Things That Have Helped Me As a Teacher

Things That Have Helped Me as a Teacher | Millennials with Meaning
Photo by Isabella Fischer on Unsplash

Last year I floundered my way through my first year as an elementary school teacher. Between trying to figure out how to teach kids multiplication, manage a classroom, get enough sleep, and simply stay afloat, I felt like I was generally failing the whole time, but I had a few wins! Most days, I had to settle for doing my best and count it a success that I was still in the game.

This year, I’ve spent my days as a short- and long-term sub, and many of the same things have proven helpful.

Here are a few random tips that have helped me. Some of them may seem unrelated to teaching but have made a big difference in my level of peace and sense of preparedness!

  • Don’t grade everything. This was one of the best pieces of advice I received from a teacher who’d been in my shoes not too long before. She told me I’d never catch up if I attempted to grade every single piece of paper, and I quickly discovered that she was right. I still never catch up, but only grading the important assignments helps a lot to keep some semblance of balance in my life.
  • Lesson plan a week in advance whenever possible. Not rocket science here, but this is harder to do than I thought! When you’re a teacher, it feels like you’re always fighting to catch up on…literally everything, so anything you can scribble down ahead of time helps. It’s also easier to get any necessary copies made ahead of time, rather than racing to the copy room at the last minute and praying there’s not a line.
  • Review the math curriculum during prep time shortly before teaching it. I forget too much if I look over the lessons too soon, and I’m embarrassed by how often I’ve been stumped by 3rd and 4th grade math strategies.
  • Meal prep. Fall break, Thanksgiving break, Christmas break…anytime I have extra time, the Crockpots come out and the meals go into the freezer for me to pull out on my most exhausted days. Soup, taco meat, chili, and shredded chicken are some standbys. When it’s feasible, I also try to double the recipes I’m making for dinner and freeze half for later. Future me weeps in gratitude for doing the extra work ahead of time.
  • Pre-plan outfits. I literally created a separate Google calendar for my outfits and it helps me so much! I plan my wardrobe in advance so I’m not a Lizzie McGuire outfit repeater every week, I make sure I’m caught up on laundry, and then I lay out my week’s worth of outfits on Sunday night so I can just grab them and go each morning.
  • Pre-plan meals. Another Google calendar for the win, and another example of how doing some of the work ahead of time makes things much easier later. Though I don’t always stick to it religiously, I try to have a rough plan of what dinner I’ll make each night of the week so I can stock up on the necessary groceries, defrost the right meats in time, and leave school early enough on evenings I know I’m making something that will take more time. On a related note…
  • Pack those lunches ahead of time! I get 25 minutes for lunch at school, so if I run out of time to pack a lunch in the morning, I go hungry. Whenever possible, I prepare all my lunches for the week on Sunday night. Although I’m trying to use less plastic in my life, this is just one of those times and seasons where I’ve decided to cut corners and use plastic baggies. The easiest hack for me is to make five sandwiches and freeze them in separate bags on Sunday so I can take one out each weekday morning. That way, nothing goes bad in the fridge before Friday, and the sandwich does double duty by keeping my lunch bag cool. This process goes even smoother if I can make a turkey or chicken over the weekend and use the leftovers for said sandwiches. It doesn’t always work out that perfectly, but it sure helps when it does.
  • Keep a few snacks on hand for emergency meals at school. Trail mix and chocolate-covered coffee beans are my go-tos for obvious reasons. About half of the mornings, I don’t have time for breakfast or coffee, so it’s nice to have an emergency supply.
  • Print one copy of a worksheet at home when I’m thinking about it, and then get copies made at school. This has saved me time, especially since I often forget what I intended to print by the time I’m back at school.
  • Find themed worksheets on Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers. The last thing I want is for school to be as boring for my kids as I always thought it was, and I love festive assignments that make things more exciting.
  • Get outfit ideas on Pinterest. Why do I struggle so much with finding a variety of things to wear when my wardrobe was made for elementary school?! I have such a hard time figuring out ensembles that don’t include jeans. Millennial problems.
  • Utilize Amazon Photo. Being able to print pictures for 17 cents a print and ship them free via Prime is a million times easier than the days of driving to Target and waiting in line with a memory card to print glossy 3x5s!
  • Teach with the tests in mind. For better or for worse, this helps a lot, especially when you’re new to teaching (or have zero experience like yours truly!). I made the mistake last year of simply going by the curriculum, then realizing after the fact (because I never got around to reading them ahead of time) that the tests our district team wrote included quite a bit of extra information that the curriculum never covered. My district uses standards-based learning, and our standards often don’t line up neatly with the curriculum. Look at the test you’ll be giving first, and then teach the skills that will be tested, starting with the easiest ones and building up to the harder ones. You can always add supplemental material, but your kids’ scores are going to be atrocious if you aren’t considering what will be on your assessments. Maybe this sounds obvious, but I naïvely assumed the curriculum would cover everything the kids needed to know, and I learned the hard way that I was wrong!
  • Use Walmart pickup. This is probably my best hack. Teaching is exhausting, especially when you’re an introvert and you’ve been overstimulated all day in ways you didn’t even know you could be overstimulated. The last thing I want to do on such a day is brave even more crowds at Walmart. I order my groceries in the morning, choose the after-school hour as my pickup time, and spend an extra 10-15 minutes of my day to drive to Walmart, rather than taking an extra 30-40 minutes to collect everything I need in the store myself. Best of all, pickup is free with a $35 purchase! Though other stores offer pickup as well, many of those cost extra, so Walmart takes the crown here.
  • Focus on small wins. There is no earthly way you can succeed at everything as a teacher. On the contrary, most of the time it feels like you’re losing in more areas than you’re winning. You just aren’t going to see every student get a 4.0 or check every box during an observation. You’re not going to get everything graded and also get eight hours of sleep a night. It just isn’t possible to do it all, as a teacher or as a human. The smallest wins help. I feel a sense of accomplishment if I can get all five lunches for the week ready on Sunday night or if I make it to work on time every day, even if that means setting my alarm for 10 minutes earlier. I choose to feel accomplished if a student grows at all in math or reading, even if they aren’t demonstrating the level of growth I hoped to see. It can be really hard to find those wins as a teacher, but do the small things you know you can succeed at, and celebrate even the smallest victories.

It probably goes without saying that a whole bunch of people have helped me, too. 😊 Just like it takes a village to raise kids, it takes a village to help them succeed at school! I hope you can find people to help you, too, if you’re on this same chaotic teacher ride! Sometimes it’s the most unexpected people who prove the most supportive on this journey.

If you’re new to teaching or just struggling, best of luck! Get as much sleep as you can, and love the kids as much as you are able. Being there for the kids and showing them you care is really what matters most, and the rest eventually fades away. Do your best, and release the rest to God!

Things That Have Helped Me as a Teacher | Millennials with Meaning
Things That Have Helped Me As a Teacher

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