By Andrew Hawk
Most school days are full of tasks that teachers need to complete before they are prepared to instruct students. Mercifully, many teaching positions come with built-in prep time. How much time a teacher gets for prep depends heavily on his or her teaching position and school system (my first teaching position did not allow for prep time). In most positions, teachers are given around forty-five minutes during the school day to prepare for their classes. While this amount of time will not be enough for most teachers to complete all of their tasks, it can, at the very least, be a starting point. Here are some ideas on how to make the most of your prep time.
During my planning period, I always try to complete the tasks that have to be completed in the school building. Items on this list include copying, laminating, die cutting, and anything that involves using a paper cutter or a binding machine. While I have known colleagues who owned all of the devices needed for these tasks, most people will need to rely on the school for these things.
Make a List
Don’t let tasks slip through the cracks! Keep a notepad nearby and write down tasks that you need to complete throughout the day. I know that writing a list is hardly a groundbreaking idea. However, it continues to be a highly effective way to organize and complete tasks.
One of the biggest challenges teachers face is the amount of time they spend away from one another. Most teachers spend the majority of their day with students. This can cause us to socialize with coworkers when we could save an hour or two at the end of the day by completing tasks. Try to limit distractions. Keep hallway and mailbox conversations to only a couple of minutes. Find a friend who has the same prep time that you do, and complete your tasks together. To make the most out of your prep time, you will need to find a creative balance between socializing and completing work.
Be a Mentor
Across our country, Response to Intervention (RTI) teams brainstorm ways to improve the behavior of challenging students. Often, these students’ behavior can be improved by giving them the opportunity to develop a positive relationship with an adult. In the case of mentors and mentees, the mentor should not be a disciplinarian to the mentee. This automatically eliminates administrators. Classroom teachers cannot mentor students who are in their classes. The idea behind setting up a mentor-mentee relationship with a student during your prep time is to have the student assist you while you complete your work. Over the course of helping, a positive relationship will hopefully develop.
This strategy may not be a fit for all teachers. Many of us use our prep times to regroup for the rest of the day. If you are willing and able to serve in this capacity, you will be a great asset to your school and to your RTI team.
By the end of their first year of teaching, most teachers have found a lesson-planning routine that works for them. If you find yourself spending more time than you’d like on planning lessons outside of work, consider completing some of your lesson planning during your prep time. In general, if you dedicate twenty minutes of your prep time per day to lesson planning, then (most weeks) you will be completing an hour and forty minutes of planning. If this is not enough time for all of your planning, it is at least a good start.
Don’t Forget Your Email
It may sound silly, but at one of my former schools, teachers were so bad about checking their email that our principal mandated that it had to be checked before we left each day. Depending on your school and position, email can be a time killer all by itself. Working as a special education teacher, I usually receive anywhere from twenty to forty emails every day. It is probably a good idea to add checking your email to your prep time routine if you don’t already.
Do Some Grading
My second year of teaching, I let myself get a couple of days behind on my grading. It took me two months to get caught up. It’s always a good idea to find some time to grade student work during prep. Staying up-to-date on grading takes a systematic approach.
Find Your Balance
Selecting which tasks to complete during prep time is a matter of taste. Experiment for a few days and figure out what works best for you. Some teachers like to work on one task until it is finished. Other teachers like to split their time and work on several different tasks. It may work best for you to approach your prep time on a day-to-day basis. As long as you are completing productive tasks, you are moving forward.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
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