When I became a teacher, one of the main things I struggled with was finding enough time in the day to do everything. You’re given multiple curriculums across different content areas. You’re told that these curriculums align with the state learning standards, so to meet the standards, you need to get through the entirety of each curriculum by the end of June (truthfully, by the end of May, because who really wants to be teaching full lessons toward the end of June?).
I fell into a mindset that it was better to scratch the surface of everything I had planned for the day than deliver one or two thorough, good lessons. I focused on following everything in my plan instead of on whether my students were truly meeting the learning objectives my plan set forth.
I teach a self-contained kindergarten/1st-grade bridge class. When I look back on my first year, I’m embarrassed at the lack of support I provided for my students during my lessons. Instead of introducing and teaching my students how to use sentence frames or vocabulary charts, I felt there was not enough time to use these in the classroom, let alone teach my students how to use them and practice using them effectively.
When we returned to school in September 2020, I felt like there was even less time in the day than the previous year. We needed to allot time for breakfast in the classroom and social-emotional learning lessons. On top of that, students were often absent, and schools and classrooms would sometimes temporarily close. I felt hopeless in terms of getting through the curriculum.
I was feeling burnout from planning constantly and trying to modify the curriculum to meet my students where they are — all on top of facing the unknown about whether or not we would be in the school building the next day.
After several whole-school closures toward the end of January 2021, something clicked in me. I realized the best thing I could do for my students, especially during such a chaotic year, was make each lesson meaningful and thorough.
I began to see how these purposeful lessons engaged students more. I was able to provide more support during lessons instead of rushing through them, so my students were able to complete more tasks independently. I got to see who was meeting learning objectives and who wasn’t, and then I was able to help struggling students more with small group intervention.
I got rid of the mindset that I needed to get through everything I had planned for the day. Instead, I focused on how I could make some of these lessons more beneficial to my students. I also came to the realization that taking the extra 15 minutes in the morning to ask my students how they felt or skipping an additional reading activity for playground time was just as important as all the instructional activities I had initially planned — especially after everything my students had been through.
I’m taking this new perspective with me this school year. I find myself less focused on jam-packing my day with instructional content. I’m allowing more time in the day for brain breaks, emotion check-ins and opportunities for dramatic play.
After reflecting on my two and a half years as a teacher — most of it during a global pandemic — I now understand that you can be a stronger and more effective teacher if you approach teaching with the belief that quality of instruction is more important than quantity of instruction.
Stop skimming the surface of lessons for the sole purpose of saying you completed the lesson. Allot time for transitions and breaks in your classroom — take that extra five minutes to hand out papers and pencils.
I can honestly say that when I shifted my goal from “How much can I get done in a day?” to “What are the best ways I can teach my students today?” I began to feel more comfortable and confident in my classroom. I know my students feel the same way.
Jane Doe is the pseudonym for a third-year special education teacher in the Bronx.