During my first year of teaching, I always felt like my head was barely above water. I was usually just one step ahead of the students. Which as a first year teacher, I think just surviving is key. But as I figured out my stride later in teaching, it was easier to stay on top of my lesson plans. I went from staying super late and being the last one in the parking lot, to leaving after my contract hours ended. I want to share a few tips that worked for me.
Change Your Lesson Plan Strategy to Batching
Think of baking a batch of cookies. It's so much easier to make a bunch of cookies all at once than to make just one cookie at a time. The same concept is true with lesson plans. One of the reasons I felt like I was constantly treading water was that I didn't have a good strategy for lesson planning. I would focus on my lesson plan for Monday's math, and then Monday's ELA, and then Monday's social studies, and so forth. But I wasn't thinking about a long-range plan. When I switched to batching I could finally get ahead.
How to Batch Your Lesson Plans
Time is wasted when we jump back and forth between lesson planning. If we have 6 subjects or periods and jump back and forth between each subject, that's often multiple runs to the copy machine, multiple times of taking out and putting away different materials, etc. But when we sit down and plan just one subject or period at a time, we are more focused and can more easily create a long-range plan that will work.
What I like to do is take one subject or period and plan out an entire unit. This may be several weeks worth of content. If I can plan out two units or even a full month of content, the better. It can seem daunting at first, but the hardest part is really just sitting down and getting started. I will write out the plans, make all of the copies, prep all of the materials, or upload all of the resources that will be needed. I recognize that I need to be flexible as well, because although I may plan for one lesson on Wednesday, I might get behind or ahead a little bit. But I don't really sweat this, because I know where I am headed, and I know that everything is planned.
Once I plan out one subject, I do the same thing with the next subject or period until I have a solid long-range plan for each area. This might mean that I need to spend some uninterrupted time on the weekend to get ahead. But once I do, I feel much less stressed, and moving forward it's much easier to use my planning times to prep. I've found that this is one of the most effective ways to stay on top of lesson planning.
Making the Most of Prep Periods & Short Breaks
I like to use long prep-periods for batching lesson plans. I also plan specific days that I will grade papers and upload data. I also do my best to hold myself to only responding to emails at the end of the day. Again, I sit down and respond to everything all at once and clear my inbox. I've found that email can be a huge time-suck if I constantly check it throughout the day. If there is something urgent, the office will call.
I like to keep a list of "tiny tasks." These are things that I can do in under 10 minutes. If I have a few minutes before a meeting, I will look at my "tiny task" list and see what I can check off. These might be changing a bulletin board of student work, updating the calendar dates, sharpening pencils, dusting or quick organizing. Again, this helps me use time more effectively because when I have a big chunk of time I don't need to do a bunch of little things, I just focus on the major tasks at hand.
A Quick Tip on Running Copies
Choose one planning period or day to make all of your copies. Take the entire stack that you need and run them all at once. If you try to do this in the morning before school starts inevitably the copier will jam. Trust me on this one! Plus every time you go back and forth from your classroom to the copier is wasted time. If you have a printing shop, use that instead for large copies. If you have a volunteer have them run your copies. For example, I will run the entire year of morning work at the start of the school year and file them in a filing cabinet so that each week all I have to do is pull out the next week's papers. I also suggest making a couple extra copies of an assignment because we are bound to have new students enter throughout the year.
You Don't Need to Re-Invent the Wheel
You might be thinking, "but I don't have an entire year of morning work to print, so how do I get ahead?" You know, I didn't either, but I found a great resource online from another teacher who already took the countless hours (probably days!) to put one together that fit my grade level and standards. For me, spending a few bucks to save hours of time is worth it. Leaning on others for lesson plans, whether that be from colleagues or lessons that are purchased online does not make you less of teacher because you didn't create the lesson plan. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.
There are only 24 hours in a day, and that's the same for everyone. My time is worth money, and so is yours. For me, spending $5 on a resource to save me several hours of work is worth it because my time is valuable. My time with family is important. My mental health is important. And the same is true for you too.
Looking for additional teacher tips? Check out these blog posts.