Going in Circles: How to slow down and manage the educational demands this time of year

PictureWe all know the demands this time of year places on educators:

-Report cards for second trimester due now or due very very soon.

-Parent-teacher conferences are happening now or within the next week.

-Closing out grades so report cards can be completed.

-Comments to write in the report cards. Even the canned comments take time.

-Tests and all other accountability tracking evidence complete and evaluated for conference sharing or IEP meetings.

-Finishing with current math units, reading novels, writing assessments and journal entries; graded and compiled.

-Data ready to share with parents.

-Students’ finishing their self-assessments with goals and new goals established.

All of this and more rest mostly on us, teachers.

Add this to our regular day-to-day teaching and arranging conferences before and after school, some of us even add time during our lunch hour or specials, to reach everyone!

UGH. The list keeps expanding. On top of this flu and cold season can wreak havoc on our immune systems.

May I offer a few tips to help with this stressFUL time and get your circular wheel of stress to slow down a bit? I’ve used these things through my 33 + years as a teacher and they help: some more than others but I figure anything I can suggest may help someone and for that, this post is worth it!

-TIME FOR YOURSELF: I gave myself time to take a bath or hot shower when I got home after a LONG LONG day. I wrapped myself in my favorite pjs and grabbed a cup of tea. I watched my favorite Hallmark movie or read a book or just sat and snoozed on the couch. My husband and kids knew this week of conferences and conferences prep prior to it! were NOT going to see family meals. Pizza delivery, cereal, eggs, Chick-Fil-A were our go-tos for this two week period. They didn’t seem to mind and were grateful for the extra relaxed mood.  I gave myself permission to let things go around the house too: laundry and cleaning were secondary.

Lesson learned: life is stressful as an educator at times and grace is given by myself, for me and from my family to me. A few times over the years, I got my act together and made 1 or 2 meals ahead of time, freezing them. This didn’t happen very often but it does help and I realized I felt better about handling this time of year as a few simply prepared meals made me realize I could control my stress a bit more.

Treats in my room for my families who showed up for conferences.

This may seem an overstretch BUT I have taken time to prepare (or buy from the store!) cookies. I bring in several dozen and keep a plate on my conference table. I have coffee in a coffee maker in my room OR just inside the door. This instantly calms the family as they sit and relax, enjoying a coffee or hot chocolate and a cookie. They are very surprised and touched I took the time to do this for them. The discussion is 100 times more friendly, even if a not so positive message is shared.  I think this time spent up front makes a huge difference for them and for the work I put into the prep.

Report cards

THIS takes time, even if it is electronic in nature. I worry : have I put the correct grades in for everyone? Did I forget a comment or a grade? How do I defend my comment on a particular social column? Do I have my notes ready to go? I have learned to take simple notes about any student I am concerned about, placing them in their file folder, ready to share during conferences. I can’t remember every single thing I need to share during a 20 minute period. My notes help me to relax. I look for the positives too: as we all do. I’d rather start a report card note with a positive by far, than a negative. This may seem natural but at this time of year, we may feel more pressure to get our students in shape for the final stretch; preparing them for the next level of learning.

There have been times through the years when I didn’t enter grades as I went along with my teaching, entering unit tests, journal progress monitoring and such. BIG mistake.

I now enter grades weekly: progress monitoring formal assessments. Entrance and exit tickets, quick writes, conference observations; you name it. I like to have data galore both electronically for parents and students to see and ready to go in a file folder for each student. I never know when my principal or SpEd teacher, parent wants to know the latest about a particular student. It is equally valuable for the students to know where they are in their learning progression. Keeping up to date data tracking is worth all the time it takes. I build in a specific time each week to make sure this data is up to date. Whether in my electronic database, my file folders, my assessments: being ready to share this information is valuable and knowing I have it ready is a piece of mind I need.

Student portfolios

The spring has always seemed a good time for students to share their work progression. I like to hold spring conferences with their families. I give them a general sheet they complete and store in their file folders for the occasion. We include tests, writing samples, written responses and experiments in science, social studies reflections, math activities, their review sheets, and whatever else they feel gives a solid picture of themself as an academic and a person. I let them lead the conferences and it is such a joy to showcase them! These portfolios are available all year for sharing with families: they can check them out for a day or two, returning them to our room.  This takes some responsibility from me and places it on my students: they enjoy this opportunity to show what they know and what they want to work on.

Closing grades, finishing units, preparing for the next things on the horizon.

I like to be ready for conferences and grades before spring break. I like to have my next units for all academic subjects ready to go BEFORE I walk out the door for a break. This does add stress that I place on myself BUT I know the end results will leave me refreshed and ready to move forward when I return to work.

So I relax when I can; work hard to keep up with things, and know this period too shall pass. It isn’t the entire school year and for that I am grateful!

May some of these tips help you in your circular run this time of year. Give yourself grace when you can, time to relax, and time to finish what you feel needs to be done. We are all experts at our profession and whatever is on your mind to finish: prioritize to help alleviate tasks (and the days you need to complete each task). You can do this!


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