The first month of school is already over! It becomes very easy to lose track of paperwork and the intangible things that must be accomplished when you are trying to deliver lessons daily and stay on schedule with your units. This is markedly more difficult when the profession is completely new to you because every rule and regulation within the building is not second nature as of yet. At this point, you barely have the timing of the periods down! To a new teacher, getting a feel for scheduling blocks of time for core activities, such as Math and English, is arguably just as important as delivering these lessons. I planned my schedule in the summertime, buried in theoretical frameworks of pedagogy, I thought I knew exactly how I wanted my school day to look. What I envisioned and what occurred were polar opposites! This is because timetabling is one of those “experiences” that every new teacher must go through. It is hard to theorize about a practice without fully enduring it.
As you move throughout your school year, you will notice that your focus will start to shift. Early into your first year, the necessities of the job will absorb most of your attention. Things like planning daily lessons, dwelling on responses to unanticipated questions and thinking about future questions you may receive take up the majority of your thoughts. In this time, work life is “day-to-day” in the utmost sense. Teaching, at first, is a very draining endeavor because it requires so much mental strength, preparedness, and energy. Through the first little while of teaching, there is no autopilot. But as time goes on, things get a little easier. From year one to year two, you will notice a tremendous difference in your time efficiency and preparing for your lessons and days. Understanding the capacity and work habits of the learners in your class will allow you to plan effective lessons and reach more kids. But never be afraid to take some time out of the day to catch your breath and make sure that your students are still with you; pause to make sure all understand the concepts and big ideas that you have attempted to teach. When things become overwhelming for you, it is okay to take a breath and reflect with your students.
In terms of “big ideas” or simple activities, figuring out what sticks quickly and what may take ample time can only be accomplished when a routine is set and you have ample opportunity to learn about your students. I must admit, I am a fan of “bell work”. It fosters a calming routine to start the day (or right after lunch). As long as the work is meaningful, I am all for it. It also gives you the opportunity to get some things done inside your classroom in the morning (or early afternoon) and deal with any administrative duties that need to be attended to (handing out forms to go home, handing back work, conferencing with students, etc).
The way I approach timetabling is simple. The mornings tend to be better for academic subjects, such as History, English, or Math, where concentration is required and students can ease into the day with a rested mind and body. Students are more docile so it fits to have activities that require reading, writing, and concentration. Art and Phys. Ed. are always going to get kids wired up so it is better to have these classes either right before lunch or towards the end of the day. Trying to get students to settle down after 40 minutes of dodgeball or painting is easier said than done.
Unfortunately, school has been set in a way that leads to an indifferent attitude towards the notion of “seeing something through to the end.” Whether it is the mandated minutes allotted to “hard academics” or the ever-expanding curriculum one is expected to cover, students are herded in one direction to the next from the minute they enter the building. As soon as we start on one thing, it seems as though it is time to switch classes and move on to something completely different. This is a part of timetabling that education has yet to really figure out.
As an elementary teacher, one luxury you have is the ability to manipulate time with your class. The more flexibility and freedom you have, the better. Ultimately, you want to have a schedule that is consistent and fosters an environment of following through. Now, let’s see how the next few months go…
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