So, I know it’s been a few weeks since I last posted something. I’ve been kind of busy. Feast your eyes on the list below of what’s been eating up my time.
- As you know, I’m at a new school site. I’m loving it, but I’m still learning the ins-and-outs and dos-and-don’ts of my new work home. They gave me a Promethean Board which I’ve never used before. I’ve fumbled around with it here and there, but in depth learning of how to use it was limited by the following:
- There’s currently a severe sub shortage in my district so I’ve been doing a lot of period coverage
- I’ve been helping out a new science teacher after school (see below)
- I don’t have a lot of space in my class and since I don’t really know how to use the Promethean Board yet, I have to stash it in a corner. Sadly, the only available corner that can accommodate the board has no electrical outlets, so I can’t play with it while over there. It’s quite big and unwieldy, so dragging it out to play at the end of the day, then dragging it back to its corner is a pain in the ass. No thanks.
Happily, I recently attended a 2-hour training session on how to use the Promethean Board. Having been given some tips and pointers, I really got to dive deeply into the boards functions and use cases, so I’m ready to take it out of its corner permanently. I’ll be actually using it for my lessons starting this coming Monday.
- My site recently took on a brand spanking new science teacher. She does have a coach assigned to her, but since I’m her next door classroom neighbor, I’ve been putting in a lot of hours observing her, coaching her on general pedagogy and classroom management, and getting her familiar with the new Next Generation Science Standards.
- Speaking of which, I’m still trying to figure out the NGSS. Normally, I’m able to plan out my lessons a week or more in advance, but NGSS has really got me all turned around this year, so I’ve only been able to prepare a few days worth of lessons instead of the whole week. Fortunately, one of my new favorite science teachers, Master Jedi Alisa Jara-Williamson (who despite only having taught for a little over 4 years, is one of the best educators I have ever worked with) discovered a complete series of NGSS-aligned 8th grade science lesson plans created by a team at Stanford University. The science department at my site has been using the lessons and they really are fantastic. These last couple of weeks I’ve finally been able to plan out a week or more in advance. I’m also trying to center all my lessons around student discourse and inquiry, which takes a butt load of consideration and planning.
- There’s my fitness competition I wrote about in my post entitled “It Sucks, I Hate It. Let’s Do It.” I work out six days a week, seven if you count the 6-7 mile walks I do on Sundays. I lift weights five days a week, with each day concentrating on different muscle groups. I also run at least twice a week and work on abs with my Active Club, which I wrote about in my post entitled “Developing Good Relationships With Students (Part 1 Of A Series: Clubs).” Not to mention the fact that everyday I restrict myself to about 1200 calories and I don’t exceed 87 grams of carbs. Goes without saying, I get very tired.
- My wife hasn’t been feeling well lately. She got sick, which led to an ear infection, which led to a ruptured eardrum. As any dutiful husband should, I’ve been contributing a bit more around the house and with the kids while my wife recovers. For the record, I would like it to be known that I regularly do household stuff all the time. It is NOT “woman’s work”. Husband and wife are a team, so both should be getting their hands dirty equally (or as close to equally as possible).
- As a fourth grader, my son has had more projects this year than before. The most recent one was about the California mountain regions. He had to do a lot of research about the regions to make a travel brochure about them. I had to supervise the research and help my son determine what information was useful and what was not for himself, a not-so-easy task. I’ve also had to help him evaluate the credibility of a website. In addition, teaching my son how to use Microsoft Word has been a process. He’s catching on though. He’s getting to be a real computer wiz. He’s now working on a Native American project. Then, there’s my daughter who has more homework now than before because she’s now in 1st grade. The biggest time consumer in helping her with her homework is reading time. She’s getting really good at reading books at her level, but I have to be there to help her figure out the words she doesn’t know yet. It’s paying off though. She just won student of the month. By the way, this is all on top of playing and spending quality time with my children.
