For teachers, every minute counts. Think about it this way. Saving just 10 minutes a day will give you 30 hours—almost a whole week—back at the end of the year, which can really make a difference for you and your students. But when your days are packed with lessons and activities, where can you find the time?
After 22 years, I’ve learned a lot of teacher time-saving tips. Here are a few ideas:
Don’t Try to Do Everything Yourself
Most of us have assistants, co-teachers, or other grade-level teachers we can utilize to share the load. Rather than do everything yourself, you can divvy up jobs and assign responsibilities, like having someone else check student folders to make sure there are no parent notes or to ensure money has been collected for field trips and activities. I create the math lessons for the entire grade and share them, while other teachers do phonics, reading, etc. There’s so much to do, there’s no way one person can do it all—you have to help each other. I’ve learned that every teacher brings something different to the table.
Students can be a huge help too. They can take the lunch count and deliver it to the cafeteria every day. They can bring notes to the office and clean up their centers. They can take a friend to the nurse when that friend isn’t feeling well. My kids love to sweep, even though their parents say they won’t touch a broom at home. My kindergarteners are really capable, and most students want to please their teachers, so let them help. Giving your kids a role in the classroom makes them feel special.
Don’t Let Tough Students Derail You
Students with challenging behavior can take time away from teaching and learning. I’ve discovered that the best approach is to ignore their behavior—unless it’s dangerous or destructive. They are seeking attention, which is why they are acting up, and not giving them what they want usually works. I had one student who sat upside down in his chair doing push-ups. Another wouldn’t stop talking, so I moved her away from the other students. If ignoring the distracting behavior doesn’t work, you can try giving those students a job, like sharpening pencils or straightening books, that they can do on their own away from other students—and it keeps them busy.
Make Meetings Matter
Face-to-face meetings are a great way for teachers to collaborate, and it’s nice to get in a room and see each other, but sometimes meetings aren’t necessary. Our guiding coalition team used to visit another school for our hourlong faculty meetings, but everything we discussed could have easily been handled in an email. Book studies are valuable, but they don’t have to be done in person—each teacher can read a different chapter and share the key points with everyone else via email or video call, so no one has to read the entire book. We’re all creatures of habit, and it’s easy to do things the way they’ve always been done—meeting in person about almost everything—but often there’s a more efficient way, so be open minded.
The more prepared and organized you are, the more efficient you can be as a teacher. My goal is to be so prepared that if I wake up with a stomach bug, someone else can easily take over. I try to have everything I need for the day so my kids are ready to learn. I write out my lesson plans the day before. If I need copies, I make them. My student information cards are at my fingertips, so I know who’s on an IEP, who requires speech services, and I can access all my students’ data. I find out which students I need to separate and which students need extra support with math, reading, or something else. These “COVID babies” entering kindergarten didn’t go to church or have playdates or birthday parties. They didn’t have to learn to close the bathroom door. And many of them spent a lot of time in front of a screen while their parents tried to work from home. The more prepared you are as their teacher, the more quickly you can get them acclimated and ready to learn, which helps you make the most of your limited time.
Being efficient comes with experience, so if you’re a new teacher, don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice or share your ideas. Even now, I’m still learning every year. But I also make time to get together with my teaching community outside of school because we need each other.
Want to hear more from Becki? Listen to this episode of our Extraordinary Educators™ Podcast.