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When There Isn't Enough Time in the Day: Working with Teacher Time Constraints

Director of Strategic Accounts, Voyager Sopris Learning
Updated on
Modified on June 22, 2023
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Let’s be honest. No matter how passionate we are about teaching and how much we yearn for our students to love learning and soak up the knowledge we bring to the classroom, there just isn’t enough time in the day. Between lesson plans, teaching to standards, grading papers, preparation for high-stakes tests, paperwork, interruptions, meetings with parents, committees, during and after-school events, and oh, yeah—don’t forget the children with their individual needs—teachers are working with demanding and stressful time constraints when expectations and accountability are higher than ever. That’s the reality. And, the reality is we can’t control everything. So, let’s consider what we may be able to control, or at least impact, toward maximizing time and optimizing student learning with the following strategies:

Time management is essential in helping teachers and students organize their day. Get your notepad and make a list. Prioritize goals for yourself and students. Begin by reflecting on what  be accomplished during the week: Instructional Time, Teacher Tasks, and Personal Time—Must Do; followed by what you would like to accomplish—If possible. Share weekly and daily targeted instructional goals with students. Include students as you map out tasks and activities for learning with incentives to motivate and encourage active participation. You may want to write the weekly and/or daily goals on the board as a reminder, not only for yourself but for your students, to encourage pacing and time on task. You may want students to have their own checklists of weekly and daily goals to promote time management, accountability, and steps toward completing a series of tasks. Both teacher and students can check off the lists as tasks are accomplished and goals are met. Celebrate progress and accomplishments.

Effective classroom management ensures quality time toward meeting instructional goals. It begins with a well-organized and thoughtful room arrangement that encourages student learning and participation and allows the teacher to easily monitor students at all times. Consideration should be given to transitions as students move in and out of the classroom and shift from one activity to another. The well-known saying, “A place for everything and everything in its place” is an excellent reminder that organization, structure, and procedures go a long way in effective classroom management while supporting thinking and problem solving. Well-established rules and procedures will reduce distractions and disruptions when implemented with consistency. Most importantly, the teacher is the instrumental factor in setting the tone for a classroom environment that inspires a culture for learning and a mutual respect for one another.

Planning and preparation are essential to the process of teaching and learning and should be intentional and purposeful in meeting the needs of students while focusing on targeted skills and objectives. To deliver quality lessons designed to maximize instructional time, the hard work of pre-planning and preparing is crucial. Here are some things to consider in planning an effective lesson to promote the interaction between teacher and students and support student learning:  

  • Set lesson goals and plan for direct explicit instruction
    • Follow the explicit instruction model: I DO (Explain and model); WE DO (Guided instruction); YOU DO (independent practice and/or collaborative learning in small groups or partners)
    • Prepare probing questions
    • Ask critical thinking questions that require higher-order thinking skills (analysis, evaluation, synthesis, etc.)
    • Have a random method of selecting students to answer questions
    • Use consistent academic language
    • Give clear and concise task directions
    • Provide constructive feedback
  • Provide opportunities for differentiation
    • Accurately diagnose the knowledge and skill level of each student
    • Be prescriptive in planning appropriate learning tasks
    • Tailor instruction to meet individual needs and learning styles
  • Structure engaging lessons around specific learning tasks
    • Gear pacing toward keeping students involved and on task
    • Plan hands-on instruction and interaction that promotes student involvement and discovery 
    • Include interactive teaching strategies to actively engage students in their learning (Think/Pair/Share; small-group and partner work; demonstration; role play; games; competition; discussion; etc.)
  • Plan think-alouds
    • Focus on common and individual areas of need
    • Reinforce grade-level standards and skills
    • Allow for opportunities to address preparation for high-stakes assessments

Although there will never be enough time in the day to accomplish the multitude of tasks that come with being a teacher, and teachers will always operate under time constraints, we can significantly maximize time and optimize student learning with time management, effective classroom management, and planning and preparation. LETRS®(Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) professional development for educators who teach reading provides knowledge, tools, and guidance about how to plan and deliver effective instruction and information detailing how to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all students.

About the Author
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Janet Jones
Director of Strategic Accounts, Voyager Sopris Learning

Janet Jones serves as director of strategic accounts, Eastern U.S., for Voyager Sopris Learning®, where she has enjoyed partnering with school districts for more than 12 years to create effective training, implementations, and support plans that reflect district and school-level goals for increased student progress. Prior to joining Voyager Sopris Learning, Janet served as a reading first literacy leader and instructional coach with Memphis City Schools and was a member of the Tennessee Reading First State Leader’s Board, serving under the direction of the State Reading First Director, Tennessee Department of Education. Prior to that, Janet was a classroom teacher with Memphis City Schools, Tennessee and DeSoto County Schools, Mississippi. She is a National Board Certified Teacher.

Janet received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education and her Masters of Education Degree in Curriculum and Instruction/Reading from the University of Tennessee at Martin. She and her family returned to Martin 10 years ago, where she enjoys the small-town atmosphere with her husband, two sons, two granddaughters, and her English springer spaniel.

Learn more about Janet Jones