Spending Educational Minutes Wisely

By Brent Vasicek on December 22, 2010
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12



When Paul Revere needed a job, he competed with the boys in his village. When I needed a job, I competed with the people in the metro-Detroit area. When our students need jobs, they will be competing globally. In the past we didn't need to care how other countries were preparing their children. Now it is essential.

Photo courtesy of healingdream on freedigitalphotos.net.


We all know that the only way to get better at something is to spend time practicing it. Other superpower countries physically spend more minutes in the classroom practicing their skills. The film Two Million Minutes discusses the global race of education. Two million minutes is the number of minutes a teenager spends in high school. Those minutes are different in the United States than in countries like India and China.


I pause and reflect about efficiency in my own classroom. Our school day begins at 9:02 and ends at 3:50. Take out a lunch and specials (art, gym, music), and I am left with five hours and fifteen minutes to teach each day. Calculate in the school business of weekly bagel sales, late buses, school assemblies, morning announcements, fundraisers, a fifteen-minute school dismissal procedure, service squad/safety jobs, etc., and the minutes devoted to teaching quickly diminish.

Calculate the minutes lost in sloppy transitions or tracking down missing assignments, and the minutes are whittled down even more. Sure, it is only a few minutes here or there, but in an average day, those minutes add up quickly. Being very conservative, if I had a perfect class, with no behavior problems, I would have fewer than five hours to teach per day. Efficiency

If you multiply that five hours by the standard "180" American school days, you get 900 hours. I put 180 in quotes because we really don't have 180 days to teach if you take into account mandated assessment days, half days, holiday/birthday celebrations, weather days, recess, etc. But we'll still go with that, again, very conservative figure of 900 hours to teach each year.

Compare that 900 hours, or 180 days, to other countries. Japanese students are in school 243 days a year. Students from India are in school 42 weeks a year. Are we preparing our students to compete in the world? When Matt Lauer was interviewing President Obama, a Cincinnati middle school asked about a proposal to extend the school year. President Obama said that our students are in school, on average, one month less than most advanced countries, and he's in favor of extending the school year.

Image courtesy jscreationsz on freedigitalphotos.net.


I always tell my students that problems and solutions go hand in hand. So, what sorts of solutions can we dream up to help spend our students' educational minutes wisely?


  • Support efforts to extend the school year. Our school year is based on an agrarian calendar, which is now outdated for much of our country. Reducing summer breaks would also reduce the need for extensive reviews.

District/Building Level

  •  Ask your administrator to minimize interruptions. This must be a schoolwide effort. Each late bus or random phone call disrupts the flow of learning.
  • Ask your administrator to hold only high-quality assemblies or assemblies directly connected to your standards and benchmarks.

Classroom Level

  • Come to school prepared and ready to roll.
  • Establish routines that have purpose and are fun. See my morning routine and end of the day routines, for examples.
  • Create a specific time in the day when students can come to you with problems or stories or jokes. This will minimize the disruption of lessons. I personally like to establish "Front Porch" time during outdoor recess. I tell the students that they can approach me at that time and tell me whatever is on their mind. If they don't approach me during their recess, then chances are it wasn't important enough to disrupt class.Kagan structures
  • Maximize engagement time with great brain-friendly activities. Spencer Kagan developed something called structures, which maximize the amount of time a student is engaged in an activity. I am a big fan of many of Spencer Kagan's ideas and especially the Kagan philosophy "It's all about engagement."    
  • At the end of each day evaluate your efficiency as a class. Choose one goal to strive for the following day.
  • Reward efficient student or classroom behavior. I simply hand out tickets that can later be used for a drawing.

What ways do you maximize efficiency to benefit your students?

Make the most of those minutes!











Microsoft says it takes its employees about 15 minutes to get back on task after an interruption.


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