Work Smarter, Not Harder: Tips to Make Teaching Easier

by | Jun 17, 2020 | New Teachers Tips

By Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder

Unlike common public belief, you know how much time teaching takes and that the job extends into evenings, weekends, and breaks. However, there are tips you can follow to make your teaching job easier. The key is to work smarter, not harder.

Collaborate with your colleagues

One of the easiest steps you can take is to collaborate with your colleagues. Too many teachers choose to do everything by themselves. Often it is because of insecurity in asking for help, but there is no reason to reinvent the wheel that has been spinning for years. 

Find someone who teaches the same subject or same grade and ask about working together to share resources and plan units or projects together.  Take turns preparing quizzes and tests and share them with each other. 

This serves several purposes.
  1. It saves time for everyone involved.
  2. It helps ensure that students are getting the same information and the same exposure to the content. This is especially important at the high school level if students change teachers at the semester.
  3. It gives you a good sounding board for ideas and expands your capabilities of doing more in the long run for your students.
  4. It gives you an ally.

If you happen to teach a stand along subject like I did, find your colleagues outside of your school. My biggest allies and collaborators were other journalism teachers I saw at conferences. We understood our subject and the issues with it when no one else in our schools did.

Wherever you find your people, you will find they will help you work smarter, not harder. Take their advice, their help, and provide yours to them. It is a game changer.

Strategically plan your time management

Carefully plan out your week to make the most of each spare minute. Begin each week and day with a set of goals. Write them down and plan when you will do them. 

Teachers have a limited amount of free time during the day to accomplish goals, so look at your list and prioritize when you can do them. 

Simple tasks like making copies or grading a spelling test can be done quickly, so plan to do those when you only have a few minutes. For longer tasks like lesson planning or grading essays, pencil in the best time for you to really focus. Is it during your prep period, an hour after school, or before school?

Once you have a list planned make every effort to stick to it. That means avoiding distractions.

When it’s time to get serious about your work, try these steps:
  1. Put away all technology.
  2. Stay away from the teacher’s lounge, copy room, office, colleague’s room, or any other area that will distract you from working.
  3. Shut your door so there is less chance someone will interrupt you.
  4. Then, look at your list and get busy!

Delegate jobs to students

Students of all grades like to feel needed. Elementary teachers are usually great at using classroom jobs and having classroom helpers, but middle and high school students also enjoy helping out. You just need to ask.

Not only do class jobs teach responsibility, it also gives students ownership. It helps develop a sense of pride because they have done something that makes them an essential part of your class.

Ideas could include:
  1. Cleaning the whiteboard
  2. Passing out or collecting papers
  3. Organizing classroom supplies
  4. Filling out an absent student form 
  5. Running errands
  6. Straightening the classroom
  7. Creating a bulletin board

Make a list of all the jobs you do that could easily be performed by a student and delegate them. This will free up some of your much needed time. To include everyone who wants to participate you may need to rotate jobs by the week.

One word of advice, remember they are students, so let go of any perfection tendencies. Realize that they may not do tasks at your skill level and be prepared to be okay with good enough. 

Also, remember to show your appreciation and thank them for their effort. 

Strategically assign deadlines

Have you ever sat at your desk on a Friday afternoon and tried to peer over the stack of papers on your desk? You know that sinking feeling as you lug a bag full of papers home for the weekend?

Sometimes teachers are overextended, and it’s because they did not strategically plan the work they assign. 

This can start as you work on your lesson plans. Before you make an assignment (especially something that will take a while to grade) look ahead at all your due dates and spread them out. 

The easiest way is to get a calendar and write down each due date. If you notice that you have too many assignments coming in on a particular day, then adjust some assignments. 

The goal is to space out assignment deadlines so you have a steady stream of papers coming in throughout the week, rather than a flood in one day. A steady stream is manageable whereas you will feel like you are drowning when all the papers come in at once.

