Monthly Archives: October 2015

My Quest for the 40-Hour (almost…) Work Week

Have you ever added up the hours of your work week? Give it a try. Don’t forget time spent grading, entering data, meetings, and parent communication. Be sure to count both hours spent working at school and at home. The weekend hours count too.

What did you get? 50 hours? 55? 60?

Recently, Angela Watson has been talking about a “40 Hour Teacher Workweek” on her blog, in her book, and on her podcast. (All highly recommended!) She has inspired me to examine the efficiency of my work hours, and while I don’t think I can reduce my hours to forty, I’d like to make some changes to create more time to spend with my family.

In a nutshell, Watson argues there are four types of teachers:

  • Ineffective teachers who work short hours
  • Ineffective teachers who work long hours
  • Effective teachers who work long hours
  • Effective teachers who work short hours

According to Watson, teachers fitting each category are likely present in your building, and you can probably identify some from each category. These categories prove that time spent at school is not the determining factor for whether or not a teacher is effective.

Reading and listening to Watson encouraged me to reflect on my own time. I consider myself to be an effective educator, and my lessons and activities contribute positively to the growth of students. However, I do not consider myself to be skilled at managing my preparation time. Whether it is before, during, or after school, the way I spend my preparation time is extremely erratic. Sometimes, I’ll be working on next week’s materials before I even have everything ready for the next day. Not a great use of time.

This week I will begin planning for my preparation time. I took a free template created by Watson and re-made it in Google Docs so it will work for me. You can see it below and create a copy for yourself if you wish.


Then, I took my chart and typed in my tasks which recur weekly. Hang up vocab words on the wall? I plugged that one into Tuesday while the students are at special class. Prepare math videos? Monday before school. Make copies? Friday after school. Everything now has its place in the schedule. I can just print a new copy each Monday morning, adjusting if needed.

This schedule allows me to have a goal for each preparation time at school; I already know what needs to be done. This eliminates sitting at the computer wondering and worrying, “There are so many things to do…which should I do next?” Because I’m not asking this question, or even worse, finding ways to waste time, I will be able to complete all my preparation tasks in much less time. At the bottom of my schedule, I will list the rest of the tasks for the week, those which won’t fit nicely into a time block or those which pop up throughout the week. These will be completed once the scheduled tasks are finished.

So can I work a 40 hour week? Probably not. But I’m shooting for 45. Eight and a half hours each workday plus two and a half hours of miscellaneous work from home, usually Saturday morning. I’ll let you all know how it goes!


I Finally Taught Main Idea Well

I’m in my fifteenth year of teaching, and I have done a bad job teaching main idea fourteen times.

The concept of main idea is extremely difficult for teachers to communicate to students. We can make statements like, “The main idea is what the article is mostly about,” but this prompt does not lead students to a main idea. Consider this fictional, but not too fictional, exchange between a teacher and students:

  • Teacher: Okay, let’s read this article about dogs.
  • {They read.}
  • Teacher: What was this article mostly about?
  • Students: Dogs.
  • Teacher: Yes, that’s true, but what’s it MOSTLY about?
  • Students: Dogs!

It’s like we think saying it louder or with more emphasis will turn the light bulb on.


This year, however, I believe I have done a good (or at least better) job teaching main idea. This has been a series of eight lessons. Of course, we will continue to build on this throughout the year. Here is what we did:

Day 1: Nonfiction Text Features – I knew I would be talking a lot about titles, headings, and photographs during this unit about main idea. Students have learned about text features in previous grades, but I wanted to be sure they would be able to use them during the rest of our lessons.

Day 2: How To State a Main Idea – Using tips I found and adding some ideas of my own, I developed formula students could use to determine the main idea: Topic + The Most Important Thing About the Topic + How/Why/And/But (choose one). This last part was my own creation because main ideas in upper elementary become more complicated than the shorter sentences found in primary grades. To practice this, we used short paragraphs I found online. These were definitely not authentic texts, but they were a necessary step.

Days 3-4: Using Headings – I taught the students the importance of headings in these lessons as we used them to help write main idea sentences using our formula. I met with small groups of students struggling with this during our workshop as well.

Day 5: Main Idea of a Longer Passage – This was a Monday, so it was a good opportunity to review main idea and transfer what we had learned toward whole passage. Any nonfiction text works here, but I wish I’d have done this lesson using an article we had already read. I could have made this point more clearly by using a familiar text.

Days 6-7: Supporting Details – These were concrete representations of supporting details. We used a table metaphor, with the legs as supporting details holding up the main idea. We also sorted a set of sentences into one main idea and its supporting details.

Day 8 – Relevant Supporting Detail – This lesson focused on identifying the details that supported the main idea, rather than details that just added extra information. It is important for students to be able to identify these, and it will help their writing later in the year.

If you are struggling with teaching main idea, I hope this helps! If you were a student of mine during the past fourteen years, I’m sorry!