Time Management for Teachers (v2)
Many teachers have a poor work-life balance. I know, because I’ve had years of experience as a teacher in the classroom. I’m here to teach you how to handle your workload and restore that work-life balance. If you follow my time management methods, long days should be a thing of the past. You’ll be able to go home on time, worry-free, knowing that you’ve done everything you need to do. Let’s begin. One of the biggest challenges you face as a teacher is your uncooperative coworkers, your students. Sometimes they try and do as little work as is possible and it can be tempting to let them get away with it. After all, if some of them don’t do their homework, that’s less homework for you to mark. Small problems like this, such as letting an individual student get away with not doing a homework or a project can quickly grow into big problems, like the entire class not doing their homework. Ultimately, if the students aren’t doing the work you’re assigning them, they’re going to do less well on the tests and they’re learning less. You’ll also have to spend more and more time in your day dealing with classroom management issues like trying to get them to do their work. The students don’t learn just what you teach them directly. They’re also learning about you as a person. If you are the kind of teacher who lets homework slide, they’re going to be less and less likely to do work for you and to respect you. You have to make sure that you’re keeping track of everything that’s going on in your classroom. But this is quite a challenge because often times, teachers have 500 or more students that they need to be looking after. How do you make sure that you’re keeping track of what everybody owes you and what needs to be done? The tool that I recommend that can change your life is just a small, sturdy clipboard. If you go out and you get one for yourself today, I guarantee you, it will change your life as a teacher. There are three kinds of things that you should keep on your clipboard: Their tracking sheets, their daily must-do lists, and there’s a general to-do list. I want to talk about the tracking sheet first. The tracking sheet starts out its life as just a plain piece of blank paper. But as the days go by, if any student misses something for you, a homework or a project, you put their name on this list, make a note of what the thing is they’re missing, and the date that this happened on. You should go through this list at least once a week and cross off anybody who’s gotten work back to you. Or send messages to those who haven’t. If a student continues not to give something to you, you need to look into your own school’s sanctions policies. As long as you never cross off anybody’s name before they’ve given you what they owe you, you’ll always be making sure that you get every piece of work from every student. When collecting in the homework from students, you should go around to the students’ desk individually, collect each piece of homework and then write down the names of those who don’t have it. If you do this regularly, the students will quickly learn that you’re the kind of teacher who doesn’t let things slide. And they’ll put you on the top of their own to-do lists. The second thing to talk about are the daily must-do lists. On your computer, you should make a Word document that has a blank page for each workday. On those pages, you’re going to put down the things that must happen by the end of that day, in order to be fully prepared for the next day. So as an example, every Monday, you need to list all of the classes that you need to plan for on Tuesday. If there’s anything else that needs to be done before Tuesday, also put that on that list. The thing that really makes this work is that it is a must-do list. This is not a daily to-do list. You’re not putting down things that you would like to get done by the end of the day, but that are ultimately optional. You need to put down things that have to get done. I like to think of this as my “I must do this before I can go home list”. If you limit your list to only the things that absolutely have to get done, it’s much more motivating to knock those things off, so you know you can go home at the end of the day and not have to be worrying all night about what you need to do first thing in the morning to be ready for the day. The last thing to keep on the clipboard is a general to-do list. This is a list for everything that doesn’t fit on your must-do list. Anything that is less time sensitive goes on here. Any general project that you need to do at some point, but not by a specific day will all be kept track of on here. After you’ve crossed off your must-do list, then you would turn over to your general to-do list and start working through those items, if you have time. The next thing I want to talk about is paperwork. Teachers deal with a lot of paper and you have to have a system for keeping it all together. This is what I recommend. You should have one folder for each class that you teach. Within that folder, you’re going to keep all of the papers that you currently need to teach that class. So, any worksheets that you’re going to give out, any tests you’re going to give out, homework that you’ve gotten back and need to mark, all of those kinds of things go into this folder. Any reference materials that you wouldn’t need on a particular day to teach that class, such as workbooks that