Also, when you make assignments, be sure you are not assigning busy work for the sake of giving homework. Ask yourself if it is beneficial and necessary. If the answer is no, do not assign it. 

Another tip is to think about the length of the assignments you grade. The goal should be to find out what students have mastered and what they still need practice on. 

Only assign what will give you those answers. If you can do that with 10 math problems, then don’t assign 50. If an exit slip will tell you what you need to know, then do you really need to assign a worksheet?

When you make the assignment fit your end goal and you plan when you assign deadlines, you will ease the grading overload.

Simplify your grading

The last tip is to simplify your grading system. While grading can take hours of time, there are some tips to make it less time consuming. By working smarter, not harder you will spend less time grading and still be able to assess your students effectively. For research on grading, check out this article.

Auto grade

The most obvious tip for teachers in a 1:1 computer environment is to let technology do the work for you. Use electronic self-graded quizzes and tests. Most learning management programs have this feature and allow you to even have the grades auto populated into the grading software. Game changer!

There are many benefits to this system besides saving you time and paper. 

  • Electronic quizzes and tests allow you to save a database of questions to reuse. 
  • You can also easily change the quiz questions and order for different classes to decrease cheating issues. 
  • With some software you can randomly select the order so that students’ quizzes all look different.
  • You can also lock student’s screens, so they can only see your quiz or test and are not able to use anything else on their computer. 
  • Students get immediate feedback on their results, and if you want, you can allow them to see the correct answers while the test is fresh on their minds.
  • This also gives students practice in online test taking, which is the way standardized tests have moved.

Batch grade

Not everything can be graded electronically, so one of the quickest ways to grade by hand is to batch grade. By doing this your brain does not have to switch gears as you grade.  

Instead of grading all of one assignment or test at once, break it down. Grading one section of each assignment or test at a time can save you lots of time. You will quickly get in a rhythm and memorize the patterns of True and False answers or multiple choice questions and fly through the papers.

Grade all of page one and add up the number wrong, grade page two and add up the number wrong, etc. Total the score when you have finished grading each test.

This also works on essay questions if you grade all of one question, you know exactly what you are looking for and can skim quickly.

Waiting to put the grades in the gradebook all at one time, not as you complete each paper will also save you time.

Peer/self grade

There is no reason that students cannot check some assignments whether it is their own or a peer’s. This is a good way to go over work in class and teach as you go. 

Students can learn from their mistakes and correct them as you go through them in real time when the content is fresh in their minds. You can quickly explain how to do something, show examples, or walk them through the process then and there. 

Think how much time that saves you over writing the same comment 50 times as you are grading. How much time have you spent writing comments only to see students throw away their paper without ever reading anything? 

This is the perfect way to give fast feedback on short assignments because you can quickly see who needs your help and who has mastered the content. And, this is valuable to the student as well!

Don’t grade everything

Not everything needs a grade. It’s okay to have students do things just for practice. Grade only those things that accurately measure what students need to know. 

You might decide to give a completion grade. Some teachers choose to make a check mark or stamp each paper and collect it later. To really save time, this can be done during class by walking around the room and recording a completion grade directly in your electronic gradebook.

Selectively grade

You can choose to only grade parts of an assignment. If you are talking about subject/noun agreement, that might be all you look for in a writing assignment. If you want to see if students grasp how to add fractions you can probably tell from looking at 5 math problems instead of all 20. 

You can also reverse this and let students select what they want graded. For example, if you assign a daily journal entry, when you collect their work ask the student to put a check mark beside the one they want you to grade. The rest just get a completion grade. 

Remember that the most effective feedback for students comes quickly. If you take weeks to grade something, they have no way of knowing they grasped the concepts. You run the risk of having them move forward and continuing to incorrectly do that skill.

While there are some procedures and duties you have no control of, there are many that you do. With some practice you can soon be working smarter, not harder. This will increase the time you have to do what you need and want to do and will give you a fresher perspective on the teaching field.

If you have a good work smarter, not harder tip, leave it in the comments below and help someone else out.

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