People generally picture teachers standing in front of a classroom. Teachers know, though, that teaching also includes a lot of prep work outside of class such as grading and lesson planning. Using your prep time effectively can reduce your stress by helping you spend less time working outside of class.
Staying organized is helpful for prep time because you can start right away instead of looking for materials and figuring out what needs to be done. An organization system can help you find the materials you need quickly. One trick I like is to have a separate tray for the homework from each class. At the end of the day, I paperclip the assignments for each class together and transfer them to a folder in my office for that class. That way when I am ready to grade, I can grab an assignment from a single class and get started right away without having to sort first.
It also helps to have an ongoing schedule of upcoming assignments and events and to keep a running to-do list. A monthly or quarterly calendar works well for creating an ongoing schedule. There are three types of to-do lists I’ve found particularly useful:
- Project or Class To-Do List – Divides tasks by project or by class.
- Must do / Should Do / Could Do – Divides tasks into three categories based on how important each task is for the current day: must do, should do, or could do. This type of list helps with staying focused on the most important tasks each day.
- Big 3 – Divides tasks into one master list of all tasks on one side and three major tasks for the current day on the right side. Each day, finished tasks are crossed off of the master list and three tasks are written down to focus on for the current day. This type of list is particularly helpful when your task list has become overwhelming.
Updating the schedule and to-do list at the end of each prep session will ensure you are ready for the next prep session.
Transitioning mentally into doing prep work can be difficult when you’ve been teaching all day or only have an hour before your next class. Having a consistent starting ritual can help. Every time I start my prep time, I make hot tea and check my work email, then consult my schedule and to-do list. The ritual gets me started and focused.
A quiet place works best for prep work. I often locked myself in my school’s library in the evening to work completely uninterrupted. Also, focus and motivation can decrease as you work, so it’s a good idea to start by “swallowing the frog,” Mark Twain’s term for doing hard tasks right away. Save easy, straightforward tasks for times when you are likely to be interrupted or have less focus.
Teaching can be a stressful and time-consuming job, but using prep time effectively can help.