By Gina Blackburn
Poet Maya Angelou once said, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style” (2014). As a middle or high school teacher, sticking to a simple, well-considered routine can keep you from becoming overwhelmed and over-stressed during your first year of teaching. Follow these simple tips to minimize busywork, bring balance to your life, and focus on the priorities in your work. Let’s make that first year one of thriving, not just surviving!
- Plan on weekends, grade during the week. This is a routine I established during student teaching out of necessity. I was teaching three preps, six classes, and several novels I had never read before. I found that my week went much more smoothly if I focused on planning on Saturday and Sunday, leaving all my grading for weeknights. Of course, I had to tweak my plans throughout the week, but because I spent hours writing the plans, it took little time to change them based on my students’ needs and my cooperating teacher’s feedback. Make sure all your materials are also prepped on the weekend, so grading is the priority Monday through Friday.
- Reduce your grading load. Just because you assign something doesn’t mean you have to grade it. Yes, I said that out loud. Heresy, I know! However, students need a lot of practice with writing and math. Don’t limit that practice based on what you can grade. For example, I assigned a journal entry every day, but I only graded one class set a day. (For example, Grade Period 1 on Monday, Period 4 on Tuesday, Period 6 on Wednesday, and so on.) I gave them credit for the writing they did on the other days, but I only gave them a response once a week. This meant grading one set of papers a day, instead of six.
- Stagger larger projects. Even if I had four classes of the same subject and grade level, I would only have one class writing a research paper at a time, resulting in 25 research papers to grade, not 150. The other classes were doing a different unit. I also had students sign up for their due dates within a 1-week time frame. This allowed students who were having trouble to sign up for a later due date, while students who were faster workers could choose an earlier due date. I would only have five research papers to grade per day instead of 25—much more manageable!
- Focus on meaningful feedback. Reducing my grading load and staggering assignments and due dates allowed me to give better feedback to my students. I also was getting their papers back to them much more quickly than if I tried to grade piles of essays at a time. Students should receive their graded work within 1 week of turning it in, so they can remember what they were thinking when they did the assignment.
5 Research-Based Tips for Providing Students with Meaningful Feedback
- Prioritize communication. Be proactive in communicating with parents so they support your work with their children. You can quickly and easily send parents an email or electronic newsletter every week to keep them updated on what your students are learning and what assignments are coming up. They’ll have a handy way to reply or reach out to you when they have questions and concerns. My students’ homework-completion rates increased when I started emailing parents every week.
Emailing Parents: How to Avoid Unintended Consequences
- Make your day count. Don’t count on your planning period to get your “homework” (i.e., planning and grading) done. Emergencies inevitably come up. Emails need immediate attention, your department chair needs you to cover a colleague’s class, a student is crying in the bathroom—the distractions are endless. I was calm during my day if I did not rely on my planning period to do my own work. I could be entirely present in whatever way my school needed me. This gave me a sense of peace going into my own classes, and it allowed me to be fully professional each day.
- Find your own mentor. Lastly, you have probably been assigned a mentor for your first year of teaching; however, you may not be a good fit with that mentor. Find someone who has the same passion for students and learning that you do and ask them for advice. That person doesn’t even have to be a teacher in your grade level or content area. You can still get help on how to deal with challenges you face each day. Make sure they are someone you respect, admire, and trust. They have been there and will know how to help you succeed and thrive!
It may be overwhelming to think of your first year of teaching, but take it week by week, day by day, while developing habits to help you use your time and talents wisely. Your students deserve for you to not just survive your first year but truly thrive!
Dr. Blackburn is Professor of Education at Grove City College, where she teaches Culturally Relevant Pedagogy and two English methods courses, and she supervises student teachers. She is also author of Multicultural Education for Christian Educators.
Maya Angelou: In Her Own Words. (2014, May 28). BBC News.