Math = Love: Review of Angela Watson's 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Review of Angela Watson's 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club

In August, I took a leap and joined Angela Watson's 40 Hour Teacher Workweek.  This fact, in itself, isn't exactly noteworthy. I'm the type of person that LOVES starting new things. I get a thrill from taking on a new project, hobby, or online class. What I struggle with, however, is maintaining my passion and commitment for it as time goes on. Over the years, I've signed up for many online challenges and courses that I stopped opening the emails for after about two days. I was afraid that this new commitment might turn out to be the same. I was wrong. It's January, and I'm still participating. This is seriously a minor miracle.

Angela Watson's 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club has changed my teaching career for the better. Last year, I struggled through the entire school year. I dreaded going to work, and my lessons were thrown together at the last minute. This led to a lot of inefficiencies in how I did things in my classroom. I spent all my time thinking about school and how much I didn't really like it that much at the time. When I was feeling my worst, my colleagues did something unthinkable. They named me as the best. I was named district teacher of the year, but I didn't feel like I deserved it. This was when I knew something had to change.

My teacher resume looked great on paper. I went on to be named one of twelve finalists for Oklahoma Teacher of the Year. NPR followed me around for a day and produced a feature story about my innovative approach to teaching math. I write a successful math teaching blog (the one that you are currently reading) that has had over 10 million views since 2011. I've presented at state and national conferences. On paper, I looked like I had it all. Inside, I felt like I was falling apart. I was dreading going to school. I was feeling ineffective as a teacher. I was disorganized. I felt like I was spending all of my free time thinking about school things without ever feeling on top of things.

I was already familiar with Angela Watson from her Truth for Teachers podcast which was recommended to me a couple of years ago on Twitter. I loved her positive outlook on teaching and upbeat attitude. I will admit that her approach is not for everyone. My husband (also a math teacher) ended up listening to many of Angela's podcasts because he was in the same room as me as I was listening. He did not find them to be as inspiring as I did. So, I would recommend checking out her podcasts before deciding to jump into the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club just to make sure they are for you.

I am a totally different teacher this year than in years past. I am organized. I am focused. I don't spend all my waking hours thinking about school. I have priorities, and I am using them to limit what I spend time on. I make time for the things that bring me joy and increase my energy. And, I'm working to limit the things that zap my energy. My classroom is running smoother than ever before, and my students are carrying more of the burden of keeping our class running. I still have stressful days, but Angela's List Making System makes sure I always know what needs to be done next. My lessons are being prepared far sooner than they ever have been before in my career. And, when they are sometimes still thrown together at the last minute, I'm learning to give myself grace. 

For the next few days, I will sharing a few things each day that I have learned as a result of being part of this club. My work/life balance isn't perfect, but it's 100 times better than last year. I am writing lesson plans consistently for the first time ever in my teaching career. I spend more evenings at home relaxing than I do planning lessons. And, I am more organized than I have ever been before. Some coworkers saw one of my lesson planning binders this morning, and they were amazed.

So, what do you get if you join this club?

1. Advice. I love that the tips I have learned in this club can be implemented tomorrow instead of having to wait until the next school year rolls around.

2. Encouragement. Angela is one of the most encouraging people I have ever heard talk about teaching. She always has a positive outlook. I love that she consistently reminds me that we all grow and improve inconsistently. Setbacks are okay. For example, I'm currently a few weeks behind on club material (each week you will get a new PDF packed with advice along with an audio version of the same material), but that's okay. Once you join the club, you get to keep your membership forever. As long as I'm improving, that's exactly where I need to be.

3. Camaraderie. There is a very supportive facebook community for participants. Everyone in the facebook group is very friendly, and it's an awesome place to get feedback on ideas. I've asked several questions and received very helpful responses.

4. Support. You are constantly reminded that you are not doing this alone. You are not the only teacher who feels tired, overworked, overwhelmed, and stressed.

5. Free Resources. Almost every week, there are free printable resources that you can download and used to stay organized. Some weeks, there are even printable activities that you can use in your classroom.

6. So Much More. Basically, you will get everything you put into this club back out plus some!

Could you seek all of this out on your own for free? Probably, but what teacher has time for that? Angela has packaged it all up so nicely that it is actually manageable to tackle alongside your normal teaching responsibilities. It's created by a teacher, so you know that the advice will work for teachers. I've read many a productivity book where I spend half my time thinking "Yeah, that would be great advice if I worked in an office, but I'm a teacher." This is written by a teacher for teachers, and that's the type of product I love to support.

