I must admit, I’ve dozed off a few times myself at my office desk! But this isn’t the way it should be! If you find yourself barely able to stay awake during your planning periods or when the students have gone to recess or one of their specials, I’m guessing you’re not getting enough sleep at night. Try moving your bedtime back by one-half hour and see if that doesn’t help.
My first year teaching, I loved planning periods! Nevertheless, I foolishly squandered my time. It was common for me to go looking for someone to talk to during my “free” time. My favorite hangouts? The library, the teachers’ lounge, the office. Sometimes I just enjoyed looking around the school. It felt great to be free of students for a time and to go make contact with other adults for a few minutes.
Looking back, I see that none of these activities were necessarily wrong. But I was squandering time that I would pay dearly for later.
What should I have been doing? It’s best to be forward-thinking during your planning time. Look at it this way. ANYTHING YOU CAN DO DURING PLANNING TIME–EVEN IF IT’S ONLY FOR TEN MINUTES, IS TEN MINUTES OF WORK THAT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE HOME!
You can make the most of your planning time by deciding in advance how you will use it. Some teachers block out certain days of the week or certain periods to do the following:
- Make photocopies
- Grade papers
- Enter grades into the computer
- Write quizzes
- Answer e-mails
- Update class websites
- Take care of business in the main office.
- Consult with support staff.
- Take care of housekeeping duties in the classroom such as watering plants, hanging bulletin boards, organizing centers, setting up labs
I recommend that you make a list of common tasks, and then designate certain planning periods to accomplish them. Schedule the task, then do your best to stick to it and check it off once completed. Be careful not to schedule large tasks that cannot be completed in the allotted time. For instance, do not schedule yourself to try to change a bulletin board during a 15 minute recess. Instead, schedule something you can actually complete in 15 minutes!
A word of warning…if you go looking for conversation, you will surely find it. The bell will ring, or the students will return, and all you will have accomplished is talking about your pet peeves with another staff member. It is best to get busy and stay busy! Of course it’s imperative to be polite and respectful to colleagues. And once in a while, it’s great to have a conversation. But don’t make this a way of life, or you will add a ton of stress to an already stressful first few years. Save your conversations for lunch time when it is actually best to set your work aside!
At all times have a to-do list nearby. Checking items off as you complete them gives you a sense of accomplishment and peace of mind. Write new items down as they occur to you. In the past I have rationalized that if I had only three minutes left of a planning period, there wasn’t significant time left to do anything worthwhile. If you find something you can do in just three minutes, that is three minutes at home that you can have to yourself! Just think how precious three minutes are when you’re running late for school in the morning.
I really hate to say this, but here’s a perennial problem you are bound to encounter sooner or later: You will find that co-workers can really impede your ability to get your work done both during planning periods and during after-school time. I’m sure I have been guilty of interfering with other teachers’ work myself. But having been on the receiving end of wasted time, I have learned to interpret social cues.
If you see that someone is busy at their desk, be sensitive to that. Be brief with your comments or requests, and then move on. In my younger years I have had colleagues come into my classroom and stay for over half an hour to visit when I desperately needed to finish grading papers or hang a bulletin board.
Sometimes you may be able to continue your work under these circumstances. Other times, when your colleague is distressed, you really need to put your work down and make eye contact with that person. To make up for times such as these, it is critical that you use your time wisely and make your planning periods count.
This week, try looking at your planning periods and write down one or two things you can accomplish during each of them. Check tasks off as they are completed. As time passes, you can tweak your list to work more efficiently and thereby reduce the amount of work you have to take home. Revise this schedule as you go through the year, and you will become very adept at managing your time wisely. The end result will be an overall reduction in the stress of your first few years teaching!