Top Ten Teacher Tips for Time Management

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When teachers sit around in the teacher’s lounge, they often complain about their messed up routines, their students arriving late to class, they leave late, have to prepare lessons at home and have to grade tests after working all day and the cycle continues. What if I told you all of this can be avoided by mastering a skill, time management, in fact, strategic time management.

Sadly, it is a skill individual teachers have to learn, master and implement on their own in most instances, school authorities do not take much responsibility in training teachers as long as they are getting desired performance. As a result, educators find that time is at a premium as to learning time management in their personal and professional lives.

Time management can be learned by following simple steps one at a time. But we must go back to the basics to build upon this concept.

Let’s take a look at the top ten time management tips for teachers.

Number 1: Set Clear Goals

It’s easy to go from day to day ploughing through your workload, putting out constant fires and feeling like there’s never an end to all this. But what are you doing this for? Where are you going with it? What is the ultimate objective?

Consider the things that you have to do and the things you want to achieve. Think short-term as well as long-term. And using the SMART model, set yourself some clear goals.

Your goals should be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound hence SMART.

Now consider the activities and tasks you spend your time on everyday. How do they go towards helping you achieve those goals. Which ones are time-wasters? What can you do to reduce the amount of time you spend on activities that don’t go towards helping you achieve your goals?

Number 2: Plan your time

With clear goals, you can now go about planning how you spend your time and organizing your day. For longer-term goals, consider a longer-term plan. Download a monthly planner or use a planner app to help you get a better overview of the steps you need to take to achieve those goals.

It also helps to be able to look ahead each day and know how you will spend your day achieving your goals. Plan your day either the night before or the first thing that morning. Know what is important and what isn’t, and be conscious of what contributes to helping you achieve your goals as you prioritize your tasks for the day.

Have a to-do list and enjoy the satisfaction of ticking each item off the list. You’ll feel more productive, and consequently, more confident when you have a clearer overview of what you have accomplished.

Number 3: Learn to say no

Don’t feel like you need to take on everything that is given to you. Consider your priorities and how a task might or might not contribute towards your goals. How would this new task or activity fit into your plans? If you are unsure, ask for time to decide by saying, “Can I think about it and get back to you on that?” It’s good to be helpful, but not to the detriment of your own health and sanity.

Number 4: Be smart about lesson planning

A lot of the teachers I meet complain about the amount of time they spend planning their lessons. While it’s good to plan your lessons, spending hours upon hours planning a 30-minute lesson, and then doing that day after day can really sap the life out of any teacher.

The fancy PowerPoint presentation that took you three hours to make might be really impressive and that Cluedo-esque card game that took you two hours to create and another hour to print, cut and laminate might be great fun, but how much learning is really taking place as a result of those activities?

Ultimately, our students are in class to learn and although it may be difficult to actually measure learning, it is nevertheless important that we consider the time-to-learning ratio: is the time we put into preparing an activity actually going to result in learning that is worthy of that input? Would an impressive PowerPoint actually result in more learning than if that lesson were to be delivered on the whiteboard?

While I will not hesitate to applaud the creativity and originality of creating the Cluedo-esque card game, for the overwhelmed teacher, those two hours might be better spent elsewhere. There are plenty of lesson materials freely available online for the busy teacher to print out and use, so keep an eye on relevant Facebook groups, and Twitter accounts, that regularly post links to downloadable teaching materials. Bookmark useful websites, like the teacher pay teachers website (lots of free stuff available)and keep an organized folder of printouts/handouts that you’ve used so that you can re-use them again in the future.

Number 5: Be smart about grading

The other time-consuming activity that I often hear teachers complain about is the grading of homework and assignments. Unfortunately, there isn’t much about grading that is enjoyable, and the best thing to do is to be smart about it.

