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Plan Ahead to Save Yourself Time & Stress During the Week

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If you're a teacher who constantly finds yourself pressed for time, you may benefit from planning ahead. Doing so can reduce stress, increase productivity, and make for a more enjoyable classroom experience.

The Importance of Planning

Though the standard work week is only five days, it can feel a lot longer if you aren't adequately prepared. As any experienced teacher will tell you, one of the most important parts of the week occurs before the week even starts: the planning phase. Time management is important, not just for students, but for teachers as well.

Imagine your teaching experience as a drive through the countryside; would you rather follow a well-marked road, or improvise and try to find your own way through rough terrain? By efficiently mapping out your course of action for the week, you can avoid unnecessary stress and deliver a more productive and effective learning experience for your students.

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The list below contains a few tips and methods to help you get organized and keep things on track.

Prioritize

The first step is to determine which subjects and topics deserve the most attention and which ones can wait. Every subject is important, of course, but some are more important than others. Review your curriculum and find the best places to expend more time and energy.

This is also a situation in which long-term planning can be especially beneficial. At the start of a semester, review your syllabus and identify potential problem areas that may eat up time so that these possible challenges don't become an unpleasant surprise later on in the year.

Be Ambitious (But Realistic)

According to multiple sources, teachers have plenty on their plate. From internal pressure from department heads to extreme stress, teaching is far from an easy profession.

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Though having too much to do is a very real worry, having too little to do is an unexpected problem that results from poor planning. If you schedule fewer activities, you run the risk of having nothing prepared once your students finish their initial tasks. Worse still, such a slow pace will almost certainly mean that you'll fall behind, causing a need to speed things up later in the semester.

Know your limits, but don't be afraid to push them. Designate a set number of essential tasks, and keep a few bonus assignments handy in case things move quicker than you expected.

The obvious caveat here is that you must be careful not to reach beyond your grasp. Avoid extra pressure and stress by understanding the difference between an ambitious plan and an unrealistic one.

Keep Things Moving

No matter how perfect your strategy is, it will mean nothing if you don't execute it properly. As a teacher, it is your responsibility, not your students', to stay on track and ensure that your week goes as planned.

A few tricks for pushing the pace include:

  • Prevent 'empty time' by giving students their next assignment before collecting papers from the previous task.
  • Use student names to quickly gain attention.
  • Gain students' attention before beginning a new activity; don't waste time trying to talk over student noise.
  • Avoid interruptions while students are working.
  • Review lesson materials for potentially confusing or unclear instructions.
  • Avoid overwhelming students with multiple topics. Determine the best order for teaching (remember the section above on prioritizing).

Be Flexible

Flexibility allows you to adjust and correct course when things don't go according to plan. While following a plan is important, you also need to consider your class's performance. If students are having difficulty grasping a particular idea, you may need to slow things down or repeat a lesson to ensure that your students fully understand what is being taught. In addition to these delays, there's always the chance that an inconvenient snow day or poorly-timed fire drill will disrupt your teaching, and you need to be ready to handle these obstacles.

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In order to compensate for these potential problems, you need to devise a plan that can be quickly and seamlessly adjusted.

Re-evaluate Regularly

The majority of planning should be done ahead of time, but that does not mean that you can't plan during the week, too. Set aside some time during the week (about halfway through) to assess the effectiveness of your strategy. Use this period to take a look at your progress so far and determine what needs to be changed. Do you need to speed up? Or slow down? What subjects should you spend more time on, and which ones should be put off until the time is right?

Better yet, it's a lot easier and less labor intensive to rearrange a previously-existing plan than it is to start a new one from scratch. By taking just a little bit of time during the week, you can build off your momentum and get the most out of the last few days of the week.

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A well-planned week helps you avoid stress and pressure. By mapping out your week in advance, you can save yourself time and effort.

By Bill Sands
January 2017
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