I have foot-in-mouth disease, and it’s been getting me into trouble for as long as I can remember. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve said the wrong thing, at the wrong time, to the wrong person anymore. Sometimes the more extreme of these moments can haunt me for years (not an exaggeration), and I spiral into a death pit of shame, regret, and embarrassment, every time something triggers the memory of what I had said. A bit dramatic? Yes. But it’s #truths. Occasionally I have to remind myself that it’s better to just have awkward silence than to say the wrong thing. I’m pretty bad at small talk and socializing in general with strangers – combine that with my RBF, and I’m doomed.
Today I had one of those foot-in-mouth moments AT WORK. Oh god. I need to remind myself just to shut up more often during staff/department/grade team meetings. Today I basically told an admin that it was “irresponsible” to give a teacher multiple preps (multiple courses to prep for), when one of those preps is an AP course that has never been taught before by that teacher or even at the school (especially when a teacher is new to teaching). When I left the meeting and re-played things in my head, a flush of “oh my god what if that was taken the wrong way, I should have chosen better words!” came over me. #deathpitspiral
So here I am with a lot of questions for the teachers out there. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how I spend my time as a teacher, specifically how I can optimize time in terms of planning/grading/etc to stave off burn-out. I would also like to get a pulse on what is considered fair game in terms of the work expectations placed on teachers.
First, how much time does it take you on average to plan a lesson for one course? I find that if I’m planning a lesson from scratch it takes me on average 2 hours to complete, from finding resources, creating the PowerPoint slides, and creating the handouts/worksheets. I have never worked out of a book, and I’ve never heard of a science teacher teaching from pre-built lessons/curriculum. If I get to reuse materials from previous years that work time gets cut down, but I still have to lesson plan and create new slides every year. Am I doing something wrong? How long does it take you to plan a lesson?
Secondly, how many preps do you think is reasonable for a teacher to have? Two preps? Three preps? Four preps? This year, I have 3 preps – AP Bio, Honors Bio, and Regular Bio. At our school, we teach 5 classes and have 8 hour school days, which means I teach for 5.5 hours and have 1-2 hours a day to prep (on average, with block schedules and meetings).
Lastly, what types of additional tasks are you asked to do regularly on top of teaching, planning, grading, meetings, etc? At our school, we have stacks on stacks of data tracking spread sheets, surveys, analysis, and plans that we have to submit. Do you consider these documentation tasks to be fair game as a part of the job description?
I have a very real fear of being the ever present negative complainer, which leads to even more foot-in-mouth moments. Please, teacher friends and readers, give me some fresh perspective!
In the mean time, here is my throwback to the 90s outfit from today. I picked this dress up at Urban Outfitters a little while ago, and decided to go all out Sassy Magazine in the mid 90’s style with my Docs and my granny-chic new glasses from Warby Parker x Leith Clark. It was fun getting dressed this morning.
glasses: warby parker – cardigan: uniqlo – dress: urban outfitters – tights and tank: h&m – boots: dr. martins
9 thoughts on “Questions for Teachers”
I teach 7th and 8th grade science at a school where 89% of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch. I have about 15 ESL students and 15 special ed students who I have to adapt all lessons and materials for, so it feels like 3ish preps. I was given a curriculum this year that I am supposed to teach right from the teachers manual, but I’m much more effective when I plan independent from the planned curriculum. I map out daily objectives and determine the most efficient/effective route to mastery of that objective. Sometime the planned curriculum is the best route. Often, I have deviate from the curriculum to compensate for lack of prior scientific knowledge, the reading level being too high, the planned curriulum lesson having little to do with our state standards. I’m sort of a perfectionist and am driven to be exceptional at what I do, and I agree that planning a single lesson takes 1-2 hours. Even though I have saved work from the year before, I always have to change it to meet the needs of this years learners. I’m trying to stop attempting to be an amazing teacher. I’ll burn out. I’m trying to be a good-enough teacher. Sometimes this year, I set a time I’m leaving the building and I just leave whether I’m done prepping or not. The next day my lesson may not be perfect, some minutes class time may not be used in the most productive way possible, but it’s ok. I try to convince myself it’s ok. That’s how I’m going to make it 30 years in this profession.
