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Balancing Multiple Preps: 4 Critical Strategies

Balancing Multiple Preps: 4 critical strategies

If you are reading this and have 3 or more classes to prep for at the secondary level, you are in the right place, teacher friend. I have been in your shoes balancing multiple preps and I know how absolutely draining and overwhelming it can be.

I am here to help! My main takeaway from the year I had 5 preps (including AP bio), plus a host of other extracurricular responsibilities, is that you must be strategic.

You are only one person.

You only have so much time (24 hours, to be exact) and energy (varies between teacher to teacher and season to season).

You MUST be strategic with how you steward that time and energy.

Because I can tell you one thing for sure – the solution is NOT to start working 60-70 hours a week. Instead, I want to share with you 4 critical strategies for balancing multiple preps (specifically 3 or more!) that were absolutely life-changing for me.

When balancing multiple preps, you MUST be strategic with WHERE you focus your energy!

When balancing multiple preps, be strategic with WHERE you focus your energy.

Here’s the deal – not all preps are created equal. And if you are expected to teach 3 or more preps, you need to strategically select ONE prep to REALLY focus your energy on.

I know, I know. The driven, perfectionist, altruistic nature that lives in most teachers is absolutely screaming at me right now, but hear me out. This isn’t forever. Everything is a season. And if you want to not only survive, but thrive in this particular season, you need to focus on just ONE of your preps and really give your typical A+ effort.

B effort is good enough for the rest.

Accept that this is not the year to try ALL the new things. Just pick one prep to focus your creative energy on, and set the rest on cruise control.

Here are some suggestions for how to pick which prep to primarily focus your energy on:

  • If you teach an AP course
  • If you are teaching a course for the first time
  • The course you are MOST excited about
  • The course you have a standardized state EOC exam in

All of these are great reasons to pick the course you want to mainly focus on.

But Rebecca, what if I teach AP biology so I really want to focus on that, AND I teach the state EOC Biology 1 course so I need to focus on that, AND I am teaching chemistry for the first time so I want to focus on that, AND I have this elective I love so I want to focus on that, AND……

I know. I’ve been there. The first year I had 5 preps I had AP biology as one of those, AND it was my first time teaching it. I also had Biology 1, the state EOC, as another of my 5 preps. I get it. How are you to possibly decide??

Take into consideration:

  • The classes you have the most experience in. These are the easiest to put on autopilot!!
  • The classes another teacher may teach also. These allow for collaboration and sharing lesson plans, which lightens the load.
  • The classes you have curriculum for. This means you have something to work off of, and aren’t having to start from scratch.

YES, this will be a tough decision to make, but I promise you it will make your life SO MUCH EASIER if you decide which class RIGHT NOW to focus most of your energy on. And guess what? If you end up with 5 preps next year, you can choose a different prep to focus on. Your other students will survive. I promise your B effort in those classes is still PLENTY good enough to positively impact students.

When balancing multiple preps, you MUST be strategic with HOW you lesson plan.

When balancing multiple preps, be strategic with HOW you lesson plan.

I know we aren’t all naturally planners, but in order to balance 3 or more preps, you HAVE to plan ahead. I HIGHLY recommend batching your lesson plans in order to stagger your workload, and not be up late every night trying to figure out what you are doing in 5 different classes the next day.

When I batch lesson plans for a class I do an ENTIRE unit at a time. This makes my life easier AND makes my lessons much for cohesive and aligned. You can read more about my best practices for lesson planning here.

A few other benefits from being strategic with how you lesson plan:

  • You can stagger when you are doing big labs so you aren’t prepping multiple labs for multiple classes at the same time.
  • You can focus on incorporating as many student-centered activities as possible when you design your lessons.
  • You can make all your copies at one time rather than daily or weekly by utilizing packets as an organizational tool.
  • You can schedule tests and projects for your preps on different days so you don’t end up with piles of work to grade in all your classes at once.

Speaking of grading…

When balancing multiple preps, you MUST be strategic with WHY you grade something.

When balancing multiple preps, be strategic with WHY you grade something.

Now I know you are thinking, “But I always have a reason for grading what I grade,” but hear me out.

I spend a lot of time talking to teachers. It’s arguably 50% of what I do. And I can tell you with total confidence that nearly every teacher grades WAY more than they need to (or should).

Balancing multiple preps requires making tough decisions, and one of those tough decisions is changing how you grade. You HAVE to stop grading everything and when you do grade something, it must be incredibly intentional. Here are 4 ways to instantly decrease grading time and cut your overall grading time in half.

When balancing multiple preps, you MUST be strategic with WHEN you ask admin for help.

When balancing multiple preps, be strategic with WHEN you ask admin for help.

Last but most certainly not least, you cannot possibly be expected to do all of this alone. You MUST be willing to ask for help. If your admin expects you to balance 3 or more preps, then they need to be supporting you in that.

I know this is scary! But I am not leaving you in the trenches, I promise.

The most obvious (and arguably most helpful) thing to ask your admin for is curriculum. This way you can be done with lesson planning for at least one of your preps. Here are my best tips for how to get admin to buy you curriculum you actually want.

I also share 8 ways to ask them so you can actually get the help you need.

Are you confident they will say no? Ask anyway, using the strategies included here.

Do you know for sure your admin has no money to support you with curricular purchases? Here are 5 ways admin can support you without spending any money.

One of the absolute BEST ways that admin can support you for FREE is by giving you a teacher’s aide. I think this should be an absolute requirement for any secondary science teacher balancing multiple preps. Not sure what I mean by a teacher’s aide? Here is everything you need to know about having a high school T.A. program.

I don’t want you to be overwhelmed another day by all that is expected of you! I hope these 4 critical strategies are helpful for you. Have a specific circumstance related to balancing multiple preps you could use help with? Reach out to me here and tell me about it! I am happy to do my best to talk you through some suggestions.

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