I may have a problem
People are horrified when I tell them how much time I spend each day planning lessons. I now get them to sit in a chair before I do just in case they pass out from shock.
I’m five years into my career, but I still spend about three hours each day planning lessons. At least. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t.
And those aren’t lessons for the whole week either. Just the next day.
If Ofsted handed out medals for hours invested on Microsoft applications, I’d have the Victoria Cross by now.
If that doesn’t make you cringe in disbelief, then let me share something even more embarrassing: I never plan at school. I always do it late at night between the hours of nine and midnight. There, I said it.
Do I recommend you do this? God no. It’s just as exhausting as it sounds and every minute I spend with Microsoft Powerpoint is a minute of opportunity lost elsewhere in my life. I should be spending time with my wife; making memories that I can look back on fondly from my deathbed. Not formatting backgrounds, re-sizing pictures, text boxes and fonts.
In forty years’ time will my adult children huddle around my rocking chair, squeeze my hand and say: ‘Dad, tell us that story again – the one about the time you spent 15 minutes looking online for the perfect gif’?
No. They won’t.
But those children (who won’t exist if I continue to ignore my wife) will be the ones missing out because I’ve created some stonkingly good resources over the years. Really – you should see them. They’d fetch a pretty penny on TES Resources if I ever got round to uploading them.
Which of course I won’t. Because there’s that voice in my head (the one who won’t let me use last year’s lessons) who tells me that next year’s lessons will be even better.
A good investment?
I tell myself it’s time well-spent, that it’s okay to spend so much time planning because this is the year I’ll get the lessons ‘right’; that next year I won’t have to work quite so hard; that these will be the lessons to trump all previous years’ attempts.
But then I load up a lesson I taught a year ago and want to set my laptop on fire.
So I plan it again. Often from scratch.
Part of the problem is that the lessons I spend all this time planning are just better. Having spent a significant amount of time thinking the topic through the night before, I’ll teach it really well because I know the material inside out. I’ll have pictured myself, aged 12, sat at the back of the classroom on a rainy Tuesday afternoon and wondered what I’d have wanted or needed in that lesson.
So when I spend all this time planning, I find my students are more engaged, behave better and learn more. I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time.
Who’s it really for?
But here’s where it gets odd – I’m not just motivated by the intention to create good lessons. Crafting Powerpoint slides late at night has become a bad habit. And like all bad habits, it serves me well in some way. Like an alcoholic who needs a finger of vodka in their morning orange juice just to start the day, I can’t turn the lights out unless my USB stick is choc-a-bloc with lessons I’m proud of. They help me sleep at night.
And I enjoy making them. Really! The magic act of conjuring a lesson out of thin air gives me a sense of joy that offsets the numb feeling I get from lesson delivery, marking, emails and meetings. My lessons are not beautiful or particularly sophisticated, but I made them with my own fingertips. They came from me, and that act of generosity is real and special.
In my first couple of years teaching, my lesson slides were a life preserver; a certainty I could depend on amongst the chaos. In some ways, I suppose they still are. I don’t need them for the exact same reasons as before, but they’re still my way of saying to the world: ‘I can’t be a bad teacher because – well, just look at all my hard work!’
And if I’m being truly honest, after years being told I wasn’t a good teacher, I’m probably still spending all this time lesson planning to convince myself that I actually do measure up after all.
Any sensible teacher reading this will say the amount of time I spend planning is unsustainable. That chalk and talk is perfectly fine, that good is good enough and when it comes to lesson resources I should beg, borrow and steal.
I know they’re right. I’ve heard it all before. But I expect I’ll continue for some time yet.
Anyway, enough of this – I have gifs to find.