realizations, teaching, time management

So you say you’re a practicum student…

How I Survived the Practicum Semester

(Hint: I often thought I wouldn’t)

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Just doing homework at a resort, nbd. Because y’all, #priorities

 

Teaching is tiring, student teaching is tiring, and practicum is tiring—but practicum is tiring in an especially vindictive way.  During practicum, you’re doing coursework AND you’re in the schools.  Anyone who has spent time with children EVER will tell you that being around them and caring for them and teaching them and tying them—eh, their shoes—is exhausting.  And when you go from being around adults who know how to manage their bodily functions and emotions all day (mostly) to being around children who are very dependent on you for a large part of the day, it feels like getting hit by a Mack truck.  And after you’ve been hit by that Mack truck and leave at 3 pm, you have to go to the library at 6 o’clock at night to complete assignments for the next day.  Somewhere in there, you are also probably working because hi, practicum and student teaching are unpaid.  Practicum is also the worst because you’re only there part of the time (at least in my program—I went all day Monday and half-day Wednesday) so having a management structure is tricky, and sometimes the kids view you more as a fun adult who does cool lessons than someone who is actually there to teach them, just like the teacher.

ALL THAT BEING SAID: I survived.  In fact, after one lesson post-conference with my professor during that semester, I even cried as I said, “I just love my students so much.”  He smiled and said he could tell.  So this is what I did to make it more manageable:

 

  • FRONTLOAD THE ISH OUT OF YOUR HOMEWORK.

I got really good—and I mean, really, really good—at taking care of homework like clockwork.  Monotonous or routine assignments?  Easy.  Find a set time of the day and/or week to do them.  Knock out a bunch at once.  You can start with something small to get your productivity juices flowing, or you can start by taking a bite out of the elephant and working at the impossible seeming task first.  Either way, make a list of all of your assignments for the week.  Plot when you are going to do them each day, and work ahead.  I had Tues/Thurs/Wed/Fri classes during practicum, with the heaviest workload for my Tues/Thur classes.  I would stay at least a week ahead at a time with the reading.  It meant I was in the library from about 6:00-11:00 pm every night, because hi, I had to work and pay rent too.  But make a list, get ahead, and stay ahead.  Especially with the monotonous/repeating assignments.  Turning those assignments into things you do automatically will free up your brain space for things that take more energy and creativity, like lesson planning and implementation.

 

  • GO THE HECK TO SLEEP.

I mean it.  Practicum is busy and exhausting.  There is always a lot to do.  But please please please, go to sleep.  You will be stressed every day, but you will be able to handle your sleep if you are well-rested.  Sleep hygiene is the #1 factor in my mental and emotional health.  For some people it might be exercising (I can survive without exercise but I CANNOT survive without sleep) or yoga, but just find what makes the biggest difference in your mental and physical health and safeguard that.  During practicum I was careful to go to bed around midnight each night and get up at 7 on days I had college classes, and about 6 on days I was at the elementary school.  And yes, there were nights where I was so anxious that I would lay in bed for hours feeling my chest tighten at the thought of going to the classroom to the next day.  But sleep helps.  So get it, girl.

 

  • FIND YOUR STUDY BUDDIES; LOVE ‘EM HARD.

My cohort was pretty small and rather tight-knit.  The university I graduated from was small, and the school of education within that university even smaller, so by the time I was in practicum I had been in other classes with pretty much all the members of my cohort.  Within my cohort, though, I had two friends who I just happened to get closer to.  We would do homework together somewhat often (I am a social butterfly and teachers love to swap stories, good and bad alike, so sometimes working alone was better for me).  We always had a running group chat of whatever we needed to be working on for our assignments.  I knew I could count on them, and that made all the difference in the world.  That being said, **an important caveat**: don’t compare.  There will be days where you love your kids and think teaching is the most magical thing ever, and then there will be days where you want to stop and, projected graduate date be darned, switch your major.  Sometimes on your worst days, your classmate is having a great day and sends something cute their kids did.  Just don’t compare your worst day to someone else’s best, and all will be well.

 

  • SAFEGUARD SATURDAYS AS IF THEY ARE SACRED.

 

So after a week of frontloading all your assignments, working, going to practicum, and trying to stay sane, you’ve got two days on the weekend.  My Sabbath observance meant that I was mostly going to church, spending time with family, and doing peaceful, rejuvenating things on Sundays, so I didn’t want to spend time running errands or doing recreational things.  But I also didn’t want to waste my precious Saturdays running errands or doing laundry!  Yuck.  That meant that I had to get errands done during the week (add it to the list of assignments to frontload) so that I could have fun on Saturdays.  And WHOA, what a difference that made.  My Foundations of Ed professor would always give us the same homework assignment on Fridays: whatever reading was on the syllabus, and to go DO SOMETHING FUN.  “Teachers are terrible at taking care of themselves,” she’d say, “because there is always more to do.  But if you don’t take care of yourselves, you will burn out.”  So I worked hard during the week, I played hard on Saturday*, and I rested my body and my spirit on Sunday.  Taking Saturday to play and Sunday to rest was what allowed me to keep going.  Having a clear head come Monday enabled me to enjoy seeing my kids again.  It also allowed me to think in more creative ways about what I was teaching.