I also have a lot of non-teaching related tasks to do. Not so much dumb paperwork though. Principal is good about eliminating useless tasks. Some of the older teachers in my building are able to avoid being bogged down by doing the bare minimum. The younger teachers in my district are all on performance pay, so doing extra, like organizing school-wide events, heading committees, planning field trips, managing school-wide behavior, is a good way to be valuable to the principal, so you will get better ratings and make more money.
I really enjoy your blog as a fellow science teacher 🙂
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I teach K-8 art. 9 grade levels to prep for. If I was doing it right, it would take an hour to two hours to plan each lesson with slideshows/visuals, assessment, examples, prepping materials etc. I teach 4 or 5 classes a day and have lunch duty 2 times a week and an occasional week of PM or AM bus duty. We have an 8 hour day. Because they extended some of my classes (I babysit the class while their teacher gets PD in Math & English… I do not get PD built into my work day, of course) I lost some of my prep time and often students ask to come in the room to work, there’s meetings, etc. so while on paper I have 12 hours of prep time essentially I am never caught up, am always behind on grading (thankfully I only grade 6-8, so that’s only about 150 students to keep track of there) and we are also expected to do tons of summative/formative assessment because they want evaluate us on our use of assessment. It’s really frustrating because I am not planning lessons as well as I know I could be with more time. I am debating trying to transition to a library position because it seems so much more sane. Art is awesome but this is just exhausting. And it’s particularly disheartening knowing that one district over from us the pay is 10k higher! (Cost of living is the same!)
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I teach 9-12 Visual Arts. I have 6 courses to prep [AP Art History, Intro to Art, Intro to Crafts, Drawing, Advanced Drawing, and 2D Design] and one prep “hour” [50 minutes]. This [and my lunch, which I am seriously guilty of working through] are frequently cut in to by students coming in to work. I also have to occasionally sub internally, for which we get monetarily compensated for but there is no accounting for the lost time.
It takes about an hour to prep an assignment for a studio course, and at least 2 hours for the art history course. Many of my courses are currently at 30-50% students with IEP [without a co-teacher], so at least an additional hour is spent adapting materials and assessments to meet those various needs.
Our additional tasks currently only include analyzing assessments, but it seems that these change every two years. For example, we spent the last two years inputting every detail of our curriculum into digitized frameworks which were scrapped, the two years before that were spent on Common Core which our state decided to scrap, and the two years before that consisted of PDSA.
I also dislike focusing on or touting the negative, but it seems that teachers are more and more asked for the superhuman and given less to work with.
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First, yaaass! Sassy Magazine!
Second. I also have foot in mouth disease and usually I feel a lot better when I just say sorry I acted like an asshat. And I’ve found that, more often than not, the people I apologize to don’t even remember the incident, but it helps me stop obsessing!
Third. 1-2 hours is I think what it takes to produce a great lesson. I would echo Virginia’s comments that I am trying to be a good-enough teacher, rather than an amazing teacher. Sometimes that feels liberating, and sometimes that feels…. blech. I teach 7th grade ELA, and reading all the kids papers takes a really long time. I never have time to do it at school – ever!
I have been trying to work out how to feel good about my work and also MY LIFE. Teachers I admire who seem to make it all work have a couple things in common.
1. They let go of some stuff. They might always get kids papers to them late, or not have the most awesome-est bulletin boards. But the things they do invest in knock your socks off.
2. They are mercenary with their time. They think in minutes, rather than hours. They are the ones grading papers during staff meetings while pretending to listen.
3. They have boundaries. They leave at a certain time, say no to committees, or ignore stuff they don’t care about until someone makes them.
I’m a third year teacher after changing from another career in which I ran a company with 50 employees. Teaching is much, much harder!
My two cents – I love your blog.
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I feel your pain.
I am a U.K. Primary school teacher so all the terms you are using are a bit alien to me, but I think I understand generally!
Here, we teach the full curriculum, so all subjects, and have offensive amounts of paperwork too. I only have one class, who are fantastic, brilliant colleagues and a really supportive boss, so for that I am grateful. But I have to submit detailed planning for every session and evaluations too. We are allowed 2 hours a week of PPA time (planning, prep and assessment) during which we should mark, fill in data and tracking forms, plan for the next week, communicate with parents, staff, etc. Each piece of work should ideally be marked that day, so children can respond to marking the next morning, and each lesson must have a written outcome, so that’s at least one maths, literacy and science/history/geography piece of marking every day…you get the picture.
