changes districts?

One teacher wrote that one district appreciated and admired him for having high expectations and holding students to those expectations. He made rules and procedures clear, and students who misbehaved or broke procedure were held accountable. He then married his wife, and they decided to move closer to her family. He transferred to a district closer to their new home.

This district had extremely vocal parents who would question many of the decisions of that same teacher. He came to school weekly to angry parent emails, students who blatantly did not follow the rules and threatened to turn HIM in to the principal, and a principal who was trying to merely smooth things over to avoid a lawsuit rather than back the teacher.

The message that many teachers have been getting is that they must have high expectations in their classrooms until one of the students or their parents do not agree – then they must adjust their expectations. Without guidelines, many teachers wrote in to say that they are hesitant to draw a hard line with high expectations for fear of being reprimanded or losing their job.

Teacher, Implement All New Policies and Curriculum Without Question

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Photo by Rock and Roll Monkey

Anyone who has been in the education world for a few years understands that new policies and curriculum are a dime a dozen. Once teachers get used to one way of teaching, a new administration comes in and deems something else more effective for reaching students. It is a constant merry-go-round of merely trying to stay afloat with the changes.

One middle school teacher wrote in to say that she wished that teacher voices were actually heard by the ones making decisions about policies and curriculum. She politely stated that she and her fellow teachers are the ones on the front lines, testing the material and seeing how beneficial (or not) it was for their students. Who else has more wisdom to discuss what should be kept or discarded than the ones actually working with the new enactments? While some states are listening more to teachers, there are many areas that seem to be failing to take the opinions of their educators into account.

Teacher, You Must Also Be Your Student’s Parent

 

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Photo by BBH Singapore

This expectation gave me some goosebumps and made me quite humbled. While only a few teachers wrote in on this expectation, they wrote with such fervor that I can only assume that there are other teachers out there who also are feeling the pressure in this area.

One teacher from a low-income, rural school in Oklahoma has six students in their homeroom class alone with both parents who are incarcerated. These students are either living with their grandparents or are jumping from house to house, sleeping on friend’s or relative’s couches. This teacher also has students with at least one parent who is facing addiction to narcotics. These students have confided that some nights they do not know where their mom/dad/guardian went, and are unsure when they will return.

When we have students who literally have limited or no parenting, the expectation is that teachers will become a stand-in parent for those students. Teachers should instill in them positive character traits, straighten out their attention-seeking behavior, provide love and support, make sure they are completing work outside of school… all while teaching the curriculum they are mandated to teach, according to their job descriptions. Even if there are parents in the home, sometimes respect for others or positive character traits are not being instilled in the student, which is leaking into their behaviors in the classroom.

While most educators have hearts of gold that are ten sizes bigger than any other human being on the planet, it is not their responsibility to parent their students. Now, I know there are educators right now who are cursing my name, angrily inquiring, “If we don’t help them, who will?”. I say this respectfully, but this is not our burden to take on. Should we keep showing up for them every single day and being a shining example of what an adult should be? Absolutely! Should we keep encouraging them, holding them responsible, and giving them opportunities to succeed? Of course. While we all love our students beyond anything in the world, and want so badly for them to succeed, we cannot take the place of their parent(s).

Teacher, That Student Is Failing… What Are YOU Doing Wrong? 

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Photo by Rawpixel

A veteran teacher who had enjoyed teaching for over twenty years wrote that the day she quit her job was the day her principal called her into his office, showed her a student’s failing grades, and asked her, “What are you doing to get this student passing?” This topic links back up to our earlier topic of having high expectations but not being too demanding.

There seems to have been a shift of responsibility within the last decade. Rather than students being responsible for getting in their work and doing well in their classes, there is now an expectation that students do what they will and teachers will pick up the slack to get them passing. I have seen time and time again, students who do poorly in ALL of their classes, yet their parent attends a conference and demands to know what the teachers are doing that is causing their child to be so unsuccessful. I can feel you all nodding your heads – we’ve seen this story played out so many times.

It is worth noting that several teachers wrote in to say that they felt they cared more about their students’ grades than the students did.

