Friday, March 29, 2013

Year 3: Week 26 - The Reactions

One of the challenges of teaching is trying to figure out how your students feel about things that are happening in class. I don’t need to know whether or not they like everything that I’m doing in class but it’s helpful. Being able to tell when a student is upset about something is even more crucial.

One of the things that I enjoy about my 3rd graders is that they are pretty easy to read. When they are excited about a song we are learning, they sit-up, smile at me and I can see the excitement in their eyes. When they don’t like something we are doing they will avoid eye contact, slouch and engage in distracting behavior.

For most of these kids, I can tell what’s going on with them because they don’t try to hide it. I do have students every year who are less comfortable with their self-expression and are harder to read but in general, 3rd graders pretty clearly show you how they feel.

Middle school students are a whole different game. They can sit there and give you the exactly same expression and posture when they are hating an activity or having the time of their life. " Grouchy-annoyed" face doesn’t necessarily mean that they are annoyed and "exuberant-happy" face could very well be sarcasm and not genuine excitement.

This can get confusing and can make working with middle school kids a baffling proposition. Because of the nature of middle school students you have to look for different things besides their facial expression to gauge their excitement and interest. Are they participating in class? When you ask them to do something are they complying? Even if they are whining, if they are still doing the work well, then they probably don’t hate what’s going on in class.

There’s a couple other things you can try. When a student was whining about being in band class I asked him, “are complaining because you are whining or because you actually don’t want to be here.” He responded, “I’m just whining, I’m cool being in band.” So after reassuring him that if it was a valid complaint that I did indeed want to hear, it we got back to work and I completely ignored his whining.

There's another piece with middle school students that can lead to more authentic reactions.  Like adults middle school students try to be a certain kind of person.  Many of their actions stem from insecurity.  If they show that they like something too much they may be considered a dork.  If you can create a classroom atmosphere where students feel safe enough that they stop trying to be someone and are simply themselves, you see many more genuine reactions. 

This is a hard place to get to that I've only reached with a couple classes of students.  It takes a lot of trust building, some very specific conversations and a great deal of energy from the teacher.  You have to make them believe that you really got their back and that in your classroom they have nothing to fear.

The bottom line is that you have to get to know your students as people.  Celebrate their hopes, their interests and their feelings.  Don't ever tell a students that what they are feeling is not valid.  Always give them the benefit of the doubt and never hesitate to tell a student how much you believe in them.  Above all else, listen, really listen to what the students are saying.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

BUFFY'S DIFFICULTIES

LAUNDRY IZ DIFFICULT!!!

SITTIN ON TEH COUCH IZ DIFFICULT!!!

GETTIN OUT OV BED IZ DIFFICULT!!!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Long As I Can See The Light by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Sometimes I feel like I don’t know where I’m going.

It’s kind of like that whole thing where you can feel alone even when you’re in a crowd. I have a general idea where my life is going. I’m lucky enough to be married and have a great job, which really brings a level of stability and predictability to life.  But then things happen that remind you that all of the plans we make don't give us a true sense of direction. 

It’s the things that you can’t control that throw your life off course, which are the most meaningful. If you really think about the moments that changed your life, it’s never things that you can predict or control. These moments are the sad ones like sickness and death but also the amazing ones like finding love and your wife getting pregnant.

These things are awesome and they make the world seem completely different but they also throw you off. Where do you find your point of orientation, how do keep on the path? For some people it’s God, for others it’s their family and for John Fogerty, it’s simply the light.



Fogerty’s music reflects life's journey. The music he did with Creedence Clearwater Revival and as a soloist speaks to finding peace and somewhere whether its’ out a back porch or simply in a sunny day.

“Long As I Can See The Light,” is a simple song. It only has one repeated section, there’s no bridge or chorus. Not very many artists can get away with this but the melody is beautifully crafter like Brandi Carlile’s “The Story,” that you don’t mind the repetitive nature of the song.

