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How to Balance Multiple Preps as a High School Science Teacher

So you’ve found yourself in a situation where you are teaching and having to balance multiple preps as a high school science teacher. Maybe you, like me, taught in a small private school and are the only one teaching all the courses you teach. Or maybe you are at a large public school and your admin cares 0 about your mental stability and has just given you all the courses that either (1) no one else wants to teach, or (2) they say you will be the best at teaching (because let’s be real, you ARE the best!)

Regardless of how you got to this point, the question is – HOW ARE YOU GOING TO POSSIBLY MANAGE ALL OF IT??

Unfortunately, I have been in your exact shoes. My sixth year of teaching I had 5 preps to manage – one of which being AP Biology, and my first year teaching it, nonetheless.

Side note: If any elementary teachers happen to read this, I know you are thinking, “We balance teaching multiple preps all day every day; suck it up!” and I hear you. But there is something different about having to balance multiple preps as a high school teacher – specifically a science teacher. The breadth and depth of the assignments we have to grade as high school teachers requires a significant amount of time. All of us high school science teachers also have to manage the preparation of labs, which is a part-time job in and of itself.

So how did I do it?? How did I survive managing 5 PREPS as a high school science teacher?? Here are my top four tips that got me through:

#1: You absolutely MUST ask for help.

You literally cannot do this alone. I don’t care if you have 3 preps or 7 preps – anything more than two for a high school science teacher is a LOT. You MUST have help.

You may be reading this and saying, “But Rebecca, THERE IS NO ONE ELSE.”

I get it. I’ve taught in a public school where I had the experience of working on a team of teachers, with four others who taught my subject. But the majority of my experience has been in a small private school where I was one of 3 high school science teachers, and the only one teaching ALL FIVE of my preps.

I know what it is like to be a lone rider.

So what does asking for help look like then, if it doesn’t mean asking for help from a co-teacher?

It means asking your department chair, instructional coach, principal, or other admin.

I know this is so hard. I know that you “know they will say no.” But I am here to tell you that isn’t necessarily the case. 90% of the time I humbled myself and asked for help that I genuinely needed, I was given some sort of support. If you are teaching multiple preps, SOMETHING has to be taken off your plate. You simply can not do it all. Here are the types of things you can (and should) ask for:

  • Funds for curricular resources
    • You cannot be expected to write curricula for multiple courses at the same time. Writing curriculum in and of itself is a full time job (I know, because I have done it 3x now) and you simply won’t have the time to piece together curriculum for 3+ classes. Even asking for the funds to purchase everything you need to teach ONE of the classes (preferably the one you are least confident in teaching or least enjoy teaching) can be such a game changer!
  • An extra planning period
    • There is absolutely no way you can do all that you need to do in one 50-minute planning period a day. It’s just not humanly possible.
  • Exemption from extracurricular duties (like coaching dance team or running student council #beentheredonethat)
    • If there is just no way in your schedule you can get an extra planning period, reclaim time used by the school outside of teaching hours. Calculate how much time you will have to spend grading, setting up labs, lesson planning, calling parents, etc. x 5 (or however many preps you have) to show how many NON-CONTRACT HOURS they are expecting you to work with that many preps.
  • Exemption from monitoring detention or lunch duty
    • Okay so NO ONE ELSE knows how to coach the JV volleyball team. FINE. But ANYONE WHO IS A BREATHING ADULT IN THE SCHOOL can handle monitoring detention or lunch duty. At the ABSOLUTE MINIMUM your admin should at least relieve you of these types of duties, if they can’t relieve you of any of the others listed above.
  • Professional development (that you actually want to go to and that will actually help you – AP summer institute is one of the only reasons I made it through my first year teaching AP Bio).
    • Oftentimes admin have allotted budgets specifically for this purpose. Find a digital course or a training series that will actually help you be a better teacher and do a better job and present it your admin as a way for them to support you!

Still getting zero support in your school walls? Take it to the district (if you are in public school.) I am serious. They may have the funds and the willingness to help you acquire resources or training, at the very least.

Do whatever it takes to get the help you DESERVE. Don’t stop asking until you get the support you need.

#2: You have to plan ahead.

