Teachers often hit the ground running at the beginning of the year. Their response to each challenge is to push harder, aim higher, run faster. What they can’t do today they over-promise for tomorrow, committing to pizza parties, nightly parent phone calls, and behavior management plans that require hours of after-school paperwork. Each of these notches the treadmill a bit higher. But it’s for the kids, right? So it’s worth it. . . right? Until you’re out of breath. When good intentions aren’t enough to keep up, how do you slow down so you don’t fall off?
The “treadmill problem” comes up so often during my one-on-one sessions that I’ve developed specialized tools to help teachers get this problem under control.
Here are a few starter tips to help turn down your Teaching Treadmill
Look for ways to simplify daily and weekly tasks.
Chances are you have at least one classroom system that has more steps than it needs to. Identify one thing in your classroom you can simplify or make easier on yourself without a major negative impact on your instruction. Do you have to use today’s homework answers for tomorrow’s quiz? Do you have to make notes about every kid’s behavior in real time on that new online tracking system? Keep in mind that if you’re not keeping up with a system because it’s so complicated, then anything that allows you keep up with it is a positive, not a negative.
Use classroom jobs to your advantage.
That list of classroom jobs is not just to make students feel important. You really do need someone to change the date on the calendar and water the classroom plant. (True story: I had a plant in my class that was dying, and a kid, Jose L., voluntarily took it over. He didn’t offer to do this so much as just started doing it without asking because he just couldn’t stand to see the plant dying on the windowsill. He wasn’t really supposed to get out of his seat during class, but I never said anything about it because he was not disruptive and also, that dying plant was depressing me. Throughout the year, he watered it, pruned dead leaves, etc. and it sprung back to life, thriving throughout the rest of the year. Then, the last day of school, it died in my car on the way home. At least, that’s how I remember it.) A job that feels tedious when combined with all your other teaching duties might no big deal—or even fun—for a student.
Incentivize students to remember things for you.
One thing that gets in the way of your best intentions might be forgetting to do certain tasks. After all, a teacher’s day can get pretty hectic. If you can give students an incentive to remember things for you, you have a class full of memories on the case. One example: I had trouble remembering a stack of forms I was supposed to send to the office each week, which was leading to irritated reminders from the person who was collecting them. I told students that whoever reminded me to send the papers, beginning at 10AM on Friday, would get to be the one to leave class and take them to the office. At 9:55 every friday, there was always at least one kid watching the clock, ready to remind me.
Anything a free computer program can do for you, you might not want to do yourself. Just remember that technology often requires an upfront investment of time. With that in mind, try to choose technology that truly makes your life easier. If it adds extra steps or introduces new headaches, you might be back at step one.