“The light,” can be interpreted literally as a bright window in the dark, but the song quickly hints at something deeper.  Fogerty sings about an inevitable journey that will eventually bring him home. He sings about a need to go out, explore and travel but also the need for this light to direct his path.

What’s revelatory about this song is that even though there is this deep unknown, there is a certainty that he will come home.  It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t know where he is going, he’ll find his way home.

Too often in life we think about our journeys as going somewhere. Fogerty reminds us that while our paths take us to strange and foreign lands, at the end they lead us right back home.

That’s a comforting thought, because I know that no matter how lost and scared I feel, at the end, life will lead me back home to Diana. The light in my life is whatever force brought us together and continues to lead us to each other when life's journeys pull us apart. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Year 3: Week 25 – Taking Yourself Too Seriously

As I sat in front of my class with one recorder in each of my nostrils playing both of them at the same time, the advice, “Always take your job seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously, “ echoed in my head.

Teaching is not a place to try to be cool. Quite the contrary, the best teachers are the ones who have absolutely no hesitation to make a complete fool of themselves if it means that it will help students learn.

Sometimes teachers build up this facade. They try to be a serious academic scholar in the front of their kids. This stems from the whole idea that teachers have to be super strict in the beginning of the year and not smile. Also many teachers are more concerned about the image of who they are as a “teacher” more than what they need to do to help their students learn.

I’m not saying be goofball in front of your kids, but don’t try to be something that you are not. More importantly when you do something funny by accident and kids laugh, laugh along with them.

For example, if you are explaining a concept and you fumble over the pronunciation of a word, laugh at yourself and let your students join in. If you trip over an extension cord and make a funny looking stumble. Go ahead and let your kids have a little fun at your expense. It’s okay, it lets them know that you are human and that it's okay to make mistakes.

It’s counter-intuitive, but often it’s the teachers who are willing to do ridiculous and silly things who are the most respected and effective teachers.  My wife had a teacher who would dress up in clothes of different cultures depending on what he was teaching. I’ll never forget my orchestra teacher who would have the silly dances to help explain rhythmic patterns.

The reason these teachers are memorable and meaningful is because they were willing to show their students the entire range of who they were as human beings. They were serious when they needed to be but they also knew that life and learning is sometimes about having fun and letting go of your ego.

When you are willing to dress up funny, do a silly dance or share some kind of embarrassing experience with your students you are communicating a very special message. You are saying that you care about your students so much that you are willing to make a complete fool of yourself on their behalf.  Your are saying that your dignity is secondary to their learning.   

Pick a time to do something really silly in front of your students.  It's a hard thing to do, but it's worth taking that chance.  It forces you to put aside your ego and once you do that, then you will begin the shift from being a "teacher" for your own self image to being a teacher for your kids. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Dad The World Expects Me To Be: Conversations About Gender Roles During Pregnancy

If you ever thought that our society had moved passed the gender issues that our feminist pioneers fought so hard to overcome, you have a rude awakening once someone close to you becomes pregnant.

As a man who has felt judged and excluded because of not conforming to gender stereotypes, I always thought that I could relate to the pressures that women were under from other men and women. In adulthood, I‘ve witnessed my female friends deal with issues related to gender roles including body image issues, birth control and the struggle to balance work and family life.

I’ve seen my wife, Diana, deal with issues that are unique to her because of her gender. It’s been a struggle to learn how to support her and move passed the feeling of simply wanting to punch anyone who prejudges her because she’s a woman.

Then we were blessed with Diana’s pregnancy. Within the joy of sharing this experience with the world around us, I noticed that the pressure and expectations of gender roles became more present.

It's subtle.  All of the comments people share with us when they find our Diana is pregnant are well-intentioned but some of them express certain expectations.  It's in the way that people ask about childcare and our careers.  It's in the questions that people more often direct to Diana about what kind of diapers we will use and it's fact that people seem surprised that I have informed opinions about child-rearing. 

The implication in these exchanges is that Diana will be more likely to compromise her career to raise the child and that I will play a less active role in childcare then her. While I don’t find these questions all too bothersome, the underlying assumptions about our roles as parents make me feel uncomfortable at times. 

