Friday, November 23, 2007

Teacher Stress Relief: Outsourcing Your Life

In the final part of our three-part series applying the lessons from The 4-Hour Workweek to teachers, I wanted to share Ferriss' intriguing ideas about outsourcing your life. In the book, Ferriss discusses outsourcing your time-consuming tasks to a personal assistant in India (which is easier and cheaper than you might think).

Obviously this arrangement can't work for teaching, grading, or attending mandatory meetings. However, this idea reminded me that I wasn't outsourcing enough work to my students, a common stress reducing tip for teachers. After reading the book last summer, I made outsourcing a top priority this year.

I used to believe I had to personally check each individual answer on every assignment and return it to students promptly in order to assure student success. Consistent, constructive feedback is absolutely important, but what I was doing was just madness. Often I was doing more work grading than many students had done to complete the assignments in the first place!

First, I do less grading. I still grade tests, quizzes and projects (although the structure of those have changed as well) because these are the real assessments that tell me if they have mastered specific objectives. As far as daily work, homework, extra credit or "Do Now" grades, we review and correct most of that work in class. Thus when I check the work, almost always during independent practice in class, I'm looking primarily for completion--there's no excuse for anything to be missing or incorrect because we went over everything together in class.

"What if they're just copying or cheating?" This is a valid concern, addressed primarily through constant checks for understanding, active monitoring throughout the class period, and (most importantly) instilling a strong sense of responsibility in your students. If, despite your efforts students they are still trying to manipulate the system, they will inevitably fail the assessments because they don't know the material, and their grade is weighted 70% towards the tests, quizzes and projects. This doesn't mean you don't care about, teach, or reteach your students, nor that you are lazy or doing any less work. Your hard work will be more productive because you can spend more time analyzing data and designing the most effective lessons possible.

Next, you should also involve your kids in organizing, cleaning and other daily procedures and repetitive tasks in your classroom. It is part of the collective knowledge base of teachers that students young and old love to be given important jobs, whether they want to feel needed and respected or they just enjoy helping the teacher. Have students in charge of distributing and collecting materials, updating bulletin boards, cleaning up, and yes, even as graders on the occasional quiz. Just make sure to follow the book's Golden Rules for delegating work:
Golden Rule #1: Each delegated task mus tbe both time-consuming and well-defined. If you're running around like a chicken with its head cut off and assign your [helper] to do that for you, it doesn't improve the order of the universe.
Golden Rule #2: On a lighter note, have some fun with it... Being effective doesn't mean being serious all the time. It's fun being in control for a change. Get a bit of repression off your chest so it doesn't turn into a complex later.
For the teacher, having fun with it could mean having a student bring funny notes to other teachers to try to make them bust out laughing in the middle of their class. You get the idea.

I have cut my work outside of school by about 90%. I don't spend entire weeknights or weekends grading any more; I take work home maybe once every two weeks. The rest is done at school because I am more productive while I'm there (see my other articles on stress relief).

I cannot recommend this book enough. Get it at The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.

This is the final part of a three-part series about teacher stress relief based on ideas from The 4-Hour Workweek.