Time Management in Teaching
In my personal experience, time management ties in closely with stress management, which I’ll dedicate another post to, shortly. When I did my PGCE, I experienced being in my placements as extremely stressful altogether. The expectations people had of me, the ignorance about me being a new teacher, showing little to no compassion for the sense of being absolutely overwhelmed. The expectations I had of myself, trying to juggle my private life, whilst doing my very best to create interesting lessons for rowdy community school classes who loved their regular teacher, and didn’t want me to replace him… it was so, so stressful for me. I would regularly plan lessons until the early morning hours, only to walk back into school absolutely knackered, and being told off for forgetting something, or having asked a question on an MFL group on Facebook late at night (yes, they’re on there too, and they’ll see you). It wasn’t a kind time. I felt overwhelmed and insufficient and many of my colleagues didn’t seem to like me very much, and weren’t trying to hide that, either. I was told my lessons were boring, because it was difficult for me to find the right pace, as the students were reluctant to participate, I struggled with behaviour management, some of the students openly hated me, and when a girl decided to no longer come to my classes, it was encouraged by her regular teacher, who was also the head of department. All of this wasn’t helpful, but here’s the positive: I got through it! And I even managed to have a few really positive experiences with students. I bonded with the shy students, those who sat by themselves, and didn’t dare putting their hands up in the beginning. I saw some of them bloom during my lessons, and even learning little role plays by heart, and perform them like there was no tomorrow, and this was what counted. For them, I made a difference. But I digress again!
How do you manage your time efficiently, and how do you manage to not over plan your lessons?
In the beginning, it will help you to make an official-looking lesson plan that details all sorts of things. If it helps you, you can even print it off, and use it as a guide whilst teaching. Eventually, it’ll be enough for you to just write a few key points in your planner. Generally speaking, an old-school paper planner can be a life saver! AND / OR: My coping strategy: PowerPoints that you adjust from lesson to lesson, and save under the date, or title of your lesson. You’ll be able to reuse and adjust these lessons later with minimum effort, so it will be a hassle to begin with, but think of it as a future investment. It’ll also get easier the more you do it. You will get to a point, where you’ll be able to just ‘wing’ a lesson, but that’ll come later. If you are in the lucky position of using a book with your classes, that’ll give you a lot of saved time! Just follow the book; teaching doesn’t always have to be rocket science. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, it is okay to just use the book, especially with young learners, who only just begin to learn a language, or any other subject, really. To make things a little more exciting for them, throw a little game in every once in a while. You’ll find a nice list of games, and ideas here.
Most important to keep in mind is the following (I’m speaking for languages): Get the four skills covered. What are the four skills you ask? (Maybe you don’t, but just in case) Reading, writing, speaking and listening. The students need to be drilled to become proficient in all of these areas, so try to make sure you have an element of each in every lesson. If you have a lesson in between that focuses on one of those skills in detail, that’s alright, just make sure to generally stick to the rule, and you’ll be good. If you have your own classroom (living the dream!), why not use one side of the board, or a display board to put the title and learning objectives for the day up? To make it as fast as possible, you can laminate a sign each per class, and then write the objectives and titles for the day, as soon as you get in, every day. Alternatively: Put them on the PowerPoint (on every slide). Here’s an example of what this can look like:
Another good tip that can lessen your stress and make you more efficient is a challenge wall. On the challenge wall, you have little games, short stories, quizzes or writing frames for students who either need to be stretched, when they finish earlier than the others, or for students who need a bit of extra help. If you anticipate these things, you can have a well-organised challenge wall that you can easily send them to, or that you can pick from, when needed. Here’s a link to some useful example resources for a challenge wall. Don’t get side-tracked!
Make sure to set yourself limits! Set yourself a timeline that you stick to. For example: don’t work past 10:00PM. Some of you might think: “10:00PM? Are you crazy? I’d never do that!” Good for you, but some of us struggle to get things done quickly, and have very high standards for themselves (not saying you don’t, but that’s just what it looks like for some). You need to make sure to still make time for yourself, your relationships and friendships, and just time for yourself. This might have to be limited time during your teacher training, but you need it, to stay healthy. Mentally, and physically. Keep one day of the weekend free for just you, and what you want to do. Reconnect with nature, go to a park, meet for a coffee with a friend, listen to your favourite album, light a scented candle, go to a yoga class, do something that makes you happy. Call a loved one, or even better: visit them. Make a daytrip somewhere to take your mind off your responsibilities.
I know from myself that sometimes even thinking about this time off isn’t an option, because there is just too much work. But you know what? No one, or almost no one will appreciate your hard work that you sacrificed your own private lifetime for. It is, after all, still just a job. And don’t forget this. It is one chapter in the whole of your life, and you don’t want to give up on your life for a job. Remind yourself of that when you’re once again tempted to ‘just do this little bit more’, and end up working until you fall into bed, without having managed to actually do a single thing to yourself.
So here’s a list of tips:
- Make a lesson plan in any shape or form that works for you (formal, PP, planner).
- Establish a routine that you stick to (e.g.: write Titles and learning objectives on the board, first thing in the morning, then adjust your PP for form time, etc.).
- Make an ‘ugly frog’ list of priorities, if you need it (That’s when sh*t really hits the fan, and you need to do what seems like a million things at once, and you don’t know where to start and how to tackle it. What is the ugliest frog that figuratively needs to be swallowed? The most pressing and hateable task that needs to be addressed ASAP, then work your way down.
- Set yourself limits. You are not a machine, and you deserve to have time off work.
- Don’t forget the social element. Try to make some friends at work, and share your concerns, but also resources! It’ll save both of you time and keep you sane.
- Don’t lose yourself in resource hell. That’s when it’s super tempting to keep clicking on all of those amazing, and lovely resources, until you look at the clock and realise that you’ve just wasted an hour, and still haven’t planned that darn lesson.
- Be efficient, rather than perfect. As long as you ensure progress, and keep your students’ interest in your subject, you are winning. It doesn’t always have to be a beautifully crafted lesson. Sometimes just enough is good enough, and the more control you give your students over the task, the less you actually have to do. Think about it. Just explain the task well, model it, make sure, everyone’s got it, put a differentiation in, and off they go.
- Use a timer for both yourself and the students (I’ll address this in my tips on teaching). Give yourself a certain time to fulfil a task, and once the time’s up that’s it. It’ll have to do. Takes a bit of practise, but will make you better.
- Recycle materials: Is there anything from a lesson that you can use across the board? Anything that worked particularly well? Recycle it for another group, or two, or three. You’ll just have to adjust it slightly, and adapt it according to their levels. Differentiation is always a plus.
- Don’t waste your precious time on marking books in depth, without a follow-up task. Look at your department’s guidelines of how they want it done. Generally speaking: use a what went well / even better if stamp. Don’t mark every little thing, find recurring mistakes, and feedback on those, then give them three tasks that they have to do, whilst they also have to rewrite sentences that contain mistakes, in full. Then let them show you their work, and give them a stamp in their books, and praise them. This way, you ensure progress is happening, and your hard work isn’t just going down the drain. Have a task ready for those who will finish early, but don’t let anyone get away too easily. It needs to be correct, and neat for them to go forward with the next task (which should be differentiated).