I get why people say these things. Partially it’s because if you look at the stats, women are more likely than men to compromise their career for their children.. Here’s the thing: over-generalizations even in a positive like (i.e. All Asian people are good at math), has a degrading effect on people who don’t live up to those positive stereotype.

The second reason that these things come up is because of our own insecurities. Our society has not wholly embraced the stay-at-home dad. We are not comfortable with the women CEO’s who put their job first and we are not as progressive as we would like to believe when it comes to who takes more responsibility for the second-shift, the house work.

A woman who makes a choice to stay at home and compromise her career faces judgment and criticism and so does a husband who chooses stays at home with the kids. If you feel this pulls, one can’t help but a feel a level of insecurity. This is projected during conversations as we struggle to deal with the consequences of these difficult decisions. 

There are people who buck this trend. When we were planning our wedding, most of our venders didn’t just talk to Diana, they worked to include my opinion. When we go to our bank, my financial adviser makes sure to talk to Diana directly and includes her in decisions. I am blessed with great friends who respond to the choices we make in our lives not with manifestations of their insecurities through judgmental comments, rather with support and love.

We all have to make very difficult choices when we enter adulthood. It’s scary, and it’s hard, so let’s make it easy on each other. If we want to create a world where the choices we make are respecting and not judged against preconceived assumptions of gender roles, we need to move passed the idea that someone has to be wrong for us to be right.

Next time you see a couple and you find out that the woman is pregnant talk to both of them when you ask follow-up questions. Include the guy in the conversation about diapers and if you are wondering about how they are going to balance their family with their career, don’t just direct the question towards the woman.  By including the man in that question, you are saying that he can be as big a part in that child's life as the woman and this could inspire that man to be dad in a way that he never imagined.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) by Billy Joel

Almost ten years ago, Billy Joel released his last pop album, River Of Dreams. In the eleven albums leading up to River Of Dreams, Joel created an astonishing catalog of popular music and left and unforgettable mark on popular music.

 Joel’s music grew out of his working class background and developed through the nostalgia he had of the 1960s, the cynicism of the 1970s and the complexities of the 1980s. When the 1990s hit, Joel’s artistic maturity hit a peak and we got some of his most powerful and personal works of his life.

Joel was no longer an angry young man or a piano lounge singer. He found himself in the 1990s a husband a father. To express this sentiment, he took a instrumental piano prelude that he developed into a Latin chant and turned it into one of the most famous lullabies in popular music.



Billy Joel often speaks of the influence of western classical art music on his compositions. This is very clear in this song with harmonies and piano writing that echoes the works of Beethoven and Chopin. He is writing in a monophonic style where most of the parts of moving together in the same rhythm as the harmonies progress.

Just listening to the piano part itself, it seems like an odd choice to put lullabye lyrics to it but this  juxtaposition really works. The formality in character of the piano part presents these words from the perspective of an older generation. Having these tender and intimate lyrics come from a voice which does not normally express such sentiment makes the song feel that much more special.

The lyrics demonstrate the struggle of parenthood. In the first verse, he’s not able to answer all of her questions. In the second verse, he’s left with so many more things he wants to say. In his child, Joel realizes what he doesn’t understand and what he can’t explain. Instead of focusing on this failure, he reassures his daughter of his love.

Joel writes lyrics that when you first hear them have a clear meaning. Then later, other lyrics make those previous words in retrospect mean something very different. In the first verse he promises, “no matter where you are, I never will be far away. “ This seems like a comforting reassurance to a child that isn’t necessarily true in the literal sense. Then later in the song he sings, “someday your child may cry and if you sing this lullaby . . . there will always be a part of me.” Joel ends the song acknowledge that he will be gone and it is in the lullabye that they will be together.

