Why Staying Late After School Is A Mistake

Smart Classroom Management: Why Staying Late After School Is A MistakeFor a small minority of teachers, staying late after school is a symbol of their dedication.

It makes them feel as if they’re doing everything they can for their students.

It gives them a sense of pride.

They like having their car the last one on the parking lot—and the reputation that comes with it.

Others stay late out of a sense of duty. They feel guilty heading home when their contract day ends.

So they tinker and brainstorm and busy themselves to exhaustion.

Still others stay late because they have so much to do. They’re overwhelmed with planning and preparation and firmly believe they have no choice in the matter.

They stay late to survive.

But all are under a false impression. Because staying late after school doesn’t make you a better teacher. It makes you worse.

Unlike many professions, to be most effective, you need to be at your very best every day of the week.

You need to be on.

You need to be rested and refreshed before greeting your students each morning. You need to be clear-eyed and quick thinking, patient and observant.

And the only way to ensure this happens is to get away from it. It’s to drive off the lot at a decent hour without a glance back. It’s to create mental distance between you and your job.

It’s to leave school at school.

Now, many teachers will tell you that they can handle the long hours, that they’re fine, that they’ve been staying late for years without ill effect.

But would their friends and family say the same thing about them? Can they honestly say that they’re as sharp—or as relaxed, giving, energetic, interesting, fun, etc—as they would be if they were better rested?

The truth is, simply leaving earlier—sometimes a lot earlier—can remove a mountain of stress from your life and make you a better teacher.

But what about preparation? Are you suggesting that teachers are better off underprepared?

Well, a couple of things. First, most teachers prepare inefficiently. They get distracted. They meet with colleagues more than they need to. They visit and chat and don’t always get down to work.

They also get caught in a trap called Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law is the tendency to expand a task in complexity and importance in relation to the time given for its completion.

In other words, if you give yourself an hour to prepare, you’ll use the whole hour when in all likelihood you could complete the task in less than half the time.

The law also states that when you give yourself less time you become more focused. Your concentration increases. The obstacles and uncertainties that would otherwise crop up never enter the picture.

Thus, the product is better.

Second, many teachers struggle with what, exactly, they need to plan and how to go about it. So they sit and ponder. They start and stop. They fill the time with busy work instead of productive work.

They end up with lessons that are bloated and directionless and that students struggle to understand.

Learning how to cut the fat and narrow in on what’s important is a lesser-known—and almost never talked about—key to effective teaching.

It’s one of the topics covered in The Happy Teacher Habits, along with other ways to head home early and start loving your job.

While planning, it’s best to first choose one thing per lesson that you want your students to be able to do or know or perform, and then determine the simplest and most direct way of accomplishing it.

Set a deadline, say half or two-thirds the amount of time you usually stay after school, then stick with it. Turn out the lights. Close the door. Walk swiftly to your car without looking back.

Go be with your family. Ride your bike. Meet a friend at the park. You’ll be happier, less stressed, and far better prepared than you’ve ever been before.

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49 Responses to Why Staying Late After School Is A Mistake

  1. Thomas Bubb April 22, 2017 at 7:50 am #

    Thank you for this post Mr. Linsin! I especially appreciated the part about giving yourself less time to complete a task and achieving more effective results.

    Like so many other posts you’ve written, this was advice that I needed to hear right when I needed to hear it. Thank you again!

    • Michael Linsin April 23, 2017 at 7:47 pm #

      You’re welcome Thomas!


  2. Chris Chater April 22, 2017 at 7:57 am #

    Leaving late is indeed a waste – but arriving early can be the secret of preparedness!

    • Robyn Williams April 23, 2017 at 2:14 am #

      I definitely agree with arriving early to be ready for your day in the classroom….

    • Michael Linsin April 23, 2017 at 7:47 pm #

      Yes, I agree with the importance of arriving early, Chris, and have written about it somewhere on this website. (With over 400 articles, I can’t recall the title of the article.)


  3. Kim April 22, 2017 at 8:19 am #

    I remember reading this in your book on teacher habits and it has really changed my practice.

