Managing Teaching Time

Managing Teacher Time via Wonder Teacher Photo Credit: Woodleywonderworks via Flickr, CCL 2012

Time: A teacher’s greatest asset and worst enemy. Teachers never seem to have have nearly enough of it. In fact, I’ve already noticed a trend in my posts where I say, “I wish I had more time with the students. I would have…”

Can you relate?

However, I have also noticed that we teachers can waste a lot of time too. For instance…

A few years ago I was working on a part-time basis in a school and my afternoon duty post was near the bus area. School dismissed at 2:30 but I noticed one kindergarten class always arrived at the bus area with their teacher at 2:20. Backpacks on. Ready to go. 10 minutes early. Every day.

Finally, I decided to comment, “Ya’ll are the early bird class around here!” (This is the Southern passive-aggressive way of questioning someone’s practice.)

She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, we have special area until 2:10 so there really isn’t time to do anything besides pack up.”


I can think of a long list of meaningful things to do with kids for 10 minutes at the end of the school day. Here are a few:

1- Read a book aloud to the class. That one is a winner every time. Model fluent and expressive reading. Expose your children to beautiful language. Enjoy a well-crafted story together today and use it as a mentor text for shared writing tomorrow. Here are some more reasons to read aloud to students if you need convincing. And here are some reasons to read aloud with older (middle school) students.

2- Play a fun and quick review game with math facts, vocabulary words, etc. You can even try some active student response strategies to engage all your students.

3- End with a closing circle– Bring the class together and review the day. What went well? What did they learn? What can we do better tomorrow? If you set goals with your students, check in and see how it’s going. You can invite each student to share with the group or you can let children “turn and talk” in pairs or small groups. Reviewing the day provides important meta-cognition opportunities and a sense of closure.

4- Give students 10 minutes to read silently or with buddies. Research tells us that time spent reading is the best predictor of a student’s reading achievement. The sum of 10 additional reading minutes per day would make quite an impact on a child’s overall reading performance. Check out this brief for some evidence.

5- Give kids time to “fill someone’s bucket.” I know the whole “be a bucket filler” thing is big right now, and I’m glad. It’s a great message. But I must say that my high school teacher, Ms. Onorato, had this idea back in 1990. In her class, we all made “pots” out of black construction paper and decorated them. (We were seniors in high school and we loved every minute of this.) Our “pots” were like pockets that were stapled to her bulletin board. Every few days, she gave us some time to write “nice notes” on slips of paper to insert into our classmates’ pots. It was one of my favorite things about that class- I still have a few of those notes saved in my childhood memorabilia boxes. Those “pots” went a long way toward building strong classroom community.

There are so many meaningful ways to spend 10 minutes with our students.

I also don’t think the teacher I’m tattling on (who had a good reputation for being an effective teacher) ever stopped to think about the grand total of those daily wasted 10 minutes. Let’s do the math:

10 minutes per day x 180 school days = 1,800 minutes / 60 minutes in an hour = 30  hours of the school year spent sitting on the sidewalk with your backpack on waiting for a bus. That is the equivalent of 4 full school days! Not OK.

Before I sound too harsh on teachers, let me confess that I have wasted plenty of teaching minutes myself. We are human. We get tired. It’s the day before Halloween. We get sick. Life just happens. Some days we’re just going to have some wasted time. However, that should be the exception- not the daily norm.

Here’s what I want educators to take away from this post: Be more aware of the way you use one of your most precious teaching assets: time. When we begin the year with our students, we start with a potential total of 75,600 minutes. (420 minutes per day in a 7 hour school day/ 180 day year.) Immediately we start ticking off time for lunch, recess, bathroom breaks, transition time, special area classes, etc. All of those things are important and worthy of our minutes. However, there are also many other “time wasters” in our schools.

