Teacher friend – if you are working 60+ hours a week, I can just about guarantee you aren’t going to be able to sustain this pace forever and last in this career.
I can say this with confidence because I have been in your EXACT shoes, and I am here to help!
I want to share with you five practical strategies for cutting 10 hours off your teacher work week that were an absolute game-changer for me when I committed to reclaiming my life outside of the classroom and actually having a work/life balance!
Are you ready to simplify your life by changing how you approach your teacher work week? If so, these tips are for you!
Teacher Work Week Strategy #1: Disconnect entirely after hours.
I am going to give you some tough love and tell you some things I KNOW that you KNOW, but you just need to hear it again loud and clear – no one is paying you for all of the hours you work outside of school.
And if we are being completely honest – the only people who are REALLY paying are YOU and your family.
I think it is easy as teachers to overwork ourselves because we are all passionate about our careers (I KNOW you didn’t get into this for the salary) and we truly love and care for our students. But we can’t care for our students well if we aren’t caring for ourselves.
We HAVE to hit the reset button on how we view our roles as teachers. Being a teacher may be your passion, and it may be your calling or mission in life – but it is still YOUR JOB.
And if you aren’t getting paid to work overtime, you shouldn’t be working overtime.
One of the BIG ways you can start to change this is by restructuring your teacher work week so that you ONLY work when you are at work. This means you need to disconnect entirely after hours.
Here is how I recommend starting to do this:
- Decide when your work hours will be. Of course, you have your school hours, but we all know your planning period isn’t enough. So make a time schedule for what could be enough to get it all done. (Ex. If the school day is 8-3, you may set your work hours to 7-4 to give you a buffer on either end).
- Commit to being at work, in your classroom (or corner of someone else’s classroom for my floater friends) during those hours.
- Close your work computer and do not open it outside of those hours. (even better if you can avoid bringing it home, although I know many schools require you to).
- Delete work email from your phone.
Yes, you read that right. If you do ANYTHING at all from this post, I beg you to delete your work email from your phone. Even if you aren’t technically “working” at home, even getting notifications and seeing emails come in will prevent you from mentally disconnecting. In order to really disconnect, you need to do it physically (by removing yourself from school and leaving the work actually there) and mentally.
Teacher Work Week Strategy #2: Streamline your parent communication process by setting up a system for it.
Now, this may seem counterintuitive for cutting out work hours, but hear me out.
It takes SO much time and energy to be putting out fires with parents constantly. The goal is to set up a system you can maintain for parent communication that is proactive rather than reactive. This will require a bit more work on the front end BUT will save you SO MUCH TIME the rest of the year as you maintain your system.
Here are a few ways I suggest doing this:
- Set up some sort of “hub” of information and CONSTANTLY direct parents to it. Whether it is a website or a page on your parent portal for your LMS, put everything parents would ever need to know there and always direct them there rather than to YOU for all the answers they need.
- Build relationships with parents from day 1. I highly recommend parent/teacher conferences at the FIRST sign of a potential issue with students. If you get that face-to-face time early on, it will save you hours of back and forth emails, phone calls, voice mails, and FRUSTRATIONS down the road.
- Check email and voicemails only 2x a day, at the same time, during your work hours every day. This is critical because it will train parents that you are only going to be reachable during those two times. It will also free up SO MUCH MORE TIME for you to actually do the other 234902834 parts of your job when you are at school during the work hours you set for your teacher workweek in strategy #1.
For more suggestions related specifically to parent communication read this post.
Teacher Work Week Strategy #3: Grade half of what you think you need to be grading.
Let me tell you something – nearly every teacher I have ever worked alongside or communicated with on social media or in my inbox grades WAY MORE than they really need to. And it is sucking the life out of you and taking up SO MUCH of your time.
The only way we can really reclaim your life outside of school and cut major hours off your teacher workweek is for you to start grading way less.
For most of you, you could honestly collect and grade HALF of what you are grading and still have plenty of grades in the grade book.
I have LOTS of thoughts on how to decrease grading time, but my biggest recommendation is to ONLY collect and grade ONE thing per day for accuracy. Total – not per class. So if I have 5 preps, I collect 1 thing per prep each week. I have 1 thing each day I block 30 minutes of my planning time off to grade. That is it.
NO MORE BRINGING STACKS OF LAB REPORTS HOME TO GRADE after you put your tiny humans to bed or are out until 9 at your not-so-tiny-humans’ soccer game. You deserve to leave work at work!!
Again, for more tips for decreasing your grading time, read this post here.
Teacher Work Week Strategy #4: Batch lesson plan one unit at a time.
The other major area where teachers spend a TON of time is lesson planning. There is no quick fix for this either. You can’t just lesson plan half of what you currently lesson plan (like you CAN grade half of what you currently grade). You need lesson plans for every class every day.
But you can MAJORLY streamline the process by batch lesson planning. This means sitting down for 1-2 hours at one time and planning an ENTIRE UNIT at once. If your units are anything like mine, they range from being 3-8 weeks long. So you are knocking out a TON of plans all at once.
No more staying up until midnight figuring out what to do the next day!! No more tears in the copy room at 7 am when you are trying to panic print what you need for the day and the toner is out or the 3rd paper jam needs to be released (no judgment – we’ve all been there. I feel like tears on the copy machine is almost a rite of passage…)
Here are some of my best tips for lesson planning if you need more help in that area. But above all, I really can’t tell you how much batch lesson planning will make a difference in your ability to cut hours off your workweek. YES, it is more time on the front end, but it is FOCUSED time on the same unit. Commit to decisions for your plans and reflect afterward if they need to be changed for next year. This is critical for saving your teacher work week!
If you can streamline your parent communication system, grade half of what you are grading now, and batch lesson plan, you will truly reclaim so much of your time. This will allow you to better utilize the work hours you established in strategy #1, and free you up to really use your time well. This brings me to my next point…
Teacher Work Week Strategy #5: Protect your planning period at all costs.
Outside of grading, arguably the biggest amount of our time outside of actually teaching is spent being wasted on various small tasks and distractions. Time wasted checking emails multiple times a day, chatting with coworkers, or going back and forth with parents. These are all SMALL things that seem like they only take a few minutes here or there, but they add up!!
One of the best ways you can revamp your teacher work week and cut 10 hours off your work time is by protecting your planning period at all costs. When you set your work hours, decide what every chunk of non-teaching time will be used for, AND STICK TO IT.
- The time before classes start when you are at school
- Your planning period
- Your lunch period
- The time after classes end after school when you are still at school
Structure this time so not a minute gets wasted – AND PROTECT IT!! Here are 5 ways I created more productive planning periods for myself. Protecting my planning period and using it to my fullest potential was the ONLY way I could actually stick to the work hours I set for myself.
I hope these strategies encourage you and help you to see the light – that it IS possible to do this job and do it in much less than 50-60 hours per week! And I am here to help you make that happen, teacher friend!
Looking for more strategies to decrease your work hours and reclaim your life – both inside the classroom and out? Check out my virtual professional development course Secondary Science Simplified™️, written for teachers looking for practical strategies to simplify their lives.