The Efficient Educator


I admit it. I’m a workaholic. I actually enjoy spending hours upon hours planning lessons and perfecting them. When I first started teaching, I did just that (often to the detriment of my personal life.) I can’t even count how often I missed out on social and family events because I was knee-deep in grading or materials creation. Within a few years, I began to realize that my excessive hours at work were starting to wear on those around me and on me as well. Things came to a head one day during a faculty meeting in which our director told our entire teaching staff how 'utterly replaceable' we were. I had the sudden realization of how much time and effort I was putting into a place that valued me so little. From that moment on (in addition to leaving that school,) I decided that I would work smarter, not harder. I was going to keep my priorities straight.

No matter what your work situation, being more efficient with your time can help immensely in maintaining your sanity and work life balance. Below are some general tips for how to maximize every minute of your work day.

General Tips

1. Plan your planning time. To those who loathe this part of the job, I'm sure this sounds like absolute anathema. Plan my planning time? Are you crazy? I guarantee you, though, that organized planning will save you hours upon hours of time. At the beginning of every week, I create my to-do list for each class and then schedule each task during a specific planning slot. That way, rather than wasting the planning period figuring out what I need to do, I can just jump right in and get started.

2. Plan your lesson preparation around your personal rhythms and those of the school. Be aware of when you are most productive, and do your more complicated tasks at those times. I work best early in the morning, so that’s when I do my lesson planning. I leave making copies or grading papers to the afternoon. Also, be aware of the busy times at the copier, in the computer room, and at the printer. It’s a big waste of time and a bit of an energy drain to stand in line waiting for others. Make copies when people aren’t around. Utilize time between classes if possible or at the end of the day.

3. Always have alternative plans. As teachers, we are always ready to improvise when things don’t go as we expect in the classroom. We should apply the same principle to our planning time. If you were going to make copies and the copier is broken, don’t just sit around and lament. Quickly move on to the next task on your list.

4. Use test days to your advantage. When students are taking an exam, most teachers generally have a good 30-45 minutes of quiet time. Don’t just sit there. Use the time to do something productive like writing an activity or grading some papers.

5. Team up with coworkers. Though K-12 teachers often work with teaching teams, collaboration is rare in adult ESL schools—especially private ones. Collaboration can work to your advantage. Organize a lesson plan trade with some of your colleagues. You can also team lesson plan when you teach the different sections of the same course. Pair up and alternate lesson planning to save time.

6. Know when to create. One of the biggest time wasters in ESL is searching for hours online to find materials that fit your needs. There comes a point where it’s not worth your time to continue searching. Set a max time limit on looking for materials. If it takes you longer than 20-30 minutes to find what you need, create something instead.

7. Know when to buy. I remember teaching a unit on the court system and spending hours trying to find an appropriate role play activity for my students. When I couldn’t find anything, I tried to create something, but I simply didn’t have enough time. Finally, I gave in and purchased a role play. Though I was uncertain about the purchase at the time, I quickly discovered that this ESL activity was well worth the investment. I have actually used it at least 9 or 10 times so far. Sometimes it’s better in the long run to purchase something especially if it saves time both now and in the future.

8. Have students help with grading and materials creation. Your students can be one of your best resources when it comes to saving time. If you need flash cards for vocabulary or speaking practice, have the students work in groups to create them for you. Grade an exam together as a class or have some of your faster/higher level students assist with grading papers.

9. Use your travel time. If you take the bus or train, use that time to create your general lesson plan, week schedule, or to grade some papers. If you drive, use the audio function on your phone to dictate lesson plans. I’ve often sent myself voice texts with some ideas that came to me in the car. (Note: Please do not physically text yourself lesson ideas while driving. No amount of time saving is worth your safety and that of others.)

By using your time well, you will give yourself more time to sleep, to spend time with others, and just to breathe. Great time management will also prevent burn out and will ensure that you can keep doing the job you love for years to come.

Does anyone else have time management tips? Please feel free to share them with us.

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