Here are a few repeat offenders:

1- Slow start to the day/ packing up too early. I talked above about ending the day too soon. I’ve also seen teachers get a very slow start to the day. In fact, I used to be one of them. For the first few years, I started my day with “morning work.” (i.e.- math review worksheet, journal writing, Daily Oral Language exercise, etc.) It was dull, boring, and my students seemed miserable. It also took up the first 40 minutes of our morning by the time we went over it all.  I knew it wasn’t a great way to start our day but needed that time to get my act together, take roll and lunch count, etc. Finally one day I looked critically at my schedule and came to the following conclusions: 1) I was wasting prime instructional time with low-level review work. 2) My students weren’t really gaining anything academically through the morning work exercises (for instance, in spite of all the “editing” we were doing with D.O.L, they were still making the same mistakes in their writing. D.OL. wasn’t an effective way to teach writing conventions.) 3) I needed to do whatever necessary to be prepared the moment my students entered my door and employ new, fast routines for attendance and lunch count. (Such as a sign-in system and lunch order board.) I began starting my day with a 20 minute morning meeting right from the get-go followed immediately by Reading Workshop. It was one of the best instructional decisions I’ve ever made.

2- Too much time spent on transitions. Sometimes, due to circumstances beyond a teacher’s control, the schedule includes time-wasting transitions. For example, one year I met a teacher whose classroom was way across campus from the special area rooms and cafeteria. It took her almost 10 minutes to get from one point to another. Each day, she had special area until 11:45 and then lunch at 12:10. It was too long to just hang around in the hall but by the time she got back to the room, she only had 5 minutes before she had to take the class to lunch. She was frustrated by this situation and asked for my advice. After sitting down and looking at her schedule together, we decided she should approach the librarian (right next to the cafeteria) and see if her students could come sit inside the library for 25 minutes each day and do their silent reading. The librarian had a break at that time and the agreement was that the students wouldn’t be using that time to check out books. In fact, they would have their own “book bags” with pre-selected books from the classroom. From then on, the students carried their lunch boxes to special area and the library and the teacher transported the “book bags” in a rolling cart along with her reading conferencing notebook. It became a very pleasant part of their day, and opened up her afternoon schedule- she effectively added 25 minutes to the afternoon that had once been devoted to silent reading.

That’s one example. Look critically at your schedule and see if you can change the flow of your day to save instructional time. If you see wasted time caused by your schedule, discuss it with your administrator and problem-solve together. Principals want us to make the most of our teaching time!

3- Too much time spent on morning/ afternoon announcements. Principals- this is you! I once was in a school that averaged 20 minutes on daily announcements! I’m not making it up! They played the National Anthem. They played a birthday song for the birthday kids (who were named.) They did the school cheer. They read the lunch menu. They reviewed the school rules. They recited the Pledge (of America.) They recited the other pledge (of the school.) They observed a moment of silence. They reported on reminders and upcoming events. They read the “Character Counts” daily lesson. They told Ms. Brown’s class to watch out for the puddle outside her trailer. They read the names of students who had reached the reading goal. They played the “Friday song” on Fridays. They reminded everyone it was cold and flu season and to wash those hands! It was way too much. (I think the principal’s secret heart desire was to be a radio talk show host/ D.J.)

I believe in morning news shows and announcements. Schools are communities and there are important things to share and observe school-wide. But let’s try to keep it short and sweet!

4- Too much time spent on low-level thinking skills or unimportant activities. This is one of the biggest time wasters I see and it’s probably the most difficult to tackle. When we get into this category, it becomes more about curriculum and instructional decisions than time spent on non-instructional activities. I already gave an example of this (using myself!) in #3.

5- Meaningless art activites– What? Did I just say that? Miss Arts Integration herself? Yes I did. By “meaningless art activities” I mean things like coloring in the cute clip art on the worksheet or doing a “crafty” project that has no real purpose other than keeping kids busy. Meaningful art experiences will engage children at a critical and creative thinking level. They will be asked to observe, analyze, discuss, plan, problem-solve, compare and contrast, and ultimately, to create something original. Coloring or replicating an adult “craft” model involves none of these thinking skills.

Our teaching time is so precious and fleeting. Let’s examine what we’re doing with a critical eye, increase our daily number of “learning minutes” and approach every school day with a sense of urgency and fresh dedication.

If you can think of other time-wasters or potential solutions, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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  1. great, great, great! I feel like this about my own day all the time (and, nosily, other people’s days too!) every moment is precious – thank you for articulating this so well!

    • Thanks Amy! It’s easy to let those minutes slip away. Glad you already have that on your mind. Best wishes for your teaching. – Susan

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