Wouldn’t you love to have more time?
We all know that teaching is an amazing job and has so many perks but one of the big things all teachers find themselves struggling with at one point or another is time management. It seems like no matter what we do, the work just keeps on piling up – marking, report writing, lesson planning, extra-curricular activities, meetings, analysing data, professional development and so on. And we are supposed to fit all of this around actually teaching children for most of the day!
If you are a teacher you will know that, whilst we love and appreciate our holidays, they barely make up for the intensity with which we have to live our lives for most of the year. We arrive early, teach all day, stay late trying to desperately tick everything on our to-do list, go home to cook, clean and squeeze in some time with our family and friends then do it all over again, five times a week!
Imagine – just for a second – if you didn’t have to rush so much? If you did have time to go to the gym, try that new recipe or go out with friends without the fear of getting desperately behind on work? There are so many decisions that are beyond our control and we will always be, to some extent, at the mercy of higher powers dictating what teachers should and should not be doing. But I am convinced there are real, tangible and simple things that we can all do to make life easier for ourselves, and that’s why I’ve drawn up a list of things teachers can do to help them get more done in less time. I’m sharing three of them here.
They aren’t revolutionary and you may read them and think that you have tried them before, but please stop and think: Am I really doing these things as well as I can for the situation I’m in? Could I try a bit harder with one of them? It might seem like I’m trying to add to your workload rather than ease it, but I promise that if you devote a bit of attention to even one of these three things it has the potential to noticeably improve your work/life balance and maybe even help you remember why you became a teacher in the first place!
1. Get the kids to do the hard work
Managing resources (doing inventories, finding lids for felt tips, gluing sheets in books, sharpening pencils, tidying shelves etc.) can be done by the kids in your classes at least some, if not all of the time. You can also get kids to mark each other’s work, help create classroom displays and other resources, act as teacher-helpers (give them a lanyard or badge to make them feel really special!) and even teach part of a lesson!
Seriously – don’t feel bad about it! It gives them the opportunity to take responsibility, develop leadership and teamwork skills and try new things. I bet you could even fit some more overtly educational elements in there – it could really help them develop numeracy or fine motor skills, for example.
Kids also love having special errands to do to – I used to secretly disapprove of an ex-colleague who would sometimes send a child to refill her water bottle for her until I realized that it left her free to carry on teaching and gave her the opportunity to reward and give special attention to a child in the class who was feeling frustrated and needed a break. Now I am trying to get into the habit of asking my kids to do anything that doesn’t need to absolutely be done by me. For example, why give out resources and pack them away yourself, or tidy up after the students? They can do it and usually much faster than if you had done all those things by yourself, plus you can make it a competition and keep track of their fastest times or reward the quickest and most efficient teams.
2. Get other people to do stuff for you
Maybe you read my first suggestion and thought ‘well that’s easy for you, but the kids I teach are really young!’ Well, I’m sure it is easier when you are teaching older children (I teach 11-16 year olds) but it’s worth trying some of my ideas as those little ones might just surprise you! But even if they really can’t help you out much, there are others who can. Through your place of work or friends and family you probably have access to a pool of children who would happily help you do some of the simple but time-consuming tasks that are forever on teachers’ to-do lists. You could arrange for older children in or connected to your school to come and teach or act as your assistants, either as a one off or on a regular basis. You could run an after-school club where arty children help you create displays and resources for your classroom. The possibilities are endless. Again, the element of competition and the promise of rewards will go a long way too!
If you’ve exhausted your pool of children, how about their parents? I’m sure if you thought about it you would realize that you have access to a huge range of skills and a vast amount of knowledge and experience through your connection to the parents of the children you teach or even your own friends and family. Spend some time thinking about how they could help you and your school and then pluck up the courage to ask! The worst that can happen is they will say no, and even then they may have an alternative suggestion or be able to say yes later down the line. One of my favourite moments in teaching was when I organized for a parent to bring in platters of traditional food from his restaurant for my Spanish class to try. The kids absolutely loved it, we had a great lesson and I barely had to prepare anything at all or spend any money!
3. Change what you’re doing
Perhaps you are acing my first and second suggestion and have recruited a small army to help you but you still can’t find enough hours in the day to get everything done! Maybe it’s time to change what you are doing. Ask yourself this question and be honest with yourself about the answer: Does [thing you regularly do] add enough value to my pupils’ learning experience to make it worth doing?
Let me give you an example. When I first started teaching I was a sucker for all-singing, all-dancing PowerPoint presentations. I used to regularly work on my laptop until the early hours of the morning creating them. And not to brag but they looked incredible. Other teachers had serious PowerPoint envy when they saw them and I was often asked to show others how I made them or if I could share them with the rest of the school. I was naturally really proud of them and felt scornful of the teachers who, though more experienced than I was, used PowerPoint slides that didn’t have any animations or cool pictures on them at all!
Eventually however, I began to realize two things. Firstly, I couldn’t continue to spend such a huge amount of time on them as I was starting to go stir crazy! Secondly – and this was the most difficult thing to come to terms with – as good as my presentations looked they weren’t really making me a better teacher or contributing all that much to my pupils’ progress. Gradually I started to simplify them. Do you know what happened? The kids didn’t suddenly become disengaged and stop learning – they didn’t even seem to notice. And I actually became a better teacher because I was able to spend much less time creating resources and more time actually building relationships with the children I taught. Now I even occasionally teach without any presentation slides at all (gasp!).
So there you have it! 3 things that will hopefully help you get more done and have more time.
I also share free French & Spanish teaching resources here.