Although many people believe that teachers work minimal hours each week and have the summers off, those of us within the profession know that this isn’t even remotely true.
We juggle our direct teaching time with planning, supervision, grading, paperwork, and meetings. Even on our breaks from school, we devote many hours to prepping for our return by developing curriculum or materials for students.
With all of these responsibilities competing for the limited hours in our day, teacher time management is essential. It is important to prioritize and plan our days and months in the same way that we help our students to do for their assignments.
If this is an area that you are struggling with, read on for our 12 time management tips for teachers.
Teachers Make Most of Their Time by Planning
Planning time is often a misnomer, as this allotted portion of the day is usually taken by anything but preparations for instruction. Answering parent phone calls, responding to internal emails, and sorting out urgent student issues often comprise most of our tasks during these times.
If you find yourself with a large list of things to do each day and nothing seems to be coming off of the list, you know what effects can poor time management cause.
Try a few of these time management strategies for teachers:
1. Estimate and Plan Daily School Responsibilities
Yes, I know telling you to have a plan in order to plan sounds ridiculous, but it is the best way to make the most of your time.
If you have an hour after school to work on prepping for instruction, break it up into non-negotiable timed tasks.
- 15 minutes for answering urgent emails and phone calls
- 15 minutes to grade math tests
- 10 minutes to print and prepare materials for reading
- 20 minutes to plan ahead for the next week
The items on your schedule and the specific times will change according to your priorities, but sticking as closely to the outline as possible will help you use your time more efficiently.
2. Prioritize the Most Urgent and Difficult Tasks
Again, it probably sounds very obvious to put the most time-sensitive tasks at the top of the list, but setting this intention regularly is crucial when it comes to time management for teachers.
Emails or phone calls from parents, requests for information from the principal, or pertinent resources or modifications that students need for tomorrow’s lesson should be the first items you tackle.
Additionally, adding difficult, unwelcome, or tedious tasks as a top priority will help you avoid shuffling these items from this week’s to-do list to next.
It also reduces your stress when you look at the list and these tasks are already crossed off.
3. It Saves Time to Plan for the Unexpected
While the previous two time management tips for teachers likely sounded apparent, this strategy may seem impossible.
While you can’t specifically plan for the unexpected events, we know that they do happen, and often. Sally falls off the swing and you need to complete an incident report and call her parents.
Or an unplanned evacuation drill occurs during your science test and now you need to shift your planning for the next day.
Instead of scrambling to fit these into an otherwise packed day, allot the first 10-15 minutes of your planning time every day to handle unexpected and urgent matters. And, if you have a rare unicorn day where nothing pops up, you earned some bonus built-in prep time!
4. Use Several Types of Lists
Crossing an item off of our to-do list gives us great satisfaction, but watching one sit there week after week can sap our spirits. Using several lists can help you organize information in a more manageable way.
- Today: Grade and return homework, print reminder slips for a field trip, reply to principal’s email
- This Week: Create a schedule for parent-teacher conferences, Grade essays using a rubric, set up a meeting with a reading specialist
- This Month: Finish unit assessment directions sheet, plan a lesson for observation, create an outline for the next science unit
Using multiple lists allows you to avoid getting overwhelmed by things that are not immediately on your plate, but that you cannot put out of your mind completely.
Items can be moved from the monthly list to the weekly and today ones as they rise in urgency.
5. Plan at Least a Week Ahead
This is certainly easier said than done in some cases, but working from the beginning of the year to stay ahead of your instructional planning will help you tremendously as the year progresses and more responsibilities pile on.
When you have your plans set well in advance, it is easier to manage the unexpected stressful events that take priority over our planning.
It also helps you to be able to preset students with vocabulary and skills that you know they will need in subsequent lessons, which improves your instruction as well as your teacher’s time management.
6. Organize Your Extra Duties
We all know that planning and instructing students take most of our time and energy, as it should.
However, every teacher has additional duties, such as preparing report cards or progress reports, communicating with parents, and collaborating with colleagues.
You may also have to supervise students on lunch or recess duty, serve on a committee, or have regular meetings that you are required to participate in.
So how do we manage and make time for all of the extra duties?
Here are several time management strategies for teachers trying to fit in everything besides teaching:
7. Plan Out Your Year
One of the first things to do is to get a copy of the school calendar and map out any important dates for professional development, report cards, parent-teacher conferences, etc.
Then, if there are many things you need to do to prepare for these events, such as evaluate data or compute average scores, mark these due dates in your calendar as well.
This will help you manage the long-term expectations of the job without sudden surprises.
8. Use a Mix of Yearly, Monthly, and Weekly Calendars
As noted above with the various to-do lists mentioned above, one of the most important time management skills needed for teaching is planning on a macro and micro level.
Once you have charted out your year, you’ll want to also plan more specifically by month.
When you prepare to change the calendar in your meeting or information area for the students, take some time to plan out your special duties and meetings for the following month as well.
This should include:
- Marking dates and times for supervision, conferences, or meetings
- Note due dates for any prerequisite tasks, such as completing a summary or tabulating grades
- Use color coding for different duties to make it more visually accessible
For a weekly outline, filling in a schedule with times can make sure that you do not miss a crucial obligation.
9. Shift to An Electronic Calendar
Taking your organization online is an important 21st century time management tip for teachers.
Setting up your schedule and important duties online ensures that it is always at your fingertips without lugging another book back and forth in your teacher bag.
Additionally, you can share the meeting information with others and vice versa to help keep your entire teaching time organized.
10. Employ a Color Coding System
One of my favorite organizational tools is a color-coding system. I use it frequently with students because it supports visual learners and students with executive functioning difficulties to quickly organize information, but it has long worked for my own systems as well.
Using a different color for each duty when you include it in your calendar helps you to know at a glance where you need to be and when.
This will help you avoid booking two responsibilities at the same time, as well as with seeing patterns in where you are spending your time overall.
Separation of Personal Time and Professional Responsibilities
Perhaps the hardest part of time management for teachers is drawing a boundary between work time and personal time.
Our work has to come home with us, as there are not enough hours in the workday despite the best time management strategies.
If this is something you struggle with, read on for a few tips to help you be prepared for the day while still maintaining your personal life and time.
11. Set “Office Hours” for Working at Home
Particularly if your school day does not have much prep time built-in, it is easy to feel pressured to spend hours of planning and creating materials.
If the evening is your only time to answer emails or grade assignments, you may find yourself devoting the time that would otherwise be used for you or your family to schoolwork.
In order to meet both obligations, set office hours for yourself.
Find an hour or two that works best for your home schedule and stick strictly to that. Recharging our batteries with exercise, sleep, and connecting with our loved ones is equally important as getting all of the extra work done.
12. Institute a 24 Hour Rule for Emails and Phone Calls
Provided that you do not work for a school that has its own requirements, do your best to avoid the pressure to spend your evening responding to emails that can wait until the next morning.
Let families know upfront that unless the situation requires an urgent answer, they will always hear from you within 24 hours. This rule can also apply to colleagues who do not need immediate information from you.
13. Practice Mindfulness
While mindfulness activities are not necessarily time management skills needed for teaching, coaching yourself to be present and attuned to your body and mind is important. A great place to start is by reading time management quotes and trying to find yourself in them.
The practices can help you tune out distractions and to concentrate more fully on the task in front of you, which helps to make you more efficient with your time overall.
Mindfulness also helps you to manage your stress levels and is a great social-emotional tool to share with your students as well.