Math = Love: A Final Reflection on Angela Watson's 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A Final Reflection on Angela Watson's 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club

I just realized that sign-ups for Angela Watson's 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club close in 2 days, so I should probably finish up my reflection posts on what I have learned so far from being part of the club. If you haven't heard of it before, this is a club for teachers by a former teacher. The goal of this club is to encourage and inspire teachers to do their jobs while maintaining work/life balance. Balance is something I've struggled with since I first began teaching. Now that I've been in the club since August, I'm starting to see that work/life balance IS possible. It just requires planning and focus.

If you want to learn more about the club, you can check it out here. If you do decide to join, I'd greatly appreciate it if you would list me (Sarah Carter) as your referrer. You'll need to put in my email address as well (mathequalslove(at)gmail(dot)com). I highly recommend joining the club if you want to learn how to get organized so that teaching can be something that you love doing instead of something that consumes your entire life.

I've already written two posts reflecting on new things I've implemented in my classroom since joining the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club, but I have a few more things I want to share. I decided I needed to finish this up today so you still will have time to join. Signups close on January 9th. If you don't sign up soon, you will have to wait until this summer for your next chance to join.

Before school started, Angela Watson advised the club members to think about organizing all the papers that we deal with on a daily basis in our classrooms. Every paper should have a home. This is an idea I hadn't embraced in the past, and it always led to papers stuffed in drawers and stacked in piles on my desk. Here are some of the ways I have tackled my paper organization issues this year.

I still remember a problem I ran across as a first year teacher. When I had set up my classroom, I had put up a set of trays for students to turn their work into. What I hadn't thought of, however, was where I was going to put my students' papers once I graded them. I ended up with piles of graded papers and no place to put them.

This year, I tried a new method to wrangle my graded papers, and I think it's a keeper. I purchased a set of Avery Flexiview Six Pocket Organizers (affiliate link) last year. I designated one organizer per prep to hold my graded work. I am able to label the pockets inside with the period number to help me file away papers and help students find their graded papers more easily. I also love these organizers for keeping papers from getting bent up in my school bag.  

Each hour, I have a designated student whose job it is to pass back the graded papers. Remembering to pass back papers has been a career-long struggle for me. I always get so busy doing what I love (teaching) that I forget to do many of the more administrative duties during the class period. Yes, I'm that teacher who sometimes makes it to sixth hour and realizes they haven't taken attendance ALL day long.

Often, I have students who want to stop by before school to get their graded quiz from the previous day. These students know exactly where I keep the graded paper folders, and they can get their graded work without having to disturb me.

I also ran into the problem of what to do with all of the tardy slips that students bring me. In the past, I always stuffed these in a drawer. This year, I placed a small box on my desk labeled tardy slips. It took a few weeks to train students to always put their tardy slips in the box, but the payoff has been awesome. My desk is no longer cluttered with tardy slips!

Another suggestion Angela Watson made to the club members was to have an "INBOX" where you place things that students/teachers/etc hand you that aren't homework. The idea is to place the papers in a designated place until you have time to deal with each paper later. I have to admit that I haven't done the best job of utilizing this box this year. I'm not sure if the idea doesn't work for me or if I just need to make some small tweaks. I still think it's a great idea, though. This box sits right on top of my turn-in trays for student work.

Over the last few years, I have wasted way too much time searching for my teacher-copy of our interactive notebooks. This year, on Angela's advice, I decided to give them a definite home in my classroom. I designated a magazine holder to hold my notebooks. In here, I keep my copy of this year's current Algebra 1 and Chemistry notebooks. I also keep my copy of last year's Algebra 1 notebook so I can easily reference it when I need to remember how I taught something last year. Sometimes I still misplace it on my desk when I have it out and accidentally set something on top of it. But, for the most part, my notebooks live in their little home and can be easily accessed whenever I need them.

Speaking of notebooks, I made a tiny tweak to how I do notebooks, and it has been AWESOME. Students who have had me in the past have verbally thanked me numerous times for this new addition to our notebooks. It's a Temporary storage pocket formed by folding over a page in our notebooks and taping it to the previous page. When we don't finish something before class ends, students can stick it in the temporary storage pocket instead of just stuffing it in their notebook or bag randomly to never be seen again. In a way, it is like a mini "inbox" for our notebooks. My students' notebooks are so much more organized this year than ever before.

