What would you say is the hardest part of teaching? For me, it is lesson planning. It takes me on average six hours a week to plan instruction for the nine science units I teach each year.
It's not just the writing of the plans that is laborious; it's the intellectual contemplation that goes into it. I must figure out ways to make my instruction clear and engaging. I have to be skilled at knowing when to skip portions of the curriculum and supplement other parts on my own. I must also differentiate the content, pedagogy, and assessments based on student learning needs.
The lesson plans at my school are officially due on Thursday for the following week. But who has an extra six hours lying around in the middle of the week to write them? When I leave school, I begin my other full-time job as wife and mother. I also need a little leisure time alone—and that doesn't include sleep! My official workday ends at 4:15, but I stay an hour or two after work everyday to clean up the science lab, put posters on the wall, or grade papers.
Needless to say, I am always turning in my lesson plans late. I either get up at 5 am on Saturday to write my lesson plans until around 11 a.m., or I sleep in on Saturday and fly home after church on Sunday to work from about 2 to 8 p.m. When I've been really rebellious, I'm up at 4 am on Monday trying to finish up. Neither option makes me happy.
Lesson planning for me has to be done in the right state of mind. I need solace. I need to zone out on all other responsibilities. I can't write them on my prep in between classes. I can't write them on my lunch break. If I do, I'm distracted by all the worries of the day, writing them more for my boss than for me, making my lesson plans virtually useless.
I write the best lesson plans when I am in my bed, with my bedroom door closed, and my computer on my lap and papers scattered around me. My husband's job is to keep the kids fed, happy, and safe until I am done.
This may sound over the top, but lesson planning is almost a spiritual ritual for me. I have to imagine myself standing in front of my students, foreshadowing the responses students will give me. I need to know that I have all my supplies that I need to do each lab. If the batteries in the flashlight, for example, are not charged, then my whole lab could fall apart. So I have the added responsibility of searching through the cabinets and containers in the science lab each morning to make sure everything I need is there. I am blessed to have an assistant this year who helps me do this!
I look forward to the day when I've taught all the new science units at least once and the lesson plans are already written. I wrote meticulous lesson plans for three units last year, but then my administration gave us an official lesson planning template this year. Converting last year's plans into this year's template takes longer to do than just writing them again from scratch. So I re-write those plans, as well as write the plans for other units with the hope that next year the template will remain the same.
As hard as lesson planning is for me, I wouldn't want to teach without them. They make the actual act of teaching so fun and easy. The plans take the pressure off of me when I am standing in front of the classroom. I know what my students' learning objectives are, and I know exactly what to do to get them there. If I go off on a tangent, which I sometimes do, my plans gently guide me right back on track. And if I need to take a major detour, I give myself permission to do that.
I would say that lesson planning is a major contributor to my constant sense of burnout. I honestly don't know how long I can continue to teach because it seems that the workload only gets heavier—not lighter—with each passing year. But I also realize there are no shortcuts for being ready.
That's why I have this love-hate relationship with lesson planning. I loathe doing it because it takes so much of my personal time and requires such a high level of intellectual rigor and forethought.
But I love to have done it because good plans help students learn. Plus it allows me to shine as a well-prepared, rock star science teacher. Well, at least in theory.