There I was sitting in my classroom at 6pm recovering from the whirlwind of my first day of school as a brand new teacher. I was tired, overwhelmed, and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I especially had no idea what I was going to teach the next day. I had spent so much time planning that first lesson that I was left cobbling together something for the next day at 6pm on a school night.
Now the idea of me working at school at 6pm for anything other than graduation or back-to-school night is laughable. I simply don’t work that late anymore. But my first year of teaching? Yeah, I was working until 8pm minimum every weeknight and putting in about 10-15 hours on the weekends. I had no social life. I was more engaged to my computer than to my fiance. And thank God my parents were cooking for me because I probably would’ve gone broke eating out every night otherwise. Rough times.
But looking back, the reason lesson planning and grading sucked away all my time (and my soul) was because I had no idea what I was doing. And what’s more- I was a perfectionist. I was truly dissatisfied with free resources I found online. I made most things from scratch and adapted some resources from my coworkers (who, thank the Lord, are very generous, kind people). And it would take me hours to create each lesson. I was so focused on just surviving to the next day that I couldn’t even fathom a unit plan.
That’s where Dennis came in. He was assigned to me as my BTSA mentor. (If you’re not familiar, in California teachers have to complete a program called BTSA their first two years of teaching to clear their credential. It’s about as fun as it sounds. At least I got Dennis out of the deal.) Dennis was awesome. He sat me down and helped me learn how to see the big picture and plan entire units. It was amazing.
To have content and skills on the calendar every day for a month and a half took the guesswork out of what I would teach the next day. And it gave me a sense of where I was going, and what my students actually needed to learn. And most of all, it helped my students learn better. Because, for once, I had direction.
Creating unit plans is vital to being successful as a teacher. Before I had unit plans, I would just realize one day halfway through October that my students should probably write an essay. But with unit plans, you can break down what skills and content need to be taught and then plug those into a timeline. Students will build on skills throughout the unit instead of at random. And you’ll have the ability to know what’s coming up and get ahead on lesson planning. In my opinion, unit plans are sorely underestimated.
Instead of getting overwhelmed, confused, or frustrated, grab a warm cup of tea, pull out some binder paper, and get ready to work. You work hard short term and it’ll save you in the day to day. After all, teaching is hard enough without the added stresses of the unknown.
So, my friend, stick with me this month as I cover the “hows” of creating effective unit plans. It’s life changing stuff.
See you next week.
P.S. If you’re looking to get more organized or be more productive so that you can finally stop taking work home, check out this free video I made.
P.S.S. Part Two in this series is here.