One thing that I love about Angela's attitude toward classroom organization is to start with what you have. She doesn't advise going out and spending a bunch of money on supplies to get organized. Instead, she recommends re-purposing your current organization tools to meet your actual needs.

Before I started my first year of teaching, I ran across a multi-drawer pink cart at a garage sale for $5. I excitedly bought it and stuck it in the corner of my classroom. I put notebook paper in the first drawer, graph paper in the second drawer, origami paper in the third drawer, Frayer Models in the fourth drawer, and a no-longer used version of interactive notebook table of contents in the fifth drawer. The other five drawers set empty because I had no clue what to use them for. And, they stayed empty for FIVE years.

I was starting to wonder if it was even worth keeping this 10 drawer cart since I was barely utilizing it. When Angela started encouraging us club members to examine what organization tools we already had, I knew that this pink cart HAD to be repurposed into something I actually use.

I found a new home for the papers that my students frequently need to use. There were only three types of paper I wanted to have out for them to use, so there was no reason to store them in a cart that held three times that amount.

Then, I relabeled my drawers in such a way that would help me sort my copies and activities for each class. I have three preps, so I dedicated three drawers to each prep. For Algebra 1, I have a drawer that says TODAY, a drawer that says TOMORROW, and a drawer that says SOON. I have the same three drawers for Chemistry and Math Concepts. I am the sponsor for Student Council, so I have designated my final drawer to hold STUCO materials. When I make my copies for the entire week (something I never could have done before joining Angela's club), I can file them away easily so that I can find them later. I can't tell you how many times in the past I've had to reprint a set of copies because I've misplaced them on my desk. No more misplaced papers with this system!

When the day is over, I take a few minutes to put all of the day's materials in their appropriate places. If it is a notebook page or worksheet that absent students will need to pick up, I place the extra copies in my hanging files.

Each folder is labeled with a different SBG Skill Code. I feel like I really upped my organization game this year by labeling all of my folders BEFORE the school year started instead of waiting until we did each skill to label a folder like in years past. I used Post-it File Folder Labels (affiliate link) for this purpose because they are removable. If I decide to change up my skill codes next year, I can easily remove this years labels.

I did the same thing for my chemistry class, but I chose to use textbook sections instead of SBG skills since I am not using SBG with my chemistry class this year. I really debated this over the summer because I believe that SBG is better than the traditional grading system. I also believe that my sanity is worth something, though. I don't know enough chemistry yet to be able to write my own curriculum. So, I chose to do what was best for my students and my work/life balance this year. This meant following a textbook.

If it is an activity that I plan on reusing in the future, it gets filed alphabetically in a plastic pouch in my filing cabinet.

I've also re-organized the file drawer in my desk to hold all of my quiz copies. Because I do standards based grading, my students are frequently asking to retake an old quiz. My students are regularly amazed at how quickly I can find the quiz they need in my desk. One student told me the other day that I was the "most organized teacher [they] had ever had." Previous year's students would NEVER have said this about me. I printed a second set of my file folder labels that I mentioned above to label the folders in my quiz drawer.

Classroom decorating was super easy this year because I took a bit of time at the end of last year to organize all of the posters I have made for my classroom over the years. Each set of posters is stored in a plastic velcro pocket and labeled with a super sticky post-it label. These are then stored alphabetically in a small filing cabinet that sits by my desk.

Perhaps the biggest change I've made since joining the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek is actually utilizing my teacher planner! I use the Arc System from Staples. To help myself better utilize the 40 Hour Teacher Work Week List Making System which you will receive as a free bonus for joining the club, I splurged and bought a new Arc notebook cover and set of rings. My husband and I invested in an Arc Punch (affiliate link) a couple of years ago, and it has definitely paid for itself already.

My notebook is what lets me function effectively as a teacher. Here it is in its assembled glory.

I have dividers inside to help me keep things separate and organized.

My first divider holds my calendar. Angela suggests keeping your calendar separate from your to do list. This has made a HUGE difference for me this year. In the past, I tried to combine them, and it made things a lot more complicated. My initial plan was to create a monthly calendar with large boxes, but I became frustrated by how much space was wasted on the page due to the fact that the months started on different days and had different numbers of weeks. My husband created this continuous calendar template (and shared it for free on his blog) that is PERFECT for me.

Angela suggests putting a mark through each day as it is finished. I didn't think I would love this act as much as I do. It is such a fulfilling feeling to mark a day as done.