There’s a lot on my plate. Trying to excel at just ONE of the above alone is enough to keep my days occupied. When I detailed all the things I’m doing to another new teacher a couple of weeks ago, she asked me how I manage to cram into my day teaching full time, coaching a new teacher, working out intensely and regularly, advising an after school club twice a week, hosting after school tutoring on Mondays, being a good husband, and providing for my kids, while still carving out time to write my blog and just relax. As you may have noticed from the lack of posts the last several weeks, I wasn’t very successful at getting it all done, but the fact that you’re reading this should indicate I found a way to get my life under control. Three words: MULTITASKING and TIME MANAGEMENT.
Those Three Magical Words… At Work
At the heart of these three magical words (for me) is technology. My school site gave me an iPad this year. Truthfully, I never wanted one. I’m an Android user through-and through. I would’ve preferred an Android tablet, but iOS still does the trick. Ever since I received the iPad, I carry it around with me as I observe my students. I’ve discovered that I am now completely untethered from my desk and computer. I spend almost all my time in the classroom among my students by their desks. I can now do all the following while being in close proximity to my young padawans.
- My district uses Zangle, an online suite of tools for teachers. Among its many functions, I can create a seating chart and take attendance from it. Now that I have my tablet, once the bell rings to signal the start of class, I can simultaneously take roll, check for completion of the previous day’s work, and monitor my kids as they copy the day’s activities in their school-provided agendas.
- There is a section within the Zangle attendance/seating chart page next to each student’s name where notes can be written. With Zangle open on my tablet, it’s a cinch for me to record comments about students’ behavior and work while still being among them. When I have a spare moment, I look back at my comments and then communicate back to parents if their children did something good or bad.
- Speaking of communication, both iPhones and Android smartphones can send text messages through iPads (See my post entitled “TE(acher) Phone Home” to find out how you can do this, too). As of this writing, I communicate with parents exclusively through text messages. It’s even easier now with my tablet because the keys are so much bigger on my iPad. Once again, my students still feel my presence since I’m standing/walking among them, AND I get my parent communications taken care of.
- All of the above have the combined effect of keeping my students on task. Since I’m unstuck from my desk and computer, I can walk around and observe them. Since they know I’m observing and writing notes about them, they’re motivated to work because they know how fast and easy it is for me to text their parents. And I’m doing all of this through a single, portable device: my iPad.
There are other technologies besides a tablet. I’m a big fan of smartwatches, particularly those with voice assistants because I can very quickly dictate reminders and text messages. For example, a student recently told me he finally took a Google Forms test he had been absent for. I didn’t have time to grade the test right then, so I asked Google Assistant on my smartwatch to remind me to grade the test at 1:15 pm (my prep period). I didn’t have to go back to my desk to write it down. I didn’t even have to pull out my cell phone to ask Google or Siri for the reminder. Furthermore, text messages and emails come up on my smartwatch. If they don’t require lengthy responses, I can either select a pre-installed quick reply, or dictate a message using the onboard voice assistant. If a more detailed response is needed, I can ask my voice assistant to remind me to reply at a later time when I’ve had a chance to write out a longer reply or do research. Handy, huh?
Those Three Magical Words… At Work AND At Home
In addition to keeping my work life more manageable, technology has helped me cram most of what I want in life into the tiny chunks of personal time I’ve got. For one thing, as my kids do their homework, I’m sitting right there with them typing up emails or text messages on my tablet or laptop. As soon as my son or daughter have a question, I pause my work and give them a hand. That’s part of the beauty of emailing or texting parents instead of calling. Calling requires my full attention whereas emailing/texting can be accomplished in bursts and it’s totally acceptable for there to be long breaks in between messages. So, in helping my own children, I get to be a good father and a good teacher simultaneously.
