How to play the game without going insane

I cannot tell you how many times my coworkers have told me to “play the game” in response to some gripe I have about the inane paperwork that comes with our profession. I’ve often tried to really reflect and define what exactly “the game” is, and I’ve always failed. So, I’ll try again right now and just go with whatever I type.

I think The Game is simply every part of our job that we hate. And, it’s ok to hate it. Everything is balanced, after all. If you don’t hate part of something, how can you truly, deeply love it? (Ok, shut up about your soul mate or whatever, that’s different…this is a job, not some schmuck that buys you flowers.) To me, The Game is lesson plans and paperwork that I have to create for failing students. If I could just be given the amount of time it takes me to do those things and, oh I don’t know…teach! I would be SO much better at what I do. But alas, that’s how it is. The Game is real, and it’s not going away.

So, how do we play The Game and not want to throw a desk across the room every day? That is, how do we maintain our happiness yet do the things we hate? I have some rules! (It is a Game, after all…)


Rule #1: Copy and Paste is your friend.

Whenever you have to do paperwork that is repetitious (like lesson plans, or personalized education plans) make sure you utilize the full, unbridled power of Copy and Paste. Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V are like island resorts to your fingers; they love to hang out there and really can’t get enough. Create a document that contains all of the common things you do that you can simply tailor to the particular document. This is what part of my “master” document for lesson plans looks like:

Reading Guide: To reinforce concepts in the notes, have students complete the XXXXX Reading Guide. Move around the room and answer all questions that arise as students are filling in the guide.

Wksht: Students will complete the XXXXX worksheet in class. Explain how this worksheet is completed and check for comprehension of the instructions. Pull a few questions from the worksheet as examples to model on the board.

Activity: Students will complete the XXXXX activity in class. Explain how this activity is completed and check for comprehension of the instructions.

Lab: Begin by distributing all lab materials for the XXXXX Lab and thoroughly go over all lab safety guidelines. Explain to students the expectations of the lab and model all new techniques and calculations. Remind students how to use lab equipment to minimize misuse and lab accidents.


Lower level learners receive extra instruction during class time. If needed, extended time will be provided.

High level learners can work on vocabulary and other extension activities when finished with assignments.

Notes: Students that are visual and/or auditory learners will greatly benefit from the note-taking portion of class.

Wksht: Students that are cognitive learners will benefit from completing the worksheet, as they will enhance their understanding.


The XXXXXXXs just designate where I put the title of whatever I’m talking about. Trust me, it saves SO much time. And prevents you from having to stash a bottle of Tylenol in your desk (or something stronger).


Rule #2: Know your deadlines, and budget your time with fun in mind.

The main activity that prevents me from losing it at work is adult interaction. I love walking around the school from time to time and just chatting with people. If I didn’t set aside time for this, well…I just don’t what I’d do.

So, I think this should be a priority to you. Build friendships and professional relationships. It can only help you in the long run (and in the short run, for that matter). If you know your lesson plans are due on Friday, why not walk around for 20 minutes during your planning on Wednesday just to blow off steam? Why not wait until Thursday instead of stressing about it on Monday? If that’s not your M.O., then by all means keep on keepin’ on! I’m just saying that there is no need to stress about something that can give way to fun interactions with your colleagues. Be open-minded about this. There are some things in life that are just more important.


Rule #3: Nice is nice.

Be nice to people! Do nice things! I know this seems like a no-brainer, but have you ever stopped to consider what repercussions this could have on your daily life? Two prime examples pop into my head: Doing nice things for students, and doing nice things for your colleagues.

I can tell you from experience that when I do random nice acts for my students, my job becomes easier. You know it’s true! The teacher that everyone hates is pounced on by parents at every wrong move. Those vultures are just waiting for them to screw up. So, don’t be that teacher! What can you actually do? Write a student a nice note to let them know that you are noticing their effort in class. Go to see your students playing football, or participating in a quiz bowl match, or acting in the school play. I’m telling you, the more your students like you, the more they and their parents let the little inconsequential things slide. Trust me, it’s nice to sign in to my email in the morning and not be berated with email after email from parents that imply that you’re the worst teacher on the planet. (And for what it’s worth…you’re not.)

Your colleagues are as important to be nice to. Quid pro quo. Tit for tat. You get what you give. Plus, it’s always nice to see someone smile. Bring in cookies for your department. Make a point to say ‘good morning’ to the office staff. Offer to bring the janitorial staff breakfast every so often. It’s not manipulation. It’s what people should do for each other. Nice is nice.


If you just follow these rules, you’ll notice a marked decrease in stress. Less stress means more efficient usage of time to play The Game. Problem solved.



I have a unique perspective on teaching. As a young guy, I still have that “world is my oyster” perspective on life, so I am more than willing to try new things in the pursuit of happiness. I have always been a naturally happy person and don’t shy away from trying to make others see that it’s easy to be happy! Thus, the blog you’re reading. The main impetus for actually putting all the work in to getting this blog up and running? A coworker stopped me in the hall one day and actually reprimanded me for being so smiley all the time. They actually said that I shouldn’t be so happy as a teacher! My response? Screw that! I SHOULD be happy. I now smile at that coworker EVERY time I see them…and usually say something like, “Isn’t this such great day to be a teacher?!” They don’t usually smile back… Don’t be like them.

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