It’s 5:27 pm. You still have a stack of papers to be graded on your desk, your plans aren’t ready for tomorrow, and your own 3 children are waiting for you at home. You were hoping for something a little more savory than mac and cheese with sliced-up hot dogs tonight, but you don’t have much time for gourmet cooking. You jam all those ungraded papers and lesson plan materials into your already overstuffed “I Love Teaching” tote bag and head home, realizing you will be up past midnight again. You wonder to yourself, “Do I really love teaching?”
Of course you do! You love the thrill of those light-bulb moments and the great moments of teacher-student interaction. Nothing can compare! You are just feeling overwhelmed by the paperwork and lack of time needed to get everything done.
By carefully scrutinizing how you use every single moment of the workday, you might be surprised at how many extra minutes you can squeeze out of your schedule and put to better use. I did this myself a few years ago, and it was amazing at how much more I was able to get done in any given school day.
Take a look at potential found minutes:
1. Have a working lunch in your classroom. Chances are, you only have a 20-30 minute lunch period anyway. Pack a lunch that does not involve using a microwave, if possible, because that would lead you to the faculty room, which might lead to unnecessary chatter, and then your 20 minutes is gone before you even know it. As you eat, really sit down and work on one or two short tasks that you can get done in that timeframe. 20 minutes adds up to 100 extra minutes of found work time each week! That’s pretty significant!
2. Arrive 10 minutes early. Get everything ready to go for the day. I usually open my plan book, get my SmartBoard ready for my first math lesson, and get my math materials ready for that day’s lesson. This helps me find time later (see #3).
3. If you are fully prepared for the first lesson of the day (see #2), then you aren’t scrambling to get materials ready once class has started. Instead of using moments of independent student work time to get the next part of the lesson ready, you can do any of the following:
- Carry a small stack of papers to be graded with you as you circulate around the room. Correct as you walk, if possible. Obviously this won’t work for the deep-thinking kind of assignments, like narrative essays, but certainly you can correct simple worksheets and spelling tests a few at a time!
- Make lists of what you want to accomplish during that day’s planning period. Yes, plan for your planning period! It’s amazing how much more you will be able to accomplish when you know exactly what needs to be done!
- Close your door. Yes, close your door and maybe even turn off the lights. You won’t be the first teacher to ever hide in the corner to grade papers during her planning time. It is O.K.!
- Put a gentle reminder on your closed door that says “Teacher Planning in Progress.” It’s not rude, and most other teachers will respect that you are making good use of your planning time.
- Walk with them. I listened to a wise teacher explain this method at a conference I attended this summer. She said that it is better to waste 5 minutes rather than 40 minutes of your planning time. When that talkative teacher stops by to chat during your prep period, stand up and say, “Hey, I was just headed down to the office. Why don’t you walk with me?” Chances are that by the time you get to the office, they will have said what they need to say and will head in a different direction.