After teaching for six years now, I've learned some ways to get the most out of my time while teaching, so I can still have a life outside the classroom. When I first started teaching, I barely had time for me, and I was dragging myself out of bed and into work. I was over run with papers to grade, lessons to plan, and emails to answer. It took me awhile to learn how to balance work and life. Below are some tips on how I've learned how to do just that.
1. Don't Grade Everything and Grade Smarter, Not Harder
You don't have to grade every single bell ringer, every single exit slip, or even every single essay. You really should only grade what is aligned to the unit's objectives and standards and what you feel that students need feedback on. If you feel that the work is just there for extra practice, it doesn't need to be graded. In place of grading it, you can tell the students to hold on to it, not pass it up, collect it and check it, whatever you want to do with it, but don't grade everything.
You also don't have to spend a lot of time grading some assignments. It took me a few years to figure this out. Students should be given a rubric for major assignments, and if the assignment is similar or the same type of assignment they had before, you could just circle the rubric in place of giving them comments the second time around. You could grade discussions, Socratic Seminars, or give multiple choice quizzes that you run through a scanner. All of these things take next to no time to grade, freeing you up for grading that you want to spend time on and leave comments for (such as long writing assignments).
2. Plan Units, Not Lessons
Unless you are planning a special lesson (like for an evaluation or to adapt a lesson), you should always be planning a unit. This gives you objectives to follow and allows you to plan backwards from your assessments. Not only that, but it gives you much more free time during that unit to do other things, such as reflect, grade, take part in your extracurricular activities, make phone calls, answer emails, etc.
It is more work up front, but if you take a few days to plan a unit (ideally when you have time off, like in the summer), then you won't be stressing out during the school year. When you start teaching, lesson planning takes more time as you don't have previous years' lessons or activities to draw from. But the longer you teach, the easier this will get. You don't always have to reinvent the wheel, either, as there are lots of units and lessons already made available for you online.
3. Get As Much Work Done As You Can In School
This is not easy for any teacher. Several schools have many meetings a month, and many teachers are involved in numerous after-school activities. So, finding time to grade, plan, make phone calls, respond to emails, meet with students, etc. is challenging but necessary. So, whatever little time that you do have, you need to take advantage of. I like to get to school about a half hour earlier than most teachers. This allows me to be there when it's quiet to make any last minute copies, make sure I have the classroom set up for the day, answer emails, grade, or whatever I need to do.
I also make sure I really take advantage of my plan period. I used to have my plan during the last period of the day, and by that time, I was so tired I didn't have the energy to get a lot accomplished. But during the last few years, I had it during second hour. There is hardly a minute in that plan that I am not working on something.
Something else that I would recommend is to take advantage of any other quiet time in the classroom. If the students are working on a higher-level assignment, such as a test, you don't want to disturb them. This is the perfect time to get some grading done, as long as you keep looking up now and then to make sure no one is cheating. Do I recommend being that teacher that gives an assignment and then grades at your desk? Definitely not. But in situations like that, why not?
4. Set a Deadline Time For Going Home
I struggled with this my first couple of years. Unless you are involved in a sport or after-school activity that day, you should be able to get home at a reasonable hour. Even on days when my E-Journalism Club finishes, I try to make sure to get out of there at my deadline time of 4:15. It has worked most of the time. When I first started, the earliest I would get out was about 5/5:15. But normally, I stayed much later.
5. Don't Take Your Work Home With You
Unless you are one of those people that likes working from home, don't do this. You need to separate work from home. This is why this remote learning thing was so weird for me. It felt like worlds were colliding. Anyway, this isn't always possible, but when you do need to work from home, try to make it during a designated time. For example, I will often work during Saturday mornings. That way, I know during that time that I am in work mode. But then I work a few hours and I am back to home mode. But more often than not, I leave my work stuff at the school.
6. Keep Thinking of Time Saving Ideas
I'm going to try my hardest not to make as many copies this year. Time at the copy machine is one of my biggest pet peeves. Our copiers often break down and often leave me wanting to take take a baseball bat to them like from the movie Office Space. Also, when you make copies, it is really time consuming. Sometimes you have to wait in line for other teachers to get their copies done, or sometimes you have to go to another copier because your machine is out of toner. Sometimes your machine gets jammed. Sometimes you just have a lot of copies to make. So with our school going one to one and with so many materials offered online now, it would make more sense to start going away from paper and getting the kids learning online. That is just one idea I'm starting to think about to save more time in the classroom.