One Bite at a Time

by Fredia Shumway

When I was a teenager, more than a few years ago, I read an article called "How to Eat an Elephant". I don't remember the specifics of the article but it's message stuck...

You can eat an elephant, you just have to do it one bite at a time.

I was faced with an elephant on my plate three years ago. About a week before school started, I was leaving a PTA meeting at my children's elementary school. The principal stopped me in the hall and after a little chit chat, asked if I would be interested in a first grade position.


My mind started racing. I hadn't taught in about twelve years. I had given everything away. I had five kids! My oldest child was in 10th grade and my youngest was just starting kindergarten.

School started in a week! I couldn't possibly pull it off. But, I love teaching!! I went home, discussed it with my husband and family, and called her the next morning to accept the position.

Sometime in that first day my excitement and anticipation turned into "Oh, no....what have I done?"

All I could see was this gigantic pachyderm:) I needed a fork! That's when my plan began.
My favorite "fork" has always been a good list.

So, that is where I started. I drew three columns and labeled them: things I need to plan, things I need to make/do, things I need to buy.

Now, because I'm a wife, a mother, and a teacher, some of the things that I wanted to do before school started did not pertain to my new job.

When my very long list was finished, I realized that I could divide everything I wanted to do into four categories: self, family, students, classroom. I put each category on a separate piece of paper and drew the same three columns: to plan, to make/do, to buy.

I went back through my list and put each item under the appropriate category and column. At that point I started to panic. There were four very full pieces of paper.

I looked at everything I wanted to do and knew there was no way that was going to happen in a week.

I knew I needed to set some priorities. I have never been good at the priority thing. I always want to do it all, but this was sink or swim time.

I made a new list for each of my categories, this time with the headings of must do and nice to do, instead of want to do. I went through each item on my want to do list, and asked the question, "Do I need to plan this, make/do this, or buy this, to teach successfully during the first weeks of school?"

If the answer was "no", it went on my nice to do list. If the answer was "yes", it went on my must to do list. I had to be brutally honest, I had a week to pull this off.

Even if I didn't sleep (which for me means a migraine later), I only had one hundred-sixty eight hours!

I finally whittled my list down to a manageable size and got to work on my musts. This list, my family, and an amazingly kind and generous team of first grade teachers, made it possible to get my classroom put together and get my first weeks of curriculum in place during that one week.

During the last three years I have continued to use this plan, and these lists to set and accomplish my goals. I'm far from perfect and I still get overwhelmed at times. But, when I start to feel the panic, I grab my fork and remember, one bite at a time, one bite at a time.

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