In one of my last practicums, a mentor teacher told me something that changed how I looked at teaching.
For each teacher there is something about teaching that drains them.
She encouraged me to figure out what part of the job drained me so I could make strategies to deal with it. For her, it happened to be marking. Turned out classroom management was my drain. Nothing exhausts & stresses me faster than one student desperately needing one-on-one time, but 20+ students also needing my attention in that moment. Thankfully, I have been able to arrange my teaching schedule to minimize this stress & focus on the parts that I really love about teaching.
What if planning is your drain?
If someone asked, “Are you obsessive about finding new ideas, methods, approaches & resources for your students?”, I am guessing most of us would raise our hands. Now whether that was proudly or guiltily depends on whether planning is a source of stress. Just like I get stressed when I am unable to give a student the time they need, many teachers find it stressful finding the exact repertoire, activities, & support each of their students need.
When planning hours = teaching hours
We were told in university that for each hour we taught assume we would be putting in an equal amount of prep time. It isn’t a bad assumption or expectation, especially when we are first starting out. But, eventually this ratio really starts to cut into the number of students we can take (& the amount of income we can generate) without burning out.
Every year that I have been teaching, I have experimented with different ways of reducing my prep time. Some things have been wildly successful. Others not so much.
How to plan individually … without burning out
- Studio projects or challenges: Having a studio focus makes it easier to focus your planning. We just finished a technique challenge in our studio. Everyone was learning technique based on the circle of fifths. Some were doing pentascales (with or without a tonic chord at the end) & others scales & chords (1 octave or 2 octave). I kept the circle of fifths at eye level while planning & just kept updating based on what individual students did.
- Create a lesson template: Each week, each of my students is emailed a digital practice page that is filled out during lesson. And, each week during my prep session, I copy over the previous week’s sheet so I can update with what we will be doing in lesson. Not only is the page the same for every student (which makes it easy for them & their parents to find the information they need), but I also save a lot of lesson time by not needing to write everything out. One template with individualized information.
- Make (or find) multi-level resources: When creating a resource, I try to make 1 resource that is easily modified for different levels. For our technique challenge, I made a scales worksheet that covered the major scales pattern of whole tones & semi tones. Once I had the worksheet done, I modified copies for the type of scale (pentascales or 1 octave) as well as showing information on the keyboard or staff. The work put into modifying the worksheet was much less than creating a whole new resource for each level. If I am using someone else’s resource, I am much more likely to use it if I can have access to multiple levels.
- If you get asked something repeatedly, make a resource: We all get asked the same questions over & over. If you are able, take video in lesson or make graphics that cover those issues. I’ll admit that I am not great about uploading video to YouTube, but I do make a point of uploading to Facebook (since I know more of my families are starting to going there for regular updates). Choose a channel that works for you & send your families there.
- Use a tool to organize all your ideas: Whether it is Evernote, One Note, Pinterest or another tool you love, as soon as you find an idea … enter it in. Be sure to separate by folder, hashtag, regular tag, or category . Every morning, I check my emails. As soon as I have read an idea I want to remember, I send it to Evernote into the notebook that matches the topic. Even if I am not needing it at the time. Then, I am free to delete the email without losing the ability to search for it later when I am interested in moving forward. When I am ready to do research, I pull up the notebook I want, scan or search the notes & quickly find the information I want.
- Be kind to yourself: We got into this job because we want to help others achieve their best. But, there is a reason why teachers tend to burn out & leave the profession (depending on the study it is somewhere between 17% – 50% within the first five years). Do what you can & leave the rest. This is a hard one for me, but it has gotten easier over the years. If creating new resources every week is taking all your time, dial it back. Or, find a way to modify an existing resource to meet a student’s need.
As you plan out …
For those of you who find prep to be the easy part of teaching, what tips or tricks have you developed over your career?
Is there a part of teaching that you find draining? (dealing with parents, making resources, etc.) Leave a comment below & I will do my best to find some solutions to help minimize that stress.
Have a great weekend!