You will not make it without majorly planning in advance. I know this is challenging. You may feel like you are drowning as you read this, not even sure what will be happening in your class tomorrow let alone next week. But here is what helped me so much:

  1. Get a big flat desk calendar or a large monthly white board calendar to hang by your desk. (I prefer the former because I like to write by hand).
  2. Use this for marking when you predict big tests, labs, and projects to be due.
  3. Do this for every class on the calendar. (I like to color code by class, although using pencil will help you move things around more easily as you need to.)
  4. Rearrange, as needed, so that you never have multiple labs, tests, or big due dates on the same day for the same class.

I can’t tell you how much this helps. This started as a necessity for me because my first few years I was in a non-science lab classroom, and thus had to wheel a cart holding all my lab supplies, with a line of students trailing behind me, to another teacher’s room every time I wanted to do a lab. My cart was tiny and could only hold 1 class worth of lab materials at a time, so it started the habit of always staggering labs for different classes. This will prevent you having to stay after for several hours setting up multiple labs for different preps, plus will save you when you have to do the clean-up later.

This is also really helpful for assignments you have to collect and grade like tests, lab reports, and major projects. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES COLLECT MULTIPLE CLASSES AT THE SAME TIME (the only exception being if it is the same subject area and thus the same materials). You will get so behind on grading and spend hours at night catching up. I do not want this for you!! This actually leads me to my third tip:

#3: You must grade less.

Yes, I said choose. More than likely you do have SOME requirements from your department or school for how much you have to grade. But I firmly believe that 90% of teachers grade way more than they have to – or need to!

So make the choice here and now to grade less. Start simple – start by grading less the next unit you plan to teach. Make a list of all the things you plan to collect that unit (again, this is where planning ahead is so critical) and then cut that list in half. Take it one unit at a time.

I am extremely passionate about this, so much so that I have an entire extra blog post on this exact topic that I highly encourage you to check out here.

The bottom line is this: you absolutely cannot collect something from every class every day. You will never keep up with all that grading as you attempt to balance multiple preps.

Want to ensure you are checking in daily with students without having to collect work from them daily? Start implementing the secondary classroom procedure I cannot live without.

And last but not least, if you are really feeling bold:

#4: Ask for a teacher’s aide.

I cannot even tell you how much having a teacher’s aide has helped me over the years. So what is a teacher’s aide (T.A.)?

A T.A. is a student that applies to have a class period in their day where they are your assistant. I was actually a T.A. for my favorite math teacher back in high school and then had one for 4 years of my teaching career. From my experience, this is treated as a 0-credit elective for the students on their schedule and is essentially like them having a study hall (T.A.s can use any remaining class time with you to study or work on assignments for another class.)

These can be students that have an interest in becoming a teacher one day and want to see what it is like behind the scenes. This could also be an AP student that wants a little break in their schedule. Either way, you get them once a day and they can help you with anything and everything. Some tasks I reserved for my T.A. included:

  • Making copies of my student packets (basically everything but tests)
  • Setting up labs
  • Cleaning up labs
  • Updating my class website (where I wrote a post every day tracking our agenda for parents and absent students)
  • Testing out labs and activities I found to use in class (if there weren’t safety concerns, of course!)
  • Helping me provide support for students during class (this works if the T.A. is strong in the subject material, like when I had an old AP Bio student as a T.A. during my Biology 1 class)

If you don’t have a formal program at your school, I definitely recommend reaching out to admin and/or the school counseling department to see if one can get started! If not, see if there is a student who is either:

  1. Looking for volunteer hours, or
  2. Wants to become a teacher

Ask if they would be willing to stay after one or two days a week (or come early in the morning if that works!) to help you. You can keep track of their volunteer hours for community service and they can put it on their resume! A lot of clubs and organizations like National Honor Society require community service hours, and this is a great opportunity for students to give back within their own school! It is also a great way for a student to form a close relationship with a teacher. I’ve written letters of recommendation for all my aides over the years as I’ve gotten to know them so well!

I hope these tips help you. If you are a teacher figuring out how to balance multiple preps all on your own, know that I am rooting for you, and feel free to reach out to me on Instagram if you want to talk more about managing it all! I’d love to connect with you!

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