The reality of teaching is that it will never be an easy profession. Teachers work hard…really hard! And, as much as we might try to avoid bringing work home with us, it can be hard not to panic over the pile that will be awaiting our return. As a result, many of us take work home to try to get ahead.
This constant struggle to keep up can make it hard to find the time to make changes to our routines and systems. However, there are some things we can easily implement to ease the burden of all the extras that come with teaching and to help maximize the effectiveness of our classroom. While preparing for these changes might take a few minutes of your time, the time you'll save will more than make up for it across the year.
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Simple Classroom-Tested Strategies to Save You Time
How to keep your desks arranged neatly without losing learning time.
Struggle with getting the desks back into their arrangement at the end of the day?
This way, they will always stay together and when you move one desk into position, you’ll be taking three or four more with it!
I’d definitely pick the reusable version if you’re prone to moving desks often like I am. They really aren’t that expensive, and they last for years.
If you’re struggling to find the right desk arrangement for your classroom, you can grab some suggestions in these articles:
- How to Plan the Perfect Classroom Layout
- The Secret of Seating Arrangements – How to pick what’s right for you
How to make grading and passing back papers faster & more efficient.
Grading and lesson planning will ultimately take up most of your time each day. One way to make grading a little easier is to assign a number to each of your students alphabetically.
By doing this, you can sort the papers easily when entering the grades into your grade book and organizing papers to return them to student mailboxes. I make sure my students write their numbers on their papers and know them well.
We even use the numbers to make sure everyone is accounted for on field trips. I just have students “count off” by shouting out their number in the correct sequence. If all the numbers are present, I know everyone is there.
How to avoid getting behind on your grading.
One of the most difficult lessons for many teachers to come to terms with that they don’t have to grade every paper.
Sometimes you might spot check papers or look at 1-2 specific problems to identify whether the majority of the class understands or you need to reteach specific skills.
You might also use a few problems as a formative assessment to help group students without grading the entire assignment or entering it in the grade book.
The most important thing is to prioritize what you want to grade and what you can spot check or let the students “grade” themselves.
Grading papers as a class can be a good way to go over the homework with the students and answer any questions that students may have had. For other papers, give the students credit for completing the assignment, but have them self-correct their paper using an answer key that you have created.
If you want a good idea on how confident students are in their work, you can have them turn these self-corrected papers in using the 3-pile system. This system has students turn their papers into one of 3 piles – “I totally get it”, “I kind of get it”, or “I’m lost and need help”.
You can also modify this for additional privacy by having students make a dot on their paper corresponding to their understanding.
- Green – I totally get it.
- Yellow – I kind of get it.
- Red – I’m lost and need help.
If you do this, all papers can be turned in upside-down to a single pile without students knowing who might feel lost or need support. You can decide when to do this, so students won’t know when you will be looking at their papers or when they will be self-correcting.
Check out an awesome video on grading hacks from Laura Randazzo. It's got some great tips and tricks to make grading life a breeze!
How to save hours of planning time next school year.
It is a challenge to keep up with planning lessons every single week. If you feel you need to step up your lesson planning game, it might be time to go digital.
This will give you the opportunity to move lessons around and keep a digital copy for years to come. It is also easy to log in and leave yourself notes for things to change or keep the same for next year’s lesson.
You can create a template in your Google Drive, or visit https://www.planbook.com/ and download their app for $15 for the year.
If you decide to go with Google Drive, be sure to start by deciding how you’ll organize your plans to help you find things easily next year. This is a mistake I made early on, and I would’ve saved myself a ton of time had I been more planful from the beginning.
If you choose to go with Planbook, it also has a grade book feature in case your district doesn’t have one or doesn’t let you access their resources off-campus. Plus. you will be able to access your state’s standards and input them right into your lessons. Depending on your lesson plan requirements, that alone might be worth the time that it takes to become familiar with the program.
How to save time making copies for your class.
Making copies is one of those tedious things that you just have to do.
If you’re lucky, you have volunteers or someone on campus who makes copies for you. If that is the case, I’d recommend making a copy cheat sheet that you can attach to each paper to quickly and easily let your copy maker know what to do.
Here’s an example of one I made to use with my copy parent several years ago. You can grab a free copy by clicking the button at the end of this section.
If you aren’t lucky enough to have copies done for you, here’s a tip to help you save some time.
Sort the copies you’ll need for the week so that the single-sided copies are together and the double-sided copies are together. Then you can set up all your single-sided copies to print at one time, and your double-sided copies to print as a separate job.
This can save you a ton of time, but be sure to only do this when others aren’t going to need the copier because it can take some time for it to finish all your jobs.
How to avoid last-minute grading for missing or unfinished classwork.
Keeping track of unfinished work can be a nightmare. It gets stuffed into student desks and is oftentimes lost forever.
Even if you are good at reminding students, sometimes it can feel impossible to get all that missing work in and graded before the quarter ends.
My solution to this was to get a large hanging file organizer. I assigned each student a pocket using their number. Whenever we were preparing to transition, students who hadn’t finished their work put it in their pocket on the wall.
This was great because I had a good visual of how many students had missing work at any time. I could easily stop and give a little extra work time if I saw the pockets were getting full.
I was also able to go and review and clean out assignments that were partially complete, but that I wouldn’t be officially grading. This was helpful for students who were slow workers and consistently had a folder full of incomplete work.
If a student wasn’t completing work as we reached the end of the quarter, I would occasionally modify an assignment and grade the portion that had already been completed. However, I always made sure to document this in my grade book.
How to avoid the question “What did I miss while I was absent?”
Another challenge teachers face each day is keeping up with students who are absent or have unfinished work.
There are two things that you can do to make your life a little easier.
- Assign absent buddies: Each student gets paired up with a student. You will set up a bin filled with a folder for each student. If one of the students is absent, their buddy will grab their folder, collect, and track any work that they missed and write down their homework on Absent Student Organization Forms. They will then leave it on their buddies’ desk at the end of the day.
Hint: You can select a couple “Emergency Buddies” to track work if both partners are out. It always happens!
- Write the name of the absent student on a blank copy and place them on a magnetic clip on your whiteboard. The students can have instant access to all their sheets when they return. This also will show you who hasn’t picked up missing work.
Grab a free copy of my absent work form (along with the copy request form) by clicking the button.
The biggest thing to remember…
These time-saving tips are only helpful if you feel you can consistently implement them. It isn’t worth it to add something extra to your plate if it will create MORE work for you.
As you decide which tips to implement in your classroom, select the ones that best fill your needs or the stresses you are experiencing with your classroom management.
Whether this is your first year or fifteenth, there are always adjustments we can make to help simplify and streamline all the extras we do outside of our time teaching.