I have so many questions about life.  I know my son will have even more questions than I do, and there will probably be many times I will not have answers.  "Lullabye" reminds us that this is okay.  We don't have to always know what to say as long as we share our love with the angels in our lives.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Year 3: Week 24 - Truth To Power

 “. . . there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”  
                                                                                           -Dumbledore
As I was talking, I felt myself tense up. My mouth got dry, my pulse echoed throughout my body and I felt a heat rise up in my chest.

I knew what I had to say was important, but I also knew that it was loaded. My reflection did not speak the best of our school, but it was the truth and the administration and other teachers in the room needed to hear what people had been telling me all week.

I’m being purposely ambiguous and I realized that it might be aggravating to not provide specifics. I’m not doing this out of shame but respect to my school. At another time in another place, I’d be more than happy to give details, but for now I want to focus on the larger challenge of what it means to speak truth to power.

People react to being the new kid on the block differently. Some people try to assert themselves and make a big splash. My strategy three years ago was to observe, keep my mouth shut and get the lay of the land. I did just that and I didn’t take any major chances at saying things to administration.

I often tell people that the only thing that intimidates me about my administration is their titles. It’s true. Nothing they’ve said or done has ever made me feel scared or threatened. Because I have a healthy does of inbred respect to my superiors, the title of principal itself causes me to pause before speaking.

My life has changed over the past three years and what this school has asked of me has also changed. This year, I’m on three committees where I charged with the responsibility to represent a certain population of the school. That means that I need to speak up for my peers and say things that maybe difficult to say.

One of the things that I was shocked at when I first got on these committees was how fearless other people were with their comments. They spoke their mind, and expressed viewpoints directly to administration that were critical and direct about controversial issues. I’ve grown to realize that it is exactly this type of discourse that strengthens this school. Speaking truth to power for my school is a reminder that while it’s the teachers’ job to serve the students, it’s the administrators’ charge to serve the teachers.

I had two moments this week when I spoke up. It was hard, but I knew it was the truth. They were comments that reflected what people were thinking but were not saying out in the open. While I knew a lot people shared my thoughts, I also knew that some people were not aware of these concerns.

I felt really insecure for the rest of the day after I made those two comments. It was a new feeling fighting against my instincts to do what I knew to be right. After having a couple people thank me for my comments. Becoming secure to speaking truth to power is about accepting my experience and my evolving role in this community.  It’s easy to be the new kid on the block but right now, I need to be something else for my school, take the harder road and do what's right.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The First Trimester

The heartbeat.

It barely sounded like anything through the muffled distortion, but the steady heartbeat brought tears to my eyes.  It felt like the most beautiful thing I had ever heard in my entire life. 

It wasn’t that I didn’t believed Diana when she told me that she was pregnant, but in some way, it didn’t seem real until I saw our baby on the ultrasound screen and heard its heartbeat.

We were in a hotel room in Taipei, getting ready to leave for my grandmother’s funeral when we found out about our baby. We had already be in Taiwan for a day and a half. While we had adjusted to the time change, we were still getting up really early in the morning.

When Diana told me, I held her close to me and I told her that I loved her. We held each other for a time. I didn’t know what to say. I was just so happy and excited to share this adventure with Diana and enter a new stage in our lives.

It felt exciting and a little mischievous keeping the pregnancy from our friends and families. It was difficult because there’s very little in my life that I don’t share.

We got baby books and started scouring the Internet for information about pregnancy. Handling the deluge of information was a challenge so we focused on just examining the information that was most prudent. While some of it was intimidating, most of it was comforting. Every time I felt like I had no idea what to do, I reminded myself that there have been people for thousands of years who have handled pregnancies. So we would be fine. . . I hoped.

Having a baby was always part of our life plan together. The developing of children into adults fascinates us and we both love kids. The time for us to have our own kid perpetually felt like a “couple years” later. One of the pieces of advice that Diana and I were given when we got married was to spend some time as a married couple before we had kids and we did just that.

Similar to the question of “when do you know that it’s the right time to get married,” knowing when it’s the right time to have kids is difficult. There’s so many things to consider before having children. Job, career, family, friends, finances and where you are living are all important things to consider.

