Beginning Teacher Says “Help!”

I participate in online teacher forums and try to answer questions where I can. Recently a beginning teacher posted this question:

I am a beginning teacher, and I am finding it really hard to plan. How much time should I spend on planning for a weekly timetable? I feel like I am spending way too much time every night, and I’m not getting much out of my day. I get to school at 7am and don’t leave until 6 at night, then once I get home I work until about 11…. help!!

I answered with the following comment.

Hi, in your first years of teaching it can sometimes feel as though you are on a hamster wheel just going round and round! I have been teaching for over 30 years, and have worked with many teachers who are beginning their careers. There are some great ideas in the responses you have had so far, I will add a couple more ideas.

Long Term, Weekly and Daily Planning

Think about your planning in three parts – long term, weekly and daily. Having a long term plan (maybe a few weeks, or a term/semester) will ensure you know what your big goals and objectives are in each curriculum area and will keep you focused and on-track.

Each week look at your long term plan and decide which parts of it need to be included in this week’s plan. Create a detailed weekly plan using the long term plan as a reference. Keep this weekly plan beside you as you teach and make notes on it. Your planning should be a working document. Make notes about what you covered and what you didn’t cover so that you know when you need to go back and review a particular lesson. As much as we try to stick to our plans we know that school life can sometimes be unpredictable – fire alarms, school photos, power cuts etc! Also note which students were away so that you can make sure to catch them up when they return to school.

Some schools have a particular planning format that teachers have to adhere to. Other schools are more flexible. If you are able to, experiment with different planning templates until you find one that suits you. Ask your colleagues to share their planning formats and look online.

Preparation – the MOST Important Step!

Sometimes when we have completed our written planning we think that we are finished. No! You are only finished when you have prepared the resources you have planned. There is nothing worse than driving to school feeling smug because you know you have done all your planning, only to realise just before you teach the lesson that you forgot to photocopy the worksheet or get the books from the bookroom. Preparation is the most important step after planning.

Each afternoon, before you go home, check the next day’s plan. Run through the whole day in your head and ensure that you have all the resources you need, photocopying done, board work written up, preparation completed etc. This way you can go home KNOWING that the next day is all sorted and you won’t get any nasty surprises. This step sounds so simple and obvious, but if you actually do this every afternoon it will cut down the time you need to spend at home planning the next day. You will probably still need to do some marking or assessment, but the pressure will not be so intense.

Once you get into the habit of doing this you will find your days feel more productive because you are on track and well prepared. This also reduces the rushing around during the school day that can make you feel tired and stressed.

Managing Your Time

I would love to give you a magic formula to let you plan in five minutes a day, but good planning takes time, and your students deserve a teacher that has planned well for them.  However, I can suggest a time management strategy that worked for me.

I allocated a time to create the long term plans, maybe a few hours at the weekend, until I was really happy that they were robust enough. Then I chose one day which would be my weekly planning afternoon (for me Thursdays worked well so that I could be prepared for the following week before the weekend). I knew I would stay late at school every Thursday to do my weekly planning. Then for the other nights of the week I went through the following day’s plan and prepared as I described above. This helped me to manage my time more productively. I knew the times I would be working late, and planned accordingly. I realised that if I spent a few hours getting the long term plans right, then the weekly planning was faster.

Another strategy that works well is to create the long term plans with your colleagues. Either everyone plans together at a meeting, or individuals do one long term plan each and share with each other so that everyone has a full set.

Stay Motivated

My final tip would be to write out somewhere (journal, diary?) WHY you became a teacher in the first place. When you are tired or frustrated, it is easy to lose sight of your passion and motivation. Re-reading your thoughts can remind you what an amazing career you have chosen. Your question told me that you are hard working, thoughtful and really want the best for your students. The world needs great teachers, so hang in there! Hope this helps 🙂

How would you have answered this teacher? Do you have any other ideas to suggest? What do you think of my reply? Please leave your comments below. I would love to hear what you think.