    Now, I make every effort to leave immediately or soon after my students. Unless there is a staff meeting, I am not staying after. I am not productive when I stay late. In the past, I would encourage students to stay after for extra help, but they never do. If they need help, I get them during their lunch. Most times if they really nees the help, they will stay.

    I’m much more happier and it has really improves the quality of my work. This is good to read before I head back to work after a week off for Spring Break!

  4. nafisa April 22, 2017 at 8:52 am #

    Wonderful, I totally agree with you. This is a great article for all teachers.Unfortunately some school owners and heads of school won’t be happy with this as they mostly believe the more time a teacher spends in school the more committed and dedicated they are.

  5. Teresa Ann April 22, 2017 at 8:54 am #

    I love your advice & your books, but I spend long hours after school out of necessity. I teach 2nd grade, but I have a child in my classroom that does not know letters or letter sounds. I have him ALLLLLLL day. He is not pulled for any special classes or intervention. In addition to having to teach myself to teach skills that I’ve never encountered before, my little student is a MAJOR discipline issue. I spend all day chasing him and trying to get him to be quiet. To the detriment of 20 other kids.

    I spend hours after school researching & trying to find skill pages to go with what I’m teaching because I have none of those resources to meet the kiddo’s need. I have spent HUNDREDS of dollars on teachers-pay-teachers on pre-k and kindergarten skills.

    To help the child in question and retain the small portion of my sanity that remains, they have reduced my student to attending half days. I can’t see a way to avoid spending hours after school. This year I’ve got him knowing his letter sounds and reading CVC words.

    • cynthia April 22, 2017 at 12:16 pm #

      You are not alone Teresa Ann. Many teachers are in the same position as you. My husband came into my classroom and he said: “What they are back to the ONE ROOM SCHOOL HOUSE?” and that is exactly, we we are. Differentiated instruction is not the answer for these extreme cases.

  6. SR Earl April 22, 2017 at 9:59 am #

    That might work if my lesson was not evaluated on a 57 point rubric and my social studies curriculum didn’t include reading maps, knowing the location of, major landforms and waterways of, countries of, culture and important history of EVERY ONE of the seven continents. By the way, I teach third grade, so this curriculum is in addition to ELA, math, and science. I have 4 hours “on the clock” per week for planning, grading, communicating with parents, using the bathroom. Do I spend a few minutes of those four hours asking my colleague how her terminally I’ll parent is. Yes. Yes, I do. I guess that makes me less than efficient.

    • Nanci April 23, 2017 at 7:55 am #

      Hear you loud and clear!

  7. Michelle April 22, 2017 at 10:01 am #

    I stay late because of meetings that suck up my planning time. I cannot einncopies if I don’t have time. Copier jams. Copier out of paper. News letter needs done on Friday. Report needs printed out. Newsletter needs copied. Spelling list needs copies. Math letter needs copied. Can’t print AR report until after school. My room needs straightened and if I did not stay my class would look like a trash dump in two weeks.

    • Susan April 23, 2017 at 12:26 pm #

      Have the kids straighten it before they go home.

  8. Hedy April 22, 2017 at 10:14 am #

    I am a dedicated teacher, love what I do, and truly want to help my kids. However, as I read this article, I clearly saw myself. My husband is not happy with me, my friends think I’m nuts, and this week especially, I am exhausted.Furthermore, I have experienced for myself how I can prepare a better lesson when I am under the gun.

  9. Monika April 22, 2017 at 10:34 am #

    Thanks for the article. I fully agree and I learned to be more effective with my prep during the last year.

    But what I still find difficult is to stop when when I have to correct tests or exams. I go on working and working to get that job finished

    Any helpful ideas????