you use to photocopy the worksheets from, those you can keep in a separate filing cabinet. Here’s an example of the kind of thing to keep inside one of the folders. This is a collection of papers that’s for a Year 10 test. There’s three parts to this little packet, so let’s take a look at them. First, there’s the papers themselves. Secondly, there’s a title sheet that clearly describes what they are. In this example, Year 10 Tests. And lastly, there’s a cover slip which keeps all of these things together. If you leave a lot of blank space on your cover sheet, you can add additional information later on, such as when you’ve given the test to the students and received them back, you can add To Mark on the front of that sheet, so that you know you need to take care of this. And once you’ve marked them, you can then cross that out. Again, to quickly review, keep one folder for each of your classes, and keep all of the things that you need to teach that class in that folder. Once you set up this system, you know that you just need that single folder to be adequately prepared for the class. This is also convenient, in case there’s a room change. You can just grab that folder and go. If you’re able to organize your files in the ways that I’ve just recommended, and you’re able to consistently work with your daily must-do list, the advantage is that when you walk into school on any day, you know that you’re completely ready for whatever’s going to happen. You don’t have to spend any of your day frantically planning for that afternoon lesson, and if anything comes up unexpectedly, you don’t have to worry about it, because you’re all set for every one of your lessons for that day. Once you start getting used to this ready position, you’ll find that you have more time in the day than you actually originally thought. One of the places that time has been hiding from you is in these little five minute intervals between lessons. After the last class leaves and before the next class comes in, you can use this time in a productive way if you’re prepared adequately. I recommend that you keep a list of things that you can do in these little five minute times. For example, you can do some quick filing or, if you have an easy to mark quiz, you can mark a couple of those pages in that quiz. After a full day of teaching, you can sometimes find that you’ve marked a complete class set of quizzes without ever feeling like you had to sit down and mark the whole thing at once. I want you to realize as a teacher that your job is a lot less clear than other jobs. If you think of a factory worker, they have a clearly defined shift, which is nine to five and they’re producing a tangible product, such as a car. You know when the car is done because all of the pieces have been fit together. Being a teacher is not like this. If you’re working on something like making presentations or making a test for a class or a worksheet, this kind of work can really go on forever. You can always make a presentation a little bit snappier or you can always make a worksheet a little bit clearer. When you’re making something like a worksheet, at some point, the worksheet is going to be serviceable. It’s going to be completely adequate for the educational aim that you’re trying to achieve. If you’re going to continue working, you really need to stop and think for a moment. Would I better spend my time making this worksheet absolutely perfect? Or would my time be better spent moving on to something else? Most of the time, the answer is the latter. You’re better off having two satisfactory worksheets for two different classes than one perfect worksheet for one class, but no worksheet for the other one. Now let’s talk about sick days. Teachers have one of the lowest absentee rates of any profession. And I don’t think that’s because teachers are more healthy than most people. It’s because, as a teacher, sometimes missing a day of work is more of a hassle than just going in, no matter how poorly you may be feeling. Because of this, teachers don’t often take days off work until they’re feeling really poor. Do yourself a favor as a teacher. Spend some time creating lessons to be used in your absence ahead of time. If you make them before you need them, when you actually are sick, you can just call in the school and tell them, “There’s a file in my filing cabinet. It’s called cover work. Everything you need is in there.” Then you can hang up the phone, crawl back into bed and spend your day getting better, as opposed to spending your day worrying about what your students are actually going to do. The last thing I want to talk about is how big projects get done. Something like a cathedral doesn’t just pop into existence. It gets built very slowly over time, one brick by one brick. It’s a good idea to try and carve out at least twenty minutes, maybe thirty minutes, everyday to work on a long term project that’s beneficial to you and your career. For example, if there’s a new computer skill that you need to learn, if you just spend twenty minutes a day on it, you can make real progress on something like that over time. If you set aside daily time to work on your long term projects, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much you can accomplish. When you look back in six months or a year, you’ll be amazed at what you’ve done. And lastly, don’t forget why it is you became a teacher in the first place. The summer holidays.