Each month has a different focus. So far, my favorite month has been October. The focus was on organizing and prioritizing tasks. I learned a lot about why I procrastinate and how to combat it. Some months will be more applicable to you than others, and that's okay. Over Christmas Break, I found myself re-listening to the October audio lessons because I wanted to get motivated to get organized and ready for the upcoming semester.

If you are interested in joining Angela's club and learning how to achieve work life balance by working smarter instead of harder, you need to act fast. New club memberships will only be accepted until January 9th. If you don't act soon, you will have to wait until this summer when the club reopens. If you do decide to join, please list me as referring you. You'll need to enter my name (Sarah Carter) and my email address (mathequalslove(at)gmail(dot)com) when you sign up.

Okay. Let's get on to the fun part. What have I learned since joining the club?

I learned that I don't have to create brand new decorations for my classroom every single year. It is okay to reuse the same decorations. This took so much pressure off me as I was preparing my classroom for this school year. I focused on creating sustainable routines instead of having the newest, cutest room decorations.  

I adopted new strategies for managing my classroom. One of my favorite new strategies is the humble timer. I ordered a multi-pack of timers from Amazon (affiliate link) for my husband and I to share. I use these ALL THE TIME. I set time limits to keep my students on task. You have two minutes to cut out your notes and glue them in before we move on. I used to use the SMART Notebook timer for this purpose until our software got updated and the timer became one hundred times more difficult to use. When students come in to serve lunch detention, I set a timer for fifteen minutes and write their name above the timer. Then, there is no arguing about whether their time is up or not. I originally planned to use them to time students when they left class, but I was not successful in keeping up with that one.

I embraced classroom jobs for the first time. I had always written these off as too elementary, but it turns out high school students still love having jobs. In the photo below, you will see where I write the date each day. At least, that's where I used to write the date each day. I start off each year strong with date writing. But, then I get busy and skip a day. Or two days. Or two months. Yes, that happened last year. In April, the date on the board still read February. This year, one of my students has the job to write the date each day as a math problem. The date gets written, and I don't have to stress about it.

I no longer spend time watching the clock each class period. In the past, I was often caught off guard when the bell rang. This year, our intercom and bell system has been broken. We have had to watch the clock to know when to release students. I downloaded the Musical Timer Extension for Chrome. I now have my computer programmed to start playing Vitamin String Quartet on Pandora two minutes before each class period is over. Students are not to start packing up and cleaning up until the music starts playing. When the music does start playing, another classroom job that I mentioned earlier kicks in. My "Clean-Up Captains" in each class start going around the classroom to tell their peers what trash needs to be picked up and which supplies still need to be put away. My clean-up captains are the last to leave each day because they are responsible for making sure the room is clean and tidy for the next class. My room has stayed cleaner this year than ever before as a result. 

My filing system is more organized than ever. I now view my filing system as an investment for the future instead of an annoying task or waste of time.

The top drawer of my filing cabinet holds colored paper that is sorted by color using hanging files. 

The other three drawers are labeled with which letters of the alphabet they contain. 

The three bottom drawers contain all of the activities I have ever used with my students. They are stored alphabetically in Post-It Pockets.  These pockets are translucent and velcro shut. I have labeled the contents of each pocket in the upper left hand corner. These labels are really just super sticky post-it notes that have a complete coating of adhesive on the back. This means I can easily change out the labels.

I'm able to keep my desk cleaner (a major goal this year) by using clipboards to hold frequently used papers on the wall behind my desk. I have my "Out of Room Log," my "Tutoring Sign-In" sheets, and my list of students who owe me detentions. I'm slowly learning that the best home for most things is NOT on my desk.

Angela Watson encouraged us this summer to spend a chunk of time looking for ways to organize our classrooms. Organizing has never been something I am especially good at. But, I took the organizing leap, and I don't think I will ever look back. It has made my classroom a much happier place. Below, you will see the 11 x 17 activities I have created for my students over the last couple of years. In the past, these were just stuffed in a cupboard. Now, they are labeled and easily accessible. I'm slowly learning that time spent organizing your classroom results in a feeling of incredible peace and actually ends up saving so much more time later. I no longer waste hours searching for things because I can't remember which cabinet or drawer they were stuffed in.

I created a home for no name papers. And, I've given myself permission to throw them out frequently if unclaimed. I tape my no name papers to this section of dry erase board that is behind my desk. Every few weeks when the board gets scary looking, I write a note on the board telling students to check the no name papers before a certain date or they will be thrown away.

When students are gone, their missing work is easily accessible. Everything is sorted by skill code. Students grab another student's notebook to see what they missed. Then, they get the missing papers from the appropriate folder.

