As teachers, we often feel like we don’t have enough time. Between administrative tasks, compiling and analyzing data, parent communication, lesson planning, and grading, it can quickly become overwhelming. I spend entirely too much time talking with peers, and too little time being productive, and so I’m always feeling like I need to catch up. These time-saving tips help me keep my sanity. I’ve picked up lots of little tricks along the way: some of these tips for teachers I always use, and others, save me tons of time when I actually follow them. While I’m sure these all of these time-saving tips for teachers are not new for you, I hope you find a few new ideas and some reminders to help you save precious minutes in your days.
1. Follow curriculum routines
It takes a few weeks each year to figure out my schedule and how our regular routines will all fit in. It gets adjusted throughout the year as new tasks come up and as students are ready for the next procedure or task. But, I know what my week will look like from week to week and it saves me so much time while planning. For example, this year my reading lessons follow this sequence throughout the week. Monday: Comprehension skill lesson Tuesday: Comprehension strategy lesson Wednesday: Comprehension strategy lesson and comprehension skill class practice Thursday: Comprehension practice (either skill or strategy) — part a/part b question practice from basal. My comprehension strategy lesson is from our supplemental curriculum. I read the lesson over and plan how I’ll make it more explicit and intentional, but I follow the plan as is. My comprehension skill I take from our regular basal curriculum but I plan my own lesson using a mentor text. The only day that typically varies during my week is Thursday. Sometimes I want to spend more time on our comprehension skill for the week, sometimes I want to use the third day’s lesson on our comprehension strategy, and sometimes I want to work on comprehension practice not in isolation. Sometimes I use my PQA practice pages, sometimes I use the color coded Text Detectives from Luckeyfrog’s Lilypad, sometimes I use the part a/part b tasks provided with my reading curriculum, and sometimes I use my own Part A/Part B passages. It takes me just a few minutes to grab my Thursday task, read my supplementary lessons, and plan one outside lesson- plus I know that’s what I’m going to need to plan for so I’m already thinking ahead. I follow similar routines in math as well, and it saves me so much time each week knowing what I’m going to use from my basal, what I’m going to supplement, and what needs to be copied.
2. Plan a week at a time
I plan one day a week for the week ahead- typically on Thursdays or Fridays. I sit down and do it as much of it as I can in one sitting. Often, I can get the big sketch of my week done, as well as my copies, in about 45 minutes. Sometimes it takes me a bit longer to plan minilessons, especially if I’m looking for additional resources or new ideas to try, but overall my week is planned pretty quickly. When I’m behind on my planning I tend to plan one day a time. This takes so much longer due to context switching, and I miss the big picture of what I need students to learn and master that week. I’m not as effective, and feel like I’m spending so much time at the copier.
3. Copy one day a week
I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but we have a copy machine in each of our pods in our building, plus two in our teachers’ lounge, so I can set up big jobs pretty guilt free. I come to work early, or stay late one day during the week when there aren’t many people there and do all of my weekly copying once. I put all of my single sided copies through the machine and then send all of my double sided copies through. The machine does all of the sorting and extra work for me. I run some errands like using the bathroom, returning books to the library, etc. and stop by here and there to check the machine to make sure there’s not a paper shortage, jam, or that it’s stalled waiting for me to grab the stack off. I hate waiting for the copy machine during the week, especially if I’m behind someone who only puts in one page at a time. Copiers are smart. They have a long memory. Line that sucker up and go be productive!
4. Find your prime time
If I only had one tip for teachers, it’s this. Over the years, I’ve discovered my most productive time is in the mornings before most people get there so I’m not tired from my day and I don’t have people to talk to and distract me. I can go in 30-45 minutes before my first meetings start, and get more done than I do in 2 hours after school. Over time, I’ve even become a morning person and now don’t have a hard time waking up early. For you, your best time might be after school two days a week. Whatever works for you and your schedule, find the time you can be there with few distractions and get your work done quickly and efficiently. Then leave; it’ll all be there tomorrow.
5. Shut your door. Set a timer or have a deadline.
I’m a talker- it’s the number one time waster for me. When I really need to get something done, or I’m staying after to accomplish something and I want to leave as soon as possible, I shut my door. If someone comes up to chat and sees your door closed, they’ll be less likely to interrupt if it’s not important or timely. It also helps me if I set a deadline or have a time deadline. For me, that’s leaving at 4:30. I have meetings until 4:10 most days, which gives me 20 minutes to get organized and cleaned up, check e-mail, etc. When I have a deadline, I work so much more quickly and efficiently. You know, you can clean your house much faster in the 30 minutes before someone arrives, than in the two days in advance. Same idea.
6. Don’t sit down
This was a big one for me when I realized how much more productive I was if I didn’t sit at my desk. At the end of the day, I often fell into my chair at my computer, looked at my email for a moment, and wound up on Facebook doing some mindless scrolling. I was sitting at work, and resented how long I was spending there each day, but I also wasn’t actually working that whole time. One change that made a world of difference for me was to stop sitting down. Now, I walk in my room, do any cleaning I need to do, put things away that are on my desk, and get set up for the next day.
7. Utilize technology
There are so many ways teachers can use technology to save time both during the school day and outside school hours. One time saver for me was changing my centers display into a projectable system. I no longer changed it out each morning, and I had so much more board space with not having to display my reading and math centers at the front of the room. To see more about that system, just click the image below. I also digitized my schedule display. I incorporate my daily schedule and our morning message all in one. Because it’s a digital schedule display, I have a template for each day of the week with the schedule on the side, and it only takes me a second to change it out on those random days that have a special event. Plus, I can type our morning message more quickly than I can hand-write it. You can check out my Digital Schedule Display by clicking on the image below.
This past year I purchased an Amazon Echo Dot for my classroom. My Dot is used virtually every single day as a timer, but what’s most helpful is when there’s a random question that I’m unable to answer on my own. I can just ask Alexa, rather than walking over to my computer across the room to search. From spelling hippopotamuses to knowing additional digits in pi beyond 3.14, Alexa has saved us precious time in the classroom this year. To read more ideas on how you can use Alexa in your room, head on over to the post below. Ladybug’s Teacher Files has a ton of blog posts that showcase how to use technology, especially Google Docs. From to-do lists to paper grading, her tutorials are beautiful and helpful.
8. Rethink your grading
I know some districts and schools have policies and procedures in place dictating grading expectations. But, if you are not tied to a specific method, and you spend a ton of time grading, it might be time to rethink your classroom routines and the grades you take. I’ve always had the mindset that my grades should reflect what students are able to do independently after instruction. So, for me, the only grades I truly take are on assessments. I have my assessments weighted at 75% of the grade, and participation as 25%. What goes into participation is homework, which is quickly graded as just completion, as well as classroom routines like morning work and problem solving. We complete most other work together, or there’s nothing requiring something be turned in. Grading assessments gives you the information you need to continue to drive your instruction, and accurately reflects students’ performance, but also allows you to not spend all of your evenings and weekends grading. Do these strategies work for you? Do you have other time-saving tips for teachers? I’d love to see them in the comments!
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