    Thank u

    • Michael Linsin April 23, 2017 at 7:41 pm #

      You’re welcome, Monica. I don’t have any hard and fast rules for you. It’s a decision you have to make. Maybe you can set a deadline, stop grading when you reach it, and pick it back up the next day. Maybe you need stay later once a week or the week after midterms. There are certainly times where you may have to stay later if grading must be done. The purpose of the article was just to help teachers become more aware of the very real costs of staying too late after school. What that looks like is up to you. 🙂


  10. Melissa April 22, 2017 at 10:52 am #

    I’ve got a question I’ve never seen addressed. It doesn’t have to do with staying after school. I teach a homeschool co-op class once a week. By design, the class involves no desk work, writing, or quiet work – that is to be done at home. My job is to give snippets of information, have the class repeat the information, and do things to reinforce the facts such as play games, sing songs, chants, etc. (I basically introduce topics that the class is to go home and dig into and learn more about.) In this format it, is very easy for the class clown to act silly and the rest of the class follows. For example, if I ask the kids to repeat a fact about WWII, one child tends to repeat but end by pretending to shoot everyone and falling on the floor to play dead. Honestly, it wouldn’t even be a problem if it ended quickly. Do you have any ideas about this type of situation?

    • Michael Linsin April 23, 2017 at 7:33 pm #

      Hi Melissa,

      The approach you find on this website would be the same for your situation. However, your rules may look a lot different–and this is the key: Consider what your ideal class/lesson would look like and then design a set of rules to protect your freedom to teach and your students freedom to learn and enjoy school. In the example you gave, then, you would be able to fairly hold the student accountable.


    • Brad Donovan April 25, 2017 at 10:21 am #

      I read your post and have a thought… What grade is the student? If they are older than 15 try a self discovery plan for him or her.. I would remark, it seems like you get a lot of fun from the shooting and lying dead part of war. I would like you to look at pictures of the dead from WWII.. At this point I would give him a few photos that I would like him to see (the dead bodies in th surf at Tarawa, the head of a soldier burned out with a flame thrower, there are lots of pictures that are pretty stark). Then I would ask him to find a few of his own. Then ask him to choose two…..pretend he is th CO of these two and write the letter to the wife/mother/family informing of his death…. If the whole class has bought into his or her entertainment, make it a. Class assignment…. Then talk about when is it appropriate and inappropriate to clown about war… Toss in a couple of Ernie Pyle articles a WWII cartoon and then Spike Jone’s Der fuher’s face….. To show there is humor but it is not about the comedian but the purpose of the war….. It is not about him or her..it is about the lesson……

      By the way I stay late, to rinse the day out of my head, organize my thoughts for the next day, make any photocopies, straighten my desk a little to make room for tomorrows chaos…. Good luck.

      I learned something at a coaching clinic once about class clowns… If you have one donkey on a team you can handle that. Treat it,and isolate it. If you tolerate two donkeys on a team… You will have a donkey farm…..

      Teaching is a noble endeavor… You will get there easier with all students being a part of the effort

  11. Debra Berry April 22, 2017 at 11:04 am #

    Amen! To everyone who is saying it is impossible, look at where you waste time. Learn to say no. Sometimes, they know you have to say is to what you think you have to do. Wild Round of Applause for this post!

  12. Jana April 22, 2017 at 11:13 am #

    Mr. Linsin, I agree completely with what you have written. However, I need some advice. After I became a mom, I became very efficient so that I could spend the time with my children after school. By that time I had taught for 10 years and I knew exactly what needed to be done. This worked well for me. However, I moved to a grade level where the teachers meet for two or three hours every week. This time is partly social and partly a leisurely discussion of lessons plans. The first few years at this grade level I didn’t go the meetings. We are required to meet with our grade level for a 1/2 hour or so every few weeks. I did go to those meetings. I explained that I couldn’t stay longer because I needed the time to get my work done so that I could spend time with my kids. However, one of the teachers complained to the principal, and then it was noted on my evaluation that I was not a team player. So this year I have been going to all the meetings. I find it very stressful because I am thinking of all the things I need to do in my classroom. It really sets me back in completing my legitimate work. However, I don’t know what to do about it because of the viewpoint of administration. None of the other grade levels have long meetings. Could you please advise me? I don’t want to spend another year using my time next year, but I also do not want to get a bad evaluation. Could you please give me some advice?

    • Nanci Witek April 23, 2017 at 7:54 am #

      Had this problem too. My words got twisted and admin felt I was a complainer. Politics should not be an issue in school as we all have a tough job. Co-workers seem to have all kinds of time for things unrelated to school.
      I don’t have an answer for you, just sympathy!

