Free Up Time During the School Day

Teachers are busy! I know – preaching to the choir here. There are so many things to do during the day and just not enough time to do it. How could you possibly find more minutes during your school day? I have been wondering that for years, but I can tell you a few things that have helped me.

One of the age-old questions of teaching is about how teachers can free up time during the school day. While I know no one is perfect, and there are always miles of demands placed upon teachers, I've compiled a list of several things teachers can do to free up time in the classroom. Start saving yourself time NOW!

One thing that I always do right away at the beginning of the year is to assign all my students numbers. This saves me time at the beginning of the year when prepping things (as everything has the same numbers from the year before instead of having to remove names in files, etc.) and saves me time in the classroom. When I have students line up in number order, I can quickly determine who is missing (such as during a fire drill) or when students turn in their work (I teach them to put them in order when they turn them in so I can quickly look to see who is missing work).

Another way that I save time in the classroom is I make sure that my classroom setup is easy to move around in. If I have to squeeze between tables and desks to get around, that takes up a bit of time getting from student to student. (It may not seem like a lot of time, but put it in perspective of the slow-walking student who has to meander all the way around the classroom to get a drink or sharpen his or her pencil…)

Have smooth transitions in place and, if necessary, a countdown. I hate shuffling from one subject to another in the classroom. Sometimes students think this is their opportunity to chat, and oh my goodness, they can take forever to find something in their desk when you say, “Pull out your…” I think this can be one of the biggest time wasters of the whole day. (It doesn’t necessarily have to be transitioning from subject to subject – transitioning from recess to class, class to PE, so on). Practice, practice, practice! (And don’t be afraid to practice repeatedly and throughout the year!)  Role play/model what a smooth transition looks like. I have even implemented consequences for taking too long coming in from recess. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes it has to be done.

Another big time waster is when the teacher is not prepared. I imagine every teacher (*gasp* myself included) has had moments when they couldn’t find something, forgot to copy something, didn’t have enough copies, or whatever. When that happens, what do the students do? They talk. They get off task. It’s critical that the teacher is prepared. When the students get on the bus in the afternoon, I immediately look at my plans for the next day and pull out my materials. I lay them out where I can access them and gather everything I’ll need. (This is also beneficial if something happens and you can’t make it in – boom! – ready for the sub!) Being organized and prepared sheds time off the clock!

Since teachers do so much, another way to free up some time is to have students do a few things. Now, for people like me who are complete control freaks – I can tell you from first-hand experience – it was not easy. I’m not mocking control freaks in any way – it was hard – but I managed, and you can, too! It takes some time, and you have to repeatedly tell yourself that it doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s the kids’ classroom, too, it’s saving you time, and so on. (Or, just look the other way.)  Have students help; they can easily put things away and clean up.

Lastly, for now (as I’m always learning as I teach) have routines and procedures in place, along with giving clear, explicit directions. If students don’t understand the routines, the rules, the procedures, or what to do, then they will spend a lot of time asking questions or wasting your time because you have to constantly manage them. (In the beginning of the year, it’s important to take extra time to teach these so they are automatic!)  If your classroom can run itself, that saves you time because it’s so automatic!

With all the demands that are constantly being placed on teachers, I’m not sure we will ever win the battle of time, but I’m hoping that some of these tips will help a little!

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