Here we are at week two, and already I have a taste of the issue I so desperately need to get a better grasp on: time management. I’m finding that a good balance is hard to achieve – and vital to have.

Now that I’ve stated the obvious (at least for those teachers reading but probably for anyone with a rough understanding of what teaching is and some good ol’ common sense), let’s paint a picture: You’re a teacher teaching two identical sections, and today is review for a test the subsequent day. The first period goes well; you get through everything you need, and with the questions that the students ask, you only have around five minutes left after you’re satisfied that they know what they’re doing and are adequately prepared to study and do well.

The second period, however, moves through the material like a hot knife through butter – they are engaged by the activities you have planned but ask very few questions. The reviewing ends very prematurely – 20* minutes from the end of the period. What do you do?

Well, you don’t let them have that 20 minutes to socialize with no expectation other than to study for the test…but that’s what I did.

I’m probably being too hard on myself, but I feel like this was a big mistake. I didn’t have any substantive problems as a result other than a general lack of discipline, but I sent the wrong message. When we finished the reviewing, I gave a review exercise but didn’t require it for a grade or points because it was an exercise that paralleled the test exactly – I just wanted the students to do it so that it would help them study, poor naive soul that I was.

The result was that virtually none of the students worked on the review exercise in the remaining part of the class, of course; they used the time to talk with friends rather than work toward the next day’s test. I’m hoping that I won’t be disappointed with the scores (this class is actually pretty on the ball in general), but I will certainly feel partially responsible if so. [This is just how I am: I know that I’m not to blame if they don’t study, and that 20 minutes wouldn’t probably have made the difference, but I’m overly harsh with self-criticism sometimes.]

My teacher was gracious about it – she just pointed out what I suspected after the class but hadn’t corrected during that period. It was, however, a very good opportunity to think about the opposite problem of time management to what I had already faced: having too much spare time instead of too little. In fact, this problem is almost worse since instruction can be carried over (although not as effectively) into the next day, but the problems that arise from too little engagement are problematic in the here and now.

Why is time such a tricky thing to manage? Clearly, we are given a fixed time to navigate, and we have to fill it as much as possible without an excess. Experienced teachers: How do you find this balance? Is it merely trial and error, or is there a formula (loosely speaking) for success with time management?

I had originally said 40 minutes, but I realized later that I had misremembered the amount of time, probably since the gap was in the timeframe from 20 after the hour to 40 after (or 20 til the following hour). 20 minutes is substantially better, especially since the periods are only 50 minutes long! If I had 40 minutes left, I would have to start something new.