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

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Ben Johnson < author>'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I appreciate your frustration. Block scheduling is difficult to adjust to. I personally have never taught in that situation except for summer school. I was a Spanish teacher and I loved teaching summer school because the immersion factor was so high. I could surround the students with Spanish, four hours at a time. I have the theory that if every teacher treated their subject, especially math, like it was a foreign language class--so they could learn to speak "math"-- then students would get a lot more out of the instruction. Now I am bird walking...sorry.

Back on topic, time, like money in our bank accounts, seems to disappear no matter how much of it we have. I have three basic suggestions that might make things easier for you. Harry Wong in his book the First Days of School emphasizes that the best way to do things is to set it up right in the first week of school--after that, everything else is a breeze (grin)(Wong, 2005)! Now that school has been going for a while, you have to deal with damage control. The first thing I suggest is to get an egg timer or one of those fancy ones you put on the over head (see one of the posts to this blog which discusses this). Simply tell your students exactly how much time they will have on each exercise and hold them to it. The second thing is that it sounds like you are trying to do it all by yourself. Students are not just the product of what you are trying to accomplish in the classroom, they are also the willing participants. They can help you keep on target if you let them know before hand what it is you want to accomplish each class period. You can write this on the board, or hand out a syllabus. The key factor is you must ask them to help you. And that brings me to my third point. What you really want to do is create a high performance learning team and if you tell your students that is what you want to do, they would probably have some good ideas on how to make that happen. I would say that having that sort of conversation for 15 minutes or so would bring great dividends. The contract that is created from that conversation must be binding to everyone, and everyone must sign it. This is one of the key success factors of Flip Flippen's Capturing Kids' Hearts training.

Please also read through the rest of the comments to this blog and you will get a lot of ideas on how to save time.

Does anyone else have experience with Block Scheduling who can help Isaac?

Good Luck and hang in there. It gets better with TIME!

Ben Johnson , Natalia, TX

Wong, Harry and Rosmary (2005)How to be an effective teacher the first days of school. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc.

Lakeesha Sconiers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a fourth year teacher, I feel that every new year adds more tasks that take away from instructional time. I try to find ways to maximize this time with my students, but I had never considered activities while using the restroom. We have always found hallway games when we were stading in line for lunch or waiting to enter into specials classes. But I never realized the time that is wasted during restroom breaks. My children are kindergarten and they are easily distracted when we are in the halls, so this will be a good way to keep them quiet, engaged and learning while taking care of personal needs at the same time. This article was extremely helpful. Thanks for the post!

Jessica E's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed reading this entry. It got me thinking about my own time wasters. Overall, I feel I do a good job of combating that. I think establishing a routine helps. Then the students do not waste time waiting around for directions.
In the morning, I give directions of the materials they will need for math, along with a readiness activity for them to work on until class starts.
Another time that I found to be a time waster was right after lunch. So now, the students know when they enter the room to take out their DOL until everyone is ready.
We also recite poetry during transition times. It keeps the noise level down, and gets them back to their seats quickly.

Candace's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a fourth year teacher and realize that time is a very important part of the school day and year. I try to maximize every moment that I can. I am always ready to begin when each class comes in the door. I have a science journal question posted on the TV. This allows everyone to get in, sharpen pencils, etc. I take attendance and take care of any questions. I also have the daily agenda posted on the board. This lets students know what is coming up so they may prepare for the things they will need. It seems to save a lot of time. I am still looking for new ideas and have found several while I have been reading.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that time is a major factor. I am a junior high special ed teacher, and there just doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done. Sometimes it's very difficult, to keep the kiddos on track. Especially, since we're having to constantly differeniate instruction. The kids in my classes are on so many different levels. It's kind of difficult, when you only have a specified amount of time to get through a particular lesson. What about the children that don't get it right away? In some of our activities/lessons, I have to really work one-on-one with certain students, while still trying to keep them on track with the rest of the class. We also use timers in our classroom to help keep track of time. That has actually been pretty effective. However, there may not always be time for the reflective portion of the lesson, which helps with assessment.

Cari's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am three weeks away from our state test and looking back now I can see a lot of time that was wasted. NOW I WISH I HAD THAT TIME BACK! Some activities that my school plans takes at least part of the day of times. So, my children usually will either miss Reading or Math. I have to make that choice and it is VERY hard to decide. When my students come to school that have morning work on their desks. So, it isn't seen as busy work I give them a review of the things we discussed the day before. In my class we also have a "ticket out the door" this is where the student must recall information and the other students are getting yet another chance to hear the information. So it is useful in both ways!

alwanda williams's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I find that as a teacher time is my biggest obstacle. I have so many things that I want to do with the students but so little time. I am a special education teacher who teaches a primary moderate class. Along, with being a teacher I am SST chairperson and I am on two other school committees. Many times I am called from my students to perform other duties such as explaining an IEP to a regular education teacher of filling out some kind of document that is due yesterday for downtown/central office or anwering questions. When I get uninterrupted time with my students we usually have a great time and accomplish much. I really want to get back to the business of teaching children.

Nancy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What a wonderful idea! Thanks for your feedback.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too consider myself a novice teacher. However the longer I teach the more hours I feel like I am able to squeeze into the day. This blog really made me reconsider every minute that I spend in my classroom.

I have found a simple way to combat wasting time with roll call. Each student in my class is required to fill out a "ticket out" each day. This ticket is simply a self evaluation sheet. I tell my students if they do not fill one out they are considered absent for the day. This strategy also works well to develop communication between myself and the students.

Ashley Lent's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Great idea! I am a 2nd grade teacher as well, and it's difficult to make sure that students are engaged throughout the day. Like all classes, the ability levels of my students varies greatly. I have many that finish quickly leaving the majority of the class still working. It's difficult always finding ways to keep them busy without just telling them to "Go read." Changing the station activities that my students do during guided reading would allow me to put some of the activities into the "When I Am Done" station. I am looking forward to trying this new station with my students. Thanks for the idea.

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