Time is on Your Side: The Most Valuable Teacher Tool for Back to School

The last drop of hot glue is drying on your bulletin board, your classroom library is stocked with new titles and the back-to-school anticipation is running high. You've probably been spending days or weeks getting ready for a new class and it is finally time for the first day with your students. No matter how physically ready your classroom may or may not be, there is one element that cannot be ignored during the first days and weeks of school: TIME.

Over the years, I have mentored many new teachers. Fresh from their university courses, new teachers would enter my classroom with binders (or google drives) full of perfected lesson plans and well-thought-out units of study. Along with those binders came a lot of pressure, nerves and a sense of urgency. This sense of urgency often times pushed student teachers to rush, rush, rush. I found myself always giving the same advice: SLOW DOWN!

New teachers are not the only ones that need to be reminded to pump the breaks. Even veteran educators remind themselves of the importance of taking things slow, especially at the beginning of the year. 

"Take Your time, slow down, take your time and do things correctly the first time or you will be paying for it the rest of the year," explained Kelly Ewen, a veteran teacher from Indiana, "I always reread parts of a book I received in college called The First Days of School by Harry Wong. He gives such great advice about classroom management.”

Reviewing great classroom management is at the top of many teacher back-to-school lists. Put time on your side and start your school year off right. Here are three great reminders of how to use time to your advantage:

Wait Time

There is no power like the silence of a teacher waiting for an entire class of students to stop talking, stop moving and put their eyes on their teacher. Silence signals to a group of excited kids that what you have to tell them is very important and that you value listening in your classroom. It is more powerful than any words that could possibly come out of your mouth.

In the first few weeks of school, you are setting the tone for the rest of the year. You will feel the pressure to start teaching the standards but if you rush through the process of good listening, you will pay for it every single day until the last day of school. As the teacher, we should be doing a minimal amount of the talking, but make it known to your students that when you DO talk, everyone must be listening. I overdid this at the beginning of the year. I would begin directions and if one kid moved a finger, I stopped talking. It was kind of funny but it WORKED. Over and over for the first few weeks of school, if I was giving directions, I waited until every single eye was on me. Yes, it took a lot of time, but the efficiency I gained for the other 8 months of the year was worth it.


Think Time

When my son Jacob was in preschool, I went to his first parent-teacher conference. During our discussion, his teacher mentioned that Jacob never raised his hand during class discussions and that he seemed very quiet.  After listening to the concern, I explained to his teacher that  Jacob was a very pensive child. Even at 4 years old, he was a kid who liked to think through all of the options before giving his final answer. People would ask Jacob a question and if he didn't answer within 10 seconds, they would answer for him. Frankly, it drove me nuts. I explained that I think Jacob could benefit from a little wait time in the classroom. A month later, his teacher came back to me and said that was the solution. Jacob needed time to think before his classmates started to blurt out answers. Once he was given this gift of time, he slowly started to open up. Jacob was 4 but the research shows that wait time is important from 4 to 90 years old.

Wait time (or think time) is the time between a teacher posing a question and students responding. In Teacher Visions'  Your Secret Weapon: Wait Timeresearch shows that when teachers place extended time between asking a question and accepting student answers, student responses increase by 400 to 800 percent and the number of appropriate responses also goes up. Sounds like a win-win situation. Get in the habit of counting to 10 after asking a question to your class. It supports classroom management and allows the little Jacobs of the world a chance to participate.


Me Time

The beginning of the school year always left me with little patience and aching legs and feet. The month of September left me in a state of exhaustion, especially after I had my own two children. Don't forget the importance of taking care of yourself in these tough first few weeks of school. Make sure to schedule quiet time for yourself and time to see friends that inject energy and happiness into your life.

Friday afternoon has always been one of my favorite times of the week. In College, I used it to study (the library was always quiet) and as a teacher, I used it as time to prepare for the next week.  I'm a very social person and so my classroom always seemed to be a revolving door of visiting peers, students and parents during the week. Early in my career, I realized that most teachers and staff raced out of the building on Friday afternoons. Even though it was hard, I put a big DO NOT DISTURB sign on my door at 3:30 pm on Friday and I stayed in my classroom for 2 straight hours. I cleaned, organized, made copies, planned out lessons and if I had time, squeezed in some grading. It made me feel extremely prepared and calm on Monday morning.  

What do you think? How do you use time to your advantage? Let us know in the comments below.