Time management is one of the biggest issues a teacher faces. When it comes to getting stuff done, you will find that there are not nearly enough hours in a day, especially if you are a first year teacher.
When I first started teaching, I found myself stuck at school until five or six o’clock some days trying to get the next day’s plans done. I also found myself overwhelmed by the demands of grading. I would often take stacks of papers home with me to grade in the evenings or over the weekend.
It wasn’t until my third year of teaching that I decided that I was no longer going to spend all hours of the day working. One evening, long after all the teachers and students left the building, I decided that I was never going to work outside of my scheduled work hours again. The following tips are what came out of that decision.
Tip #1: Stop grading everything.
In my district we have a rule that we must have at least one graded assignment per week put into our online grading system. We also have to input grades at least once every two weeks. When I started teaching, I was grading two full assignments per week. This was the first thing I changed.
The most interesting part about switching to only one formal assessment per week was:
- Participation on graded assignments actually improved. When I was grading more than one thing a week, students were more likely to skip an assignment once in a while. Now that the assignments have more weight, they are more likely to do them all.
- I still had a reasonable idea of how well my students performed. I never noticed a drop in my knowledge of their progress.
The key to making this work is to be sure that the one thing you grade that week covers all of the topics you’ve taught in that week. I typically teach three new concepts a week, so I wait until at least Thursday or Friday to formally grade an assignment.
Tip # 2: Design your assessments with efficiency in mind.
The graded assessment that I give every week is designed to keep the students busy for most of the period. If you’re not careful, this could mean having worksheets and quizzes that take up multiple pages. You don’t want to do that to yourself. Having multiple pages will take significantly longer to grade.
When designing an assessment, keep these things in mind:
- Try to keep all of the problems on one page. This saves you time in multiple ways. First, it takes less time to copy (and saves you time stapling things if your copier doesn’t have that option). Second, it takes less time to grade one page front and back than it does to grade two pages.
- If you have more than one page to grade, grade each page separately. In other words, grade the front of the page for all students before you move onto the second page. This saves you time from flipping back and forth in your answer key.
- You don’t have to grade everything that is on your assessment. When I design an assessment, I try to put one of each type of skill I’m assessing down the left side of the page. That way they get multiple attempts to practice each skill without me having to grade every problem. It’s also a great way to help “boost” grades in your lower-level classes. Give participation points for completing half, and you can start all students at 50% instead of 0%.
You may not be able to do those things with all of your assessments, but doing it where you can will save you massive amounts of time. An example of a graded assignment is shown in the image below.
Tip # 3: Have students keep a notebook for everything else.
I structure my class so that student notebooks are 20% of their grade. The completion of this notebook is mostly based on participation. Every quarter I make a chart for each period with 45 spaces that I can check off when I look at their assignment (as shown in the image below). During the year, I assign several things to be put in their notebooks. Anything that is written on the board goes in their notebook.
Other assessments also get thrown into this category. It’s a great way to encompass all the other things that you don’t have time to grade throughout the year. I walk around with my chart every day and check their notebook to make sure they are completing it. It takes a couple of minutes to look at all of them, but it gives me an idea of where they are and how much they are participating.
I also glance at some of their answers and, either keep an answer key on me as I walk around, or just memorize a couple of answers for each assignment. This gives me a quick way to assess how well they know the material without formally checking everything.
Tip # 4: Use every minute you have available to get work done.
My mentor teacher (let’s call him “John”) was one of the most insanely efficient people I’ve ever known. One of my colleagues told me that one time John said that he was going home for lunch. When asked why he was doing that, John told them that he figured that, with the time he had available, he’d have just enough time when he got there to nail up one sheet of drywall.
That says everything you need to know about effective time management. We get so caught up in the idea that, if we don’t have time to finish a task, then we shouldn’t bother working on it until we can. You will find that there are many moments throughout the day that you are wasting that way.
Do you have to be as driven as John? Of course not. I suggest taking a day and writing down all the times you get a little break in the flow of your day. It doesn’t take you a full half hour to eat lunch. If you aren’t commissioned to be in the halls during class change, you could actually gain another half hour there. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish in four minutes.
Tip # 5: Use independent student work time to get things done.
There is incredible value in training your students to work independently. Granted, this is the hardest time to get work done because you constantly have to have one eye focused on your class. Don’t tell yourself that you can’t focus on two things at once. Train yourself to do so and you will get better at it.
The best time to do this is during a quiz. Your students are already expected to be in their seat and quiet, so this is an ideal time to either grade papers or make new plans. The key is to make sure the students realize you are still watching them.
Every so often, I’ll get up from my desk and walk around the room. I glance at students papers and desks when I do so. When I am at my desk, I make sure to look up at them every so often and always keep a part of my attention tuned to them. It may feel a bit overwhelming to try to watch your students and do other things at the same time, but it’s also another way to carve out a bunch of time for yourself. I get most of my grading done during these times.
Time management is about being aware of how you use your time. To get started, take a few days and pay attention to where you are wasting time or falling into teacher time traps. As you become more aware of where you are wasting time, you can slowly start using some of these ideas and make them your own. The first day you get to go home when you are actually scheduled to leave, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief at getting your life back.
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