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Most likely we have heard the phrase “work smarter, not harder.”  Today, this phrase kept ringing in my head as I stared down a classroom of 30 freshmen in our Information Technology (computers) class.   Each child represented different needs, skill sets, s(language, culture, etc.), ability, and experiences.

I was about to transition to their next activity – creating a flyer, using their textbook – when I realized I need to do this in a smart fashion.  Moments after giving the whole class instructions, hands began to fly into the air.



“I need help”

“What page?”

“I am confused.”


I needed to act fast to make this class a fine-tuned learning machine.  Here’s my plan:

1)      I began by telling the students they need to ask at least 2 of their peers their questions before asking me.

2)      Vocally encouraged students to help peers that are stuck/confused

3)      Vocally praised students for helping others, e.g. “Sam, thank you for helping Gina with how to formatting.”

4)      Utilize students that finished early to aid struggling students, especially the ELL students.


Towards the end of class, I looked out and realized nobody was asking for me.  Students felt empowered to walk around, helping each other out.  Students were on-task and most importantly learning.  This allowed me the freedom to visit the students individually, checking in on their understanding and developing the important student-teacher relationship.  Not to mention, the stress level decreased.

Ongoing Process

Tomorrow we will follow the same process.  I will repeat these steps over and over until there is a culture of collaboration and team work.  It’s hard work on the frontend, but over time it pays huge dividends.


Weather is warm.  The classroom is energized.  Students are anxious.  Teachers are weary. 

Breathe teachers.  We are almost at the end of the year.  In midst of your exhausting run to the finish line, make sure you take time for yourself and significant others.

Quick pick-me ups:

  • Sit in the sun (especially important for us in the NW)
  • Read an article (not related to education)
  • Call or email an old friend
  • Shop for a gift for a friend
  • Eat ice cream
  • Walk in a park

Comment with ideas of your own…

I just spoke with a friend that is student teaching.  The word “stress” popped up in our conversations several times.  He is doing what every student teacher does, putting 110% into the experience.  He is starting to feel fatigued and, overall, stressed from everything: lesson planning, school involvement, family communication, grading, paperwork, etc.

I shared with him one of my favorite quotes from Road to Teaching that reads:

The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs.  The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.” – Martina Navratilova

While it’s important to be involved, my advice to my student teacher friend was not to be the pig.  Don’t over commit to activities outside of class and, in the end, you won’t get burned-out / slaughtered from the pressure.  For example, instead of committing to coach the basketball team, volunteer to be fill-in when needed or maybe even be the assistant coach.  Rather than taking lead on planning a big school-wide event, take a smaller role or just simply volunteer for a few hours.

Also, it’s okay to say “no.”  Your cooperating teacher, other teachers, and administrators understand that you are under a lot of pressure and you have some type of personal life outside of the school.


Road to Teaching: A Guide to Teacher Training, Student Teaching, and Finding a Job

The school year is definitely underway.  This past Sunday I spent (4-5) hours grading, calling parents, doing misc. paperwork, planning curriculum, and organizing my extra-curricula activities.  If this was a race I would say that I am sprinting.  Looking around and talking with my colleagues I would say they are sprinting as well.  And, why not?  It’s the beginning of the school year and we are energized to do a great job.  Yet, I have learned that we can’t keep this pace up for long.  By November or December teachers begin to burn-out and become sick. 

I have to remind myself to create a steady work pace that I can sustain throughout the year.  This involves being as productive as possible, and well organized, freeing up time for me.  An important part of this is NOT taking home my teacher bags full of school work every day.  Leave it!  The afternoon is yours.  Try to do this at least one day a week.  My other suggestion is to plan something special for that “afternoon off.”  Avoid becoming a zombie in front of the T.V.  Rather, invite friends over for cards, get some exercise, go to the beach, cook a meal for the family, or do something else out of the ordinary.  Make the day yours.  The outcome is you will come away feeling refreshed and at a work pace that is suitable for you.

Resource Links

Road to Teaching: A Guide to Teacher Training, Student Teaching, and Finding a Job

Student Teacher Topics

It dawned on me the other day how powerful lesson planning is.  It affects so many things: student learning, classroom atmosphere, student discipline, and, of all things, my mood.

Yesterday was a rough day.  I had not lesson planned for the 4 different classes I teach.  My planning period was eaten up by paperwork, parent phone calls, and a meeting.  The previous evening I had a personal obligation which didn’t allow me time to plan.  I had a basic idea of my learning objectives and how I was going to do it.  This lack of clarity and planning resulted in a horrible teaching day.  The day felt like it dragged on.  I felt disorganized, always trying to find this or that pile of paper.  I felt like I was always putting out fires, and running from one place to another.  The students became restless with the gaps in instruction.  Student learning was not at the level I expected.  Then, I became frustrated, which quickly transferred to my students.  At the end of the day I was drained, out of energy, and irritated.  The lack of lesson planning completely affected my mood, and, the outcome of my day.   I was stressed.

