By Teachers, For Teachers
At the top of most teachers’ wish lists is the desire for more time. More time to prepare quality lessons and classroom management, more time to assess student work, more time to communicate with students and families. More time, it seems, is the key ingredient to making a bigger impact on student outcomes. Unfortunately, so much stands in the way of realizing this desire for more time. There are endless meetings, impositions, mundane tasks, and day-to-day distractions that steal precious time away from core focuses. Just when teachers think they might have a chance to complete a task that truly matters, they’re barraged from every angle with tasks that don’t. Yes, teachers get time off in the summer. What a wonderful, well-earned sabbatical for our children’s educators. But it’s during the school year that teachers experience the onslaught of well-meaning but time-hogging classroom management tasks that may end up have little bearing on overall student outcomes.
What if you asked teachers at your school a question: “What would you do if you had more time?” The answers won’t be surprising at all – teachers want to spend more time focusing on what makes a bigger impact on their students.
Valerie Strauss from the Washington Post created a list of important-but-relegated-to-the-margins list of things she’d focus on … if she had the time. What would be on your list?
It’s not that schools are unreasonably bogging down teachers with unnecessary meetings, useless trainings, or unrealistic expectations. The truth about teaching is that it is a demanding profession, where the job is never “Done” but rather a continuous work in progress. The quality of the output teachers produce is equivalent to the time available to put into making that difference.
So how can schools, and teachers themselves, better provide teachers with this most precious commodity?
Teaching is a demanding profession, and for your best teachers, there will never be enough time to do all of the planning, assessing, preparing, and communicating necessary to perfectly serve every child. But how can we scratch the surface? How can we become better aware of what is impacting our teachers’ schedules? How can we both increase the amount of time teachers have and improve the way teachers maximize that time?
1. Be more cognizant about when we’re taking it from one another. I can’t tell you how often I’ve sat down to do that important work I’ve been meaning to get to, only to have someone sit down and make small talk with me for the whole hour I’ve had set aside. Now, being social with colleagues is a good thing, and I don’t want to give the impression that interruptions are unwelcome or inappropriate. However, we do need to recognize that our honest attempts at interpersonal interaction might be hogging important time from others.
Before you begin making conversation with others or making requests of their time and attention, consider to what extent it may impact the work they’re already doing. At the same time, we each need to be both firm and flexible: Let others know if you cannot be interrupted, or make yourself readily available if you can.
2. Make sure the things we ask of teachers are worth the time they take putting into it. What requests have you made of other teachers lately? An important mantra of the profession is to “Beg, borrow, and steal,” and this requires close interpersonal connections. But before asking colleagues to attend a meeting with you or find a resource to give you, consider the time this will take them and compare it to the outcome you’re looking for. We need to work together and rely on one another, but move forward with relational cognizance.
This is even more true to school leaders. Leaders have the responsibility of making decisions that impact teachers’ time in big ways. What requests are being made of teachers’ time across the school? This doesn’t mean these requests can’t happen, but they need to happen with balance. Sometimes asking less of staff in terms of tasks, documentation, meetings, and so on may result in larger gains for students, all because teachers are freed to focus on what matters.
3. Invest in elements now that have the opportunity to pay off down the road. Think of time like money: If you invest it wisely now, it will pay off in big ways in the future. Maybe there is something important that staff needs to focus on now. Maybe now is when time will be a bit strained, all for a larger payout of freed time later on. What investments can you as a teacher make now that you’re guaranteed to see help you out later? And for school-wide leaders, what investments can be made using staff’s time now that will ultimately equip them with the tools or skills necessary for long-term impact and freedom? Be wise here … the last thing anyone wants is neverending investments that fail to actually free up teachers’ time down the road.
4. Help teachers time manage and focus on what’s important rather than what’s in front of them. When was the last time your school discussed time management? We all complain about how little time we have, how busy we are, how we’re missing what’s important, but maybe there are simple solutions we’re overlooking. Create a culture that openly discusses time management. What tricks have other teachers learned that help them do more both faster and better? How can teachers focus on what matters without getting bogged down in time-consuming details? Let your school be a place that lets teachers and students know that time management matters.
There’s no silver bullet that promises teachers will have more time. The demands of teaching require teachers to prioritize a neverending to-do list of odds and ends that will have varying degrees of impact on student learning. Helping equip ourselves with more time doesn’t mean we’ll ever get to the end of that to-do list, but it will help us all focus on the items that matter. Not everything that matters has a due date or an evaluator, but as we find ourselves with more strategic use of the time that we have, we can better realize the opportunity to impact our students in real and meaningful ways.
What do you see as the biggest factors that impact teachers’ time? What would you do if you suddenly found yourself with more time during the day? Tell us your classroom management thoughts in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano taught high school English for 12 years in a Chicago suburb, where he is now an assistant principal. 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.