The next divider holds my weekly to do lists that are based on the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek List Making System. When you join the club, you will get access to all kinds of helpful printables to keep yourself organized. I love that Angela offers everything as a pretty PDF and as an editable version (usually WORD) so you can tweak things to work perfectly for your own situation.

In fact, I've edited the template several times since I took the photo above. I keep figuring out ways to make it work better for me. This is one reason I adore the Arc System for keeping a planner. I can change out the pages whenever I feel like it.

In my other dividers, I have Project Planning Sheets (provided by Angela), Long Term Planning Sheets (also provided by Angela), Seating Charts, and Lesson Plans.

Lesson Planning has probably been the area I've improved the most in since joining the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. My first principal said that we had to write lesson plans and turn them in each week. I skipped turning them in one week, and my principal never said a word. So, I stopped writing them. I still planned out my lessons (usually on a post-it note), and I never got in trouble for it. Therefore, I never saw the reason to write out more formal lesson plans again.

This summer, I was doing some serious thinking about my pacing for Algebra 1. Even though I've taught the course for a full five years (not counting this year), I have no idea of how I've ever paced stuff in the past because I never wrote lesson plans. This was when I realized that I could make my lesson plans into a resource for me instead of just something I turn into my principal.

If you're required to turn in formal lesson plans, this approach probably won't work for you. But, it's perfect for me.

I created a blank weekly lesson plan template. It has space for the date, the planned activities, and notes about how those activities went. If you'll look closely, you will see that the notes column is the widest. This is by design. I'm not keeping lesson plans to fulfill some administrative requirement. I'm keeping lesson plans so I can look back at them in the future and learn from my past experiences.

Every Friday, I take a bit of time during my planning period and write out the future week's planned activities on my lesson plan template. This usually doesn't take more than ten or so minutes.

I have last period plan, so I have a recurring item on my to-do list everyday for my planning period. If you looked at my to-do list, you would see the words "Update Lesson Plans." Each day uses a different colored highlighter. I highlight the date, and then I highlight the activities we ACTUALLY accomplished that day. Often things come up or things take longer than I planned, and we don't end up accomplishing everything I had planned. Finally, I fill in the Notes Column with what went well/what didn't go well. I make note of how long various activities took. And, I write suggested changes for the future.

I love this approach to lesson planning because it embraces the messiness that naturally comes with teaching. I teach students, not robots; therefore, I have to be flexible. Some days I move on to the next day's topic a day early because an activity took way less time than I had budgeted for it. Other days, I find myself a day or two behind because of the opposite problem.

Lesson plans used to frustrate me because the plans I turned into my principal usually looked nothing like what I actually ended up teaching on each day. Now, my lesson planning has wiggle room, and it actually works. After an entire semester of using this approach, I successfully lesson planned for all but two weeks of it. I got sick and behind and never got caught up. But, that's okay. Angela reminds us frequently that we all grow inconsistently. I am not defined by my setbacks but by my progress. For the first time in my teaching career, I look forward to lesson planning.

The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club isn't a prescribed plan that tells you to do X, Y, and Z. It's a program that helps you to think critically about the way you run your classroom and to make improvements that work for you and your students. It offers a continual reminder that teaching is difficult. And, it offers helpful hints to making your classroom run smoother so you have a chance to achieve that work/life balance that often seems impossible. Angela's encouragement each week is genuine, and she shares tips she actually used in her own classroom when she was a teacher. I love hearing what worked and didn't work for her and brainstorming ways to improve my own teaching and classroom management.

I think I've said this before, but I'll say it again. You are going to get out of the club what you put in the club. If you enter this club with the mindset of wanting to look critically at how you run your classroom and with a willingness to try new things, your hard work will pay off with great dividends. This club has made me try new classroom strategies (such as embracing the idea of classroom jobs) that I never would have considered before. And, guess what?!? They work. I can't imagine ever teaching without classroom jobs again.

Time is running out to join the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. To find out more, check out the website here. If you do decide to join, I would greatly appreciate it if you list me (Sarah Carter) as your referrer. You'll need my email address (mathequalslove(at)gmail(dot)com) to fill out the form. Whether you decide to join or not, I hope you have enjoyed this peek into my teaching life and the changes I've made recently. Angela Watson ends each week's audio with this advice: "Small changes really do add up to big results." And, this is definitely true. Each thing I've mentioned in these recent posts have been a small change. But, together, they have changed my teaching career for the better.

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