Teaching is a challenge, no matter how ho-hum the lesson or cooperative the students; there is never a day when something unexpected doesn’t happen. I’ve found teachers to be some of the most flexible people out there, simply because they don’t know on a daily basis whether an administrator is going to spring a meeting on them, a parent is going to call and complain, or a lesson is going to fall apart after one student’s well-crafted question.

That said, when things go right and the students are engaged, there’s no more exhilarating feeling. Over the last five years as a high school and middle school language arts teacher, I’ve found that there are a few things I can expect each day.

Email, Email, Email
I usually start my morning by taking care of various parent, administrator, and student emails: I may have a parent asking for an update on her student’s grades, my principal wanting to schedule a meeting about my professional goals, or a student email about how he couldn’t possibly complete his homework the night before because of a basketball game.

Though staying on top of emails is not the most exciting part of the job, it is necessary. Parents, in particular, appreciate getting emails from their child’s teacher and being able to get in touch when they have a question, so I make an effort to answer those queries first– even if the parent is less than happy with how I conduct my class.

Planning the Day’s Material
It seems obvious, but can be more difficult than it first appears: somewhere during the morning, I have to find time to review (or plan!) what I’m teaching that day. When I’m teaching a book, I make sure I’ve looked up various interpretations of that day’s section so that I’m ready to respond to students. There’s little more terrifying than having a student raise her hand and pose a question that I have absolutely no idea how to answer.

I have a collection of sites I use to review text, some very academic, and some not so academic: I’ll use the Education Resources Information Center, for instance, which has high level analytical articles. However, I’ll also check SparkNotes or Schmoop for the layman’s interpretation of a text to see how it matches up with my understanding. If I’m teaching writing, I always look at the particular state standards for the type of writing we’re using (persuasive, expository, narrative…) so I can have those standards in mind as I lead students. If a student does stump me, I’m not afraid to look things up in the middle of class. It’s a good way to show students that I’m learning, too.

Actually Teaching!
The prep, the emails, and the material review can occasionally stretch out, but class periods always end in a flash. I vary the teaching strategies I use each day so that students stay engaged: I may give a short lecture, put students in research groups, or have them work independently before discussing a topic. A teacher blogging for the NY Times said it well when she wrote that students’ abilities in any given class “run the gamut of those who struggle with English as a second language to those who should have enrolled in the Advanced Placement class.” I have to be ready to keep all students moving forward.

Grading and Extra Duty
Especially for a language arts teacher, grading is a constant. Sometimes I manage to edit a few papers while students are working in class, but more often I squeeze grading in during my prep period or have to take a stack of essays home. It’s not necessarily a bad thing– after all, I enjoy working with writing– but focusing on one or two editing points per essay helps me maintain my sanity. Creating a rubric tailored to the assignment’s writing goals helps.

Finally, my day always involves some kind of extra duty, whether it’s hall patrol, hosting an after-school activity, or attending a staff meeting. Even though those responsibilities do take precious time away from lesson planning or grading, it’s nice to have time out of the classroom to connect with colleagues or clear my head a little bit.

And after I’ve made it through a day of six classes, a staff meeting and parent emails, and coaching the soccer team, I’m definitely ready to sleep well!