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!
Great article Rosemarie! The thing that drained me as a school teacher was having to give marks. As an independent piano teacher, it’s actually keeping up with some of the technology. Things like setting up video lessons, or figuring out how to connect my iPad to a midi keyboard. Those things are my nemesis. The funny thing is that I feel pretty tech savvy but when it’s something new, I hate having to sit down and initially figure it out. I just want it to happen – maybe because I can be impatient! LOL.
Hi Amy. I can completely relate to learning new tech! Isn’t it funny how no matter how tech savvy we feel, the new stuff still can feel like a big hurdle? Maybe it’s because we feel like it should be getting easier or at least faster. Lol.