For 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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