What’s the number-one time management problem for most teachers? You guessed it—dealing with paperwork. That includes all the reports, tests, attendance forms, graphs, letters, memos, mail, announcements, materials, and requests that consume not only our time but our desk space as well.
Are you buried under mountains of forms? Did you finally discover a 4-week-old missing sandwich under a pile of papers? Do you spend most of your day shuffling, arranging, or filing 81⁄2×11 sheets of paper? Welcome to the club!
There are ways of gaining control over the Mt. Everest of paperwork you must deal with every day. Try these suggestions:
- Use colored file folders to file papers. Select a different color for each subject or for each period of the day.
- If you haven’t looked at a piece of paper in more than a year, throw it away. It’s not that important.
- Business management experts coach you to handle a piece of paper only once. It’s tough to follow, particularly for teachers, but try to keep it in mind the next time you stuff your briefcase with papers.
- Use a Rolodex file for phone numbers, addresses, PINs, e-mail addresses, and other frequently used information. A Rolodex file takes up less room than a pile of papers.
- Like most teachers, you probably have lots of books. These may be professional books, old textbooks, or resource books. If you haven’t looked at a book in 2 years, donate it to your local library or community fund drive.
- Designate 1 day every month (for example, the third Tuesday of the month) as “filing day.” Use it to file all the papers that have accumulated on your desk during the month.
- Designate 1 day every 6 months as “purging day.” Use it to get rid of all the files and papers you haven’t used in the last 12 months.
- Use your computer as a filing system. Use your word processing program to organize frequently used forms, exams, and records.
- Designate a special file drawer for each subject you teach. Organize it with colored files:
- Red: Lesson plans
- Green: Tests, quizzes, and exams
- Blue: Handouts and worksheets
- Yellow: Transparencies and PowerPoint disks
- Black: Unit plans
- Gray: Supplemental resources and websites
- Purchase two file baskets from a local office supply store. Label one “To and from the School Office”; the other “To and from Home.” Place them on your desk, and keep the papers you typically handle moving in and out of them daily.
- Photocopy your class roster and laminate it. Use it for multiple purposes: to record incoming homework, parent permission slips, lunch money, etc. Use a wax crayon to mark each task, and then erase it when the task is complete.
- Many efficiency experts suggest that you establish time limits on how long you’ll keep various types of paperwork. Here are a few suggestions:
- Memos: 1 week
- Minutes of meetings: 4 weeks
- Letters to parents: 3 months
- Attendance records: 1 year
- Professional articles: 2 years
- Lesson plans: 2 years
- Grade books: 3 years
- Date each piece of paper you receive. When its “expiration date” arrives, get rid of it.
- Sort all incoming paperwork into three piles. The “A” pile gets your attention right away; the “B” pile gets your attention within the next 48 hours; and the “C” pile can wait until sometime in the future.
Maximize Your Instructional Time
As a classroom teacher, you want to engage your students in productive learning time. This is time when your students are engaged in meaningful and appropriate work. The more productive learning time you have, the more your students will learn. The challenge, of course, is in creating a classroom that maximizes that time.
Keep Things Flowing
Flow refers to the way in which learning activities move smoothly and briskly. There’s no stop-and-start rhythm to the class, but rather one activity leads naturally into another activity. You can maintain that flow through an awareness of the following:
- Ignore minor behaviors that have nothing to do with the lesson. For example, a student is twisting a strand of her hair. It’s not necessary to stop the lesson and point out that behavior to the student. Move over to the student, put a hand on her back, nod, and keep the lesson going.
- Some teachers jump back and forth between activities. They start one activity or lesson, go back and make a comment about a previous lesson or activity, and then return to the new activity. Keep your lessons flowing in a forward direction.
- Often teachers will continue to explain a point or concept until, as students would say, “it’s been beaten into the ground.” The trick is to know when students understand and then stop at that point.
Transitions are those times during the day when you move from one activity to the next. Because students work at different paces and different levels, some may be able to make the transitions faster than others. Thus, transition time often leaves openings for misbehavior and disruptions. To avoid this, consider the following:
- Let students know when (in 2 minutes, for example) an activity will end: “We’ll have a whole-class review of triangles in two minutes.”
- Let students know what they can expect in any subsequent or follow-up activity: “After lunch, we’re going to continue looking at the structure of onion cells.”
- Be sure your lessons have clear beginnings and endings. Review the lesson objectives before the lesson begins and again at the conclusion of the lesson. Verbal cues are also valuable: “It’s time for science to begin. I hope you’re ready for the adventure.”
- Establish clearly outlined routines for transition times. Provide opportunities for students to practice those routines: “When you come in, be sure you complete your `Fabulous Five’ chores before you sit down.”
Be Clear, Be Close
Students achieve when they know exactly what is expected of them. Incomplete assignments are often the result of incomplete directions. As a result, time is wasted. It’s equally important that students know you are available at all times. The amount of learning that takes place in a classroom is often related to the distance you maintain with your students. Time is saved when you are readily available. Here are two considerations for you:
- Always provide clear, precise, and thorough directions to any assignment. If students are asking lots of questions about what they’re supposed to do, the directions were not clear and precise.
- Closely monitor student progress by circulating throughout the room and maintaining a physical presence with the students. Your desk should just be a place to put papers, not a sanctuary from students.
Get a Handle on Pull-Outs
Pull-outs are those students who must leave the classroom and may include students who have appointments with the guidance counselor, lessons with the reading specialist or music teacher, or instruction for gifted students. With so many comings and goings, it’s often difficult to keep track of everyone, much less teach a complete lesson to every student. Here are some suggestions:
- Laminate a personal schedule for each pull-out student and tape it to the corner of her or his desk. Teach the student how to exit the classroom with no disruption to the class. Make each student responsible for her or his own schedule. This is not something you have to monitor all the time.
- Work closely with the teachers your students are leaving class to see. Try to arrive at a schedule that will cause the least disruption to your classroom.
- Check with the administration or other teachers about any procedures for students needing to make up missed classroom work. Initiate a “study buddy” program in your classroom so that each time a student leaves, she or he has a buddy who is responsible for obtaining the necessary information and passing it along. If feasible, provide time in class for this exchange to take place.
Remember, time can be your ally or your enemy. It’s all in how you look at it. Teach your students how to use it wisely, and master the ideas in this article and in Too Many Tasks, Not Enough Day. You’ll be more in control of your classroom—and your life.