Most teachers are kept plenty busy with just their day-to-day teaching duties. Add to these the extra roles of teachers outside the classroom and you can end up with workdays that are overstuffed with responsibility.
Teachers sometimes feel ambivalent about additional duties. On one hand, you feel an obligation to be a team player, especially if your principal personally asks you to take on a new responsibility. But on the other hand, your first responsibility is to teach, and some of these extra roles take time and focus away from your main work. It's a delicate balance, so here some tips to help you avoid feeling pressured to take on more than you bargained for.
Sharing the Daily Duties
Some schools have paraprofessionals to cover lunch, "time out" or detention rooms, or bus duty. But many schools cannot afford to hire staff for these assignments and consider these duties to be among the roles of teachers outside the classroom.
I've worked with some teachers who actually enjoyed extra duties because they could interact with kids in a different way. For example, a veteran teacher on my middle school team was a legend in the cafeteria. If he caught a kid throwing something, yelling, or not cleaning up, he would raise his hand with his thumb and index finger curved toward one another, and say, "You're on the hook!" He loved bantering with the kids, which meant that kids didn't seem to mind being on the hook, even if it meant wiping down tables after lunch.
Some extra assignments, however, attract few enthusiasts—like bus duty, for example. The principal in my school tried to distribute the job equitably, but you could easily be outside for a solid week of rain or snow. Still, when everyone is taking an equal share, it's important to try to be a team player.
There are a few extra duties that both teachers and administrators may consider opportunities for leadership. Being a department chair or team leader can allow teachers to have a larger part in decision-making. Mentoring new teachers is another way to use your classroom expertise and contribute to the profession.
Further Reading: Achieve Work-Life Balance As a Teacher
But problems can occur when teachers' added responsibilities push more of their work into the evenings and weekends. This can be a burden for some teachers, especially at the beginning of their career. As Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Teachers Association, said, "If you try to put two cups of water in a one-cup container, it's going to spill over and that's what's happening in the teaching profession—all those extra hours are spilling over into teachers' personal time."
Juggling After-School Assignments
Some teachers gladly volunteer to coach or oversee activities. They may have a special interest or expertise in coaching softball or advising the student council, and sometimes these roles come with stipends. But if there are no volunteers, the administration may be forced to recruit teachers to take on some of these roles. New teachers, in particular, may feel pressured to accept extracurricular assignments because they worry that saying "no" may jeopardize their jobs.
An elementary physical education teacher told me that after he was hired, he learned he was expected to coach basketball. No one had mentioned this before, and he had enough on his plate just learning how to plan his lessons and manage his classroom. He agreed to coach because of administrative pressure, but he moved to another school the following year.
During my first year teaching high school, the principal told me he wanted me to advise the yearbook committee. I didn't think refusing the assignment was an option. I soon found myself staying after school to make deadlines and not getting to pick up my own young children at a reasonable time. I left after two years.
But another young teacher I know coached freshman girls' soccer as a first-year teacher. While it was an additional duty outside the school day, she said the relationships she built with her players really made a positive difference in her classroom. Another teacher who was asked to take on after-school detention said that at first he dreaded the extra assignment, but soon discovered he had a knack for working with troubled kids. He found the assignment rewarding and felt he made a difference in his students' lives.
Finding a Balance
Prospective teachers are often advised to enhance their resumes by adding that they would be interested in coaching or other activities. This information does make you a stronger candidate, but be prepared to accept those extra assignments if you're hired.
New teachers may find it difficult to refuse if their administrator presses them to take on extra responsibilities. But sometimes you can negotiate to share an extra assignment with another teacher. For example, you may agree to direct the spring play if another colleague works backstage on costumes and props. And it may turn out that you really enjoy working with kids in a different capacity.
Further reading: Make Job Sharing Work for You
But if you are uneasy and reluctant to agree to an additional assignment, it's better to talk to your principal candidly and explain why you don't feel you can take on another duty. Of course, you may end up feeling pressured to take the assignment anyway. If that happens, do it with the most grace you can muster for the sake of the students, and if necessary, see what other teaching options are available the following year.