Teacher, Work During Your Non-Contract Hours

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Photo by Christian Erfurt

Without a doubt, this topic FLOODED my inbox. Teachers who are done, absolutely DONE, with feeling guilt for not working during non-contract hours adamantly wrote their frustrations with this ridiculous expectation placed on educators. No other career that pays in this scale requires such commitment (for no extra pay, either). This topic could be divided into three categories.

Teachers should care more about other people’s children than their own. 

This one broke my heart. Absolutely, hands-down, I had tears in my eyes reading some of the stories that educators are living. For whatever reason, society as a whole has placed this expectation on teachers. Teachers must give up their time that should be spent making memories with their own children, spouse, and family members to keep up with running their classroom.

I would add to this, that teachers are expected to care about other people’s children even more than their own HEALTH. I cannot tell you how many times I personally would skip meal planning on a Sunday in order to finish grading that pile of essays because of this overwhelming teacher guilt I felt about somehow not providing enough feedback for my students. I could just throw together a lunch for tomorrow, and figure out the rest of the week as it came, right? My best friend stopped going to the gym for an entire WEEK in order to create a brand new unit around a novel for her 6th grade students because she knew it would reach them more than her previous plans would.

Was that her choice? Sure. But why do most educators make moves like that? Because they feel this enormous pressure to constantly be on their A-game for the students they adore. Unfortunately, their own health takes a back seat. I’m sure you all know what that leads to… and it isn’t beneficial for ANYONE.

Teachers will keep up with grading, planning, providing feedback, answering parent and co-worker email… even if it requires non-contract hours to complete. Don’t complain, teachers, you get great benefits & summers off.  

In the popular slang of today, I first want to say, “Them’s fightin’ words”. Aside from pulling teachers away from family or their own health, this is one of the most damaging expectations placed on educators. NEVER should a professional be expected to work outside contractual hours without additional pay. Period. A set calendar is agreed to at the beginning of the year, with a set number of days, with set contractual hours. Those benefits, holidays and summers off were all calculated in when determining initial salary.

The additional 5-20 hours that MOST teachers are putting in on weeknights, weekends, and other time off are ADDITIONAL. As in, not included in their original agreed-upon hours. As in, additional pay would be given for any other professional job for additional work. Teachers, for the love of all that is education, do NOT allow anyone to tell you that great benefits and summers off is compensation for sacrificing time with your family. 

Teachers will learn how to use the newest technology and apps, as well as how to implement them into their lessons… but during their non-contract time. 

Some schools offer PD days where they get a chance to explore new technology on a surface level. They are exposed to new apps, websites, gadgets, everything that may intrigue their students enough to want to learn. However, several teachers wrote in that they were not given time to implement the new technology into their lessons, and test them out. Thus, either their students became their guinea pigs for these new technologies, or they had to do research and testing on their own time. AKA, non-contractual time. Some teachers are even observed on how well they implement new technology into their lessons!

2. Behaviors To Ease the Expectations

In perfect Rachel Hollis-style, I’ll give some tangible advice that may help educators who are feeling immense pressure to perform under these expectations. If you are a veteran teacher, you may already be a pro at these. If you are a brand-new teacher, take some notes and make your transition into your teaching career a bit easier.

Most Important Behavior: Learn How to Say No

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Photo by Isaiah Rustad

If you are a people-pleaser, this will be the most difficult, yet a game-changing step for you to take. Learn what your expectations are for yourself, have a discussion with your administration about their specific expectations for your job performance, and then act accordingly. While parents, students, and the community will all have expectations of you as a teacher, you are the final determiner of what you allow – and what you don’t.

Stop trying to keep up with the Pinterest-perfect teachers you’re creeping on on social media, or trying to assign multiple writing assignments that all require you to provide HOURS of feedback for your students. Be smart. Keep the activities that are exceptional, and toss out the rest. Say no to perfection and over-achieving constantly, and say yes to the fun events going on during non-contractual hours with your friends and family.