Today was a different day.  I had time in the morning to plan.  I created a comprehensive lesson plan for each of my classes.  The lessons were organized and I communicated my expectations and learning objectives to the students.  Students were engaged and had fun learning the various learning objectives.  The day flew by.  I was energized and realized that this is why I love teaching.  I practically didn’t have any stress.  There was not one discipline issue.  Students were happy and, most importantly, learning.

It’s amazing to see the stark difference between yesterday and today, and how lesson planning affected my day’s outcome in such a high degree.  I usually lesson plan, but after yesterday I am going to make sure that I wake up a little earlier or find some time to at least organize my thoughts for the days I am crunched for time.  The payoff is definitely worth it.

I enjoyed the posts by thegreekness and teachercrispy about stress management. I just returned from a week- long vacation, refreshed, and ready to start planning for the upcoming school year. However, I know the closer it gets to day 1 of school, the more stressed I will become. The comment from bb that said he “was the person during my student teaching who would stay till round 7pm some nights, only to go straight home and work some more!”, reminds me of the challenge to keep balance. For me, it’s all about setting boundaries and keeping to my priorities. It wasn’t easy in the beginning, but with each passing year I find myself keeping more balanced than the year before.

Reading is one way I decompress. In fact, I came across a book titled, Learn to Relax, while on vacation. It’s a little hokey in parts, but overall it has some great ways to slow down, be still, and reduce stress. I put in the book resource page.

Learn to Relax

Learn to Relax

I would love to hear what stress management techniques you use?

I strongly reiterate what the greekness posted, and I have a few more suggestions to make:

1. You must decide how much time you will spend at school after school. New teachers often fall into the trap of living at school until late in the evening, every evening. You have to leave. Set a time that you will leave every night, and stick to it. For a new teacher, 2 hours after school lets out is both realistic and the maximum amount of time you should be spending after school every day. After that point, it is important that you go home and do something besides school work. Even just taking a break for an hour or two to work out (or have a drink) is crucial to both your mental and physical health. This is probably the most common mistake I see new teachers making and the one that will lead to burnout the fastest.

2. You have to understand that it may take you a while to get things graded, and that’s ok. Unless your district has a hard and fast policy on this, DO NOT stress out about it. Your students may bother you about it, but again, you have to draw the line. It took me about 6 years to work out a system that worked for me, and I wish I had worked it out much sooner. Some things that have worked for me and for others: set aside half an hour or 45 minutes after school to work on grading, or maybe grade only one class period’s work, or even just grade 10 papers during your prep period. Make it a habit, and you will be done before you know it. Do not take work home unless you absolutely cannot avoid it – it can potentially get lost and you will work on that instead of relaxing like you should.

3. Find a hobby. I like to sew, some people volunteer, others work out, cook, go out with friends, watch movies, or play games. Whatever you like, make time for it at least three times a week to avoid burnout. Ideally, do something that uses a different part of your brain than you use while you teach. All teachers can identify with needing time to themselves after school. You are in a profession which requires you to be in constant communication with needy and demanding people who need you all the time. You have to make time to decompress.

One element of teaching that doesn’t get addressed often enough is the amount of stress teachers experience and how to manage that stress. As a new teacher, you will be bogged down with teaching, learning how to manage a classroom, grading, meetings, and everything else that goes along with education. It has taken me a long time to realize how important taking care of myself is to my teaching practice–no matter how much you may feel like you don’t have the time to exercise, eat right, or even just have some fun, it is an integral part of being an effective teacher.

I’ve listed some tips below that might help with some of this:

  • Schedule time in for “fun”–it may sound strange to schedule this in, but if it isn’t scheduled ahead of time, it will be the first thing to go;
  • Keep healthy snacks in your classroom–donuts, chocolate, sweets, pizza, and other snacks seem to abound in the education world and too often I have relied on these to get me through the day, so keeping granola bars or trail mix within reach is a nice alternative;
  • Eating right outside of school–taking the time to cook something good for you seems like the last thing you want to do at the end of the day, but it will make a difference. Tip: make meals ahead of time that you can freeze and pull out during the week to save time;
  • Exercise–find time for this no matter what. Even if it’s just going for a brief walk at the end of the day before you sit down to grade papers, it will help you recharge and re-energize;
  • Find a stress management “buddy”–if you have a tough time doing any of the above on your own (like me), ask a friend or family member for support in any or all of the above areas. If you can’t find anyone you already know, pair up with another new teacher–they will more than likely thank you since they will be in the same situation.

Above all, take care of yourself first. It may seem impossible to do some of the above in the beginning, but once you do, you will notice a difference!