 

*I found it especially helpful if my Saturday play involved being outside.  I was inside under fluorescent lights all week.  Real vitamin D was needed.  During the week, if I was especially stressed, I would just go for a walk after class.  I’d take a long walk off-campus, away from the university, and I’d leave my phone at home (obvi this was daytime in a very safe location—you could also bring your phone but turn off notifications during your Thoreau time).  Get out in nature.  Feel that peace.  Move your body.  You’ll return to your work happier because of it.

 

  • FIND OUT WHAT WORKS FOR ***YOU***

I can say all of these things now because I was very deliberate about figuring out my stress management and work habit strategies.  One of the best pieces of advice I got was from a practicum student when I was like halfway through the education program.  She said to take the time to figure out your strategies for handling stress.  Take the time to get to know yourself.  Know what stresses you out or upsets you, and make plans for how you handle that.  Those are things you can turn to, almost robotically, when things get tough.  Like I said, one of my strategies was taking a walk.  I would even do that on the campus after a school day!  I realized that once kids left the room, my mentor teacher could go right into planning, but I was SO TIRED.  I just told her that I thought I needed about five minutes between kids leaving and us resuming our work, just to decompress.  I’d take a walk, go to the bathroom (don’t even get me started on teacher bladder), see the sunshine, and then I’d return and do the million and one things teachers do behind the scenes.  That worked for me.  Find out what works for you.  It’ll come in handy when you are on your own as well.

 

This is all to say…

 

Perhaps you’ve been doing all these things.  You are very bright, and you are very proactive, and you are not at all new at handling the whole “whoa, life and college are stressful” thing.  But if you’re feeling overwhelmed, give a few of these things a try.  You are going to be fine.  Promise.  You will make it.  This is a very short period of your life.  It is intense and it is exhausting, no doubt.  But you will make it.  Truth be told: student teaching was a lot easier for me than practicum.  I felt like my energies were more focused because I didn’t have coursework + lesson plans—all of my energy was just focused on the classroom (that last part isn’t entirely true—I had to complete my analysis of teaching practice, and a bunch of reflections, and put together a portfolio, and present these things…but those are small fries compared to the hefty and hearty work that is teaching little humans).  YOU WILL MAKE IT.

 

And teaching is worth it.  I have never loved doing anything as much as I love teaching.  So hang in there, dude.  You’ve got this.

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time management

5 Ways to Be Happy and (somewhat) Calm In a Busy Season of Life

Some of my friends are getting married, and some of my friends are starting grad school, and some of my friends are having babies, and some of my friends are starting grad school WITH babies.  Amidst all this, sometimes I wonder, “What am I doing?”

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The answer, of course, is that I’m student teaching. AND I LOVE IT.  It’s really the best thing I’ve ever done.  I miss my students over the weekend.  I miss them when they’re absent.  Sometimes (depending on how the block went), I even miss them during recess.  I love planning how I’ll teach them and how I’ll make everything sound like the most exciting thing ever.  No joke–the other day we used colored pencils instead of crayons, and the class literally clapped their hands and yelled “yay!!!”  It was the most precious thing.

But this season of life is a busy one.  From the moment I got home a year ago and started school at BYU-Hawaii (18 credits, working, and commuting an hour each way every day) until now (full-time student teaching), there hasn’t been much of a break.  (Aside from winter semester, which was a tender mercy in SO many ways).  The past few semesters have taught me a lot about curating a happy, organized, and calm life.  I’d like to say that  I’ve learned how to adult, but 1) I’m not sure I can say that yet, and 2) I’m not sure if the things I’ve learned are adult skills or just like, life skills I maybe could have picked up if I’d like read “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens” or something…Anyway, I’m documenting them here to distill what I’ve learned, and perhaps to offer some inspiration to any who may need it.

So here goes:

Haley’s Top 5 Ways to Be Happy and (somewhat) Calm

In a Busy Season of Life

  1. Meal prep.  This is #1 because I love food, and I am the worst hangry person. Coming home from a long day and not wanting to cook or not knowing what to eat can be so frustrating, and then it gets way too tempting to reach for the $.69 frozen Totino’s party pizza…or cheetos.  Those vending machines in my dorm were rough on the bod.

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To combat this I normally spent a couple of hours on either Saturday or Sunday getting meals prepped for the week.  I typically roast and store two types of vegetables, cut up and store 2-3 types of fresh vegetables, pack fruits in individual containers, and make a few entrees for the week.  I like to do wraps as little pinwheels for lunch with veggies and hummus or this ranch, and I’ll make things like turkey meatballs (which I make in bulk and freeze) or roasted chicken or tilapia to go with the roasted veggies.  I like to do 2-3 different types of entrees because, let’s be real, those meal prep pictures on Pinterest with rows of the same food look really appealing and organized, but eating the same meal for five days straight is too much for me!  I have to mix it up.

