Not enough hours in the day

It’s a common complaint among teachers: There are never enough hours in the day.

It seems strange to have the same complaint in the summer, but here I am. Between writing four final grad school papers, preparing for workshops I’m leading this week and next, and trying to eke out a little time for exercise, I literally ran out of hours last week and couldn’t write my blog on Thursday.

The same thing nearly happened today, but I made myself take a pause from writing an “evaluation plan” paper to think about being overwhelmed – and how we deal with it.

So often during the school year, we find ourselves short on time to rethink an old writing assignment, find a new article to spark discussion or assign students to new mixed-ability groups. Instead, we let daily grading, urgent phone calls and administrative requests –turn in that goal-setting form ASAP! – drive our calendars.

But what if we have our priorities wrong? What if the thing that’s hogging your attention isn’t actually the most important thing you could be doing? What if you’re only putting out the most visible sparks and not tending to the underlying flame?

I can think of plenty of times when I gave my attention to the most visible problem – the parent demanding to know “what my child can do to get an A” – rather than the more important one, the student who hadn’t shown up in class for a week with no explanation.

Other professionals have an easier time with this, I think. They can simply follow the bottom line – work on the million-dollar deal before the smaller one – or the political reality – call the boss’s brother back before writing that report.

Teachers have just enough freedom to put the burden of prioritizing on us. At my school, we have a dedicated hour each week to communicate with parents. Do you call the ones who need to hear from you, or the ones who want to hear from you? The one that is more important isn’t the one that will be rewarded.

If we are going to change our classrooms for the better, we need to control how we prioritize our time. We can’t simply drift from crisis to crisis. We need to recognize that there isn’t time for everything and choose what we remove from the plate, rather than simply letting un-championed causes slip off.

Last Thursday, I realized I had to choose between finishing a paper and writing a blog post, and I chose the paper. It was actually a tough decision, but I’m learning not to make myself crazy with impossible expectations. A good lesson to carry over into the school year.