Finding the Time, Part 1: Teachers Must Preserve Their Most Valuable Resource | Edutopia
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Finding the Time, Part 1: Teachers Must Preserve Their Most Valuable Resource

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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If I were to ask you what the most valuable resource that teachers have at their disposal is, what would you answer?

You might consider the teacher's knowledge or skills in teaching as his or her most valuable resource. You might think support from the school administration, a well-written curriculum, sufficient teaching aids, varied strategies, or perhaps even the students themselves would be the most valuable resource to an educator. Amazingly enough, though, it is the resource that we often pay the least attention to and end up abusing (wasting) more than any other. I contend that the most valuable resource that a teacher has is time.

In many states, teachers have only about 180 days (177 days in my district) in which to get their students to acquire the knowledge and skills state requirements dictate. Add in numerous activities that may be worthwhile but that still chip away at those 180 days. Some activities -- such as sports, band, drama, and special celebrations -- do so in large chunks:. But there are also the small time wasters that add up: morning announcements, classroom business, students being summoned to the office, and other classroom interruptions.

The most important aspect of time for educators is the amount students spend actively engaged in the learning process, not simply the amount they spend on school grounds. In a previous post, I discussed some ways to develop a sense of urgency and how to provide a reason to do things now in the classroom. How teachers and schools spend their time is the critical issue in establishing urgency.

I see three aspects to a teacher's time: preparation time, instruction time, and professional-duty time. I would like to discuss instruction time and how to reclaim it.

Instruction time begins the moment the teacher greets his or her students in the hallway and ends the moment the young people leave the campus. Wait! Is that really the end of instructional time? No. Most schools employ a simple trick to extend the instructional time of the classroom: homework. (Unfortunately, homework is sometimes otherwise known as busywork.) So, if students view homework as a review and extension of what they learned in class, learning time can and should extend into the home.

During a typical lesson, a teacher employs the professional teaching-and-learning cycle: study, select, plan, implement, analyze, and adjust. You can read a brief explanation of the cycle in a comment I made to another previous blog entry. During the implementation phase (Madeline Hunter would be proud of me), the teacher spends time introducing the lesson, giving direct instruction, and modeling the lesson. The teacher then gives the students both guided and individual practice, followed by a final closure activity.

Of all of those time segments, which one is the most important? To answer that question, I'll ask another question: When are the students learning the most? Wouldn't that be when students are practicing? Looking at this issue more closely, in a traditional class, are all students learning if they are simply listening to the teacher talking?

Not likely. Even though some students may be able to retain the information in short-term memory, the rest will have difficulty remembering what the teacher said without notes or aids. The only ways to push knowledge or comprehension-level information and skills into long-term memory is practice, memorization, or participation in varied higher-order thinking activities. (See Bloom's Taxonomy.) These activities are, by their very nature, engaging activities. A student cannot easily sit by while all of the other students are actively engaged in a project.

Please share your thoughts, and read part two of this entry.

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

Comments (115)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

cmacfadden's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe that the circumstances in which student learns most depends on that individual. Personally, I find research and writing on a topic or creating some type of product (e.g., a display, podcast, etc) is where deeper learning takes place for me. I also enjoy the traditional chalk and talk format, and find that taking good notes is a key component of this type of learning. Using flashcards and similar aids to memorize facts is helpful. I believe it is important to keep in mind that students have a variety of preferences for learning, and that as teachers, we should vary the learning tasks to accommodate all our students.

This cannot be done without the luxury of time. I often hear teachers bemoan the lack of time in their classes for the activities they used to do to vary their curricula. It is unfortunate that there is currently so much emphasis on standardized tests and memorization. While memorization has its place, we need to seek a greater balance in how our students use their time in the classroom. I think that drilling facts is seen as the most expedient path to the end goal: passing a high-stakes exam.

Learning is work, but work can be enjoyable. When learning is enjoyable, it probably has the greatest long-term effect. We cannot make learning enjoyable through endless repetition.

Dana Krause's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


What a day for you! You must be a terrific teacher to be able to contend with all those circumstances and still get material across to your class. I admire people like you. My school is very small and even though I must wear several "hats," I cannot say that I have experiences like yours. However, I do have what I feel is an elevated number of students with undiagnosed/undocumented learning disabilities and students taking medication for ADD and ADHD--elevated that is for a private college prep small school. I have never had training in dealing with these problems and often do not know what to do with a student who just cannot write or read or who acts out. I cannot send these students to the counselor because I am the counselor! Do we contend with these problems because we love children and teaching? I wish you the best.

