Why I ended up respecting lists. How I managed to take the panic out of my planning. What kind of advance planning work saves me time. The importance of ticking. And more!
I am one of those people who could always juggle multiple things at the same time. I've always had a busy schedule, and I loved it! It made me feel productive, full of creative energy and sure about myself and my work. Plus, I always deeply believed in the value of structure and organization.
I made several attempts to organize my thoughts and my work, more and more often as I got older and responsibilities starting stacking up. Bought planners, printed out templates, started journals, downloaded mobile apps. It all started very well, with intent and dedication. Then kind of relaxed, fell behind. And then I just stopped. It seemed like an extra amount of work in a schedule that was already packed to the brim, and it didn't feel like it was helping, just adding stress.
It took years of gradual evolution of thought for me to realize I was totally wrong. It also took all this trial and error. There's nothing more valuable in life than experience. Everything you do, and fail at, takes you one step closer to the best version of you. Going through all these years of teaching and planning experience, I have reached a point where I know what helps me keep track of everything, minimizes my lesson planning work and makes sure I feel safe and ready without going through that "last day" anxiety - Last day of the weekend, last day of the holidays, and the absolute worst of all! LAST DAY OF SUMMER!!!!
I'm not going to lie to you. Organizing your work does take a certain amount of time and effort. Mostly, in advance, which is good. Most teachers I've met whose work I admire and respect, have this in common. They spend some time of off-work periods to plan and prepare so as to enjoy an infinitely more stress-free environment when they are working. What I've come to learn is that giving up a small portion of your holidays to lay the foundations pays off greatly when you're going through the busiest period of the year and hardly have time to keep up with grading and checking writing assignments!
So, true to form, I will go through the rest of this post in segments, prioritized according to amount of preparation work and range of use.
What would you say runs through your whole teaching approach and is a constant headache all through the school year? I used to be constantly haunted by this insecurity: "Am I going too slowly? How much of the coursebook will I have worked on by the end of the year? Where are others? Have I fallen behind?" Even if you try to push it aside, given that there is no real consequence if you finish more or less of the book, this kind of thinking is always at the back of our mind for most of us and it necessarily affects our teaching. I've caught myself becoming impatient with my kids when I thought we were falling behind and this kind of stress always has a negative impact on learning.
This year, I decided to spend some time in the summer to prepare a minimal syllabus. After working on the same coursebooks for years in a row, it wasn't really difficult to decide what parts of the book I would work on and how. I just had to force myself to accept some realities, for instance, entirely skipping unit 2 in the 5th grade coursebook was much more effective for my teaching than trying to speed through it, and there was no actual loss, since it basically revolves around similar things to unit 1 with very little value in vocabulary.
This was especially valuable when it came to my younger learners since there is no coursebook for the first two grades and what material is available needs serious editing! Going through the last two years' folders and sketch pads, I managed to scrape a mini-syllabus which I use as a general guide and to prepare for the week's lessons. This way, I stopped running through my flashcards at the last possible minute trying to find that blessed gorilla!
Part of that work also involved compiling my lists of materials needed for each class early enough so I could make sure I remembered everything and knew exactly what I needed. So, using my experience from the last few years and a trip to my neighbourhood bookshop, I was able to decide on the best materials, the ones I was going to re-use and my lists were as clearly laid out and explained as possible. This year, problems with missing notebooks and wrong types of folders were almost non-existent!
There was on final step before I was completely ready to start the new school year. It was time to address the issue of spare copies of handouts and tests. I make a point of reducing paper waste as much as possible. Apart from the obvious practices of always printing double-sided, reusing one-sided printed pages for crafts or as note paper etc., I had to try to reduce the pile of unused handouts that accumulated in my drawers and boxes every term. I thought two things might help: reminding myself of the correct number of students in each class (since I have many!) every time and keeping a separate file with spare copies which I might be able to use next year.
All of this did not take as much as one might think. Apart from organizing the syllabus, which was done little by little over the summer, all the rest was done during the first week of September. Now all I had to do was find a way to organize my day-to-day works so as to avoid feeling overwhelmed and burnt out by early November! If you want to find out how I did it, keep reading my blog!