    • Michael Linsin April 23, 2017 at 7:28 pm #

      Hi Jana,

      Email me. I’m happy to give you some advice. Did you ask your administrator what “not a team player” was referring to?


  13. Donna April 22, 2017 at 11:26 am #

    My husband says he knows why so many teachers are divorced or can’t keep any committed relationships. He has a point. I was in that trap. All I did was think about school, lesson plans, students, etc. I’d get to school early, leave late, and also prep on weekends. While we watched TV I would cut out laminating or staple books together, instead of sitting with my husband and holding his hand. Teachers, especially female teachers, give too much of themselves to the job at the expense of their significant other, children, family, friends, and their own sanity. So many teachers are on antidepressant drugs or use alcohol to get through the day, week, and years. It’s sad, but it is preventable.

    • Jennifer Harrison April 24, 2017 at 9:59 pm #

      Donna, you are so right. Teaching cost me my marriage. When my husband left for someone else he said “You put your job first, the kids second and me last.” He was totally right. I wish I knew then what I knew now.

  14. CA April 22, 2017 at 12:32 pm #

    This suggestion (I read it a few years ago when I first came across your website) is one of the best that I’ve chosen to implement into my own practice. Thanks for it!

  15. Jenn April 22, 2017 at 1:11 pm #

    Having Great volunteers has made it possible for me to generally stick to my contracted hours. There are many who are willing to help! Retirees are the best!!!! A grandma or grandpa would be perfect to work with the 2nd grader who is behind in basics, helping to tidy, running copies, reading to etc. It takes a village!

  16. Diane Bell April 22, 2017 at 1:50 pm #

    I agree with much of what this article says. However, I teach kindergarten, and if I don’t go in on a Saturday every couple of weeks to file papers and projects away, and find the surface of my desk, my room quickly starts looking like a hurricane hit. I do try to keep it to only a couple of hours, but it helps me keep my sanity at school, and my room looks and feels better. I also agree with whoever said in their comment that going in early is much more productive than staying after.

  17. Barb April 22, 2017 at 2:07 pm #

    For special ed teachers with caseloads that are much too large, before and after school meetings that run past our contracted time are standard operating procedures for IEPs. NO time during the school day is given for writing IEPs or testing students in order to write IEPs. Not only do I spend 10-11 hours per day at school, my planning time is never used to plan lessons. I also work most weekends, especially when trimester progress reports are due. I teach poor lessons at the expense of special education compliance. I agree with your entire article. However, I no not stay late because it is an option. Legally I must meet deadlines for special education. No matter how hard special education staff have fought to make our workloads manageable, we bargain with gen ed teachers who make up the vast majority of our voting members. The do not walk in our shoes. They have other priorities and vote accordingly. I feel powerless to change my working situation. which is unsustainable. I will likely work until I completely burn out in a year or two and leave this profession. There is a sped teacher shortage yet there is little being done to motivate special ed teachers to want to continue working in special education.

    • AmyJo Vazquez April 23, 2017 at 5:44 pm #

      Barb, this is my dilemna as well. As a Special Education teacher with a bloated caseload and an unforgiving timeline, I find my family shortchanged and my patience running thin. I often feel like I’m shoveling sand in a desert. The new referrals just keep coming. We refer to April as the month of PPT Purgatory: we are serving our penance for the privilege of teaching our students. And yet I hold onto the hope that, after 27 years, I can change some of the conditions of my work to make my job a bit more manageable, closer to the reason why I joyfully pursued special education in the first place. Thank you, Michael Linsen, for giving a thoughtful, cogent argument for not staying those long hours. I KNOW my time is not as productive as it could be – by 5:00 my brain is frazzled, my nerves are shot, and I’m not appreciably farther along in my report writing. I will continue to try to rethink this. There’s got to be a better way.

  18. @shighley April 22, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

    I don’t think there are any absolutes that will apply to everyone, and teaching is no exception. Sometimes I stay after school because I get a lot accomplished, can still leave at a decent time before rush hour, and am happier in the evening because I know I am prepared for the next day. There is no true one size fits all.

    • Angela April 22, 2017 at 4:16 pm #

      I totally agree!

  19. George Karklins April 22, 2017 at 2:57 pm #


    I like what is written here and agree with what is written..

