Dear Future Teachers,
The MAT program at UNC-Chapel Hill is super busy. It can be hard to keep up with the various moving parts that come with being a grad student within this program. This week, I wanted to give some more insight of what a typical week in the Elementary Education track can look like in the Fall semester as we are balancing 5 full time classes, a seminar, and two days of student teaching, on top of various other seminars/meetings that pop up throughout the semester. Rather than just writing about it, though, I've also tried my hand at making a TikTok to show snippets of my week to give a better visual of how our program is structured. At the end of the post, I also include some practices that I use to try to help manage the heavy schedule while maintaining my own mental health!
Our regular weekly schedule looks like:
Monday & Tuesday: Attend methods courses in ELA, Science, Math, and Social Studies
Wednesday & Thursday: Attend your student teaching placement for the full day (including staff meetings, afterschool events, etc.)
Friday: Occasional Experiential Education seminars, potential meeting date with your university supervisor, edTPA support, various meetings depending on the week!
Watch a week in the life of an MAT student here:
The MAT program does have a few weeks that don't follow the regular schedule. The first instance is the two-week immersion that takes place in the beginning of the Fall semester. During these two weeks, we attend our site placements full time, similar to how we would during our student teaching semester in the spring. The second instance is our Experiential Education week. During this week, we do not attend our classes nor our site placement. MAT students have the option to attend an Outward Bound retreat that would have students backpacking in the mountains or a museum experience.
Managing The Schedule
To completely candid, the schedule of the MAT program is overwhelming. I would be lying if I said I could handle each day without feeling stressed. Our classes and our site placements consist of long hours, not including the coursework that we complete outside of class. There are a lot of places to be and even more deadlines to meet. While not perfect, I do have some tools and practices that I use to try to maintain my mental health!
At the most basic level, one tip for managing this busy schedule is to make sure you eat and drink. I know sometimes it feels that there's no time, but I can't stress enough the importance of trying to eat 3 meals a day. Even something small is better than working long hours without sustenance. Making sure to stay fed and hydrated does wonders for your energy that will help you get through the day!
Use agendas, planners, reminders, calendars, etc.! With all the deadlines we must meet, meetings we must attend, and changing schedules, it's extremely difficult to stay on top of all your tasks without using some method of organization. Everyone is different, so not all organization methods will work for you, but finding at least one system that can help keep you on track is recommended! I personally use Google Calendar to keep track of different events/meetings and where they are located, and I write all my assignments and tasks in a physical planner that I carry with me.
Find a friend! At UNC, many of the students in the MAT program were also together during undergrad. However, there are quite a few students who transferred from other universities, too! I've been lucky in that my friend who is also in the MAT program lives with me. We share the same classes and same student teaching placement, so we do homework together, give each other rides, and provide emotional support when times get stressful. It's nice to not feel lonely amongst the busy schedule.
Set a hard stop time each night. It often feels like the assignments and tasks are never-ending. It's really tempting to try to stay up late or work for hours and hours on end to get things complete. However, you are a person before you are a student. People need rest. Setting a stop time where you will not work on assignments/answer emails/edit lesson plans allows you to begin to create some separation from work and your personal life. You don't need to stay up to all hours of the night or be available 24/7. Choose a time where your evening belongs just to you to make sure you are doing what you need in order to take care of yourself.
A new practice I've recently developed is having a wind-down routine in the evenings. This routine can be whatever you would like, but for me I use it as a time to light a candle, do my skincare routine, read, and prepare for the next day. I like the time to wind down, enjoy the quiet, and let go of the things that stress me throughout the day. It's nice to feel settled before going to sleep for the night!
For those that enjoy journaling, I would recommend finding time to write a bit each day. Due to the time constraints of my program, I can't journal as in depth as I used to, but I did find a guided journal that I've been able to put entries in every day. There's a lot of options out there, but my journal specifically makes space for me to record my feelings, write an affirmation, and come up with one word to lead my day. In the evenings I have short reflective prompts that allow me to think about the things that made me happy, the things that challenged me, and more!
If you have any tips for balancing your schedule, feel free to send them in via my Contact Form on my Home Page or through my email at firstname.lastname@example.org.