As teachers, it is very common to feel that work is never ‘done’.
This is what makes so many teachers wonderful educators; they are truly dedicated to their students and want to see them succeed. It is also the downfall.
This feeling on the never-ending to-do list can cause teachers to spend more time in the classrooms than at home with loved ones.
Yes, dedication is important, but it can be done without putting in a 50-hour or more week!!!
Here are some key things we have learned over our years in the classroom that have helped us leave school on time.
Disclaimer: We know this is not easy. We have been there with you, spending more hours than what was sustainable in our classrooms, prepping and planning. Take baby steps, and don’t be too hard on yourself.
1. Change habits and routines
Staying back late after school every day can often come down to a bad habit or routine that you have gotten yourself into (no judgment here!!)
So, the first step is to change those habits. As soon as we come to terms with that, the next suggestions will be much easier to implement.
If you are looking for more help when it comes to habits and routines, we highly recommend reading “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.
2. Plan your week in advance
If you haven’t gotten into the habit of planning the week in advance, now is the time to start. We are huge advocates of anything that is going to minimise stress in teacher life, and this organisation hack is going to do just that!
Schedule a free period, an hour of release or afternoon after school aside in your week strictly for planning. We found Thursday or Friday works well since most of the week’s content has been covered, and you know what needs to be rolled over to the next week or where more learning will be required for a concept.
3. No frills lessons are okay
As teachers, we want our students to have the best possible learning experiences. But this doesn’t always mean our lessons need to be fancy productions.
If you are falling into the trap of constantly preparing fancy lessons, challenge yourself to put together a ‘no frills version’. It will be tricky at first, but in the long run, it is going to save so much time and help you get out that school door at a reasonable time.
Consider using teaching slides if you haven’t already. Rinse and repeat templates.
4. Pack up when your class do
Utilise the 10-15 mins set aside for the class to tidy up at the end of the day. You can do this by:
- Putting a few responsible students in charge of making sure common areas are tidy, and the way you want them to be
- Setting clear expectations for your students to pack up in the way to like it (to avoid you coming in and cleaning up after them after the bell has gone)
- Use that time to tidy your desk or put away any resources you still have lying around
- Close any computer tabs that you no longer need
- Have a class ‘End of Day’ checklist that lists all the things that need to be done as a team before the end of the day (e.g. put down the blinds, turn off the projector and lights, all desks clear and books away, class library neat and tidy etc.)
5. Have days dedicated to specific tasks
There are so many things on our plates as teachers. Instead of randomly completing tasks as they pop up, try dedicating specific days and times to certain tasks.
Monday – Batch any photocopying you need for the week
Tuesday – Mark assessments and record any data in your assessment book
Wednesday – Catch up on emails or any paperwork
Thursday – Plan lessons and daybook next week
Fridays – Prep and plan for reading groups for the following week
Weekends (Optional*) Put an hour or two aside to catch up on marking, planning or reporting writing (when it’s that time in the calendar).
6. Mark work as you go
Move around to students as they are working with a pen and stamp in hand. Giving students immediate feedback is extremely beneficial to learning, and it will save you time marking later. Plus, you can see if students are struggling with a concept or need extending in the next lesson.
If you are lucky enough to have other people in your classroom (specialist teachers, learning support officers, teacher’s aides, parents, and university students) ask them to help you. The more marking you do throughout the day, the less there will be piled up at the end of the day.
7. Work smarter and not harder
Finding shortcuts isn’t cheating – it is smart.
No doubt there will be someone at your school that is super-efficient. Watch how they do things and ask them how they take shortcuts. The smarter you work, the more time you will have at the end of the day.
- When choosing reading books for small groups, pull 2 weeks worth of books at once (then you only have to do it every second week!)
- Use templates for your programs, timetables and teaching slides
- Have dedicated times you check and reply to emails throughout the day (limiting checking your emails is a massive time saver)
- Mark assessments (or write reports) in the same ability groups as you teach your students – this will help you can on a roll and also compare student’s net learning steps really clearly.
- Have a system to save programs and lessons so you can easily find them and reuse them the following year.
- Resist the urge to laminate all the things (we have written a blog post about alternatives to laminating here if you are interested in learning more).
8. Dedicate a holiday day to planning
This might sound a little counterintuitive, but hear us out! We like to dedicate a day or half a day in the holidays to planning and preparing for the next term.
Firstly, you can do it on your own terms, like taking your computer to your favourite cafe to smash out some planning (and enjoy a coffee at the same time!)
Secondly, by getting the majority of your subjects planned, they will be more cohesive, allowing you more time during the term to focus on the actual teaching. The unit plans become your guide that you can pull from. This means at the end of each day or during your planning session, you’ll need to organise resources, instead of sitting down and planning individual lessons daily.
9. Schedule activities outside of school
We recommend dedicating one afternoon each week to leaving school right on the bell. It is a ‘school free afternoon’ where you do something just for yourself.
This can often be made easier if you schedule a weekly recurring event that forces you out the door. It could be a coffee date with a friend, a beauty appointment or even a special interest class.
“During my second year of teaching, I needed to find something outside of my job that I could enjoy. I decided to take up French lessons. Every Thursday, I met my French teacher at a local coffee shop, and I (very poorly) learned French.” Ash RSC
“I would book a 4 pm pilates class each week, so I knew I had to be out the door.” Alisha RSC
10. Set a ‘home time’
Set a time for what you would like to be your personal ‘home time’. Make 5 mins before the cut-off time for any tasks you are completing (we would even recommend setting a daily reminder or alarm to help you in the beginning).
Remember, it is all about habits and routines (see point 1). It will get easier and easier when you get into the rhythm of leaving at a certain time every day!
Bonus Tip: Find an exit route that doesn’t force you into situations where you get stuck talking to the resident ‘Chatty Cathy’ or ‘Negative Nancy’. There is a time and a place for these people, but if you are trying to get out the door at a reasonable time, avoid them like the plague!
As we said at the beginning, leaving school at a reasonable hour isn’t an easy task. But we promise it can be done.
Remember, even if you love every minute, teachers still need breaks to be refreshed and rested to be the best possible teacher for the students. Don’t fall into schedules and work habits that are unsustainable!