By Teachers, For Teachers
Of all the materials teachers seem to run out of, the one we may most frequently materials on shortage is time. Between our lesson plans, grades, communications, reports, classroom management ideas, supervisions, and other plethora of responsibilities, it often feels like there just isn’t enough time for it all.
This is the way I felt for a long, long time. Stretched to the max, perpetually occupied with “the next thing,” I felt I could never do it all. In fact, I felt like everything I did was rushed and only half the quality it could have been if I had more time. I still have a host of responsibilities, but fortunately I was able to make a few classroom management adjustments that have helped me be much more efficient with my time.
Take a look at these three classroom management habits I made and see if they might serve you just as well.
I used to spend a great deal of time during the school day preparing lesson plans and materials. All of my spare time between periods was devoted to staying just one step ahead of my classes, and that meant that anything I needed to grade had to be taken home. This cost me hours upon hours during my nights and weekends, frantically trying to keep up.
Finally, it dawned on me that I could try to do my planning and grading more effectively. Since I knew what my lessons were going to cover each day of the week (because I charted out my curriculum in advance), planning the specifics of each lesson was just a matter of sitting down and doing it. So I decided that instead of doing planning during the school day, I would devote a few hours each Sunday evening to planning for the entire week.
After a few Sundays, I got the hang of how to most effectively prepare everything I needed to for the week. By the time I walked into school in the morning, I had my plans and my materials all ready to go through Friday. It was only a matter of making a few copies and doublechecking my plans prior to teaching. Suddenly, instead of spending untold of hours throughout the week, I reduced my planning to a few (usually two to four) hours of planning in one sitting. Now all that time between periods suddenly opened up for me.
Like I said, I used to take home hours of grading each evening. This was OK for a while, but eventually I thought to myself, “Wait a minute. I have a wife. I have young children. I have things I want to do other than grading. Unless I want to live this way my entire career, I need to change how I grade.” Fortunately, because I didn’t have all my school time filled with planning, I could use this to grade.
As a high school English teacher, I almost always had some recent work or activity to assess. So I decided to assess as much of it as I could during the school day, and bring nothing – absolutely nothing – home with me. The time I had before, during, and after school when I wasn’t in a meeting or working with students I could now devote to my stack of grading. Within a short time, I was grading work faster and better than I had before.
One of my secrets to doing this during the school day was to go find a quiet place where I could work interruption-free. Sometimes I would camp out in an empty classroom, other times I’d work in a library study carrel. I would bring only the bare essentials of what I needed to work on so that nothing diverted my attention. By doing this, I maximized my work time and greatly reduced how long it actually took to go through a class set of work.
Most recently, one more habit has been added to help me maximize my time even further: Utilizing LMSs to streamline the distribution and reception of information with students. I used to spend a great deal of time just standing in line waiting to use the copying machine. Now, my classes are largely (but not entirely) paperless. If I want students to have a document, a link, a slideshow, a picture, or almost anything else, I can simply post it in our course’s learning management system. This only saves loads of time.
Further, when students complete work, I can both collect and assess it much more quickly when I do it electronically. Now that I can open their work and type comments directly on it, students receive more feedback and better feedback faster than before. This also saves time because students can review feedback prior to class, absent students can see what they’ve missed, and students can even communicate with me asynchronously when they have a question or need help.
So now I feel like I can both prepare better for class and provide students more and better feedback than I could before. And I feel like I finally have time to focus on more than just my classes. In my newly discovered spare time, I have been able to participate on multiple committees, collaborate with more colleagues, and explore methods to improve my practice.
But these habits do come at a small price.
First, I have exchanged my leisurely Sunday evenings for small marathons of lesson prep. I don’t enjoy it at the time, but the feeling of productivity I have for the rest of the week pays off.
Second, finding quiet places to grade work really boosts my efficiency, but it comes at the price of neglecting face time with colleagues and students. When I block I distractions, I’m blocking out people. One of my new goals this year is to be more physically present for others and to balance out how much time I spend alone.
Finally, I put too much pressure on myself for how much I assign and assess. Students whose teachers give less homework or fewer activities still achieve standards, so I need to reassess how much I expect students and myself to do.
So while I believe I have grown leaps and bounds in terms of how I’ve learned to manage my time as a teacher, I still have further to go. My hope is that as I gain experience, I can maximize my time even further to provide the best educations for each of my students. Hopefully by sharing my experiences and successes, you might find a way to maximize your own time as a teacher, too.
What are your secrets to maximizing your time? Tell us in the comments below what you think of the modifications I’ve made, and what you do yourself to be the most efficient professional you can be!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.