All We Need Is Time

There never seems to be enough time…. So how can teachers manage the time they DO have to foster good teaching and learning?

Teachers rarely hear about their positive impact on student achievement and growth.

Instead, we hear:

  • About the urgent need to improve student test scores;
  • How our students are outperformed by students in other countries;
  • That our most underserved students will go to prison instead of college; and
  • “Step up your game, and push students harder to get to grade level!”

I hear messages like these at every staff meeting, district training, and in emails. I understand these outcomes and feel the urgency to improve them.  I want my students to succeed. My only question is:

Are we pursuing student success in a way that really makes a difference?

For several months, I have been engaged in a project examining how to increase the quality of learning during school time. As a participant, I am responsible for:

  • Tracking how I consume time during a typical school day;
  • Tracking the activities of my students and how long each one takes;
  • Reading articles and studies about scheduling and enrichment;
  • Attending webinars that link time management and school redesign; and
  • Researching how teachers and students in other countries manage time.

Before this project, I had no idea the impact of time on student outcomes. But this unique opportunity to reflect on my practice and analyze how time is consumed has helped me come face to face with many realities:

  • It’s a rare occasion when there is enough time to engage in meaningful collaborative planning with colleagues.
  • Weekly time to collaboratively plan and reflect on students’ work and progress would make all the difference in their growth and achievement.
  • A significant portion of planning time is not devoted to students and their learning. Instead, it goes toward completing paperwork that tracks compliance with accountability systems adopted at the district level.
  • Teachers’ planning time must be protected so that we can create rich and relevant learning experiences for students.
  • State and district mandates spend too much time assessing, rather than teaching, students.
  • Getting that time back would allow for the kind of content and curriculum that make a significant difference on student engagement and learning.

Thanks to this project, I’ve come to realize that these pressures have led to students being pushed to learn at the same pace, regardless of their developmental level or unique needs—without the benefit of adequate time devoted to planning and instruction.

I am told that my students don’t have time to learn at their own pace because if they don’t keep up, they are less likely to graduate from high school. But I teach five-year-olds. Isn’t there time for my students to catch up?

In Finland, students begin school at seven years of age—not five. And, as I so often hear about Finland, their students outperform ours, even though it seems we have a two-year head start.

I love my work. My five-year-old students come to me at varying levels of ability and with vastly different rates of learning. As I see it, my job is reach them right where they are and inspire a love for reading, as well as prepare them for a lifetime of learning.

My students are just learning their letters and beginning to connect those letters to the concept of reading print. They are thriving at the hard work of being all-day students, but some are not readers—yet.

What keeps me up at night is data-driven mandates interfering with what I know is the best investment of time for five-year-old learners:

  • They are growing in their understanding. But too often I have to stop them in the process for another round of tests.
  • I push them, as I am being pushed. But are the methods we are required to use pushing them away from the joy of reading?
  • They need more time and deserve to learn to read at their own pace. But I am concerned about the consequences.

So I am left wondering:

  • Should I push my five-year-olds or I let them develop at their own pace?
  • How can our country redesign education systems so that teachers have time to teach and students have time to learn?
  • What is the best balance for cognitive development and assessment?

What I do know is that we need time—or the ability to manage the time we do have in ways that foster good teaching and learning. So what can educators do to make this happen? Have a conversation with other teachers at your school, find ways to make collaboration time meaningful and authentic, log your time, and share what you have found with a colleague or two.  Use the information in this infographic to help guide your conversation.

Helping students enjoy reading is the best gift we can give them—no matter how long it takes. Inspiring them to love learning will change our world for the better.

Tara Thompson, a National Board Certified Teacher, has been teaching for 14 years in Denver, CO.  She currently teaches kindergarten and first grade. When she is not in the classroom, she spends time in her garden with her eight-year-old and 21-month old sons.

  • AnneJolly

    It’s always been about time

    What a “timely” post!  I love it. I began teaching in earnest in the early 80s. My biggest enemy was time – confounded by that paperwork you mentioned in your post. Can you imagine just walking into school one day and doing nothing except teaching students, interacting with them, and helping them to succeed in areas where they are doing well in addition to areas where they need help?  That would be a dream job.

    You laid out nicely the time constraints.  

    Teachers today, more than ever, are being pushed to create uniform widgets – kids who all achieve just alike. You mentioned the rationale of kids needing to “keep up” in order to graduate from high school.  Well, you can’t keep up if you aren’t at the starting line to begin with. And I had a lot of students (middle school) who didn’t keep up academically who have excelled in the workforce because of their unique skills in communication, teamwork, innovative problem-solving, etc.  Learning the academics is half the battle.  The other half is creating citizens with successful skill sets who love learning. 

    Let’s keep the love of learning on the front burner.  That’s what will get them through life – not whether they can answer problem B on a test in kindergarten.

    Thanks for your post!

    • TaraThompson

      Love of learning is the key

      I agree that we need to make sure that we are inspiring curious, passionate learners as our first priority.  It is vital not only for our students but for teachers as well.  My love of learning is what keeps me in this profession and drives me to be the best teacher I can be.

  • DeidraGammill

    Time in a Bottle

    Strains of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” were playing in my head as I read your wonderful post. Time, like other natural resources, is what we need so much of and yet cannot produce on our own. We can’t grow it in a lab or write it into existence, so knowing how to manage what we have is crucial. Thanks for your insights.

  • Tracy

    A Puzzling Mismatch

    I'm so glad you bring up the issue of time and ask, "Should I push my students or let them learn at their own pace?"

    Such a 'timely' question when there is a mismatch between the demands on teacher:  Individualize instruction to respect students' individual learning styles, but push, push, push to follow exactly the prescribed timeline so they are ready for the tests.  Which master do we serve?  It's an important concern for conversation.

    • TaraThompson

      Oh the irony!

      I think it would be a great conversation for a staff to really consider – what is more important, individualized learning or following the timeline so everyone is prepared for the test?  The issue is would a group of colleagues really have time to discuss this dilemma in a meaningful and reflective way?  Probably not!  But if we really think about our practice and put our students needs first we can make a difference.