Effective time management for teachers is one of the things that can make or break your teaching career. If you work a thousand hours a week, you will burn out.
But if you learn to manage your time effectively, you are more likely to be one of the teachers that lasts the long haul.
So, how do you do this? Read on to find out more time management tips for teachers.
1. Plan your time effectively
This tip for time management for teachers probably seems obvious, but it’s not. You probably plan out what you’re going to do during a day and you likely plan out your lessons.
But, do you work out roughly how long different tasks will take? Do you allocate specific types of tasks to certain days? Do you use a block schedule to help juggle all the different areas of your life more effectively?
If not, here are some tips:
Chunk your tasks
Just like you chunk your activities in your lessons, you could try to complete similar types of tasks in chunks. It’s far easier to do a bunch of the same sort of tasks than to switch between tasks that require different skills. For example, do you have a bunch of phone calls to make? Do them together. Do you have a bunch of papers to grade or lessons to plan? Allocate an hour, and do as many as you can.
Allocate tasks to specific days
Some teachers prefer to do specific tasks on specific days. For example, you may like to do all of your printing and copying on a Friday for the week ahead. Or, you may like to send home positive praise postcards every Tuesday and Thursday. Either way, allocating specific tasks to specific days takes away some of the decision-making in your day and minimizes wasted time trying to decide what to do.
Use a block schedule
Some teachers, particularly those juggling part-time work, family demands, or side-hustles/second jobs use a block schedule to organize their time throughout the week. This ensures that all the different parts of their lives keep chugging along. (See here for my blog post on block schedules).
For example, this might mean that on Sunday afternoons you meal prep a bunch of dinners and lunches for the coming week. Or you might choose to put cleaning-the-house tasks as part of your nighttime routine and complete one cleaning task a day.
At school, this might mean that you leave that last half hour each day to respond to emails make phone calls. Or you might use the first half hour each day when you arrive to organize your materials for your classes that day etc.
Use to-do lists for daily, weekly, monthly and yearly tasks
Another tip for time management for teachers is to have daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly to-do lists. Daily to-dos might be tasks such as:
- taking attendence
- organizing materials for classes
- checking emails
- making phone calls
Weekly tasks might include things such as:
- contacting parents
- planning lessons
- grading assessment
- sending out positive praise postcards etc.
Monthly tasks might include things such as:
- checking in with students about their progress
- long-term planning such as units of work
- completing professional development
- writing out important dates on your calendar
Yearly tasks might be things such as:
- printing out parent-contact information
- sending home emails/letters to parents introducing yourself
- roughly planning out the year and units of work
Prepare in advance
Prepare for everything in advance:
- phone calls to parents
- meetings with admin
- department meetings
- parent-teacher meetings
- professional development
Basically, winging it wastes time when you are completing tasks because your brain is trying to work out what to do while you do it. Which makes you work more slowly.
So, jot down some talking points, write out a lesson plan, or write out a to-do list for your prep time, before-school time, and after-school time.
2. Prioritize your tasks
Again, this sounds silly and easy, but another time management tip for teachers is to prioritize the work. In her book on time management, Get Remarkably Organized by Lorraine Murphy, (not an affiliate link, just read it and thought it had good tips) suggests doing the tasks that will push you forward in your career or business.
Now, she is writing from a business-building background, but the drift is to do the things that will have the most impact first. As teachers, our job is to educate students. So, tasks that help us achieve that goal will be the most important.
However, evaluating what work you need to do and when it needs to be done will help you get out the staffroom door faster. Try to think about your tasks in this way:
- How important is the task?
- How urgent is the task?
Once you have done that, try to assign the tasks to the following categories:
- Important and urgent tasks
- Not-important but urgent tasks
- Important but not-urgent tasks
- Not-important and not-urgent tasks
Then, do the tasks in the following order:
- Important and urgent tasks get done first. Aim to get these done for the next day before you leave for home.
- Not-important but urgent tasks get done second. Aim to get these done for the next day before you leave for home.
- Important but not-urgent tasks get done third. Aim to get these done for the next day, but don’t stress if you don’t because you can finish them up later.
- Not-important and not-urgent tasks get done last (if at all). Why are you doing these? Choose wisely which of these tasks you will do and which you will let slide.
But, as Tim Ferriss in The Four-Hour Work Week (again, not an affiliate link, just read it and liked it) you can outsource parts of your work. Need lesson plans? TPT has your back. Don’t reinvent the wheel. But, use it wisely because it adds up quickly and your money is best spent on things that either:
- save you a bunch of lesson-prep time, or
- get you out of a bind. You know, the kind of bind that starts Sunday night when your kid swallows a spring and you take a five-hour round trip to the local ED and get home at midnight. And therefore cannot possibly create the lesson activity you were supposed to and you need something for class like five minutes ago. That kind of bind.
And I should say that prioritizing goes for lessons too. If you find yourself suddenly with a week to go before school break and your students are still completing assessments, you don’t need to cover all the content. You need to get them to finish the assessment. Now.