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(Disclaimer: this is a bit of an extreme photo–this was food for a whole DAY when I was off dairy/grains/processed foods.  But you get the point 🙂 )

Meal prepping makes life easy because all I have to do to pack my lunch is grab a meal container (I alternate bringing hot food and fresh food to work), grab a greek yogurt (breakfast on the go is my friend), grab a container of fruit and boom!  That’s it.  In fact, I normally pack my lunch for the next day as soon I get home.  I empty my lunch bag, put the containers in the sink to wash, and then load up on what I’ll eat tomorrow.  My lunchbag is flexible and lightweight, so I just tuck it into a corner of my fridge.

This brings me to number two…

2. Prep the day before!

I’m a last-minute person who is trying to change that about herself.  I really like to just do things when they need to be done.  As I was once told, “It only takes a minute if you leave it to the last minute.” 😉  But I had a classmate who really inspired me to work ahead and be proactive.  When we would tell her how impressed we were with how far ahead she was, she’d just say, “I have to be on top of things or I get super anxious.”  I thought about what she said and realized that my own anxiety can be triggered by not feeling prepared.  So these are the things I do the day before in order to have a successful, and prompt, morning:

  • Pack my lunch
  • Choose my outfit
  • Shower

I never used to be a shower-at-night person, unless I felt really gross from the day.  I always thought that showering in the morning helped me feel more alert and ready for the day…but when I started student teaching and had to leave my house at 6:50 AM on the first day of school, I realized that showering in the morning was a thing of the past.  It’s worth staying up fifteen extra minutes when I’m tired, because it’s way easier to stay awake longer than it is to wake up earlier.

Speaking of sleep…

3. GET ENOUGH REST.  

I can’t say this one enough.  If there is one thing I would go back and tell my high school self, it would be to sleep.  When I got to college and suddenly had more time on my hands (funny how that worked), I realized that being well-rested is VITAL to my emotional, mental, and physical well-being.  I had more time on my hands my first year of college, but as my schedule has intensified, I’ve learned how to prioritize my sleep.  My roommates used laugh a little at me when I’d say good night to them at 9:30 like the grandma that I am…but it makes a huge difference.  I go to bed even earlier now (when I can) since my mornings are even earlier.

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If I know I’m going to be tempted by group chats blowing up and Snapchats coming in and Messenger chiming, I just put my phone in airplane mode.  Then I don’t check things in the middle of the night and forget to respond, or spend time in the morning laying in bed getting caught up when I should be getting ready.  I can take my phone off airplane mode when I’m on my way to school so I can call my mom, and I can check all those other notifications later.

4.  Plan around your priorities, not your to-do list.

I used to plan my week around to-do lists.  I’d get things done, but in the end I wasn’t any closer to reaching long-term goals.  Those goals–like being a better daughter, sister, or friend; or exercising; or applying for that research grant–were the things that were nice to do if I had time, but weren’t totally vital to my daily survival, so they normally got pushed to the back burner.  In Stephen Covey terms, they were important but not urgent.

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(Source)

The real way to win is to plan your life, and therefore your weeks and days, around your priorities.  This is what Covey refers to as putting first things first, and that’s changed my life.  You HAVE to go read about it here.  Seriously.  It’s the best.

Thinking about things in terms of urgency and importance really changed my perspective.  Now when I plan my week (and yes, a wise man once told me that people who get things done plan their days, so I’ve done that for years) I start by making sure that I am addressing all of my most important priorities first.  Then I fill in the rest of the time, still making sure I accomplish all that I need to, in order of importance.  The time management matrix also helps you to weed out things that aren’t urgent and aren’t important, so are really just time-wasters. Planning my time in this way has helped me to be much more thoughtful and meaningful about my time and my choices.

5.  Get out and have fun!

I know that my life sounds very structured and planned–and it is.  But that doesn’t mean that it’s boring or that I don’t let myself have any fun!  In fact, because I know that I can get hyper-focused and a little myopic, I make sure that I plan things that force me to get out of the house, stop planning lessons, and socialize with people above the age of 7.  A lot of times my introvert tendencies will start to hold me back, but I make myself have fun the way some people make themselves exercise: I do it because I know it’s good for me, and I’ll be better for it in the long run.  (Now if only I could convince myself to do that with exercise too…)

Having fun is very, very important in a busy season of life.  And guess what? Having fun IS productive.  Recreation done right leads to rejuvenation, and I wrote extensively about that here.

This doesn’t have to be a weekend at the spa.  Just a quick daytime nap on the weekend can feel like such a treat!  Or meeting a friend at the gym or for dinner turns a routine thing into something where you get to catch up and spend quality time together.  Find ways to have fun and recharge, and you’ll do better in every area of your life.

Now, work when you have to work, yes.  But if you’re prepping and planning ahead, getting enough sleep, and focusing on your priorities, you’ll have time to relax too.  Promise.  🙂

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Possible upcoming topics:

  1. How to work ahead of the syllabus without losing your mind
  2. Simple meal prep routines
  3. Nail salon hacks?
  4. Outfits that are functional, professional, and CHEAP for student teachers (or other interns)