Kev's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Currently, I feel a teacher's most valuable tool is the Internet. The Internet offers teachers places to blog and ask questions related to classroom management, instruction, current research as well as content related questions. This can be a place where teachers can be free to express their beliefs despite censorship or fear due to being a probationary teacher within their own school system.

The Internet is also packed with teacher reviewed lesson plans that can serve as a "jumping off point" or idea generators for lesson plans.

Teachers must not be hesitant to accept the Internet as a valuable resource, and as important as it is to remain cognizant of current education trends, teachers should become familiar with the resources on the Internet.

Tracey MacRitchie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Reading Ben's blog made me realize that there are many times in the day when I am distracted by other teachers or wondering where my students are at a given time. I can only imagine how the students feel when they are absorbed in a project and I ask them to stop because we have run out of time and need to move on. There are many times when I scrap the next lesson because my students are involved in something else and they are enjoying it, especially writer's workshop. It is very hard to find enough time in the day to accomplish all of the goals that I have set for the day.

Chelsea Sass's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Ben Johnson makes it very clear that time is wasted every day in our classrooms. Although important, assemblies, band practice, chorus, etc. interferes with the time students are learning in the classroom, and there is really nothing we can do about it. What we can do is make the most out of the time we have our students in the classroom. Something that seems to waste a lot of time is transitioning from subject to subject. My students are set up in groups of four, so I will say something like, "let's see which group can take out their reading books and turn to pg. 54 quickly and quietly." Students race to be the first group ready, so they can earn a point for their group. Another way I save time is by taking roll, lunch count, etc. while the students our working on the problem of the day. As soon as they enter the room they know to get unpacked and get started on their morning work. I take care of attendance, homework, and passing out papers as they are silently working. Ben Johnson really made me reflect on my practices and about spending my time wisely. Does anyone have any other ideas on how to preserve the time in their classrooms?

Lindsay T.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I often find myself and my students "running out of time," and I end up feeling like my main role in the classroom is timekeeper. I do my part- the direct instruction, which I am successful at keeping short- and I try to provide the best opportunties for practice and extension (even for homework), but I always have to cut off learning due to the lack of time we have in the classroom. I hope I am effectively using time, but I feel like my greatest loss of time comes from distracted students. Biology is not always intruiging to my students, and I would love to get some advice on how to maximize time use by being able to get kids interested. Are there any Biology teachers out there who can give me advice on incresing student interest?

Katie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with Ben's blog. I don't know how many times I've said that there's just not enough time in the day to teach my students. In part two of his blog, I loved the example he gave about the students asking questions to one another during a restroom break. That is such a great idea! I've never really paid attention to how much time is wasted during a school day, but I'm curious to keep track when I return to school next week. I'm a first year teacher, so I am anxious to read more comments about using time wisely.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I feel that time is one of the biggest obstacles teachers must learn to overcome and deal with on a daily and weekly basis to be successful in the classroom. I am constantly on my feet and thinking ahead. I go to school on Saturdays to work as well ad it seems that I still do not get everything completed that I would like to. I am a very organized person, but I still fight the time war daily. I always tell mys students that we should have one more hour in he school day. I don't know what the answer is, but I would love to know how others cope with our enemy - TIME

Molly Avery's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

To help with time, I took a Fred Jones workshop on managing time and students. If you haven't heard of this information you should look into it. The basics are "pay now or pay later". Students earn time for a Preferred Activity Time through working quickly through transition times, groups, helping others, helping teachers, and more. For example, the teacher is finished with math and ready for science but the room needs to be cleaned with math books, manipulatives, and worksheets out. Science items need to be places out. The teacher would say (a timer or stop watch is important here) you have two minutes to put math items away and get out science things. The students race against the clock when they finish the teacher records any unused time and places it on the board under PAT (preferred Activity time) but students can also loose time too. It has helped my classroom out considerable.

Kelly Miller's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that there is much wasted time between the hours of 7:30- 3:00. I try to utilize every second I have in class, but sometimes the assemblies, announcements, fundraising, etc. can become too much to bear especially when the teacher and the students are really engaged in active learning.
Mr. Johnson lists three aspects of teacher's time: instructional time, preparational time, and professional development time. I would add another aspect to that- communication time. All teachers communicate to their students, but I am referring to speaking with your students. Taking the time to getting to know your student- their likes, dislikes, background, beliefs, family life, etc. is necessary if you want to be an effective teacher. I am a graduate student, and we are researching and discussing the importance of teacher and student communication and its positive impact it has on the student's learning (not schooling)and future as a life long learner. There is a lot of "eye opening" information in the book we are reading right now, "On Being A Teacher". It has a variety of ways in which effective teachers find the time to communicate with their students.

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