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Being a productive teacher felt like the impossible goal. I had a million to-dos and only so many hours to do it in. Anyone out there feel my pain? Usually, my preparation time turned into me doing the things I liked the most first. Then, I’d chat with a coworker for a bit and scramble to get all the important stuff in, like the worksheet for my first project of the day. This meant I got to wait in the incredibly long line at the copier with all the other teachers who forgot to make a copy of something they were doing that day too.

Things had to change. Using these tips, I got to be a productive teacher with everything ready a week in advance, for the most part. So here it goes:

1.Make good procedures from the start that include the students.

My guided reading set up needed to be done once a week and maintained by the students. The students needed to do all the clean-up. Pencils needed to be sharpened by classroom helpers before school or whenever they felt like coming in. Students could take ownership of the classroom upkeep. I used to be super picky and would spend forever on these details.

2. Make a good desk system.

Create a space for all the worksheets and teacher books you need for each day. Label it too. Substitute teachers will thank you. A lot of you may have this already which is a good start. The only adjustment I needed to make was to have an extra drawer per subject. When I was on the run and didn’t use something, I needed a spot to dump extra sheets. Sometimes I would get back to them; sometimes I would recycle. Either way, the junk drawers per subject saved me time and sanity.

3. Work on a team.

In some schools, it’s optional to work on a team and in other schools, it is not optional. I had the privilege of working on amazing teams. Having at least one other person to share responsibility, problems and successes made teaching easier. When we got into the groove of the school year, things were quick and we could multitask effectively. We also learned to keep each other from procrastinating.

4. Plan a week in advance.

That means I picked a day or two to plan and stuck to it no matter what. I would contain a plan session to an hour and I would go no further. It’s amazing how much faster my team worked when the time was limited. Our plans were detailed too. Detailed plans also meant the copies we would make were planned out too.

5. Use your plan time to make copies and make them for the team (if possible).

During planning times, there seem to be fewer people at the copier, for the most part. Our team made copies for the entire team and each person made copies for different subjects. It saves a lot of time to make copies in bulk instead of changing worksheets.

6. Make a priority to-do list.

Keeping a list near my desk of things I needed to get done in order helped to keep things in perspective. Did I need to organize my class library after the students reorganized my books? Yes. Did I need to get it done before the first class tomorrow? Maybe not. The list was amazing because there is nothing better than crossing things off a list. I didn’t usually get everything done on the list either and I had to learn to be alright with that.

7. Set time limits.

I could stay in my classroom for hours after the school day ended without realizing time passed and still not have my copies done for the next day. When I set time limits to when I needed to leave, the important things magically got done. I still had a few conversations with coworkers too. I just learned to excuse myself. This time limit thing goes for grading at home too.

8. Reconsider how much homework and class work you give.

Now that I reflect on the years I taught, I think less is more. Reading is important and children need to do more reading. That doesn’t mean they need to do a reading response each night and that doesn’t mean I need to grade each reading response. It means that I need use my class diligently and have students focus on creating quality products.

9. Stagger when students turn in weekly assignments.

I staggered reading response turn-ins during the week. Students were grouped by days. For example, five Monday students turned in their reading responses that day and got their reading responses the next day. It was more effective and reduced me putting off grading.

10. Grade during down time.

Having a stack of papers to grade around your down time. This looked like me carrying my stack to less formal meetings, sometimes during lunch and during my plan time. When I did this, the stacks of papers stopped coming home as much.

Being productive is a choice to focus and work smarter. When we procrastinate, we steal from our personal lives, our time to rejuvenate and our calm. We need all of this to give our students and families our best.

Candice Yamnitz is a teacher gone stay-at-home mom. While raising her children, she freelance writes...

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