Most teachers will agree that, both in school and outside the classroom, there’s never enough time. From lesson planning to marking assignments, it can be hard to fit it all in, which is why time management is the thread running through almost all aspects of teaching. This can be challenging at the best of times, but for those who thrive within the structure of the school timetable, the switch to teaching from home as a result of COVID-19 may be making juggling work harder than ever, and many teachers will be struggling to keep the necessary boundaries in place as the weeks at home roll on.
So, how can teachers who usually navigate their day from one bell to the next manage their work remotely, without letting it take over their personal time? These time management tips will help you get back to basics and tackle tasks from new angles:
1. Structure and Prioritise Your Day
You likely learned the importance of organising and prioritising your work as a graduate teacher, but as expectations and demands change, having a solid (yet flexible) structure for each day becomes even more vital for maintaining control over your time.
Setting your priorities can help you stay on track throughout the day, even when the workload seems overwhelming or the unexpected occurs, whether it be technical difficulties or disruptive student behaviour. Where possible, aim to arrange your workload by weighing the importance of tasks in relation to the impact they will have on your students’ learning.
It’s also important to create a sense of structure for your days – such as by setting timed slots for work and breaks. If you don’t want to stick to a rigid timetable, even marking your start and finish times can help you maintain concentration throughout the day and provide a clear distinction between work and rest.
2. Be Strategic About Lesson Planning and Marking
Many of the teachers we speak to say one of their biggest challenges is the amount of time they spend planning their lessons. While planning is important, spending hours on each 30-minute lesson day after day is unsustainable for even the most dedicated educator.
When getting ready for a lesson, consider the ratio of time-to-learning – is the time you’re putting into the preparation going to be proportional to the learning outcome? Remember that there are plenty of free teaching resources available online, so bookmark useful websites that can help supplement your lesson plans, and consider creating a folder of materials that you can reuse in the future.
The other task that saps up a lot of teachers’ time is marking, however being strategic about this can help cut down unnecessary work – and potentially improve learning. There are a number of simple changes you can make, such as:
Allowing time to do your marking in small, regular increments to keep it manageable, rather than trying to finish everything at the last minute
Spreading out deadlines so you’re not left with lots of marking to do a once
Having you students mark their own / each other’s work if the answers are objective – often, they learn more by doing it this way as they are forced to consider their mistakes and the reasoning behind answers
3. Apply the Two-Minute Rule
One of the best time management strategies for teachers is using the two-minute rule to overcome procrastination and prevent small tasks from building up.
When you’re teaching remotely, there are often additional admin tasks such as organising Zoom meetings with students and emailing handouts, which can easily start to eat into time meant for more important things. The two-minute rule dictates that if something will take less than two minutes to do, get it done now, as it will take up much more time if you were to come back to do it later. You can also apply this rule to break up larger tasks by tackling them in two-minute bursts until they’re finished. It may not sound like a lot of time when you’re staring at a huge pile of assignments, but you’ll be surprised at what you can get through in focussed snippets of time between lessons or before lunch!
4. Put Boundaries in Place
Boundaries are important for any educator, but they’re even more crucial when teaching from home, as the line between work and personal time is easily blurred in this setting.
One of the simplest ways to create a boundary is by setting up a workspace (even if it’s just a particular end of the dining table) so that you’re not trying to focus somewhere you’d usually be relaxing. This makes it easier to switch from “home mode” to “work mode” and back again, making you more productive and keeping them separate as much as possible.
As we mentioned previously, the way you structure your day is also important – this doesn’t just mean being strict about focussing on work during work time, but also ensuring that you’re not working after hours (yes, we see you checking your emails in the evening!).
Whether you’re in the classroom or teaching from home, effective time management is going to be a constant balancing act throughout your career. But by applying these strategies, you can better address the needs of your students, adapt to new challenges and avoid falling behind when the unexpected occurs.
For more time management tips or to find out about our latest teaching jobs, feel free to reach out to the Education recruitment team at Tradewind.