3 Actions to Becoming a More Efficient Teacher

Yesterday, Teacher A walked into the school office with a bundle of Spring Pictures that were due back to the office the day before.  “Can I give these to you now?” she asks the secretary.

“No,” answers the secretary.  “Those have already been boxed up and shipped out.”

<Awkward pause>  “Well, I’m sorry, but I just don’t have time!” Teacher A replies defensively.

Later that night at a fundraising event for the school, Teacher B says to me, “Ugh.  5:00 was too early to be here.  I wasn’t ready to leave school by 5!”

photo: Drew Coffman (CC)

photo: Drew Coffman (CC)

I’m not sure if it’s a badge of honor, an excuse for being inefficient, or just their mantra, but “I don’t have time” has certainly won the title of Most Overused Phrase in education by now.  I get it.  Teaching is all about everything all up in your face at all times of the day, without much breathing room.  The number of decisions that have to be made in the course of an hour of teaching can be staggering.  The amount of paperwork never gets diminished – only increases with new mandates initiated by someone at a different pay grade.  I even formed the habit of not drinking anything between my coffee in the morning and my water during supper so that I wouldn’t have to visit the bathroom more than once.

But there comes a time when we have to realize that teaching is like that.  It’s fast.  It’s flexible.  It’s hard to plan more than two days in advance.  If you are a person who cannot move quickly, make confident decisions without worrying overly much, or realize that ‘perfection’ is just an intangible idea, then find a new job.

If, however, you love working with the kiddos and the ambiguity of humanity as your prime commodity, then you understand that time will always be at a premium, and that to complain about its lack of abundance is futile.  “Suck it up, buttercup!” is what I remind myself when I feel mired in ‘have-to’s’ and emails from parents.  As I reflect on my own routines, and watch those of my colleagues, there are three areas that can easily be fixed to reallocate more ‘time’ in your teaching day:

1.  SOCIALIZING – Teachers spend an inordinate amount of time talking to each other.  Last year, during the worst of our budget cuts, many of our teachers had their prep time at the beginning of the day – before kids even arrived.  Needless to say, planning time turned into an extended coffee klatch.  Try jotting down just how much time you actually spend talking to the teacher next door, or to your colleagues in the copy room.  I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at how much time could be taken back.

2.  EMAIL – Ah, the buggaboo of modern business – ease of access to everyone can be both a blessing and a curse.  I love being able to email questions and ideas to teachers all over the district with just a couple key taps.  My wife is an administrator in public education and consistently receives more than 100 emails requiring some sort of action each day.  Teachers typically don’t receive that many, but it’s still enough to take up a chunk of a day that we just don’t have, since we are…well…teaching students.  My solution?  A) only look at your emails at set times of the day, perhaps before school, lunch, and after school.  Any parent or colleague who gets upset that you don’t respond within minutes can just stuff it.   A twenty-four hour response time is sufficient.  B) Don’t overdo the responses.  Yes, proofread them, but make them as short as possible.  The added details we so often feel are necessary to bolster our campaign can actually detract from the intended message.  You may even want to keep a document with canned responses that can be copied/pasted into the body of an email to save typing time.  C)  Time spent on proactive communication such as weekly emails or newsletters, social media postings, etc. will reap great benefits in fewer parent emails asking the same old questions.  Letting families understand your teaching and classroom will also prevent emails questioning your methods or motives.  Trust me on this; I learned the hard way.

3.  GRADING – When I started teaching, I spent an unbelievable amount of time grading student work and entering it into the gradebook.  After all, if students took the time to complete my assignments, wasn’t it only fair that I should carefully grade them and provide individual feedback?  No. Let me see if I can change your view on this one.  First, you don’t have to grade everything they do.  Talk with your administrator on how many grades per week he/she thinks is appropriate, and then stick with the minimum.  Let’s say it’s two grades per week per period (for those of us who do junior high/high school).  You can either assign only two assignments per week, or you can collect only two per week.  Second, let the student decide what the second grade will be.  Student Choice is a big buzzword in education these days.  Here’s a great opportunity to incorporate some of that, too!  And most likely, it will be some of their best work, so it shouldn’t be so hard to analyze.  Also, see if you can use technology to do the grading for you, such as Scantrons, Lightning Grader, Google Forms, Socrative or Nearpod App, etc. The new math curriculum for the elementary schools even has e-assessments you can build in the web app, and then it grades them for you. Finally, make your constructive comments in person.  Talking goes so much faster than writing.

While there are many more techniques teachers can use to increase efficiency, try these for now and let me know what works for you.  Any by all means, please don’t let me hear you say “I don’t have time!’ ever again.  It’s counterproductive, and, quite frankly, annoying.

Tech Rant #1

from itineraryforvision. wordpress.com

FACT:  Almost two months ago, I joined Twitter and started blogging.

FACT:  I have now connected with more than 200 other educators around the world and have taken advantages of experiences I would not have had otherwise.

Have you ever notice that once you do something you automatically assume that everyone else is or at least should be doing the same thing?  You start dieting, and…how dare they bring in brownies – don’t they know we are ALL being ‘good’?  It’s worse when you accept change faster than most people (my other half calls this trait ‘fickle’ – ! ).  You find yourself surrounded by people who are so…so…so flip phone!  And if you aren’t on Twitter or FaceBook, (I can’t even think of an appropriate metaphor).  Clearly, I love my technology.  I love the cool things my toys can do, but most of all, I’ve finally found the power of using technology as a tool to become a connected learner.  I’ve had my epiphany; why hasn’t everyone else had theirs?  Why do my teachers look at me with their pitying/condescending/he’s-totally-crazy look when I start soapboxing about Twitter?

My month-old desktop computer may already be outdated, but technology itself is here to stay.  The internet is not a passing fad.  Landlines will never be back in style.

And so we must embrace technology into the classroom.  When we ask kids to unplug and power down before coming into class, we are not meeting them where they are.  We are asking telling them to meet us where we are.  1950.   Dial tone and 45’s.

When I hear other educators talk about how we need to keep YouTube out of the classrooms because kids may make inappropriate comments, or that we need to make a rule that all cell phones must be turned off and in their lockers because they may text each other, or that we can’t access Facebook because they may connect with each other or with other peers during school, I cringe.  I, then, become afraid – scared that we are making school policies based on fear.  Fear of what MIGHT happen.

I am not advocating that we ignore the inevitability that kids will make poor decisions.  They will.  And so will we.  They will abuse the privilege, and we will not support them properly.  But we cannot let our fear of what may happen lead us to extinction.  Darwin theorized that species that survived did so because they adapted – they changed.  Our problem is that we have a forebrain that lets us think, and realize we are changing, and then it tells us that we shouldn’t like all that change.

Rather than listen to our forebrains, let’s trust the kids to do right.  Let’s embrace the inevitabiltiy of change, and  realize that technology is here to stay, and it’s here to help.

~Matt