lesson preparation

Reducing the stress of last minute preparations

Don’t you hate that feeling when you have a deadline and something goes wrong at the last minute, threatening your ability to meet the deadline? It’s a universal experience, isn’t it, to at least once in one’s lifetime, be in a position of frantically preparing for an event last minute?

A teacher has multiple deadlines each day: every time a class is supposed to begin.  Those deadlines involve having copies ready, resources prepared, labs set up, digital resources accessible for students, a lesson plan worked out with formative assessments built in, project supplies on hand, or summative assessments printed out. Oh, and of course, we need to be there smiling and ready to greet the students when they walk through the door. Other deadlines include meetings (agendas prepared ahead of time) and student clubs (agendas or resources prepared). Often teachers are scrambling to have everything ready for each class in a timely manner.  Frequently there are exclamation such as “The printer isn’t working and I need 10 copies now!” or “Oh no, I forgot I was going to give a quiz this morning first block and I need to get that ready” or “I can’t get the supplies gathered in time!”

Personally, it is my goal to eliminate the last minute panic.  Not to say it never penetrates my day, however, there are some built in practices that minimize my experiencing this kind of daily stress.

  • Awareness and Planning: Each afternoon it’s worth my time, no matter how late, to spend a few minutes looking ahead at the next two days.  Sometimes 15 minutes, sometimes an hour. When other obligations summon me, then this practice takes place later in the evening at home. Thus, when advanced preparation for a lesson is required it can be built in to the following days.
  • Reviewing and Recording Formative Assessment: Of course reviewing formative assessment provides a clear picture of where my next lesson(s) will begin and how it will proceed.
  • Reflecting on the day’s lessons and updating my web site: This enables me to fully process the progress each class made on a given day and provides additional clarity of where I will begin and proceed with the next lesson. The web site also keeps students fully abreast of the on goings of the class, providing more student awareness and mental organization on their part for subsequent lessons.
  • Staying late or arriving early to prep for a lesson: This is especially crucial for a science teacher due to experimental set-up and hands-on activities that simply require advanced preparation to run smoothly. It does mean facing empty hallways at the school when all your colleagues have cleared the building. For example, my 8th grade class recently completed an involved chemistry lab. To ensure smooth running of the lab, solutions were prepared the night before and all the individual lab stations were prepared at 7:30 am, an hour before students arrived in my classroom. Yes, it requires carefully reading the lab and making sure each lab team has the proper number of test tubes, stirrers, spatulas, beakers, and other supplies.  It takes time.  It takes patience. 
  • Taking some time evening and weekends: It’s not necessary to spend hours and hours during “off “ times (this mistake I’ve made before but no longer!), however some time to do additional research on topics, revise a project, rethink an activity, streamline a lesson, or add additional formative assessment reap huge organizational and stress relieving rewards as lessons will run smoother.

This is not to say I have mastered these techniques. There are times when it just can’t be faced and then I’m left with the last minute preparation and associated stress. However, overall, generally speaking, these practices are incorporated into my routine.  The results definitely include a smoothly running classroom, no classroom management issues, higher student engagement (as there is no downtime while I’m trying to figure things out whether it’s a technical issue or finding supplies for a lab), more student awareness (I know what’s going on so it’s easier to communicate it to them), peace of mind, and a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom even during intense and demanding activities.