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

Jen Randolph's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The thoughts shared in Ben's blog rang so true for me. I often find valuable time being wasted when other teacher's enter my classroom to ask questions rather than emailing them and from phone calls from other teachers, the nurse, the secretary or the counselor. It would be interesting to keep track of how much time is being wasted to "time robbers" in my classroom. I have, however, developed a few strategies when dealing with lengthier interruptions. All of my students have a reading bag full of books in their desks and a graphic organizer for them to complete. I often have them read silently and begin or complete a graphic organizer. My students have math flash cards in their desks as well. I have students use their flash cards with partners. During transitions, the students answer math fact questions or we sing songs or recite poems that reinforce concepts we are learning.

Responding to the question about a teacher's most valuable resource, I would have to say parents. This year I have been lucky enough to have 8 different parents who are able to volunteer in my classroom on a regular basis. These parents have provided one-on-one or small group interventions with students, extension activities for my gifted students, have run a learning center during our literacy block, and have prepared learning materials. I have been able to accomplish so much more than I ever could alone by utilizing parent volunteers in the classroom.

Sarah's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As I read Ben Johnson's blog it also reminded me of this concept of Schooling vs. Learning presented in Kottler's text On being a teacher: The human dimension. I do often wonder how effectively I am using my time teaching as well as having the students use their time for learning concepts and participating in learning activities.
One way I have found an effective way to make sure more learning time is occuring in my classroom is at the beginning of the day when my students are arriving to school. My students are bused to school so they all arrive at different times within a 30 minutue time period. When my students come into the classroom I have set up a routine of procedures the students must accomplish: unpacking, returning homework, selecting a new independent reading book, signing up for lunch and beginning their morning work.
In order to better use the morning work period I have begun to differentiate the activities the students work on as soon as they are finished with all of their "housekeeping" procedures. As a result, my students move through the morning effeciently and are learning or practicing skills, during this time that could otherwise just be another non-educational "schooling" timeframe within the day.

- Sarah, Hatfield, PA

Kottler, J. A., Zehm, S. J., & Kottler, E. (2005). On being a teacher: The human dimension (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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

Any investment we make with students is not a waste of time. However, I must point out that along with listening in an unjudgmental way, we need to guide the students to what we do best- help them learn. My feeling is that we as educators want to help students so badly that sometimes we forget that the best way we can help a student is to throw them back into the water so they can learn (ie starfish analogy). Helping them be successful at learning is probably the best way that we can nurture them and most likely, this will solve some of their other concerns.

Hang in there. 4th graders and 9th graders are not so different in their needs. The respect and trust that you show them will bring forth good dividends in the end.

Ben Johnson < author >

Ben Johnson &lt;author&gt;'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)


Thank you for sharing you insight. Yes, I am a strong proponent of "learning" over "schooling". Unfortunately we cannot do the former without some of the latter, but the system we have seems to focus much on the latter rather than the former. It sound like that is a good book to read and you are modeling what you want your students to do--you continue learning even when there is no teacher insisting on it.

Especially for beginning teachers, procedures and practices (schooling) are a huge part of classroom management. As a teacher gets more experience, those should take a secondary role to lesson design as the main classroom management tool. The best discipline plan is a good lesson plan. I term a good lesson plan as one that engages the students and effectively uses the time alotted to insure learning is taking place. It included a complete learning cycle- engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate. (an example template )

Thanks for the assist and your insightful comments.

Ben Johnson

Tricia H.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would have never thought of time as a resource without reading Ben's blog. There is a lot of truth to what he had to say. Like some others who have posted, I feel like I a time-keeper most days and I need to do as much as possible in the instructional time I get with my students. In reagards to preparation time, I feel like I push hard to get the amount of time that I need from my administrator but usually that is not enough.
When I first read the intro to Ben's blog with the question he posed, I instantly answered my staff. Thanks for giving me another kind of resource to work towards in my classroom.

Julie Nikolai's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Fred Jones Workshop Idea
Thank you for the tip on how to transition quickly between classroom activities. I love that the children have the opportunity to earn time for an activity of their choice. Although I agree that time is very valuable in our classrooms, I feel it is just as important to allow for our students to have built in down time for relaxing. Without this time I feel my students are not as prepared or motivated to learn the upcoming objective.

Donielle - Oak Park's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that the idea of learning activites in the hallway is great! I utilize independent work folders throughout the day to keep students engaged while I attend to various responsibilities.

Becky Ellis's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Time is definitely a critical factor in the classroom and does get wasted in many ways. I feel that people are constantly in and out of the classroom (adults, teachers, parents, school nurses, etc.). It is very hard to keep my students from being distracted when visitors come in. We discuss on the first day that visitors will have to be in the classroom at times and what they should do when that happens (ignore them if possible!).
My students do keep reading books at their seats at all times. If they are working on an assignment, they are to keep right on working. If they finish and a visitor is in the room, the students know to read silently at their seat.
I am so very thankful for my assistant. He is wonderful and really knows my routine. If something happens that I do have to be working with someone on something, he knows exactly what to do and works very well with the children!

James's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Ben, you have helped me reflect on my own practices as a week old teacher. Yes, you heard me, I have only been teaching for a week. I just started teaching 8th grade math. So far I have been writing up the daily activities for each period on the white board. After the second day, I had only gotten half way through the activities that I expected to have completed. The third day I decided to only prepare 2 activities for the day. And to my amazement, we didn't even finish the 2nd activity! Although I admit that much time was wasted in classroom management (getting students to quiet down during instruction), I now realize the importance of giving my students the maximum amount of time to actively engage in meaningful exercises.

Julie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This was such an excellent article. Time is something that just seems to slip away in the school atmosphere. I am amazed at how little things take away so much time. Recently, in order to address the issue of student's discovering learning, our school has implemented a routine that takes lecturing down to about 15% of the class time. The other 85% is spent on students working together to discuss and address the assignments for the day. The students then build a presentation based on a specific topic or problem chosen by the teacher. During this time the teacher is very active. The teacher walks from group to group encouraging team work, solving group dilemmas, guiding students back onto topics, and monitoring to make sure all students stay on task. We have found that this helps the students take advantage of the time they have as a group and this routine encourages the students to think "outside of the box" so to speak.

I really enjoyed the story about the students waiting in line for the restrooms in Texas. Some of our teachers take the calculators, which have a basic fact problem solving game on them, and have the students solve math problems as they wait. The teacher takes the students calculator as they enter the restroom and returns it to them once they come out. The students know that they must be working when they are in line. But I really like the standards idea better.

I enjoyed the article. I will be searching for ways to implement these ideas in my classroom.

Julie - Jonesboro, AR

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