Another benefit of tech is that it helps me work while I exercise. My current fitness goal is to have six-pack abs by Christmas 2018. After years of trying to obtain those reclusive bumps and ruling out liposuction, I realized a little while ago that I really, REALLY have to watch what I eat and I needed to burn more calories. Dieting sucks, but I’m at a point in my life where I’ve got the self discipline to handle it. I read somewhere that weight training and walking were much more helpful in dissolving fat than cardio exercises. I got a small exercise bench and a couple of Bowflex 525 dumbbells, and I was on my way. I put on a pair of Bluetooth earbuds which connect to my tablet, phone, or computer and stream movies or TV shows to keep myself entertained as I hit the weights. In addition, since I work out at home, I can prepare dinner for my kids, fold a few pieces of laundry, wash a couple of dishes, etc in between sets of bench presses/curls/squats/whatever. That takes care of lifting, some of my household chores, and/or my weekly TV fix.
To fit in time to walk, I wake up at 4:30 am on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and stroll around my neighborhood, burning off about 400 calories each time. On Saturdays and/or Sundays, I’ll sleep in until 6 or 7 am and upon rising walk about 7 miles, which burns off about 900 calories. Seeing as how walking is a pretty easy physical activity, I take a tablet with me and write my blog. This post was written almost entirely on my tablet while walking around my neighborhood a few times. But wait! There’s more. Since my tablet has picture-in-picture mode for Netflix and Amazon Prime Video (which I have subscriptions to), I can download and watch videos from either streaming service while I’m writing my blog, and walking off hundreds of calories AT THE SAME FREAKING TIME! How do you like them apples?
Of course, I don’t always do all three simultaneously. Just to relax, I’ll go for an hours-long stroll and watch a downloaded flick. You’d be surprised how relaxing it is to walk and watch. People watch television or take in a movie to get away from the stresses of life. You are LITERALLY doing the same thing by going on a walk. I’m surprised “Netflix, WALK, and Chill” isn’t a thing because you’re doubling up on relaxation strategies. This is why I’m not pulling my hair out every day. I may be busy, but a couple times a week, I’m busy relaxing.
Some Things to Consider
It’s taken me a little while to organize my time/life to fit in all the stuff I do. Some people say I’m crazy or that I’m overworking myself. I choose to think of it as getting as much out of life as I can. If there’s something I’m really passionate about, then I want to do it. I love my work as a teacher. I want to always be there for my wife and kids. I love the idea of sharing my knowledge to help out other educators through this blog. I want to get the body that no one ever thought I could. I’m so passionate about these things that I’m willing to find ways to squeeze them all into my life. It’s a tight squeeze to be sure, but it’s worth it to me because I know what I love and what I want. It’s like what they say, “If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way.”
Also, you have to constantly ask yourself the following questions:
- “What can I get done in the time I have?” – If you have a long to-do list, but you’ve only got a few minutes before your prep ends, maybe you can take care of something short and sweet, like a quick text message to a parent or maybe put away some supplies you left out.
- “What gives me the best bang for my buck in terms of current time available and task completion?” – You’ve got notebooks to grade and lesson planning to do. Which should you do right now? Grading notebooks at this moment sounds good because you won’t have to take them home later. However, you have no idea what you’re doing in class two days from now. You’ve got to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of choosing to do one task presently and another later. As a side note, I should mention that choosing between the above two activities will no longer be an issue because Mrs. Jara-Williamson has taught me a new method of having students peer grade notebooks. You’re the best, J-W!
- “What is my energy level like at certain times of the day?” – If I run in the morning, I’ll get my cardio done for the day, but will I be able to drag my butt up early before work to do the run in the first place? If not, maybe I should just walk or lift weights in the morning and run in the early evening? You’ll need to consider your energy levels at different times of the day and plan your tasks accordingly.
Anyhoo, that’s how I do all the things I do. If there’s a lot you want out of life, there are ways and technology that’ll help you get ‘em all. It doesn’t have to be all bad either. Sure, you might have to make some sacrifices, like getting up at 4:30 am, but the benefits will make up for it. The juice is worth the squeeze. Honestly, the quality of sleep I get nowadays is great, even if the quantity of it isn’t. You CAN have your cake and eat it, too. Well, I can’t. Too many carbs and calories. But you can! So, feel free to do what I do. If you’ve got a better way to get everything you want out of this existence, please comment away.