It is the first few weeks of school and you are already exhausted!
You love teaching but you also miss the summer break. You need another break right now so you can keep going!
If these thoughts are crossing your mind, you are only human. Teaching is really that hard!
There is a solution! It is planning for our classes wiser so we can reduce teacher stress with every new school year. Here are some simple things that I do that have made a big difference in lowering teacher stress at the beginning of the school year.
But first about me…and my level of teacher stress
This is where I convince you that I am just as busy and overwhelmed as you might be while reading this post! I know very well what it is to juggle many things, teach different places, prepare completely different classes and have different preps.
Let me tell you about my schedule.
At the moment I teach at two schools and I go to the university for two classes on Friday afternoons. So three jobs total. Between the three different places I prepare for all three age groups-elementary, middle school and high school. It is a lot of juggling!
I find it most difficult preparing for about 5 preps a day. I causes a lot of teacher stress once the school year gets busy. So I’ve had to work really hard to keep a work-life balance. This is how I started writing a lot about avoiding teacher burnout and planning wisely on my blog.
If you are reading this, you probably relate as most teachers have a difficult schedule. We do what we love from our hearts but sometimes suffer the reality of busy schedule and teacher burnout.
I love teaching! And I love the direct contact with the kids! But the countless hours doing things outside the classroom have really made me think more about teacher burnout and avoiding it so that I can last in the profession longer.
This is why in this blog I focus on two things – specific tips and techniques about teaching music AND teacher tips for avoiding teacher burnout. The second topic is getting considerably more page views.
OK, but tell me how you spent zero hours on your back to school prep…
Let’s go to the tips!
Three Tips I Used to Lower Teacher Stress and Spend Less Time on Back to School Prep
1. I used student help
Lots of it.
At the moment I teach at two schools. I am selling my prep for the travel between the schools. Most of my classes are large. So I have lots to do and very little time for getting my classroom ready.
The only way I could be effective is to utilize student help! We all do things as a community and every student is eventually involved in something related to my classes or the classroom. Everything from handouts to organizing the physical space is shared between myself and my students.
This is not only helpful for me as a teacher, but it is great for student ownership over the classroom.
This does take a certain student-teacher bond. The students need to feel that they are a part of the classroom community in order for them to want to help. You can read specific tips on that in this article.
How I saved time at the beginning of THIS year
This year I must say I was a bit lucky. I was just finishing registration. I knew that all furniture in my classroom was moved as the genitors cleaned the floor during the summer. I was thinking that I need to move all furniture back, put posters on the walls, etc. All the things we all come back to every year but they take time.
So I happened to see a PTA mom selling shirts at registration. Her two sons are my students. I asked them if they were bored waiting around. They were…So I immediately put them to work. Everything was back and ready in the room in no time!
The best part about it? I do things with my students all the time. They have to help out with what they do well. If there is a student in class who is falling behind, they also have to help with bringing that student up to speed.
I am very happy to see my kids asking if I need them for anything and offering help to others! It makes me very proud as a teacher!
How you could create that environment in your classroom
- Simply start acknowledging students every single time you see them doing something helpful or positive.
- The more you acknowledge their effort, however small, they will want to do it more and they will bring other students into that mindset.
- Be mindful that the process will be easier of started at the very beginning of the school yearn and with new students/classes. Older students who have already formed habits will take more patience to break.
- Start slowly assigning students to do things according to what they are naturally drawn to. For example, I have one kid who is very organized and it makes her feel good So I put her to be in charge of clio end pin straps (I am an orchestra teacher). She needs to make sure all straps are back where they belong at the end of each class. Little things like that will eventually make a big difference in your classroom.
- Create team activities where one group could do extra work while another organizes things in the classroom. For example you can have a day where the less advanced students get a differentiated learning and extra help on their material. The more advanced kids get to be your assistants and help you organize paperwork or other aspects of the classroom.
2. I made lots of copies and handouts at the end of last year!
We tend to clean everything and toss old papers and handouts at the end of each year. But consider doing the opposite: making extra handouts of things that have worked and keeping them.
- At the end of the school year is when you know best what has worked well during the year. You have all the handouts from the past year. This is the best time to copy and keep some of the materials for next school year. It may seem too much to prepare that early but it actually saves a ton of time!
- Even though you are tired in May, you are still on a roll, planning comes easier as you are still on a routine. The beginning of the school year is very different! Remember these days where you realize the summer is over and you just cannot get yourself to do any work? Transition to back to school is always hard and having some extra materials ready on hand is helpful.
What I do every year:
- I have two huge stacks of handouts for my beginning orchestra class. Every time I go and make copies I make more than what I need. So the stack is always there. Every handout that I need to give them at the beginning of the school year is there. However, every time I make copies, I make double the amount. So this class is always ready to go. On the days I don’t feel a lot of energy or haven’t had time to plan it is all available to me.
- Last year I took the extra step to make a whole bunch of copies for other classes as well. In my case, these were pieces my intermediate students would potentially play. What a teacher stress relief that was at the beginning of the school year!
- I felt so good when we started. One of my classes was completely taken cared for. All materials, music and copies were ready and waiting for me. In fact, no one realized that I was quite lazy starting this school year- things looked the opposite.
- Doing that saved me so much time! I had to plan for 6 different classes this year! But I only took time to prepare for two. The rest were already taken care of by what I did before the school year finished.
This is not always possible, as you can not plan well without knowing which students you will have in your class and what their level is. Sometimes you change assignments within the school or start the year at a new school. However, when you can, use this little technique to save time and lower teacher stress!
3. I organized all materials from last year better!
As you build experience as a teacher, you also build materials for the students: syllabus, parent letters, handouts, activities, etc. Organizing these in a systematic way as you teach can do wonders in avoiding teacher burnout down the road.
I have started organizing my materials much better. I see a difference in my time, as well as my teacher effectiveness. It makes me focus and I can develop new things instead of trying to find or re-do old materials.
Here are some things I suggest:
- Have a binder with all materials for each class you teach
- Have a separate computer folder for beginning of the year parent letters.
- Have a separate folder with activities or things you may want to go to and learn more/review, etc.
- Use Pinterest as your planning – you can read more about it here.
I will be writing more about organizing all materials in a way that saves time in a future post and I will link it back to this post. Stay tuned!
Books To Help You Stay Organized And Save Time As a Teacher
Here are some books I recommend if you want to learn how to save more time time planning and have more time outside the classroom.
Don’t Forget To Also Check These Articles to Reduce Teacher Stress