Getting from the opening bell to the closing bell frequently feels like a game of beat-the-clock. Lunch, recess, locker breaks, downtime between lessons and activities, moving from one classroom to another, interruptions, and other events eat up precious minutes of instructional time. In fact, studies indicate that non-instructional time accounts for at least 27% of an elementary school day! Here are some time-boosting strategies to offset some of the teaching time lost to non-instructional activities.

  • Decrease the time allotted for breaks and social activities. Contrary to popular belief, students do not need a lot of break time to refresh themselves. In fact, research shows that long or frequent breaks may actually lower their involvement with academic work.

  • Find out which aspects of school time you can control. At some schools, teachers discover they can change the scheduling of class periods, pull-out programs, lunch breaks, extracurricular activities, planning time, and outside interruptions. Ask your principal to help you control time-wasters such as unexpected visitors and frequent intercom announcements.

  • Schedule solid blocks of teaching time for each day. You might even hang a "Do Not Disturb" sign outside your door during those times. Also, secure your principal's help in scheduling pull-out programs around those blocks and ask parents to avoid scheduling medical or dental appointments then.

  • Plan for smooth transitions between lessons and always try to have materials ready for each lesson or activity.

  • Assign homework to extend practice time. Homework should allow students to practice skills they have already learned.

  • Reconsider how you schedule restroom breaks. Perhaps there is a better way.

  • Improve student attendance. Attendance has a big effect on teaching and learning time. Impress upon parents the importance of good attendance and teach an actual lesson on how it hurts to miss school. "At the end of each day, I try to tell kids what we will be doing the next day," says first-grade teacher Susie Davis. "I emphasize the kinds of activities they look forward too, such as hands-on activities. This seems to encourage attendance."

  • Utilize your classroom aide effectively. If you are one of the lucky ones assigned a full-time or part-time aide, draw on that person's special strengths and abilities. Aides can work with small groups or tutor individuals. They can make instructional games and resources, keep bulletin boards current, monitor seatwork and learning centers, read stories to the class, and assist you with assessments. They can also help with clerical and housekeeping duties that the students can't do themselves. By delegating tasks and helping your aide become increasingly responsible and involved in the classroom, you will also increase teaching time overall.


This article was adapted from Learning to Teach...Not Just for Beginners: The Essential Guide for All Teachers by Linda Shalaway (© 2005, Scholastic).