Also, learn what extra duties to take on, and which ones to say no to. If admin or a co-worker asks you to be the coach to an athletic team or start a club, if it’s not a Hell Yes, then it’s a big, fat no. I know you want to be involved in your district. Make sure you’re only investing your time in things that light your soul on fire. That’s not being selfish. Accepting the role of Drama Club Director, even though you HATE choreography and designing sets is being selfish. Someone else could take that role of Director and bring LIFE into that program. You? Who hate everything about Drama Club? Well, you may stifle or extinguish a student’s love for that simply because your heart isn’t in it. Learn to say yes to only the things that ignite you, too. 

Remember, this is your job, not your whole life.

Internal Behavior: Learn That You Are Enough

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Photo by Rawpixel

I keep seeing this post floating around the internet that says that teachers make more split-second decisions in one day than brain surgeons. Now, I haven’t seen the research to back that up but from experience, it certainly FEELS correct.

Teachers make magic during the school day, changing the lives of so many students every year. And each year, those same teachers get a new cohort, and work their magic again. Kids are learning, growing, heading towards their own futures, all because of the work that teachers put in to guide them on their path. It is no easy feat, treading the line between teacher and mentor, yet we all do so to the best of our ability.

Learn to whole-heartedly accept that at the end of the day, you were enough. This does not mean that you should give every ounce of your energy to your job so that you return home at night too emotionally-vacant to be an exceptional person, spouse, parent or relative. I spent a few weeks this year giving all of my emotional energy to a rowdy group of seniors, and then would come home with zero patience when my puppy acted like… well… a puppy. One night I yelled at her when she was asking for attention, and she just stared at me with those pitiful, beautiful eyes of hers. I knew in that moment that I needed to stop giving so much of myself at work, so I could give more of myself to the ones I loved.

Sacrificing everything you have for your job does not make you a superhero. It makes you tired, and unfulfilled in the other aspects of your life. Close your classroom door each day with a smile on your face, take a deep breath, and know that you make a difference… especially when you work within your contractual hours. Education is not a sprint, it is a marathon, and if you plan to stay within the profession for longer than a few years, you will need to treat each day as such.

 External Behavior: Draw Boundaries

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Photo by Luke Bender

You may want to identify where you are feeling the heaviest amount of expectation, and make moves to ease that pressure.

Some teachers were receiving emails from parents that had them feeling cornered. Send out a newsletter to parents that updates them on what is going on in your classroom, and subtly include a nice box at the bottom that states your new office hours, which is the ONLY time that you respond to emails. Purposefully make your office hours every other day, so that you have a grace-period to 1. Cool down if the parent was rude 2. Do any research or seek guidance from admin over a difficult situation 3. You’re just plain BUSY in your personal life and don’t have the emotional energy to write a response that day.

Then, STICK TO YOUR OFFICE HOURS (aside from emergencies, obviously) NO MATTER WHAT. At first, parents may be upset. However, when they see that you are keeping a reasonable attitude, expecting them to remain professional as well, and holding firm to your own hours, they will come around. Sometimes, we teachers need to also have high expectations of parents when it comes to professional discourse and respecting our own time.

Parents were making comments on teachers’ social media accounts about their activities outside of school. Delete, delete, delete. Parents who are judgmental in any way of your private time, delete them from your account. In fact, unless a parent is a close, family friend, I would delete all parents from your social media. Look, I know you want to have community ties and to develop relationship with parents. But, let’s be real. No parent needs to know THAT much about their child’s teacher. In fact, it is asking for some trouble. If you are experiencing expectations from social media peeping… start to thin the herd.

Teachers were being passive-aggressively asked to take on extra duties by admin. 

This is one that teachers experience quite often and one that must be handled professionally. Whether it is by your Superintendent or your Principal, it can be intimidating. If your admin “suggests” you take on an extra duty that you aren’t yelling, “Hell, Yes!” for, you need to still say no, and further explain what you are holding out for.

Our administration do not know about the secret fire in our heart to lead the Debate Team, or start a Book Club. They also may not know that you cannot take on an extra duty because of something going on in your personal life. They only see that they have an opening that needs to be filled and “Wouldn’t Ryan be just perfect for that position?” Communication is key with these types of situations, so be clear but unapologetic. A great admin will understand and be thankful that they now have further insight into who you are as a person.

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Photo by Markus Spiske

What other expectations would you add? 

 

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