For the newbies, taken from an old voice memo:
“Schoology, Sarah at Teaching Channel, Brian at Hero, Education Weekly, the nice lady from the recent professional development who created a Dropbox for me, the various district newsletters we are publishing on the internet. I have all of this to look at, not to mention the real stuff. I need to look at my students notes, lesson plans, suggestions for materials from colleagues. I need to look at tests that are being sent to me so I can give feedback. I need to evaluate study guides. A colleague sent me four videos from a presenter of a past professional development that I really liked. I’ve got information on tests, on trainings, on websites. I have a new math resource program for which I still don’t have much information. I have to find out about it. I have a bunch of weird stuff from the Board Office which probably needs to be dealt with.”
This short snippet captures teaching life in a time when sometimes teachers have almost no prep time available because of data requirements and meetings. Some new teachers will be able to dictate their own versions of this voice memo soon. The amount of work can quickly reach the overwhelming stage.
I recommend a version of the medical system of triage. Leave the stuff that will fix itself alone. Get to work as fast as you can on emergencies that will benefit from your help. And let those problems that are beyond help go, offering palliative care to manage the pain. What matters? Student learning matters. Assisting colleagues matters. Keeping administration happy matters. I’d triage using a personal list that went in that order: students, colleagues, administration. If you are new to the field, you might want to bump administration up to the front. Scratch exploring great new ideas from professional developments unless you can apply them immediately. Scratch going out to find new software or pre-prepared lesson plans that will have to be adapted to match Common Core or state standards. If you have to do much adapting, you are probably better off writing your own plan. You’ll understand that plan better.
With the above list, I let Sarah go. No time. Ditto Brian. I may have listened to them briefly, but I did not have time to use them as resources. I did read articles in Education Weekly, but only if those articles were pertinent to my immediate situation. I never did use the Dropbox since Google Docs were the district preference. I scanned the newsletters. District happenings can have a large and fast impact on individual schools. I evaluated tests and study guides, emailing colleagues with my thoughts. I skipped the four videos. No time. I studied more tests, so many tests. I would end up spending over 10% of my year in standardized and benchmark testing, not including my own quizzes and grade-wide unit tests. I let the guy across the hall recommend professional development. I ignored the world wide web for the most part, since I had enough software to keep my classes busy for the next five years at least. That math resource program proved to be a time-suck and years above the actual learning level of almost every single one of my students, but the program was nonetheless required. Students put in at least an hour each week. My higher-scoring students benefited from the program. The others were lost and mostly guessed or got help from friends, who were often guessing as well. I tried to help. While the computer groups were hacking away at the required math program, though, someone had to be introducing new material somewhere. I’m sure I did the weird stuff from the Board Office, whatever that was.
Eduhonesty: The greatest challenge in teaching today is finding time to teach. We are inundated with data and testing demands and tools to use to push up the numbers, when sometimes what we most need is simply to be left alone. Left alone, we can teach Layla fractions and Alex polynomial equations. Left alone, we can find out what our students know and prepare materials that are one step or even giant leap above that level. Finding those materials and identifying student interests takes time, however, and time seems to be the one commodity that is often in gruesomely short supply.
I’ll make three recommendations for new teachers here:
1) Don’t let work pile up. Don’t let the grading go. You can be buried in papers by the week-end. Blam! There goes your whole week-end, Saturday to grading and Sunday to preparing next week’s lessons.
2) Ask colleagues for help. If you don’t know the new math resource program, someone else probably does. Even when frazzled by their own time demands, most experienced teachers will find time to help a new colleague. Teachers teach. It’s coded in their DNA, I think. If you are lucky, you will have a colleague who can lend you his or her own PowerPoints, activity sheets and lesson plans from the past. Borrow any freebies that will work.
3) Buy lecture materials when you must. Teachers Pay Teachers may have exactly the PowerPoint on the Revolutionary War that your class needs to see.
I love to make PowerPoints. My PowerPoints are filled with pictures, memes and critical-thinking questions. But for standard topics, reinventing the wheel consumes chunks of time that may not exist. Do yourself a favor. In a time-crunch, go to Teachers Pay Teachers and give Sally Ann Smith in Omaha a few dollars for her own brainchild. You can adapt a newly purchased PowerPoint to meet your classes’ content requirements in minutes usually, leaving hours free to catch up on your grading, student data requirements, etc.