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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.

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Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

Comments (4) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Phil's picture
Teacher and Ed-Tech Blogger at

So much of our class time is devoted to direct instruction when technology has afforded us the opportunity to be present outside the classroom. Using video tutorials, I and my colleagues have freed up extra time to discuss, and explore. There are lots of resources out there already like the Khan Academy but if you want to create your own, I have created tutorials on my website that you can use to make them for free.

Make Your Own Video Tutorials part 1
Make Your Own Video Tutorials part 2

How will you use your extra time?

Flo Anthony's picture
Flo Anthony
4th grade teacher

I find that other peoples' agendas take away from teaching time in the classroom as well as planning time for teachers.

Sam Dunham's picture
Sam Dunham
High School Social Studies Student Teacher

Entrance/exit slips are a great way to save time otherwise wasted during roll call, and double as a quick assessment tool. I also like the strategy I've seen in elementary classrooms of moving your name tag on the wall to signify you've arrived, but that runs the risk of the students skipping class, but getting away with it by having their friend move their tag for them.

JenW.'s picture

Time can mean different things to different teachers. My first couple years teaching time only meant keeping my lesson flowing so that I could fit everything in the day that I wanted. I would look at the clock and see I was running behind and needed to move on to the next lesson. Now I look at my day and time as how much instruction I am getting in and how am I using my time to be an effective teacher. I have also used restroom break time, dismissal time, and other "non" teaching moments and turned them into teaching time. I know that this topic also goes along with classroom management skills, so are there certain management aspects that help with timing or using all the time we are given to our full advantage?

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