Too Busy

“It doesn’t all get done.” When I asked a colleague whose plate is fuller than mine how he manages it, that was his response. It was liberating for me.

Just as we are trying to teach kids to manage an exponentially large amount of information, teachers face a similar challenge. When I started teaching, I had twice the student load and did my Master’s Degree at night. Now, I can barely stay afloat. Accounting for differences in my life stages, I have been asking myself how it is that the comparable element of my job – classroom teaching – can take more not less time and energy than it did when I started.

I have infinitely more choices when constructing my lessons and my curriculum. Technology does not save me time. It increases what I can do, but I actually spend more time planning than in the days of dittos, worksheets and posters. Teaching is more fun for me these days, but it is also more work.

It seems like the skill that is most necessary today is time management. I do not mean that we need to use every second wisely. I mean that we need to make good choices about what does not get done in the 24 hours of each day. Like all other aspects of the job, it requires constant evaluation and decision-making.

I am coming to believe that teachers who make the best decisions about how to use their time in balancing the needs of their own families, their students, their students’ families, and the school have the most success. There is no magic formula, it needs to recalculated constantly. It is not just about doing the job well. It is also about knowing how to allocate our limited time.

I think this blog post was a good use of my time. It has helped me clarify thoughts that have been buzzing around in my head. Now off to make pumpkin bread, finish laundry, do some cleaning, plan for my classes tomorrow, read Moodle forum and blog posts, check email, cook dinner and spend a little time with the family. I wonder what will not get done?

Overwhelmed, but…

Today it seems like everyone I ran into at school was feeling overwhelmed. I felt that way, too. The day involved a constant juggling act, except for the moments when I was in classes. Free periods were not times to breathe and check items off the To Do list but rather taken up with meetings and conversations. It seemed like everywhere I turned there was an additional task waiting, all of which were important. Arriving home exhausted, I gave myself the rare luxury of fifteen minutes to flop down and do nothing.

Somehow I emerged from that short respite with a different perspective. The stresses of the day faded, and I started to reflect on the truly great moments. My seniors took my challenge to teach me something I did not know; they put their talents to work giving presentations about China during the Cultural Revolution. They accomplished something I fail to do sometimes – they engaged the class in their work. They presented with style, confidence, and enthusiasm. They furthered the understanding of their classmates, and I took something new away from each of them. I hated to see the class end, and I cannot wait to get back tomorrow to continue the work. Not every class is like this, but I was reminded of the magic that can and does happen in the classroom.

Later, I had the opportunity to sit down with a colleague and hear his insights into 19th century American art, knowledge I can now incorporate into my classes. He is every bit as busy as me but was generous enough to create a presentation for the US history teachers  to share with our classes. This type of collaboration does not come without a cost. The time and energy he put into the presentation took him away from something else. Yet, this embodies the generous, collaborative spirit that represents education at its best.

What did those two episodes have in common? I was not just teaching, but learning. Both were shared, connected experiences. That takes me to my final meeting of the day, with my PLP group. I will be working this year with five other teachers at my school as part of a Powerful Learning Practices cohort. At this point, we know we will be creating a project of some sort together, and that we will be connecting with others in the same program. There is not too much more that is certain, except that we will be learners and that we are all invested. What transforms it from simply another demand on my time to a worthwhile experience will likely be those same elements that I found in my most satisfying moments of the day – we will be in a shared, connected experience of learning.

So, my downtime did not change my day, but it did change the way I feel about it. What will inspire me tomorrow?