I don’t know any teacher who thinks she has enough time during the school day to get done everything she needs to get done. That’s because most teachers split the time they have at work into two distinct categories. There is time with students and time without students. While we’re with students we are constantly interacting with them. We’re teaching, leading discussions, reteaching, modeling, helping, chatting, conferencing, and problem-solving. This constitutes the great majority of our workday. Time without students is used for all other aspects of the job: planning, grading, email, phone calls, making copies, locating resources, meetings, creating, and lots of other things.
Given that most teachers have a small amount of time without students, we struggle to accomplish all that needs to be done without taking work home or staying late after school.
But what if instead of dividing our time this way, we thought of our time at school as time to do the job of a teacher?
Doing the job of a teacher involves interacting with students, but it also involves all that other stuff. Why should we limit those responsibilities to a small part of our day, thereby guaranteeing that we’ll have to work more hours before or after school and making the likelihood that we will burn out even greater? Why not structure your day so you can use your full eight hours to do all aspects of the job?
The first step to looking at your time differently is to let go of guilt. Guilt is the reason you feel “caught” when your principal walks in and sees you grading papers at your desk while students work independently. Guilt is why you walk around looking over students’ shoulders as they take a test instead of using that time productively. Guilt is what makes you reluctant to sit with your computer and provide students feedback on their writing instead of meeting with them in individual conferences.
Teachers have been conditioned to think that the only thing they should be doing when their students are in the room is physically interacting with them, even when doing so is detrimental.
It’s that way of thinking that creates the feeling that we never have enough time. If you want more time, create it. Carve time out of your time with students to do the things you used to reserve for time without students. Here are a few ways:
Breaks are good for everyone. Everyone needs them. Give students occasional breaks and use the time to catch up on some of your other work. Read the whole article about this: One Simple Way to Steal Time for Grading
Use Student Mentors
I turned to students mentors our of desperation. The first year we implemented our math program, I’d have eight students needing help at the same time. I’d dart around the room trying to get to them all. Tired of waiting for me and unable to do the work, students would start talking. I’d have to stop and refocus the class. It was frustrating and exhausting. But while those eight students needed constant help, there were eight others who breezed through the assignments. Why was I spinning like a dervish when I could enlist their help?
You have students who can help other students. It doesn’t have to be you. You might not be all that great anyway. You “help” Johnny every day, but there he is again today with his hand up every five minutes. Send the message to your students that you expect them to do the work, and that if they are stuck, a classmate will help them. Then use the time such an expectation creates to reply to emails, sketch out plans for next week, or leave feedback on some student writing, only helping when your student mentors are unable to.
Use student test time to get other work done. Quit watching students like a hawk. You can’t help them anyway and you’re sending them the message that you don’t trust them. Walking around the room while students are taking a test is a waste of your most valuable resource.
Independent Student Reading
I defended independent reading in another article, so I won’t repeat all of that here, but let me address one frequent criticism.
Research indicates that independent reading doesn’t work for the lowest readers. It doesn’t work for the lowest readers because the lowest readers don’t read. It comes down to what you think the role of a teacher is. If you believe teachers must ensure students learn, then you’ll constantly guilt yourself into doing more. But if you believe that it’s your job to do your best to establish an environment where learning can take place and that ultimately, it’s up to your students to take advantage of opportunities, then you’ll have no trouble providing students with time to read, explaining your expectations for this time, teaching students why it matters that they read, making reading as appealing as possible, and then getting out of their way and letting them own their learning. If this is your philosophy, then you won’t feel guilty about working on other things while students have the chance to engage in an activity that will make them better readers, should they only choose to do it.
In part 8 of this series, I wrote about leveraging technology. By making video lessons, you free up time for other things. Having successfully cloned yourself, the video version of you can do the teaching while the human version can do the parts of your job you complain you don’t have time for. Check some papers, reply to professional emails, enter test scores into your online grading system. These are all professional responsibilities. They are part of your job. You shouldn’t feel guilty about doing them, especially when you created that time without harming students in any way.
Finding time during the day to accomplish those tasks you normally take home isn’t abdicating your responsibilities as a teacher. It’s doing your job during the hours you’ve been given to do your job. Look at your whole day. Where are some other places you can carve out time so you can go home at a reasonable hour, keep burnout at bay, and extend your teaching career?
If you’d like more productivity tips, check out Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. She’ll help you find even more ways to do less while being a more effective teacher. The sign-up period ends Tuesday, January 10 and the price goes up on January 1, so don’t delay!
Other Articles in this Series:
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