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

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

Ashley Lent's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the idea of having a school wide bulletin board with state objective based cards already made. I can see how useful that would be. My campus keeps a crate full of flash cards by the restrooms for teachers to use. The difference between the bulletin board and this is the variation of the problems and state objectives posted on the bulletin board cards.

I used to teach 4th grade and instead of using class time to read aloud chapter books, I would take them along to the restroom and read them in line. The class really enjoyed listening to the story, not to mention it kept them very quiet in the hallways. We used to also practice our multiples in line. We would go down the line and students would have to say the next multiple of a number. If it was wrong, we would start over. They didn't realize they were learning, and not just playing a game.

I would love to hear some more ideas on ways to utilize time in the hallways. I look foward to your posts.

Jodi Easton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really loved this blog, but reading about all the teachers who run out of time really stressed me out! I agree that there are many things that occur in a classroom that can be time-wasters, but as teachers, we also have to prioritize and look at what is really important. Do we really need to cram all these things into one day, or can we spread some activities out over a few days? Are we creating kids who are as stressed about time as we are? To learn, kids must feel relaxed and safe in their environment. Are they really able to learn when they are being rushed through everything that they do or when every minute of their time is dominated by some activity of someone elses choosing? I agree that we need to use our time wisely, but let's not get carried away with cramming too much into our days.

Ashley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I thought this article was great and I totally agree. This school year the high school that I work at changed from teaching on a block schedule (four 85 minute classes a day) to a traditional schedule. At first I didn't know how I was going to do it. I was very used to having plenty of time to get through everything in one class. Now I actually love the shorter class periods. The shorted periods makes me feel like our time is more important and I think that feeling has started to rub off on the students. I still try to provide new info, model, and then application through activity, now it just doesn't all happen in one class period. I definitely think it keeps me more focused and on my toes. I think it really has helped me to not waste so much time.

Jodi's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed the article and believe that many of our schools and classrooms have "time robbers". My school has tried to implement "uninterrupted time". During our reading block, the administration has tried to cut out any announcements or calls to our classroom. This makes a difference, but of course there are sometimes emergencies. I believe having good time management skills is so important. Having activities while the children are in line is a great example. Our school day for children goes from 7:35 to 2:05. For me, I believe our school day could be extended. Teachers have to be resourceful and creative to use every available minute as a teaching opportunity. I find myself doing a lot of sponge activities throughout the day. I love finding new activities, so if any of you know a site to find new ones please share.

Jacki's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow. This article was awesome! I am a substitute teacher and most of my experience has come from my student teaching experience. I had 27 kindergarteners and I would say managing them was one of the most challenging aspects of the whole experience. The strategy that the Texas school used is awesome! I think it could work with any grade level. One school district I sub in has the children take books to the restroom to read while they are waiting in line. I think that works too.

Michelle Hunt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with this article completely. Where I teach, we start at 7:30 and our school day ends at 3:30. We have the longest day in our district and still find myself under major time restraints. There are way to many interruptions in the day, that quite frankly waste time, but how do you eliminate them? One aspect I have to realize is to allow more time for practice. Through this article, it is reiterated that importance of students to be actively engaged. This is one area I will personanlly try to allow for more time. Another question that I have is in the state of Kentucky, we test in April, why not give us until May? Overall, I enjoyed the article and agree that time is the most essential part of teaching.

Julie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


Have you seen gains in test scores by reducing the lecturing time? I agree with you one hundred percent that grouping and strategic thinking allows students to extend their learning. Do you strategically group your students or randomly group? What do you feel works better? Thanks for your help, just trying to save on time!

Michelle- Hillsboro, KY

Michelle - Hillsboro, Ky's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


DO you prepare the independent work folders daily or weekly? Is this work turned in for a grade or is itjust independent practice? This is also great for early-finishers. Great idea!


Jeanette's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have enjoyed reading all the different blogs on the use of time in the classroom. I, too, have been frustrated many-a-time by running out of time! One way I try to redeem some time during transitions is to count down for my students to be ready for the next subject. I will give them instuctions on what they need to do and then I say, "Ready in 10, 9, 8, etc." It seems to help them prepare for whatever is next--and they often start moving rather quickly.

Heather Holland's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a special educator, I bounce around to several different classrooms during the day. I completely agree that much instructional time is lost throughout the day. It becomes a challenge to balance between the different classrooms and not waste time. At times, the clock can be several minutes fast/late in one classroom, and this can affect my schedule for the next room that I visit. School programs or assemblies can also present additional challenges. At these times, the school schedule changes to accommodate for the program. This can lead to difficulties in following my schedule.

I cope by being prepared with small activities and/or questions that can cover basic skills during "down time." For my kindergarten students, I keep sight word rings in my cart that I can use to review. In addition, if I have to pull students from a class, I try to "teach" while walking to other classrooms. I will often question my students on the number of months in a year, days in week, etc. while we are traveling down the hallway. Instead of bell ringers, I use this "Walk and Talk" strategy to utilize the few minutes when walking to and from a different classroom as starters and closures for lessons.

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