    In the past I used to almost live at school – the first to arrive the last to leave. Now it is the opposite – I tend to arrive at a reasonable hour and am usually the first to leave.

    I love getting away after giving out all day. I only am employed for 3 days per week and love this his very much-am the music teacher.

  20. TF Jenssen April 22, 2017 at 4:09 pm #

    I shall try and follow your piece of advice. It won’t be easy because we have after school weekly meetings, several cover lessons that erode my prep time, and my grades and subjects or textbooks keep changing every year, which means I always end up planning lessons from scratch… I feel often exhausted, spending evenings and weekends planning and marking up exams and assignments!

  21. Angela DeHart April 22, 2017 at 4:32 pm #

    I believe that teaching is a very different profession. People generally teach because of a passion to “make a difference” versus the desire to make a lot of money. My mother was a teacher but I can honestly say I did not realize how much work it took to be a good teacher until I became one myself. If I had children I would not be a teacher. I don’t have children so my mission as a teacher is to ensure that the kids sit sit in front of me to have the best education I can give them. For me that means getting to school early and staying late. While I agree I am not “on” every I also do not teach the same curriculum that I started teaching with when I first started teaching. I, and my curriculum have grown, developed, and are very much 21st-century. I don’t think you can accomplish that leaving school every day on time. Like every other profession you have to make a choice as to what your focus is going to be, how much time you’re going to dedicate, and then act accordingly. I believe my dedication to my craft will pay off for my students in a big way when they apply to college. In the short term it has been extremely enjoyable for me to grow as a teacher, and a person. I have learned so many things that I find enjoyable that I would not replace the hours I have dedicated to creating my classroom environment. My goal as a teacher is to leave a legacy of value, and I believe I am achieving that goal. I am proud of my work and and proud of the fact that my husband and I are still happily together. As one person said earlier, one size does not fit all. I believe the teaching children 21st-century skills in the 21st-century classroom is more important then me being “on” every single day. My dedication to their education and the opportunities that I provide them are more meaningful because they can see that I’m human and that my dedication, persistence, and commitment to a goal – as well as seeing some of my successes and failures, gives them a model of how they can choose to live their life. NOTE: I teach secondary school. If I were an elementary school teacher I believe my perspective would be different.

  22. Michelle April 22, 2017 at 6:28 pm #

    Our special ed teacher will work on IEPs all day and not pull students. I didn’t know this was legal. It’s not fair for them to do all that work at home either

  23. Chris April 22, 2017 at 7:45 pm #

    I have to say I disagree on this one. I agree that we do need to get rest and be at our best. But I get one 40 minute prep period during the day, so when am I’m supposed to plan, grade, plan activities, meet with colleagues, keep records, bulletin boards, plan field trips, contact parents, etc??? I do see a lot of teachers give their students busy work during the day and do their work then. But I never sit at my desk when I have students in the room. No matter what they are doing, I am walking around and making sure they are on task and don’t need assistance. I do not however, bring much work home with me. I have a 2nd job (to make ends meet) and so I do that work in the evenings and weekends.I stay a few hours after school and then leave it. Also, I think it is important to chat with your colleagues. Often it ends up being great collaboration and you come up with things you wouldn’t have on your own. But also teaching can be isolating at times so we need to have good relationships with our peers and when else should we do that???

  24. Doree April 22, 2017 at 8:43 pm #

    I completely disagree!

  25. Roxanne April 23, 2017 at 2:28 am #

    This is such a truthful message. I saw myself in this the more I read.
    At the end of it all-still under appreciated, tired, stressed and unable to have fun family time.
    I wish all teachers could read this article.

  26. Ruth Christensen April 23, 2017 at 5:51 am #

    Not to mention the hours required for PD in order to keep up with new curriculum, technological, policy and practice developments (in addition to the planning and assessing). If not after school, when does that get done?

    Personally, my head, heart and body do not function better in the morning; nor are distractions less then (or conversely, more in the afternoon) in my particular case.

    So, some good advice without a doubt, but I agree wholeheartedly with @shighley that not one size fits all; and commiserate with the special ed teachers who I know are being buffeted in the wind, expected to be all things to all people during class contact time and well beyond (bless you, classroom teachers couldn’t survive without your dedication and passion)!

