Too Many Tasks, Not Enough Day

If you feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks you have to do each day in the classroom, read these tips on how to organize those chores and make your job easier. New teachers will find this resource particularly valuable.
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Too Many Tasks, Not Enough Day

I always chuckle to myself when people tell me that teachers have it easy. They say teachers just work a couple hours a day and then they have all those vacations off. Oh, if they only knew! I don't think it would surprise you to learn that teachers work many more hours, many more days, and many more weeks than the general public thinks.

Fire Alarm

The average classroom teacher will make more than 1,500 educational decisions every school day. In an average 6-hour school day, that's more than 4 decisions every minute.

Secondary Thoughts

Educational studies and conversations with teachers have shown that the number-one time robber is classroom discipline. Studies revealed that more than 15 percent of an average high school day is devoted to discipline or student behavior matters.

Grading papers after school and on weekends, volunteering to coach various athletic or academic teams, coming in early to set up a special lesson, and spending holidays and vacations doing research or looking for new teaching ideas are all part and parcel of the life of a teacher. On top of that, you can add all the daily interruptions, distractions, unanticipated problems, or visitors and the myriad decisions that must be made. It's no wonder many teachers feel stretched to their limit by the end of the day.

What steals your time? Or what consumes your time so you're out of time for other tasks and duties? In conversations with teachers at all levels and in all types of schools, I have found that they most often cited the following chores, duties, and assignments:

  • Classroom discipline

  • Taking attendance

  • Noninstructional activities

  • Visitors

  • Noises, distractions, and unplanned interruptions

  • Distributing and collecting papers

  • Talking and telephone calls

  • PA announcements

  • Paperwork and clerical tasks

  • Bus duty, hall duty, or cafeteria duty

  • Grading and record keeping

A number of educational research studies have shown that more than half of a typical school day is consumed by noninstructional matters.

Taking Control of Your Time

Think about this: time is about control. When you allow time to control you, you never have enough of it. On the other hand, when you control your own time, you can allocate your time available to complete tasks and duties.

Time Chunks

When your friendly author (that's me) was asked to write the book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher, I was quite excited. Then, my friendly editor told me I had to write the 25 chapters of the book in just 12 weeks (in addition to holding down a full-time teaching position). Was I disheartened? No, because after writing around 90 books, I've learned that the best way to write a multi-chapter book is to break it into chunks.

By dividing an assignment (such as a book project) into smaller pieces, it becomes more manageable. I didn't look at the book as a 25-chapter project; rather I looked at it as a series of magazine articles. Each “article” would be between 12 to 14 single-spaced manuscript pages long; would have about 4,600 words, and would go through approximately 12 to 15 drafts. I pictured the project as a collection of short articles, rather than an overwhelming 115,000-word book.

“Chunking” a task or assignment into smaller pieces helps make the overall assignment more manageable. You can do as I do: after I finished each “article” for the book, I checked it off a master list. As I went along, I saw more and more check marks on my list. That was a positive stimulus and a positive incentive. Imagine how I would have felt if I just listed the entire book on my “To Do” list. It never would have been checked off until the end, and I might have become weighted down by the enormity of the project.

Here are some tips you can use for managing any major project:

  • Divide the project into smaller, more manageable chunks (lessons instead of a whole unit; paragraphs instead of a whole report; columns instead of a whole spreadsheet).

  • Record each individual chunk separately on a list.

  • Focus on completing one chunk at a time.

  • Check off each individual chunk as you complete it; then move on to the next chunk.

  • Look at how rapidly your check marks accumulate on your list, and use that as motivation to keep going.

  • Give yourself a reward for the completion of two, three, or five chunks (I reward myself with macadamia nut cookies for every three chapters [or “articles”] I write).

Just Say “No”!

Teachers are special people. We love working with others—students, parents, colleagues, and maybe even our administrators. By our very nature, we are “people persons.” We like to go out of our way to help others and especially to help our students succeed.

But as teachers, we have a tendency to say “Yes” too many times. We volunteer for too many projects; we get on too many committees; we get involved in the lessons or units of our colleagues; or we willingly take on duties simply because somebody asked us to. In the words of a former first lady, teachers need to “Just say no!”

Teachers tend to be workaholics—it's the nature of the job. As a result, you're likely to be confronted with lots of requests and lots of “invitations.” Use these ideas for saying “No” with style and grace:

  • “I'd really like to, but I'm overcommitted right now and don't think I'd be able to do it justice.”

  • “Thanks for asking, but I really need to spend some more quality time with my children … my spouse … my friends … myself.”

  • “I appreciate your confidence in me, but I have other tasks that demand a lot of my time.”

  • “I have a lot of assignments already on my calendar. Can I get back to you at a later time?”

  • “No thank you. I'm not ready to take on that additional responsibility just yet.”

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