In short, I live 45 minutes from my workplace; I am at my desk by 07:10 and leave at 18.30. I then do minimal planning/emails at home when absolutely necessary and also work a few hours on Sundays. I am working really hard on my work-life balance and would say I have a good one, looking at my colleagues and friends in teaching, but I don’t have enough time for myself and my family and it sucks.
I’m not a teacher (anymore), but I don’t think your statement was bad. It was honest. When I taught high school English, I had three preps (including an AP course I had to develop), plus various rotating duties during one class period. And I was the assistant cross-country coach. I burned out from teaching, and left after my third year.
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I teach middle school ESL and have 3 preps. I think 3 is pretty standard, though I always feel like I am behind in planning for one of my classes. I try not to complain about 3 preps because I know it is the situation for a lot of teachers, or worse, but at the same time I feel your pain. The number of preps art teachers have seems to get out of hand. I was interested to read that from other comments because I know it is true for the art teacher in my school.
Although I sometimes do the same, I think 2 hours planning one lesson is too much. Although my lessons have lots of fun features and add-ons when I have that much time, it is not realistic. My strategy is to do as much as I can in my weekly preps and a few hours on the weekend: then, instead of staying late to prep for the next day (I am too tired to focus after interacting with students all day) I come in early. This makes me work more efficiently, because I only do what is 100% necessary to make a functional, appropriate lessons for the day. I also find I make better decisions about my lessons when it’s down to the wire, and this prevents me from giving into perfectionism. In general as a personality trait I think teachers are micro-managers, and feel that if we plan exquisitely everything will be perfect. But that’s not always true, obviously, so what is the true added value of those 2 hours you spend? That said, finding the balance between over and under planning is SO hard for me.
In terms of additional tasks, I have a lot of admin type tasks to do related to ELL student documentation. This sucks but is the reality. I read some of Jonathan Kozol’s “Letters to a Young Teacher,” and one part of the book stood out for me. I can’t remember the words exactly, but he said that data and documentation craze are the way things are going in education, and if all of those extra responsibilities leave no time left for the joy/spark of teaching, it might be time to find a new environment. I’m not saying you should leave the profession! But I try to keep this idea in mind to remind myself of two things: first, that staying in teaching is a choice, and if the weight of the tasks becomes insurmountable, I will leave; and second, to try (as much as I can) to let the weight of the extra tasks roll off my back, to view them lightly and with as much indifference as possible, rather than hatred and frustration.
Thanks for the wise words about letting the weight of extra tasks roll off. I will try me best to internalize that!
Having just read this post and your more recent one, I can see that your workload is truly overwhelming. I really feel for you and I hope that the reflective thoughts you’re having (and airing!) help you to regain some balance.
I’m from Australia so our system is completely different, but I think the conditions you’re working under and the expectations on teachers at your school are thoroughly unrealistic. At my school there is no way we would spend 1-2 hours on every lesson we teach! Sure, the ones which introduce key topics and concepts get a bit more attention, for other lessons where consolidation is the focus we tend to use more student-centred approaches. For my subject (Geography) I often use groupwork presentations as a way of getting the students to learn content for themselves then teach it to other students. Lessons using strategies like this can be planned very quickly (dare I say it, sometimes it happens in my head as I walk to class…). I also use peer assessment as a way of reducing my marking load, and it has the benefit of helping develop/consolidate student understanding as much as completing the work itself.
At my school we have four 80-minute periods a day and a standard teaching load sees you teach three, and have one for prep. This is subject to timetabling so varies a little. We have some expectations for extra-curricular activities (e.g. coaching a sport team) but generally these are optional. Our scheduled work hours are part of a state-wide collective bargaining agreement and fiercely protected by our union.
Our school system isn’t as data driven as yours in the US, so we don’t need to do as much administrative work. We are expected to do online continuous assessment, with marks and feedback for formal assessment tasks being made available to students and parents within two weeks of task submission. This does cause difficulty for us.
I know comparing the working conditions for Australian teachers to American ones is like comparing apples to oranges, but I think the contrast between them does highlight the excessive demands I think are being made of you and your colleagues. Another commenter mentioned teachers finding their own boundaries to managing their workloads – this is essential. Self-care is also essential. Yes, students first, but after you’ve had your lunch! A student can’t learn from a teacher who is tired, hungry and on the path to burnout.
Good luck and I hope things turn around for you soon.
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