A few years ago, I was conducting a classroom observation in a Minnesota middle school. It was my first time observing teachers in that particular school district, and I hadn’t been given the daily schedule for the school. I asked the teacher when her day ended. She looked at me, and said “It doesn’t.”
Pretty much any K-12 teacher can relate to that answer. Teaching can be time consuming and hectic, and even on a slow day it’s not uncommon for teachers to bring at least a little bit of their work home. Fortunately, there are ways teachers take the edge off of schedule pressure.
Tip # 1: Look for ways to make your prep time faster
Prep time is important, and it’s one of the most fun parts of the job. Lesson prep provides many opportunities to be creative. And it gives you a chance to bring something to your lessons that will really wow your students and colleagues! Because of this, it’s easy for teachers to forget that efficiency is a very important component of lesson prep.
Whenever you’re putting together materials for a class, always ask yourself if there’s a simpler way to assemble the same content. Sometimes an elaborate Prezi presentation can be replaced with a simpler PowerPoint that will be just as effective. Sometimes a learning game you’ve planned for your students may not actually need written instructions. And even when written instructions are necessary, maybe most of the direction for an activity can be stated and modeled in class, with a very minimal written handout.
And speaking of class handouts….
Tip # 2: Minimize printed materials
This time management tip might have seemed less sensible twenty or thirty years ago. But today, we live in an era of electronic information. There are countless alternatives to printing class materials on paper.
Digital versions of printables can be sent to students for home printing. Quizzes and other activities can be displayed on a screen or projector, and students can simply write their answers down on their own sheets of paper. Flashcard drills can be hosted online and streamed into your classroom. I’m sure you can think of other similar paper alternatives.
Going paperless (or as paperless as possible) is a more powerful time-saver than you might first think. Most teachers who use paper-heavy instruction don’t realize just how much time they’re spending getting their materials “printer-ready,” printing them out, collating and stapling them, buying printing supplies, making trips to the copier in the teacher’s lounge or the copier at school, etc… Creating hard copy of your materials steals your time in a dozen little ways that all add up.
Tip #3: Include a self-care component in your time management
The biggest perk of saving time when you create materials is a reduction in stress. This isn’t something you just do for yourself. A less stressed-out you is a more effective teacher—in the classroom, on the playground, in after-school activities, and during meetings with students, parents and colleagues.
Teacher burnout is a common phenomenon, and the consequences are real. If you are under too much stress for too long, the quality of your work as a teacher will suffer. Whenever possible, make sure that your weekly schedule includes some personal time where you can relax, have fun, and recharge. Self-care is an important part of giving your best to your students.
Tip # 4: Anticipate extra obligations in your schedule
Teaching is always a busy job, but “peak busy” tends to be cyclical and predictable. Be mindful of your calendar and your work cycle. Don’t let things like parent-teacher conferences, grading sessions, and extracurricular school activities creep up on you. Be aware of the days and weeks during the year when you’ll be especially busy and arrange your calendar accordingly. Advanced planning is key to managing temporary increases in your workload.