  • If the grading is objective (e.g. there is a right or wrong answer), then have your students do the grading. The added benefit is that our students will probably learn more from grading their own papers as it impresses upon them to consider possible mistakes and the reasons behind the right answers.
  • Don’t give out lots of homework from the start. Plan and spread out the deadlines for homework/assignments you give out so that you’re not left with multiple piles of work to tackle all at once.
  • Plan to grade a small load at a time, rather than leaving them all till the last minute. Having the psychological burden of knowing you have a large pile of grading to do is not only soul-destroying but will more than likely make you procrastinate further.
  • You don’t have to grade everything. Consider only focusing on certain points when grading an essay and let students know beforehand. Say things like, “For this assignment, I’ll be specifically looking at how you organize your paragraphs.” You might want to check out podcast #6 — grading best practices.

Number 6: Be smart with technology tools

There are plenty of tech tools out there that can lighten your burden. Look into using Google Forms and their add-ons to help with homework and grading. Look into Jing to audio-record your feedback to their assignments, instead of having to write everything out. Nicky Hockly’s regular feature in each issue of ETp recommends some of the best ways to use technology tools in teaching while Russell Stannard’s Webwatcher on the ETp website gives detailed tutorials on some of the most useful teaching tools online.

Number 7: Eliminate time-wasters

What do you waste time on each day? Is it browsing on eBay for things you don’t need? Is it checking Facebook updates, looking at Instagram photos, or watching cute YouTube videos of cats? Or is it getting involved in unproductive chats and email chains that cause nothing but frustration? Do you find yourself splitting your attention between trying to watch something on television and playing a game on your phone, and then feeling deeply unsettled by the stress levels caused by dissatisfying multi-tasking?

It’s important to (a) know what it is you’re wasting your time on each time. Remember that if you’re truly getting rest and relaxation from doing that activity, then it isn’t a time-waster and can be categorized as having ‘me-time’. However, if the activity isn’t really relaxing you, then it’s time to cut it out of your day.

Then, (b) proceed to set certain rules that will help you eliminate these distractions. For instance, decide that you will remain off-line when you are grading or have a no-multi-tasking rule when you’re meant to be relaxing.

Number 8: Apply the Two-Minute Rule

In David Allen’s book ‘Getting Things Done’, he proposes applying the two-minute rule to everything we do, i.e. if it takes less than two minutes to complete, then get it done now. It would take more than two minutes if you were to come back to do it later.

I apply this rule to answering questions in emails and online groups (e.g. WhatsApp, Ning, Google groups), dealing with admin requests, photocopying/printing out handouts, and even daily household chores (e.g. taking the bin out, washing up).

In addition to the traditional two-minute rule, I also apply a variation of it to tasks that take a lot more than two minutes. When there is a bigger task ahead of me (e.g grading a pile of papers, writing a blogpost) and I’m lacking in motivation to do it, I tell myself that I would start the task and do it for only two minutes. I often end up doing it for more than two minutes, and when I am confronted with the task the next day, I’m pleased to see that some of it has already been done and am more motivated to finish the job, thus solving the problem of inertia.

So my addition to the two-minute rule is: If you have a task that would take more than two-minutes, start it before the end of the day and do it for two minutes.

Number 9: Practice Mind-fullness:

Practice being mindful of what you do and enjoy what you’re doing

When you are trudging along from one task to the next, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lose sight of what it is you’re actually doing. Pay attention to what you are doing and how you are feeling. Focus on the parts of the tasks that you enjoy and remind yourself of why you’re doing it and how it relates to your goals. Remember that the journey is often more important than the destination.

Number 10: Allocate time for yourself

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Allow yourself time to relax, time to exercise and time to sleep. Keep a check on your work-life balance and engage in activities that nourish your body, your mind and your soul. And remember that a happy teacher will inspire happy students.

Steve Hiles

I am a retired military and elementary school teacher living in Tennessee. I am an avid reader and love to write. I am very passionate about helping teachers. I hope you find my educational tips and strategies useful,and enjoy hearing about my personal journey.

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Steve Hiles

I am a retired military and elementary school teacher living in Tennessee. I am an avid reader and love to write. I am very passionate about helping teachers. I hope you find my educational tips and strategies useful and enjoy hearing about my personal journey. Thanks for visiting!

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