Ready, set, go!! Almost every time that bell rings that indicates that my prep period is starting, it takes me back to memories of running a race, and taking off as fast as I could the second I heard the starting pistol shot. Do you feel the same way? There is always soooo much to do and not enough time, that it seems like running around the classroom frantically with your hands flying through the air is your only option to fulfill all of the necessary tasks.
I am a first grade teacher and we get one prep period a day that lasts for about 39 minutes, and a little less on Thursdays. I also am responsible for picking up and dropping off my students at the specials’ teachers classrooms, which chips away at the time. These are some tips that have helped me to squeeze every workable second out of my prep period.
How to start your prep time
My guidance counselor used to have a poster that hung in his room that said, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” This is a powerful adage.
Take a few minutes each week to plan out a list of what you wish to accomplish throughout the week. Google Keep is a great resource for this. You can make a list and check it off as you go. It is so incredibly satisfying to see the items on the list get crossed out as you move through the week. Begin your prep time by looking at the list, deciding what you are going to focus on, and go for it.
When you get to your workspace after your prep time begins, take a deep breath, make sure your belly is satisfied, drink a few sips of water, and dive in. This helps me with the transition from being in a room full of people to being by myself. Students are not the only ones that need help with transitions!
One of the biggest time wasters is wishing. Do not wish that you could have more time, more help, or more of anything. The situation is what it is, and you need to make the most of it. Wishing will take away time, productivity, and energy from you that you need to focus on your work and it will negatively impact your efficiency.
There are many tasks that teachers take care of throughout the day. Try to be realistic with your time. For example, it would not be a good idea for me to set a goal of writing my lesson plans for the next three weeks. Rather it would be more reasonable and attainable for me to plan out two or three subjects for the next week. Look at your list and decide what tasks you could accomplish during your time.
Sometimes, I feel that I am in such a frenzy to get everything done that I multitask. I notice that when I do this, my emails have typos, I tend to rush conversations, I am not the kindest version of myself, and my work is not as excellent as it could be. I find that when I focus on one task, do it well, complete the task, and then move on to the next task, my work is more impressive and it shines. I feel that I am slowing down and working slower, but this is worth it in the long run. I love the saying by Benjamin Franklin,”Well done is twice done!”
Set up a reward for yourself
I have the privilege to work with many people that I enjoy spending time with. I allow myself a treat at the end of the workweek if I complete all of the items on my list: I get to have a full lunch period with other colleagues. This has helped motivate me to be more efficient and focused. I encourage you to also find a reward for yourself at the end of the workweek that motivates you to focus on your work as well.
Divide and Conquer
This method worked really well when I worked with another teacher that taught the same grade as me. One of us would focus on one task and the other would focus on another. For example, she would do all of the photocopying for the week, while I would do another task that needed to be done.
If you do not have a teacher partner, it may also be helpful to work ahead. I have a bin in my classroom that says “photocopies”. Instead of walking to the copy machine and making a copy of each paper when I need it, I make a bunch of copies at once. I feel that this method is a time saver because I am already there and it would take little effort to work ahead and to finish up my copies all at once.
The Dreaded Interruption
How many times have you been ready to dive into a project and the phone rings, or someone walks in your room? Do your best to make the conversation brief, and if it is not a good time, feel free to say that in a kind way. You can always say to someone,”Can we please talk about this later when I can focus on this conversation or matter fully?” When I have a big project that I need to accomplish in a timely fashion, I have been known to lock my door and to take the phone off the hook. This is not a personal attack against anyone; I need to be respectful of a deadline. Remember this time is yours and claim it as such.
If you do need to have a conversation with someone, make the necessary points. If you see that the conversation is going around in circles and you are both repeating yourselves, a good way to end it is to summarize the main points, and end the conversation by stating that you will keep the person posted on further developments, and you can also remind the person that you are only a phone call or an email away. This helps to restate your point(s) one last time, it is a polite and effective way to end a conversation, and it allows the communication lines to remain open.
I am always so grateful to see the finish line at the end of the race. I know that feeling of fulfillment when I see those wonderful letters “F-I-N-I-S-H” getting larger and more in focus. Hopefully getting many of your to-do items scratched off the list during your prep time will also give you a feeling of accomplishment, and will make you feel like you came in first place in the race against the bell!