Here’s the thing. All of that stuff goes in waves and while you can be in better or worse financial situations, you will never be in the perfect one.  As much as the pragmatic part of my brain wanted to have all of those things set up before having a kid, that simply wasn’t realistic.

While I worry about being prepared for the baby, I don’t worry about how Diana and I will be as parents. Correction: I don’t worry how Diana will be as a mother (how I feel about myself as a father is a different issue) and I have complete faith in us as a team.  Yes, we have growing to do as a couple but we've come a long way together in our relationship.

One trimester is done.  Two more to go.  I have more questions in my mind than answers.  I know now what it means to feel both excited and afraid all at the same time.  And I can't wait to share see the look on our family's faces when we tell them the good news. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Express Yourself by N.W.A.

Before creating Beats ear phones, before discovering Eminem, before revolutionizing Gangsta Rap at Death Row records, Dr. Dre was one of the boldest and most controversial rappers in America. 

Along with the late Eazy-E, Arabian Prince, DJ Yella, MC Ren and Ice Cube (yes, the same Ice Cube who is in the family comedy Are We There Yet?), Dr. Dre created the rap group N.W.A.  This group created a firestorm of controversy with the explicit language and content in their lyrics.

They rapped about their own lives and the problems they faced everyday. Mainstream American culture was simply not ready for the realism within their music. N.W.A. sparked a musical revolution still felt today not only in rap music but in all of pop music.

Most of my middle school students know Dr. Dre for his headphones. When I was growing up I knew him as producer mainly creating the background beats for Snoop Doggy Dog and Eminem. It was only recently that I discovered N.W.A.’s music and was floored by Dr. Dre’s skills on the microphone.

“Express Yourself,” the last single off of N.W.A.’s 1989 album Straight Outta Compton featured Dr. Dre rapping about the power of self-expression.



N.W.A. sampled Charles Wright & the Watts 100 Street Rhythm Band’s 1971 hit of the same name.



On top of this infectious sample Dr. Dre explodes in the beginning of the first verse:
I’m expressing with my full capabilities
And now I’m living in correctional facilities.
Cause some don’t agree with how I do this,
I get straight, meditate like Buddhist.
He goes on to call out hypocrisy with the way other people talk about drugs, and the way rappers change what they do to get on the radio. Throughout the song he has entertaining and clever similes and rhymes like “moving like a tortoise, full of rigor mortis." Like Smokey Robinson’s classic Motown lyrics, there’s a sense of fun in the rapping and the wide vocabulary on words the Dr. Dre utilizes.

While the song has a softer message the video links together the character slave driver, policeman and executioner.  N.W.A. also evokes imagery of Kennedy being shot.  All of this juxtaposed against this light-hearted song reminds us what N.W.A. is really all about.

There is freedom and joy in genuine self-expression, even if what you are expressing are darker parts of the human experience.  "Express Yourself," walks this line carefully encouraging others to be who they are while calling out the problems that keep people from being genuine.

It's amazing to see how far these artists have gone.  Dr. Dre is still around and when he hits the mic he still does it better than most of the younger guys out there right now.  There is something special about hearing him rap more than twenty years ago.  There's an energy and excitement that makes you not only want to rap along but create your own music to express yourself.  

Friday, March 8, 2013

Year 3: Week 23 - Creating The Shocking Silence

This week in one of my 5th grade music classes I was shocked by something that I rarely experience in school: silence.

We are studying “Sumer Is Incumen In,” and I gave them a worksheet, which asked them to pair up old English words with modern English words. I told them that I wanted to them to work individually for five minutes and then I would let them work in groups that I had formed.

For the next five minutes the only thing I heard in the room was the faint sound of pencils writing on papers.

When teachers talk about classroom management they often mention expectations, clarity of instructions and reinforcement. What doesn’t come up very often is the role of curriculum and instruction in the behavior of students.

