July 30, 2019

Surviving Teaching a New Grade & a New Subject with 3 Little Ones Under Three

Juggling being a mom and a teacher is hard, and even harder when you are teaching a new grade and a new subject with 6 month old twins and a 2 year old. Here's what I learned, separated into home life and school life, for all you other teacher mamas out there.
I don't know what I was thinking when I agreed to teach a new grade and a new subject with 6 month old twins and a 2 year old. Was I insane? Did I think I was some kind of superhuman?

After being out of the classroom for the past four years as an intervention teacher and a literacy specialist, I do know that I was eager to get back into the classroom. While I would be teaching mathematics in addition to English, I also thought teaching 6th grade math couldn't be that hard. And it wasn't that the grade level or the content was difficult, but juggling being a mom and a teacher is hard. So I guess I do know what I was thinking, and even why I thought that; I'd always been able to do it all in the past, why wouldn't I be able to now? 

And I made it through the year. I made it through the countless sick days for my girls, twin A's bottle strike, pumping in my closet while my class was in my classroom, parent complaints about my pumping (don't even get me started on that topic), figuring out two new curriculums, mentoring two new teachers, and I could go on. It wasn't always pretty and I was always pretty tired, but I made it.

And just in case you have decided to take on a similar challenge this school year, here's what I learned, separated into home life and school life for your convenience.

Home Life
1. Have your meals planned out. I wrote about my healthy eating tips for busy teachers in the past and I continue to swear by all nine of the tips. What I'd add on to tip #6 is to specifically acquire some go-to crockpot and sheet pan recipes. I don't love cooking with my crockpot, but it is good for cooking chicken to be shredded for a variety of wrap, tacos, or taquitos. Sheet pan recipes usually include a meat, veggie, and potato combination to round out a full meal. 

2. Hire a cleaning lady. Not having to clean the house was one of my saving graces this year. You may be thinking that cleaning doesn't take up that much of your time, but that time can be better spent with your children during their waking hours and on school or relaxing during their sleeping hours.

3. Have a routine for other chores. For example, I do laundry twice a week. Once on the weekend to make sure all of my girls' daycare items are ready to go for Monday and once midweek so that I'm not doing laundry all weekend.

4. Plan your outfits in advance. You won't see me posting my outfit on the day on Instagram, but putting together a week or two worth of outfits means that is one less thing I have to stress over in the morning. I'm never looking for something that is still in the laundry pile and when someone spits up or spills milk and cereal all over outfit one, I can do a quick change into outfit two.

School Life
5. Maximize your time at school. This one was tough for me. I couldn't get to school early or stay late because I had to wait for my babysitter to arrive and then take my oldest daughter to daycare in the morning and then pick her up from daycare and relieve my babysitter in the afternoon. Later in the school year, I did stay after school for about an hour once a week one night a week when my parents came to help out.

I often used lunch with my two team members to discuss ideas and planning, and then used my prep period to get work done. I tried to focus on one thing a prep period. For example, one day might be running errands around the school: checking my mailbox, turning in money for an upcoming field trip, picking up supplies from our supply room, etc., another day might be working through  grading a stack of assignments, and another day might be just entering grades into my grade book.

6. Make your copies in batches. This of course requires some advance planning, but since mornings and afternoons were tight for me, I always wanted to make sure I had the copies I needed for the next day. I tried to print and copy at least a week's worth of materials at a time. If I had to make last minute copies, I had a co-worker who got in early that I could email and ask to make copies for me. I also tried to avoid making a lot of copies by utilizing our textbooks and my students' composition books, looseleaf, post-its, index cards, etc. Not everything has to be done on a worksheet. 

7. You don't have to grade everything, but make it easy for yourself to grade the things you do. I use the check, check plus, check minus system for the completion of most classwork and homework. For projects and writing assignments, I use rubrics and checklists. I try to use activities that don't require grading like stations, discussions, breakouts, games, and working with whiteboards. I also only grade the final step or draft of a longer assignments (i.e. I don't give a grade to the brainstorm for an essay).

8. Don't recreate the wheel or put too much pressure on yourself to be a perfect teacher.  Use your teammate's lesson even if it isn't exactly how you would have done it. Use that handout even if you aren't crazy about the font or question #7. Those aren't the things that will change your students' learning experience.

9. Be strategic about the work you take home versus what you do at school. Because I couldn't come in early or stay late, and was often exhausted by the time I got to my prep period at the end of the day, I usually had some work I needed to bring home with me. I admire teachers that are in a place where they don't bring anything home at all, but for me that just isn't realistic. I do think strategically about what I do at school versus what I bring home though. I have a no computer rule during my daughters' waking hours, so I often brought home quizzes or tests to grade or writing assignments to give feedback on because those are things I could do while sitting next to my oldest while she colored and we talked about her day.

10. Have backup childcare and sub plans ready for those unexpected sick days. It may even be wise to have a backup to your backup. My oldest was in daycare, so I didn't have to worry about that being unavailable, but my twins' sitter came to our house with her son and if either one of them was sick, I was scrambling for someone to watch them. When we couldn't find someone, my husband and I took turns taking off, but as a teacher taking off is more work than going into school. Have a few sets of lessons for a substitute to use no matter what time of year it is so you aren't stressed about school on top of the stress of an illness in your home.

Again, this might be hard, this might be really hard, but you'll make it through. It may not be your best year of teaching, but that just means next year will be better.

Juggling being a mom and a teacher is hard, and even harder when you are teaching a new grade and a new subject with 6 month old twins and a 2 year old. Here's what I learned, separated into home life and school life, for all you other teacher mamas out there.

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