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Buried Alive: A Cautionary Tale About Piles of Work

I'm not one of those teachers who looks for reasons to stay home.

As a matter of fact, I'm the opposite.

I go to school sick, in pain and often sleep deprived because the time I spend with students is precious and there is never enough of it to go around.

Usually, even when I'm home, work doesn't pile up because a day "off" is a day to read student blogs, catch up on giving feedback, make myself available via email and text during class hours.

I don't do "off" very well.

Unfortunately, sometimes we can't be available and when we don't clear the emails or the shared work, they build up like dirty dishes in a sink in desperate need of attention.

But students are more important than dishes and feedback not given can result in dire consequences. This is the exact reason why teachers can't be the only source of feedback in a classroom. Students must be empowered to help each other and themselves.

Here are some ways to help ease back into the classroom without the burden of piles of student work:

  • Ask yourself, "Why do I feel a need to control everything in our learning space? What is holding me back from allowing students to take responsibility for their own learning?" Often, we get in our own way, refusing to relinquish control in fear of it not being done correctly or the sky falling or any other catastrophe that ends because we didn't do it. Seems silly when you hear it like that, but really, what would happen if you let kids be empowered?

  • Ask yourself, "Which of these assignments can be turned into a class workshop experience?" 95% of the time, feedback can be given in class and students can help. Being out of school is a great opportunity to teach students to learn this important skill. For example, today when I returned to my 9th grade journalism class, rather than independently reading all of their first drafts, I had the opportunity to let those students who hadn't finished work on them and the rest of the class was split into groups to give feedback on specific elements of news writing we discussed.

  • Ask yourself, "How can I empower students to take control of this assignment?" Can you meet with them in class as they work on their own revisions?

  • Ask yourself, "Can I teach a lesson on how to make specific revisions before they resubmit?"

  • Ask yourself, "How can I get students to reflect on their learning and couple that with what has already been done?"

  • Ask yourself, "Does this work need to be graded at all, or can an alternative assignment be provided that shows what students know and compliments the first one which was practice?"

  • Can you try using an app like Voxer to give voice feedback instead of written feedback when one on one conferences can't be done in person?

We need to be working smarter as teachers. Putting students in charge of their own learning, allows them to do the heavy lifting, leaving us free to facilitate help as needed which is a more effective use of our time.

Let's face it, life happens and we won't be able to stay on top of everything, all the time. But if we give students the skills to move forward on their own we solve many challenges at once and who isn't for solving problems?

How do you handle your backlog when life complicates your plans? Please share.

This post was originally posted on my Education Week Teacher blog in October 2014

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