If you teach a topic that students are interested in they are a lot more likely to pay attention. Also you can make a boring topic engaging if the learning tool, like a worksheet, is at the right level of difficulty with an interesting end goal. I don’t think teachers should create all of their curriculum and assessment just to help manage the class, but it is something that deserves consideration.

There are times when most of my class is engaged, times when none of them are with me and other times like with this worksheet this week, everyone is really interested in the activity. These moments are rare. In the same way that you try to figure out what went wrong during a bad class you also need to figure out what went right in a more successful lesson.

One of the reasons that curriculum and instruction don’t come up in discussions about classroom management is because many teachers don’t have control over their curriculum and how they teach. In these cases the focus really has to be on other ways to motivate kids to be respectful and engage in the learning. This is extremely difficult because the bottom line is that the greatest teacher in the world tied down to a mediocre curriculum and poor instructional activities can’t make a class be successful.

When you have one of those moments right after a class when you have a headache from a group of kids who got out of control, think about what you were teaching as much as how you were teaching. Don't focus so much on the rules and the expectations.  Get the excitement in the learning and in those great moments of student engaging build student expectations.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

To Be A Man: Feelings

“That’s IT! I've had it with you and your emotional constipation!”  - Tantor the elephant from Disney’s Tarzan (the cartoon with those awesome Phil Collins’ songs).
Talking about your ”feelings” is seen as a “girly” thing to do. Boys aren’t supposed to cry or be involved with activities where they express their feelings. Instead of talking about feelings guys are supposed to “deal with them” internally and not make a big deal about it. And like medical constipation, emotional constipation if sustained, for long periods of time causes damage and makes guys very difficult to live with.

Now the other extreme, emotional diarrhea has issues as well. People who are constantly talking about their feelings, live melodramatically and are also very challenging deal with.

There is a happy medium here (I’m going to stop it with the gastrological metaphor here because I’m not sure what Metamucil represents). Here’s some tips to find this balance:

Allow yourself to feel your emotions: If you are mad, be mad. Let yourself be mad and feel it. Never fight your emotions or the way that you feel. Even if your feelings seem illogical, don’t fight it. Experience your feelings; give yourself time to feel them and when you are ready to move on, let them go.

Tell people how you feel: If you feel frustrated at a friend, tell them. You don’t have to completely unpack the feeling when you first bring them up, but let people know how you feel. People aren’t mind readers. Don’t expect people to “know how you are feeling,” or be able to infer your emotions because of something they did.

Ask for help: Nobody is strong enough or mature enough to know how to handle his or her emotions alone. We are not born with the tools to “deal” with our emotions. There are skills, techniques and understandings about human nature that we need to learn about to be emotionally healthy. We learn these things from loved ones and professional therapists. If you were constipated for a week, you’d seek help, so you own it to yourself to seek help if you are an emotional wreck for a period of time.

There are a lot of guys who believe and prescribe to these socially constructed ideas about the ways that guys are suppose to handle emotion.

Everyone is tired of those guys.

Men have come to realize that dealing with emotion takes strength.  Being honest and open with the people in our lives leads to more fulfilling and meaningful relationships.  To not feel and express emotion honestly is to not live life to its fullest.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Story by Brandi Carlile

Sometimes you find a song that expresses so accurately the way that you view the world that it feels like that you’ve known it your entire life.



When I first heard “The Story,” I was astounded. This is one of those instances in music where the parts individually are not that remarkable but when they are put together the create something unforgettable.

“The Story” is repetitive. There is one phrase that is repeated over and over with no bridge or chorus. The chords are unremarkable and go exactly where you expect them. The lyrics are insightful, but simple and outside of the context of the song may seem kind of trite.

The melody is perhaps the most interesting piece of the song. The first phrase rises up and down and then following phrases start on a high note and trickle down. This creates a sighing effect. It starts lower after a couple descending and gentle rises and falls before finally settling. Many people complain that modern pop songs don’t have artfully contoured melodies and “The Story” is an example of a truly amazing “Yesterday"- like melody.

