Teach classroom expectations.
At the beginning of the year, explain class guidelines for going to the restroom, turning in homework, and asking questions during class. Then, enforce policies consistently.
If you didn’t start off the year with clear rules, give yourself a fresh start tomorrow. Aim for fewer disruptions than you had the day before. It won’t change overnight. But eventually, you’ll get the benefit of smoother teaching and more class time.
Constant interruptions drag out your work. Of course, you’ll never have a completely distraction-free environment—especially at school. But you can take some steps to minimize interruptions.
Start with simple things like not checking your e-mail or text messages. If you’re at home, shut off the TV and log off social media. These “little” things can drain your time before you notice.
Also, try working in a location that makes concentration easy (or easier) for you. Sometimes working near a messy closet or a sink full of dirty dishes can sidetrack our minds. So figure out the place that helps you focus.
Always tackle high-priority tasks first, even if they take longer. Getting these jobs out of the way will help you feel more productive and less stressed.
Finish what you start.
Practice this advice: “If you touch it, take care of it.” Time gets lost when you start a project—only to leave it and work on something else.
Case in point: You might not be able to grade all your students’ essays or tests in one sitting, especially if you have a large class. But if you start grading a paper, finish that one before starting another task. This habit eliminates wasted time when you start reading a student’s work, get interrupted, and have to read it over to remember your train of thought.
Use the Pomodoro technique.
It’s simple. Start a timer for 25 minutes, work until the timer goes off, and give yourself a 5-minute break. Then, repeat.
Just having the time limit will keep you focused. And you’ll feel more motivated to work when you have a break to look forward to.
Know when you’re overbooked.
Your focus at school is helping your students learn. But it’s easy to commit to more and more other responsibilities—until you don’t have time for what’s most important.
Never feel guilty about protecting your family time or your class prep time whenever possible. If a teacher friend asks you to help decorate their classroom or a parent asks you to do individual tutoring with their child, don’t feel obligated to say “yes.” Ask yourself, “Will I still have time to prep for lessons, stay on top of grading, and get the personal time I need?”
Saying “no” doesn’t make you a bad person.
Make organization work for you.
Looking for misplaced papers and moving clutter around your desk can eat into your time. So designate a place for everything. Invest in classroom storage, like trays for homework, filing cabinets for student work, and bins and shelves for classroom supplies.
Use color coding to help you organize at a glance. Different-colored file folders can separate lesson plans, student worksheets, and test/quiz papers. You can even use different-colored trays on your desk for students’ finished, late, or incomplete assignments.
Try to prepare for lessons the week before. Last-minute work is usually stressful and almost never enjoyable. Do your work in batches. If you’re preparing one review game, write all of them for the rest of the month.
Before you leave your classroom each day, make a list of the top 3 things you’ll do the next morning so you can start the day off right.
A few additional considerations
Don’t try to tackle all 8 ideas in one day. Pick one to work on today or this week. With some thought and effort each day, you can form time-saving habits that will help you get more done—and make your busy teacher life a little less crazy.
Here’s one quick tip to save you HOURS writing out seatwork every week in K5 and 1st grade: seatwork digital teaching aids—$9.95 for K5 and $18.95 for 1st grade. Instead of writing out seatwork, print it on a small chart, display it on a screen, or put it on a TV monitor.
The time you save on seatwork you can spend somewhere else, so you feel more prepared in less time.