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Mastering time management

New York Teacher
Too often, as teachers, we feel as if we are drowning — only instead of being thrown a life preserver, we are handed another stack of assignments to grade or another administrative task to complete. Some veteran teachers seem to have mastered the impossible and created a realistic work-life balance, but the time-management advice handed down by colleagues and articles — work smarter, not harder; set boundaries; get organized — is often too generic to translate into our own setting.

And while technology, in theory, should allow us to improve efficiency and productivity, for many of us the concept of being able to do work anywhere anytime only exacerbates feelings of guilt and insecurity over whether we’re doing enough for our students.

Before we can begin any conversation about time management, we must first recognize that our duty is not only to serve our current students, but to serve many years’ worth of future students. If we continue to simply “push through” our work struggles to get to the next break or next summer, we are more likely to burn out and leave the classroom or the profession altogether, effectively squandering years of knowledge and experience.

By becoming more efficient, we can help ourselves, our current andfuture students, and future generations of teachers for whom we model the concept of teaching as a sustainable career rather than a draining, altruistic sprint. Here are five strategies you can put into place starting tomorrow:

 1.Plan better to plan less. How much time have we wasted re-doing a plan or a handout simply because we couldn’t find the one we’d used before? Create a nesting folder system by year, unit and lesson to easily locate materials from previous years. Even when things need to be re-done, you’ll still have the original skeleton to work from. Furthermore, a cloud-based system like Google Docs allows you to copy entire lesson plans into a new document with one click so that you only have to change relevant sections. For lessons that repeat similar protocols, this saves precious time.

 2.Grade less, grade more efficiently. We are duty-bound to review our students’ work and provide meaningful feedback to help them grow. We are not obligated to be their personal copy editor, pointing out and fixing every mistake they make. Nor is this what’s best for our students, for whom such “micrograding” can discourage attempts to grapple with new and challenging material or techniques. When you need to know whether students understand a particular concept, choose just onequestion to assess or have students self- or peer-assess. If you teach writing, remember that writing volume is a key factor in writing growth, and the process of studying models and attempting a new strategy results in growth even if the assignment isn’t graded.

 3.Delegate and divvy. Unless you are the only teacher of your subject and grade level, there is someone else at your school unnecessarily doing the same amount of work as you. Work together as a team to divide up responsibilities for planning and creating reproducible materials. Even if you don’t have the same teaching style, you can use their materials as a jumping-off point and still put your own spin on things. While a true collaborative partnership is ideal, when that’s not possible you can still save crucial time with a simple division of labor.

 4. Empower your students. Before you spend hours creating and copying perfectly structured graphic organizers, consider whether students couldn’t simply create their own. Kids learn from having to design their own structures to record information. And while, of course, you can’t mandate students to do administrative tasks for you, many are happy to help before and after school and during lunch, and you can use this time to learn more about your students, helping build or repair relationships.

 5. Do public-facing work first. You will not do your best work if you are under fire from parents and administrators for not fulfilling your key responsibilities. Bulletin boards, report card comments and administrative paperwork might not seem as important as turning tomorrow’s lesson from an A into an A+, and in a way they aren’t. But getting them done on time allows us to work comfortably and avoid the kind of unnecessary scrutiny that will only add more stress.