Sometimes someone will say to me, “Dave, how do you do it all? Teaching, writing, speaking, being a husband, being a dad… how do you find the time?”
The answer is always the same: I find the time because I don't do anywhere close to it all.
Let me give a few examples:
I can't remember the last time I went online looking for a lesson plan idea. Instead of trying to find something to teach a certain skill, I just sit and ask myself, “What's the best path to getting my students to understanding X or mastering Y?” And then I do what I think will work, and afterwards I reflect on whether or not it did.
Granted, this is easier now than it was ten years ago when I was only three years into the job. I've failed a remarkably large number of times in the process of generally getting the “How do you teach X?” question right today. And I've also read an insane amount about teaching and learning, as that's easily my favorite way to learn these things. Not every book is created equally in this area, so if you're in the market, I'd recommend Mike Schmoker's Focus, Doug Lemov's Teach Like a Champion 2.0, or my own These 6 Things. These books all emphasize simple, robust approaches to getting the essentials right in your teaching so that you can ignore much of the non-essentials.
I never grade things as best I can. There are very few things that I maximize my efforts on, and grading is not one of them. First of all, grading isn't the same thing as feedback, and sometimes you don't need to do either. When it comes to giving feedback on student writing, I've learned that speed and helpfulness are qualities students care about and grow from the most — not the length of my comments or the complexity of my rubrics. (I write all about this in the Writing chapter of These 6 Things.)
(Also, last week I wrote more on grading — you can find that post here.)
I'm rarely lesson-planned far ahead. The only exceptions to this are:
- If I'm teaching a course with consistent reading homework, I give my students the reading homework for the entire unit at the start of each unit.
- I decide on unit start and end dates before the school year starts.
This means that I am typically prepping the day's lessons in the morning before school starts. At this point I've used These 6 Things for so many years that the prep is very basic — what text(s) will we be reading, what discussion method would I like to use (Think-Pair-Share, Conversation Challenge, or Pop-Up Debate), that sort of thing. If there's a text, I read it in the morning before class, annotating for anything that I think might be important for teaching the Before/During/After moves.
The reason I don't plan further ahead is because 1) I don't have time with all the writing I have to get done and 2) this system has worked so well the past few years that I see no reason to change it. It's remarkably efficient and it can't get messed up very easily by disruptions because the disruptions have to come on the same day in which I'm doing the planning.
I'm not in charge of anything at my school. I whole-heartedly believe in the value of the work that my school does, and I want to see my school succeed at its mission. The trouble is that I can't be both a writer for teachers around the world and a teacher and a PLC or department or committee leader. I tried; it didn't work. This is why the most important (and hardest) discipline of time management tends to be deciding.
There's no way to do it all. You have to decide.
I've got a whole course on the disciplines of time management, and inside you'll find smart, earnest educators from around the world, all wrestling with the ways in which we use our time. You can learn more about it and register here.