Your teaching priorities should first benefit your students
By Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder
As a teacher you are asked to do a hundred different tasks a week. Some of them look pretty on paper but really don’t make that much difference in the grand scheme of your classroom. Prioritize your responsibilities to best serve your students.
You have administrator expectations, parent expectations, student expectations, guidance expectations and the list goes on. It is not possible to do them all, at least not well, which is why it is important to prioritize your responsibilities. For example, you have an hour of time. Which will benefit your students more: grading their papers, planning an engaging project, writing out SMART goals, completing a scatter graph of data or learning one more new technology app?
When you prioritize your responsibilities, always choose what benefits students first.
Students appreciate a prompt grader
Let’s assume the only reason you give an assignment, test or quiz is to assess what your students have learned. If you procrastinate on grading those, you defeat the purpose.
Students need a quick grade turn around to gauge how they are doing in the class. They also need it so they understand what they have learned and how to adapt to future assignments. And if they do not know they have learned something incorrectly, they will repeat the same mistakes.
Teachers also need a quick turn around. Otherwise, how will you really know what students have learned, what needs to be retaught, when to move on or how they will handle new information? For assignments to be meaningful for all involved they need to be graded promptly.
Most students want and appreciate a plan for every day of class
You may think students want a “break” if you give a free day and use that to grade papers or do other school work. However, most students hate it. They feel like they have wasted their time coming to school. They need to give them a reason to be in your class.
Free time also invites discipline problems. You’ve heard the expression, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop?” Free time simply asks for trouble because bored minds create mischief.
Having a plan tells students that your class holds importance. There should be a reason for them to be with you every day. If you have no reason, you did not prioritize your responsibilities to benefit your students.
They should be talking about what happens during your class and what they learn, not that they didn’t do anything. Using any extra time you have to plan engaging lessons is one of the best uses of your time and should be at the top of your prioritizing.
Pleasing administrators has low payback
Most administrators expect their teachers to work hard and may appreciate it, but for the most part it ends there. In other cases, it simply brings on more work.
When administrators know you work hard, they often turn to you when something needs done because they know that you will do it. Sometimes it may be something you would really enjoy doing, and other times it simply adds more to your already full plate.
Be discerning and learn to say no. Also be realistic about their desires and see how it fits into benefiting students. In a student first prioritization it is easier to say you cannot do something.
Determine what is simply jumping through a hoop and what has substance
Every new education reform that comes along, also brings with it an enormous amount of work. Often times that does little for your classroom but simply “looks good” to some evaluation team.
I know if you’ve been in education long enough you’ve seen the mountains of paperwork for an accreditation team audit. You have participated in countless meetings and analyzed data until your head hurts and your eyes blur. All that beautiful data, once compiled into spreadsheets, lands into folders for display on audit day. After that they return to a folder and stay forgotten.
This is not to be negative, but the reality exists that usually that work did not benefit the students you see on a daily basis. Sometimes you have no choice about working on these things, but do prioritize how much time you will allot to it.
Embrace new technology, but be purposeful
When it comes to new technology, new trends, new anything don’t shy away. However, you don’t need to embrace everything at once. Do some research and evaluate how it will benefit your students. These sites provide reviews to get you started: Common Sense Education , APP Ed Review and EdSurge.
If the payoff is big then it is worth your time. If you will only use it once in the entire year, then rethink the time spent learning it. I taught myself how to use WordPress because I planned to have my students create portfolios for use throughout the year. I made this time consuming task a summer project. If I had planned to only use it for one small project, it would not have been worth the effort. Because I used it in multiple classes, and it provided students with a life skill, it was worth the effort.
If all the things you are doing are not a benefit to your students you are just spinning your wheels.
Also, check with other teachers who already use the technology. Find out how they use it in their classroom and what benefits they see. They can also be great resources for troubleshooting if you have problems with the technology. It’s okay to let someone else be the test driver and reviewer. You do not need to pioneer everything.
Learn when to say no thank you. I love new technology, and we were constantly introduced to new programs. Some proved useful to me, and some did not.
While your technology director, media director or administrator may be pushing some new program they wish to use or purchase, if it does not benefit you, don’t feel the need to use it.
Don’t let goal setting consume you
Goal setting or professional growth goals comprise a part of many evaluations. I have years of teaching experience, so I have seen these done about 20 different ways. Some years we met with an administrator when we turned them in and again at the end of the year. Other years, nothing was done with them.
Almost always we received an email reminder a day or two before the deadline (usually along with other tasks we had to complete at the beginning of school) and teachers scrambled to put something down.
I know a few teachers who used the same one for about a decade. (Yeah, no one caught it.) One year in frustration, my goal stated to “complete all professional requirements.” (Not my finest moment, but sometimes you’re just done with nonsense.)
Some of the “check the box for the administrator” stuff was just not a very high priority in my list of responsibilities. I always had my own personal teaching goals in mind. However, finding ones that fit their requirements that were measurable, timely, etc, just did not reach high priority compared to things I needed to do for my students.
Did that make me a bad teacher? I think it made me a realistic one as I focused on what would best benefit my students.
So with over three decades of teaching, my big takeaway is to do what works for you and more importantly what works for your students.
Prioritize your responsibilities. If all the things you are doing are not a benefit to your students you are just spinning your wheels.