Almost as soon as any break from school has begun, I revert back into my “normal”. My bedtime gets later and later and so does the time I wake up in the
morning afternoon. Without an external schedule to frame my day, I’m a bit too lackadaisical. It’s a good thing that I can’t work from home.
Those Monday mornings after a break are probably the toughest days of the year. I’m all geared up with good intentions and a lack of sleep. I know that I didn’t do nearly as much as I had hoped to over the break. I should probably just stop expecting anything of myself during a break. But, that doesn’t mean that I totally shut off from thinking about work.
In fact, I think that the breaks are when I get an opportunity to reflect on what came before it. When I’m in the thick of it, with the lesson planning, marking, meetings, and student interactions, I don’t often get a chance to think about what’s going on. Stepping away from it all gives me some distance, which, in turn, gives me some perspective.
Professional Goals for 2020
With the new year and decade having just begun, I think it’s a good time to work at achieving more. Setting goals is a good way to do this because it provides a framework for what I want to accomplish. I never thought I needed to do this until I did.
Daily 10-Minute Updates
One area that I really struggle with is keeping good anecdotal notes. I find that stopping to write something down during the day just doesn’t happen naturally for me. If I need to make a note of something, it’s probably because it’s taking up my time. The last thing I’m thinking about is documentation.
In order to help me correct this, I’ve set up a reminder on my phone for 15:25: 10-Minute Update. This reminder reminds me to open up Google Keep and start a new note with the day’s date as the title. From my desk, I can see the visual schedule on the whiteboard and I use this as my guide. For each period, I write down what I can remember as quickly as I can. I also take note of things I’d like to cover or change in future lessons.
If this becomes an arduous process, I won’t do it. So, I’ve tried to make it manageable. The 10-minute “limit” helps me.
Return Assignments and Tests in a Timely Fashion
Marking sucks. Strangely, it is probably one of the best ways to calibrate your teaching practice. Done right, marking can give you real insight into how well you are or aren’t teaching. But, engaging in this process always manages to find its way to the back burner, under a pile of other to-do items.
To help me get students’ work and, more importantly, feedback to them, I’ve decided to attempt to return assignments and tests within three school days. To help me do this, I need to stay at work a bit longer than I’d like to. I also need to be smarter about what I mark and how.
Last summer, I took an online course called VOCAL. It focussed on using observation and conversation to assess learning (I’ve no idea what the “V” stands for). I liked the ideas it presented, even if I think that much of it isn’t feasible. Essentially, you use video and audio recordings to help you capture student learning through conversations with you and with their peers. Taking this approach allows you to assess students in the moment.
On the last math test that I gave my students, I included a question that they had to answer orally. It gave me the opportunity to ask clarification questions and it gave students the opportunity to explain their thinking.
Leave Work at Work
Work-life balance is another big struggle for me. I can get hyper-focussed on what I’m doing. Turning away from the work that I’m engaged in is sometimes difficult, especially if I find the challenge particularly interesting.
Now that I live with my partner, I have commitments that I can’t easily avoid, like washing the dishes and picking up my laundry from off the floor. I have to be more present at home than I was when I lived on my own. It was common for me to work for 12-14 hours a day because I could, felt like I needed to, or was terribly engaged in an interesting challenge.
Going forward, I need to leave work at work. If I need to stay later to get something done, that’s fine. I’d rather spend half an hour extra at work than pack a folder full of papers into my backpack.
I’m aware that this might now always be possible, but I want to make work an activity that I do at work. When I worked in other industries, this was the norm, not the exception. The world of teaching flipped this on me and I want to grab hold of the reins.
Talk Less in Class, Listen to Students More
I like to talk. A lot. Really, I could go on for a while. I interrupt people more often than I should because I’m finishing their sentences in my head before they’ve completed a thought. I want my turn to speak. I started a blog and a YouTube channel so that I can talk even more.
Right now, one of the classroom jobs is “Teacher Timer.” This person is responsible for keeping an eye on a 15-minute sand timer while I’m delivering a lesson. When my time runs out, they are responsible for politely letting me know that I need to stop talking.
What I really need to do is stop talking as much as I do and listen to the students more. They are there to learn, not listen to me. One of the things I strive for in my teaching practice is to facilitate learning, not pontificate. I will readily admit that I’m often wrong and I have no issues with it. I like learning. I’m curious about the world. I don’t know enough to ever be satisfied with what I know. If I want to take charge of my own learning, I should afford the same to my students.
Essentially, I need to shut up and listen.
Make 20 Videos for Mr. G Tutors YouTube Channel
If you haven’t already, you should check out my YouTube channel. I’ve really come to enjoy making videos. It’s new to me and it harkens back to the days when I did photography. Making videos flexes a different creative muscle.
Something I didn’t expect to happen when I started making videos was what I’d learn about my own thoughts on various topics. The videos serve as a good way for me to consider what I think and say about any given topic.
In addition to just talking in the videos I put up, I’d like to create instructional videos. These are a bit more involved but that’s part of the fun – it’s a good challenge.
Setting goals is a tricky exercise but one that I think is worth the effort. I think it really is a great opportunity to think about what you are interested in and what floats your boat. For me, it helps give me something to work on. Given the chance, I’d happily sit on the couch with a bag of chips and forget to eat a proper meal or change the channel on the TV.