I've started labeling EVERYTHING. This red drawer organizer has become my student supply center. Here, students can find a stapler, tape dispenser, and hole punch. In the drawers, students can find notebook paper, graph paper, and plain copy paper. Students no longer have to search around my desk for supplies to borrow. These are their supplies. The supplies on my desk are my supplies.

I adopted table folders for the first time. These have been super successful with my math concepts students, semi-successful with my chemistry students, and not at all successful with my algebra students. I could beat myself up for the ways in which this strategy did not work out. Instead, I know now what needs to be fixed to make these work better in the future. Next year, I will implement these more effectively. The important thing is that I am trying out new things. I am learning just as my students are learning. Teaching is not a sprint but a marathon. If I'm in teaching for the long run, I need to focus on gradual growth instead of perfection. Before beginning Angela's program I would have described myself as a perfectionist. Now, I recognize that I still have perfectionistic tendencies, but I don't have to give into those tendencies right now. It's okay to say "I'll perfect that NEXT YEAR."

I started this year with empty bulletin boards. Usually, I feel compelled to decorate EVERY SINGLE SURFACE before students ever set foot in my classroom. This year, I gave myself permission to leave my bulletin boards blank to make room to show off student creations. I've only decorated each board one time, but I'm not going to beat myself up about that.

I created a new system for students to use when turning in their papers to be graded. In the past, I used stacking trays with a different tray for each period of the day, but I found that many students couldn't get their papers in the right tray no matter how well I labeled them. This year, I have just three drawers. Each drawer holds all of the papers to be graded for each subject. I love that these drawers keep the papers fully contained. With stacking trays, the papers always seemed to overflow through the sides of the trays. This set of drawers sets on my desk so I can easily see what needs to be graded and grab papers to grade during lunch or my planning period.

I created an appointment calendar on my dry erase board. Students sign up here if they plan to come in for extra help, to serve detention, to take a quiz they missed, or to retake a quiz to improve their score. I no longer have to guess if I have time to run to the copy machine before school. I can glance at the board to see if a student is planning on coming in. If there are no names on the board, I can make a guilt-free trip to the copy machine.

I apparently didn't take a great photo of these magazine holder boxes, so this photo of my new phone with them in the background will have to do. I have three boxes which I use to sort things into. These boxes keep important things easily findable and NOT ON TOP OF MY DESK. I have boxes for "To Read," "To File," and "To Do."

And, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If this even sounds remotely like something you would be interested in, click here to read more about the club. Remember, if you do decide to take the plunge and sign up, I would appreciate it if you listed me as referring you. You'll enter my name (Sarah Carter) and my email (mathequalslove(at)gmail(dot)com) when you sign up.

Remember, you only have 5 days left to join! Sign-ups close January 9th!

I'll be back here tomorrow sharing more things I learned in the club. Yes, I learned so much that it won't all fit in a single blog post!


  1. Sarah - I signed up! I too have three different classes this year, and I am less organized than ever. Can you share a link to the bins you are using for students to turn in their work?

  2. Sarah, I'm so impressed at your honesty! From the outside, it certainly didn't look like you were struggling last year. I think a lot of teachers suffer from the internal doubts you wrote about. That's fantastic that the club is working so well for you - it's such a good idea of how to support teachers and reduce the number of people leaving the profession after a few years.

  3. Thank you for sharing this! I have looked into Angela Watson's stuff since you first mentioned it on Twitter maybe? I wondered if this is something I would like or what kinds of advice she gives, so I appreciate your preview in helping me decide if the club would be useful for me. I actually forced myself to do these things about this time last year before I even heard of Angela Watson. I finally decided that I wanted to be completely present at school and completely present at home and not let the two overlap so much. I forced myself not to take work home, and that forced me to start being more efficient during the day. Sometimes I feel guilty about the time I'm not putting in after hours any more, but I'm so much happier with my work life now and my work/life balance! I'm much further away from burnout. You are so talented, that I'm thankful you discovered how to make the balance work for you too before you burned out. Keep up the good work!

  4. As a club graduate, I found your post interesting. I just assumed that we all started at the same point no matter when we signed up. I started last January, and the January - May club materials were of very little use to me (aside from April), and it formed my perception of the club and I feel that I didn't get much out of it as a result. I really wish I joined in July instead. The summer is when things became more relevant to me. Also, will you post more about your class jobs? I tried to implement them this year, and I had very little buy-in from my students. I only have 2 students that actually took jobs.

  5. What are you using to hold the clipboards to the whiteboard?

  6. No name papers. Ugh
    I bought a 20" sign with clips at the bottom at target that says 'this belongs to' it is attached by 2 nails to some wood piece in my room. I clip the papers and toss them every 2 weeks. Less space. My board space is premium real estate.