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

| Ben Johnson

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.

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Comments (115)

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Anne (not verified)

How to use time wisely

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Your blog is very timely for me.
Today when my class came in from lunch, recess, and bathroom break (I group these together so we don't waste time), at 12:30 I only had 11 of my 20 children. I stopped to count. I had two students out with the flu, one out with a broken leg, two got in trouble on the playground and were in the principal's office, one was in the nurses office with flu like symptons, one physically handicapped in the nurses office for special needs, and two were in the counselors office for a weekly meeting. My phone rang 4 times and students or teachers entered or exited my room 11 times between 12:30 and our 2:30 dismissal time.I am not making this up. I started counting because it was so ridiculous.
I must learn how to use my time wisely! Looking foward to reading more blogs about how to preserve this resource.

Rebecca (not verified)

Schooling vs. learning

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I just wanted to add to what Ben Johnson is perhaps trying to say here in his blog. I am currently reading a book entitled, On Being A Teacher, and in a particular chapter, the authors discuss the valuable resource of time as well. However, these authors discuss the resource of time in the sense of what is exactly lacking in the classroom--and that is learning. The authors stress the difference between "schooling" and "learning."

According to the authors, "schooling" is referred to the normal routines, rules, procedures, and values and ethics we teach our students to follow. However, is that the learning we want them to well, learn? On the other hand, according to the authors, "learning" is referred to what we need and want our students to actually learn--and that is the curriculum, standards, objectives, themes, educational activities, teachable moments, etc. So, after reading Ben Johnson's blog, I reflected on what I read from my book. They seem similar. I think perhaps this is what Ben Johnson might be referring to as well. Does anyone see this? What do other people think he is mainly trying to say? Are we, as teachers, wasting time by having our students "schooling" rather than "learning?"

Dana Krause (not verified)

Making time for students

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At my school, the "mantra" often is that if you want to know what is really happening, ask the students. A fourth grader said to me just last week that Molly was sad because I had not called on her to read aloud. Molly does not read very well, and I thought she would not want to read. Silly me, huh? My fourth graders are open with comments about other students and their problems because they sense that I trust them and will respond to the problem. My ninth graders are different in that they want to tell the dirt and nothing else! I also serve as guidance counselor for the entire school. The students will talk to their teachers before they will talk to me, even though when they do talk to me, they find me non-judgemental and discreet. It is hard when curriculum has to be covered, but pays great dividends in the long run. Oh, maybe I maybe I am just wasting time. What do you think?

Ben Johns <author> (not verified)

Students as valuable resources

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Students are incredibly valuable resources in many ways and their honesty and candor sometimes we mistakenly take as challenges to our authority. In terms of improving a teacher's instructional capacity, I am curious to know how you would use talking with students in that process.

Ben Johnson

Dana Krause (not verified)

A teacher's most valuable asset

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I have discovered that the most valuable asset/help that a teacher has are his/her students. Talking with them, both as a class and as individuals, can reveal insights that many adults could never give the teacher.

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