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I think it was Andy Stanley who said “An unsustainable pace is an unsustainable pace." It doesn’t matter how worthy your cause is, it is called unsustainable because it is “unsustainable". That’s the point. If you are teaching at an unsustainable pace you will eventually burn out so you must find ways to slow down.
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Too many teachers go in early, leave late, and take work home with them. They feel overworked and increasingly overwhelmed. More is handed to them with less incentive for performance. Unfortunately, many quality people are leaving education because it just seems like too much.
On the other side of that same coin are the teachers who just don’t care. They want a check and they do as little as possible to get it. These teachers know that the next big thing in education will be moving over next year for the next big thing, and so on, and so forth. So they don’t care. Alarmingly, these teachers are increasing in number.
So what’s the answer for the teacher who wants to do a good job but knows it is impossible to continue doing such high volume, high demanding work? The answer lies in thinking about return on investment, or ROI. Is the payoff worth the effort? If not, don’t do it.
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Getting the Best Return on Investment
As a teacher, if you want to survive and still do a great job you should always be assessing and testing what works the best and what doesn’t work at all. In business, the best marketing strategies are the ones that have a large ROI (return on investment). If you teach a concept and only half the class “gets" it, you are getting a low ROI for your investment of time spent.
The goal from year to year, is to find a method or combination of different methods that allows the most students to learn the concept in the shortest amount of time possible (with the least amount of effort). You will only get to this point if you are constantly assessing whether a method worked or not, as well as if it was worth the effort to produce it.
Think of your class as a mini-production that goes on every day. Educators are the only professionals that are expected to perform every day, all day, and be spot on every time. They must plan and implement their own production each day with little to no resources. Then they must perform for an audience who may or may not want to be there.
So if teachers are to live lives outside of school and not burn out they must do things with laziness in mind. By laziness, I am not referring to doing as little as possible. Rather, I am referring to doing as much as possible while expending the least amount of energy and time as possible.
Assessing What Works
When thinking about ROI in the classroom, you must assess how much planning time it takes for a lesson or to keep a behavior management system in place. You may spend 6 hours on Saturday planning, researching, and setting up a wonderful lesson in which 100% of your students learn the concept. The problem is, it took 6 hours of your time to produce those results.
This thinking model can be applied to behavior strategies as well. For example, how do you deal with students who don’t have supplies? One option is to take time out of class asking if anybody has paper they can borrow, a pencil, etc. You could make a list and call the parents of those students who don’t have supplies and they might start bringing them. You could give them something and collect something of theirs until they return your supplies. You could have a check-in, check-out system. You could continue to spend time and energy on this issue, or…
You could also accept that you can only do what you can do and you will never fix this problem. Buy some cheap golf pencils and paper and give them away. Put up a sign requesting students return them to a bin on the way out the door. Then be done with it. Don’t spend any more time or energy trying to get them back, just relax and know that if the $10 you spent gets you through 3 weeks, it was worth $10.
Next, (and this will upset some of you), I give you permission to start assessing whether your time spent on a project is worth the effort and if not, stop doing it!
In the 6 hour, 100% example above, maybe it could be restructured so that it only takes 30-60 minutes to set up, but… only 85% of the students grasp the concept (instead of 100%). If so, do it this way! The ROI is better. The extra five hours planning specific details, finding video clips, researching examples, etc. is not work the 15% of students it will reach. The time is not worth the payout, the return on investment is too low.
I know a lot of teachers will disagree with this view, but if we’re going to keep quality teachers in this field we must stop requiring unsustainable efforts and results. Too many educators are burning out and asking themselves “Is it all worth it?". Only to eventually leave because of grass is greener syndrome.
It can be worth it, if you work smarter and not harder. Don’t believe you have to burn yourself out to be successful. If you think of ways to save time and energy, you will certainly be more fulfilled at the end of the day and go home feeling excited day in and day out. This will leave you energy to actually invest in those students you want to invest in so that you can make a difference.