I don’t have time to…
One thing is certain – nearly every teacher feels like they don’t have enough time to do everything that they need to do. Finding the time to organize supplies, develop lessons, find resources, discipline students, eat lunch, record grades, call parents, and – oh yeah – teach is a problem that all teachers face.
Fortunately, there are many helpful strategies you can use to find those precious moments you need to become a better organized and more efficient teacher. By implementing a few quick time-saving ideas, you will reduce stress and find some well-needed extra time each day.
Overall, though, these ideas are almost guaranteed to save you some time each day. Even if you only use a handful of new ideas to save 10 or 15 minutes each day, that gives you an extra hour or more each week. That’s an extra 36 hours over the course of the school year!
Our tried and true time-saving tips are divided into three main categories: behavior management, classroom management, and classroom organization. Feel free to pick and choose the tips and tricks that make sense for you and your teaching style.
- Behavior Management
- A student who misbehaves during class can take time away from the lesson due to the time it takes to address their behavior. There are a few main ways to handle behavioral issues efficiently and effectively so you can get back to teaching with as little interruption as possible. First, ensure that students are aware in advance of expected behavior. They will be less likely to break the rules if there are clear expectations for their behavior. Next, when a student does break a rule, immediately tell him or her to see you at the end of class. No discussion. You may need to do this with 3 or 4 students over the course of the lesson. During the last few minutes of class, gather the students and discuss their actions with them. You will save time by not spending a minute with each student during the lesson. Chances are that you normally end a class with a couple minutes remaining anyway – make sure to use that time productively.
- Praise, praise, praise! Use positive reinforcement as often as possible to prevent behavioral issues during class. Make sure to keep the students actively engaged. When a student does not disrupt a class in the first place, you will be amazed at how much time can be saved for teaching.
- If a student does need extra attention during class, do it quietly and without involving the other students. Immediately assign the other students to a task, whether it is simply reviewing an already read page or redoing some math problems and do not allow them to become part of your discipline procedure. This will help both the student and you focus on the lesson material instead of getting sidetracked.
- Classroom Management
- Assign the students various classroom tasks that you might be spending time doing. These tasks will depend on the grade level and on what you deem appropriate for your classroom and style of classroom management. A few tasks you can delegate might include feeding the classroom pet, distributing handouts, and cleaning whiteboards. This strategy has the added benefit of teaching students responsibility and giving them some non-academic structure in the classroom.
- Consider using commercial dividers to distribute corrected papers and take-home handouts. Arrange the students’ names alphabetically and distribute the papers into their “mailboxes”. Do not pass out papers to the students at their desks unless you are planning to review the work as a class. At the end of the day, the students retrieve the papers prior to dismissal. This helps minimize distractions and maximize organization.
- Create a routine for classroom chores such as attendance, preparing homework for absent students, end-of-day cleanup, lunch preparation, etc. Stick to the schedule so that your students know what to expect in their day and can more easily transition from one activity to the next. When the students become used to a routine, your classroom will begin to operate much more efficiently.
- Try taking attendance as the students arrive at the classroom each morning or new class period instead of calling out names once the students are seated. This allows you to jump straight into the material and hold your students’ attention more effectively.
- Allow students to check their own work on some assignments rather than going through each in-class assignment with a fine-tooth comb. Collect their papers, quickly review the corrections, and review the student’s work more closely, consulting with the student only if you spot an issue.
- Grade writing assignments in steps when possible. For example, for an in-class assignment, check work after students write their first drafts. Ask students to come to your desk. Quickly review the content only and share verbal feedback. The second review focuses on punctuation and grammar. Once they turn in the final draft, there will likely be fewer errors and the grading process will go by much more quickly – and students learn to self-correct their work as they go.
- For assignments done outside of class, try breaking up your grading into a few blocks. Grade four or five assignments day and tell students ahead of time when to expect the assignment to be returned to them. You can do this for other time-consuming correcting as well, such as for research papers.
- Post clear instructions for assignments, test dates, other due dates for assignments. This prevents repeating instructions over and over, especially for older students.
- Prepare a task the students must complete at the start of a class. Make sure it relates to the lesson and allow about 5 to 10 minutes for its completion. For example, if you are teaching a topic related to animals, ask students what animal they would want to be and why. During their reflection, you can use the time to prepare for the lesson. Spend a couple minutes for students to share responses. This has the added benefit of making students more comfortable sharing with the class and speaking in front of groups.
- When planning a daily lesson, do not plan every minute. For example, for a 45-minute class period, plan about 35 minutes of instruction and work. This allows for some flexibility and prevents you from feeling rushed. Think quality over quantity!
- Classroom Organization
- Spend time getting organized before the start of the school year, especially during in-service days. The time you use now will save you time later. Make copies in advance, number the containers/places you store supplies and then create an alphabetical list of those items with their locations, create your lesson plans/objectives in order of use but do not date them until they are used, and plan a few months’ bulletin board displays ahead of time. While this may seem excessive, it will streamline everything and allow you more time to deal with the everyday challenges of being a teacher without extra stress.
- Allow your students to help with displays in the classroom. Assign groups of older students a bulletin board (or two) to be changed once each month during a lunch or recess period. Fancy bulletin boards with bells and whistles are great, but they can be very time-consuming. Students will love getting to do something creative at school and you will save time.
- Clean your desk area at the end of the day. Make a quick list of the tasks you need to complete when you arrive the next morning and place them in order of priority.
- Create an ongoing to-do list, and regardless of its length, keep adding to it. Assign each task a number between 1 (low priority) to 5 (high priority). Cross off each completed task. It will give you a feeling of relief as the list gets smaller and smaller and will keep you organized.
- If you teach more than one subject, use different colored folders for each subjects’ papers and handouts. If you only teach one subject, use different folder colors for each section. Color code and label everything!
There are literally thousands of time-saving ideas you can find online. Do some research and decide what works for you. Here are a few final suggestions:
- Use technology as much as possible. Some useful tools may include Google forms, Google Apps for Education, and email templates.
- When students are viewing a video, taking a test, or reading quietly, use that time to correct papers or plan lessons.
- Save the tests and worksheets you create. Edit them for subsequent years and as your lessons change.
- Create your emergency sub plan before the start of the school year.
- If you plan on staying late or arriving early, choose to arrive early, you will complete more work in the morning when you’re fresh versus the end of the school day.
- Use your prep periods for preparation and work, not visiting other teachers!
- Use a hands-free device to contact parents during your drive to or from school.
- During your lunch period, eat lunch and talk with co-workers! Use the time for a break. You will feel less stressed and can accomplish more once the afternoon session begins.
Your time is valuable, so it is important to use it wisely. Always ask yourself if what you’re spending your time on is absolutely necessary or if there is a better or more efficient way of doing it. Of course, whatever you decide to do, effective student learning must be the priority. Try to find the methods that work best for you and your classroom!