We all find ourselves begging for more time in the day. It’s difficult to make time to do the things we enjoy when we are doing this balancing act of being a teacher. Between waking up early enough to get ready to work, going in early to prep, running around like maniacs throughout the day, staying late to prep or grade, then trying to go home and manage a personal life, we are literally NON-STOP (any Hamilton fans? If so, that was totally meant to be read as the song sings it).
I have been told a few times that I balance my time well. So in hopes of helping others find ways to balance their time, I wanted to offer my approach to time-management.
This post isn’t just focused only on your ability to manage the time in the classroom. Though that’s important, balancing your time outside of work to maximize your life is also important! I am going to briefly touch on both forms of management.
So for my school-based time-management…
The first piece of advice I can give you is to get a planner!!!! I have two actually. Our school gives us one to use for planning, and then I also have my own personal one. The personal one typically just keeps my grad school and personal to-do lists and important dates. I also write our spending in my personal planner to help me manage our finances.
L I F E C H A N G E R!
The second planner that the school gives me is typically where all my important school dates and information goes. I also have a small lined notebook for school where I write my to-do lists or other important information related to school. These planners are literally my life. Without them, I am lost.
With managing the “prep” time that you get, the question always is how do I maximize that time? Some days I am running around like a crazy person, and other days I’m relaxed and just hanging out in my office. These days change based on the time of school year definitely, but also since I have been in my grade for a few years, I have a lot of things that I can reuse. That cuts down my need to prep things everyday. This doesn’t mean I don’t prep new things every year… cause I definitely do!
My school is an IB school, so though we have standards we need to teach, there are no common assessments throughout the Units of Inquiry. I teach grade one at my school and there are two grade one classes. There are two homeroom teachers for each class- 1 western “English” teacher and 1 Taiwanese teacher. The other grade one western teacher (see my co-teaching blog here to learn about a co-teaching environment) and I spend a lot of time planning and changing our English assessments for each UOI as needed. Since we share this work, it does help us to cut down on how much time we both need to spend prepping, buying or creating new materials.
On those days that I do have a ton to do, I have a few routines that help me use my time wisely. The first thing I must do is to create a to-do list. When I know what needs to be done before I leave school that day, I have a plan for how to approach the day. I also use this list till it’s done. I check things off as I go and it helps me see what I still need to get done and what I’ve already done. The second thing I do is to do the most important things first. What on my list needs to be done ASAP and what can be pushed back as needed? That helps me get the most important things done before I leave to go home later that day. It also helps me to prioritize my life, which in turn is healthier for me mentally. Knowing what I can just deal with first and putting the things that can wait to the side helps me see what really matters in the moment. Seriously, it will be there tomorrow. The third thing I do is to throw my headphones on if I need to get work done without distraction. We have cubicles in a shared office room since we are a co-teaching team-based department. This helps the teachers keep working if they aren’t teaching because your classroom may be in use with your co-teacher teaching. Since we are all working in one room, it’s super easy to get distracted! Putting in my headphones lets everyone know that I am not here to chat today without being rude.
The last thing that I do comes after ALL of those above. If I have something coming up or an idea that I want to implement in the coming weeks/UOIs, I will prep for that earlier rather than later. This means I will get it prepped before I need it if I have the available time. I don’t put things off. I just get it done. My future self ALWAYS thanks me when time comes around for me to use those materials. This is typically what happens in the first 3-4 months of the semester. I will prep everything I will need till the end of the semester, so that unless there’s something I change or add in, I most likely don’t need anything else. AKA the first bit of my semester is busier and my second bit is as relaxed as it can be.
In classroom time-management…
I typically run long during my read alouds because we spend so much time talking about the book and about reading as we go. My students are ESL students, so I spend extra time discussing with them the vocabulary, the storyline, the different strategies that I’ve used to help me understand or read, etc. This time to me is more important than getting to a center activity right away, so I’m okay with it running over.
Otherwise, I use a timer for E V E R Y T H I N G!!! Seriously, I am just constantly setting a timer. This helps not only me keep my eye on the time, but also allows my students to know how much time they have to work on something.
I also plan out how long I want each activity to go before I start. If I know we have a lot to hit that day in our 80-minute class period, I will break up that period into time slots for each part of the lesson in my head so I have an idea of my time limit on things. It’s not always perfect, but it does help me have a better idea break up my time better.
I also factor in that I will need to stop 5 minutes before it’s time to move on to clean up. That way I can see exactly how much time my students will have to work. I don’t try to rush them into doing the work in a short time either. If there’s not enough time to do something for whatever reason, I will just work on something else with them. Example: my students needed at least 30 minutes to work on a writing assessment, but our read aloud ran over so there was only 20 minutes left in the class. Instead of rushing to explain the assessment and pass out necessary materials and have the students start the work, I chose to use this chance to make sure my students know what they will need to do for the assessment. I used that time to turn it into a mini-lesson, which in turn will help support them better tomorrow when they begin working.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before but having an idea or a plan is seriously a lifesaver!!! If you fail to plan, you plan to fail ;)
I didn’t master this my first year teaching. I didn’t master this my second year teaching. This is something that I am still perfecting, but I am a major OCD control-freak, so managing my time well is very important to me.
Personal time-management is a different ball game. You know, what you consider as important in your life is where you put your time. Things that are always priorities in my life: (currently) grad school, work, exercise, and family time.
My school has a gym, so if I have some free time there and don’t need to do any work immediately, I like to escape off for 30-45 minutes and get in a quick workout. If not, I schedule my workouts to happen RIGHT when I get home. Like within 30 minutes. This is perfect timing for me because I am able to start dinner and workout while it’s cooking (seriously just gotta fit it in).
Work rarely comes home with me. I make a point to say, “It’ll be there tomorrow” and leave things at work instead of bringing it home. If I do bring work home, I try to mix it in with spending time with my husband. Maybe we watch a movie and as we do that I am grading rubrics or making something for a center. I really try to keep it low-key work or just not at home.
To do my grad schoolwork, I like to get up extra early and just get started. This helps me not have to do it when I get home. It doesn’t mean I never work in the evening on grad school, but again I want to maximize my time with my family after work, which means I try to keep my extra work during that time low.
As I said above… you put your time where you put your importance. The biggest piece of advice when you are first sorting out your life for better time-management is “where do I put the importance in my life?”
I hope this helps you in some way to figure out your plan of approach to time-management or at least gives you a look into how I think about it! Let me know your thoughts or questions!