So take your lessons one at a time (while keeping the big picture in mind) and do what needs to get done to meet expectations.
Do the activities that will most benefit your students first. And then add in extras if you have the time and inclination.
But one of the most important time management skills needed for teachers to survive is to prioritize their work. Do what NEEDS to get done and leave the rest on the backburner.
And focus on one task at a time
Multi-tasking sounds great in theory. And frankly, there are some things that should be multi-tasked.
I’m thinking of things like driving your kid to swimming lessons while listening to them rattle on about My Little Pony but secretly listening to your favorite radio station or podcast on your earphones.
Cos really, who wants to hear more about My Little Pony.
But, at work, multitasking can make you distracted because your brain is switching from one thing to another and has to do a little re-boot each time you change tasks. So, pick the task, complete it, then do the next one.
3. Get organized & have systems in place
This time management tip for teachers is all about getting organized and having systems in place to make your day-to-day and week-to-week easier.
These systems can be in place at work, or at home. But the goal is to put things on autopilot so your brain doesn’t have to think about it.
Things you might like to have a system for include:
- When/how you will contact parents
- Visiting your pigeon hole/teacher cubby/school office
- Checking emails
- Making urgent/non-urgent phone calls
- Classroom management and organization
- Behavior management
- Homework/classwork tracking
- Recording assessment information
- Asking for and using past students’ assessments as samples
- Entering/exiting the classroom
- Cleaning the classroom
4. Plan solid B- lessons
Lesson planning can take a long time. A looooonnnngggg time. But, it doesn’t have to. Depending on how your school likes you to lesson plan, your plan might be as easy as dot points of activities written in your teacher diary.
But, if you’re not that lucky and are expected to write up full lesson plans, my first piece of advice is to re-use old lesson plans wherever possible.
And failing that, use a template to make the process go faster.
But either way, you don’t need every lesson to be a whizz-bang, all-singing, all-dancing lesson that entertains your students for every single second.
Aim for solid B- in the whizz-bang, all-singing, all-dancing criteria and just make sure that your students know what they need to learn and help them learn it.
Chalk and talks are fast. Powerpoints are easy. Independent practice is essential. So make them do the work.
And for goodness sake, if you are planning for different classes, always always always try to work with a team teacher and take turns. Save your sanity.
5. Use templates
Using templates is such a time saver. Instead of creating everything from scratch, using templates means that you can create documents, lesson plans, rubrics quickly and easily.
All you have to do is tweak the template for each specific thing. Great things to have templates for include:
- student feedback on assessment
- parent communcation (permission slips, missing work or assessment, attendence)
- student feedback on classwork
- lesson plans
- student feedback on behavior
- student task sheets or assessment rubrics
You get the idea here. Re-use documents that you use often, but just tweak them to suit each individual purpose instead of re-creating the entire document.
And be smart about marking – create rubrics and marking sheets that are tick and flick so that you spend less time marking. This is especially important for formative asseessment.
6. Use colleagues and students
Now, I don’t really mean use your colleagues. What I mean is to develop collegiate relationships with other teachers you trust and respect. Then to take turns planning work.
For example, one year a teacher-friend and I took turns creating lessons for a songs of social commentary unit in English. She took the 70s, I took the 80s, she took the 90s and I took the 00s.
Between us, we created activities about bands, their songs, and the comments the songs made. We halved the work we had to do individually but together were able to create a fun unit of work that the students enjoyed and learned from.
Other ways to do this is to swap resources and lesson plans with teachers who teach the same units as you or, if your school is set up to do this, to team-teach bigger combined classes.
You can also use your students to do stuff. Ask them to carry messages to the office, get them to peer edit each other’s work, get them to mark non-essential things like spelling tests, or assign peer grades.
This helps students develop responsibility and see that there are people other than the teacher in their class who can help them. Plus, peer-teaching typically helps students learn very effectively.
7. Set boundaries around your time
So, why is time management important for teachers? Well, if you haven’t worked it out already, teaching is a profession that can consume ALL of your time. If you let it.
This is the hardest time-management skill teachers need. Learning to say no. Trying to set boundaries around your time. Learning to use sick leave.
But, if you can learn how to manage time as a teacher, you will last longer in a profession where fantastic people burn out faster than a sparkler candle on a birthday cake.
So ideas to set boundaries around your time:
- if you have an office or classroom, close your door when you are working during your prep time or before/after school
- if you don’t have an office, wear earphones to signal to your colleagues that you are working not chatting
- use sick leave strategically – take one or two days off a term (preferably when you can assign an easy task like a video to a substitute teacher) and use that time to mark assessment or plan units of work
- try to avoid socializing if you have essential tasks to get done
Time management for teachers is also important because you have to gauge what you think your students can learn in a set amount of time. And then pace your lesson accordingly.
One of the best teacher time management tools is a clock. No joke. Use a clock or watch. In your brain, know when activities will finish in each lesson and what time to move onto the next activity.
This will help keep your lessons moving, stop your students from getting bored, and keep you on track to cover required content.
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