The there’s Brandi Carlile’s voice. She’s in her early thirties, but the way she sings makes you feel like that she has lived lifetimes. She plays with the break in her voice between her head voice and chest voice like Sarah MaLachlan to a wonderful effect. It’s both mournful and triumphant expressing a feeling of being tired but also never giving up.

When you put these pieces together “The Story,” tells a remarkable tale of what it means to be a human being. The lines on our face, that come not only from tears but from laughter all create stories and like everything in life they do not mean anything if you have no one to share them with.

She sings about the stories, the places she’s been, the rule’s she has broken and how she did it all for her love because of the way that person made her feel. Then she breaks free of illusions, admitting that her head is a mess. It is in this moment, the time when she is at her most vulnerable that she realizes how much love she holds for this other person because they know her like nobody else does.

What makes our stories meaningful is what makes our lives worth living. We tell them to each other so that we can understand one another to create a more significant and lasting connection. These stories are happy, they are sad and sometimes they are painful, but they need to be told for us to find our way in this world.

You can hear every different kind of story in this song. The melody never changes, but the feelings do and like life itself, it's a truly amazing journey.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Year 3: Week 22 - The Teacher Who Does Everything

You know those teachers who do amazing things in the classroom and seem to be doing everything else on the planet at the same time?

I’m talking about that teacher is who is on multiple committees, is a department head, is active in the teacher association, maintains great parent communication, present at conferences, has kids at home AND still has time to hang out in the office and socialize with other teachers.

How do these teachers do it?

When I first started teaching, writing lesson plans, preparing to teach and doing grades took up all of my time at school and also a lot of time at home. I marveled at these teachers who seemed to have so much free time on their hands while doing all of these other things.

Seven years later, I find that I’m doing so much more than teaching. I’m on committees, I presented at a conference last year, I find time to meet with other teachers and I have a more fulfilling life then I’ve ever had outside of school. While my plate is getting more full, it’s still not at the level of other teachers who do even more then I do.

I initially thought that teachers who managed lots of things in school were superhuman. What I’ve realized is that there are a couple specific things that happen in the a teacher's development that allows them to have the time to broaden their life as a teacher.

Banking Lessons: When I first started teaching the vast majority of my lesson plans were new. Now that I’ve been at this for a while, I reuse a lot of lesson plans. Maybe half of lessons I taught this year  are from lessons I’ve previously taught. Using old worksheets and presentation materials save a lot of time. Even if you change the lesson plan, having something to work off of makes the process move a lot quicker.  Now there is a danger of overdoing and reusing too many old lessons and not adapting them, however there is no shame is using the exactly same worksheet, if it continues to fit the needs of your students.

Prioritizing: I worked very hard when I first started teaching, but I didn’t necessarily know how to prioritize. I would spend a lot of time on remedial tasks that I could let my students do during class and then I would run out of time to do more important things. Prioritizing is a difficult skill to learn because it requires that you don’t get everything you want to get done in a given day. This is something that comes with time as the voice in your head that says “it’s okay if this doesn’t get done,” becomes stronger.

Taking Care Of Yourself: One of the best ways to get more time on your hands and be more productive is to take care of yourself. Sleep, eating well, socializing and having a life outside of work, makes the time that you do work far more productive. It seems like a contradiction to spend time not working to get more work done but it does make a difference. In the context of the school day, this means spending time socializing with other teachers, eating lunch with students and making sure to have fun at work.

If you want to become one of those teachers who do many different things or our frustrated that you don't have enough time as a teacher to do what you want to do, first off, relax.  A lot of this comes with time and you just have to let yourself develop as a professional.

If you've been a teacher for a long time and you don't see your time easing up then try something different.  Change the way you lesson plan and do assessments.  Look at the way you do grading. More time does not necessarily equal better results and more meaningful learning by your students.

I'm still in awe of my colleagues who do so many great things every day beyond simply teaching in the classroom.  I'm beginning to realize that all teachers have the potential to get there with a healthy does of perspective, some patience and a willingness to evolve as a professional.