A race against the clock

Time management is your key to survival, writes Gerald Haigh.

Teachers are crying out for more time. It makes you wonder whether the policymakers haven't forgotten that your core task is to teach. One problem is that teachers have never been good at saying no to extra work - perhaps because they're loath to jeopardise their students' chances. Fine - but a good teacher on stress-related sick leave is no use to anyone.

So next time you're given yet another thing to do, perhaps you should say:

"Yes, I'm happy to do that - but which of my existing tasks should I put on hold?"

Take three of the most time-consuming tasks: going to meetings, preparing lessons and marking. Clearly, these are all integral to the job: meetings keep you in touch and allow you to put your oar in when plans are made; preparation leads to well-paced, interesting lessons, good behaviour and pleasing results; and careful marking gives you vital clues about the effectiveness of the teaching and learning in your classroom.

But don't spend hours in meetings that don't concern you only to get home late to face lots more work. Make some lifestyle decisions. For example, resolve to have one weekday evening and one weekend day free of all school work, and then work around that. To stick to this, you must take control. How? Here are some ideas.

Meetings chaired by you

* Invite only people who need to be there - the others will thank you.

* Circulate papers in advance. Have a time to finish and stick to it.

* Don't let discussion stray into anecdote and gossip.

* Make sure everyone knows what's been decided and follow up with minutes that pin down who does what.

* Cancel any unnecessary meetings.

Meetings chaired by others lIf no advance agenda appears, go and ask for one.

* Do you need to be there? Check - and be prepared to excuse yourself.

* Check the finishing time and leave if the meeting overruns.

* Help to start meetings promptly by having all your papers ready.

* If you have nothing useful to say, keep quiet.

* Keep the chair focused- "So what's the decision on this, Julie?"; "Can we move on now, Mike?"

Preparing lessons

* For economy of effort, start with the main learning points and work from these.

* You can't be Superteacher all the time. You know which lessons will challenge you, so aim your best efforts at these.

* Don't write every lesson plan in detail. It's the lesson that counts, not the description.

* Keep in touch with colleagues (in school and through internet-based forums that allow teachers to share lesson plans and other ideas). And share lessons that work for you.

Marking

* Sketchy preparation can create masses of marking. ("Turn to page 18 and do numbers 1 to 87.")

* Be inventive - invite oral presentations, use discussion, ICT tasks, self-marking. Not every lesson has to produce written work.

* Plan so that lessons producing a lot of marking happen on days that suit you best.

* Mark to the learning outcomes - you may not want to ignore other mistakes, but don't linger over them. Tell your pupils about this.

* Always return marking promptly to your pupils - any inefficiency will be repaid by lack of enthusiasm and will only make more work for you.

* Work out the best times to do your marking and find a routine that best suits you and your family.

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