  27. Louise Florent April 23, 2017 at 8:16 am #

    You plan for so many reasons, most importantly, the children who are counting on you. Your class may have a three to four grade level range and each and every one of those students is counting on you to move and inspire them. Teaching is a very complex task and at the same time a very private experience between you and your students. A welcoming classroom is a well thought out space. It evolves as the need requires. Plan where and when it suits you and your life obligations but plan.

  28. Waynel Mayes April 23, 2017 at 8:45 am #

    Teaching is a profession that has to come from the heart, yet you are a professional. I do not know of any profession that keeps regular hours. I believe it is all about balance. If you want to keep growing it is important to attend professional development. In our district, that is always after school. All grade levels have increasingly lots of planning and prep work. Creating a school environment that is warm and caring depends as much on the teachers teamwork of working together as the leadership of the school.This article brought lots of great insight on the importance of YOU the teacher.. taking the responsibly of yourself. You can’t give your best, if you are all given out to your family, your classroom and most importantly taking care of your own health.

  29. Marcy April 23, 2017 at 9:32 am #

    I simply appreciate the quiet after school. My class lights are off and my desk light is on. Phone calls, emails, work gets done without many interruptions. I do not take work home. Home is home, not an extended classroom. I sleep well.

  30. Charlotte April 23, 2017 at 7:49 pm #

    Maybe a good practice for some but I stay late to grade papers so I won’t have to do it at home. 64 students, six preps, seven class periods without a planning period. When do you grade research papers? Spelling tests? Grammar tests? Journals? Lit questions? I don’t want to take the mess to my house. So I work until I finish and go home at five like normal working hours instead of blowing off “early” at 3:00.

  31. Rachel Ann April 24, 2017 at 6:11 am #

    Thanks for sharing this. In our society that praises overworking and expending yourself for your job and career, I thank you for expressing the importance of self care as well in being able to give and do our best in the classroom as educators.

  32. Jessica April 24, 2017 at 2:26 pm #

    I found my first 3 years of teaching that I spent hours and I mean hours each week/weekend doing school work. Why… I’d moved 1500 miles away from every single person I knew. I had time to “kill”, after I moved back to my home state, had a baby, and took 2 years off of full time teaching I realized what I had been doing. I’m very glad for that 2 year break from full time teaching subbing and working crappy part time jobs trying to pay my bills certainly put my extra school time in perspective when I went back to full time teaching. I stay 2 nights a week and most of the time I’m out the door in 30 minutes. Just last Thursday I had track kids come in at 3:50 after track pictures to work on missing work. I’m an art teacher at a middle school, I cut them off after 20 minutes and walked out the door of the school the latest I’d left all school year. I still felt very prepaid for the next day but felt bad because I didn’t get to spend as much time with my kid. I stopped taking school work home last year and I’m loving it!

    • Mary Kanaley April 29, 2017 at 5:11 pm #

      Jessica, please tell me how you prepare all the materials, clean up ( kids do it, but they are middle school and some cleaning needs to be tweaked) grade, hang displays, call parents, make modified lessons for ELL and IEPs.. I’m in a hour before school, and stay 3+ after school, I often stay in at lunch, and am burning out.

  33. Susan April 24, 2017 at 11:06 pm #

    Night owls are not morning people and we do a lot of productive once everyone else leaves. I cannot go in early and get anything done.

  34. Mark April 26, 2017 at 2:43 am #

    I totally agree. Two years ago, after 1 too many negative book scrutinies and 1 too many late nights marking books and 15 hour days. I was defeated. Ready to give up. The next day I made a resolve… work stays at work. I literally just stopped cold-turkey. No adjustment time. If it didn’t get done between 7:30am and 6:00pm. It simply didn’t get done.

    In a very short space of time, I learned to prioritise the tasks I had to complete and I have not worked at home since, or worked late or worked my weekends. My marking hasn’t suffered, nor has my planning, assessment or any other day to day duties. It has to be done by 6pm. End of.

    I leave everyday knowing I’ve done a good job, with no books in my arms and a smile on my face.

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