I recently returned from a choir tour on which I had the privilege of visiting four other schools, talking with the teachers, and gleaning ideas. Something that has always intrigued me is how teachers spend their days. Here is a snapshot of my teaching day, and a few things I do or have that help to keep my classroom running smoothly and effectively. Perhaps one or two of these ideas, many of which I’ve picked up along the years from other teachers, can help make your day run more smoothly as well.
Prayer, devotions, and coffee. Whatever your routine is that works well for you, do it. If you need a big breakfast, make sure you have time for that. Sing and pray before you walk into your classroom. Our mental and physical state have a lot to do with how we will function during the school day.
Have a great schedule. Mine is always a work in progress. Last week we moved penmanship to later in the day so that the younger students could get their reading done, and this week we switched our daily journal writing to just before lunch as a treat for getting all of our morning subjects finished and handed in. I have found that having math, English, spelling, penmanship, vocabulary, Bible, and reading classes done before lunch (if possible) works best for me. The afternoon, when brains and bodies are more fatigued, is when we have our science, history, physical education, music, and art classes. Find what works best for you and your students and do it. Keep tweaking your schedule to keep it optimal.
Keep students motivated with encouraging words and frequent prodding to get their work done (with good grades) and handed in quickly. I require mine to hand in all of their “morning subject” work before lunch so that we can finish any fix-ups during lunch. (I grade papers during lunch and during every spare second I can find.)
Math first. With the exception of first grade reading class (which usually has 2-3 sections to it), getting math done first thing in the morning works well because students’ brains are more alert and not yet fatigued.
Organize! I keep all my teacher’s books close at hand where I can easily grab them off my desk. I keep sticky notes on every page so I don’t waste time flipping through the pages. I keep my spiral bound books open to whatever page we’re on.
Baskets close at hand. I have a basket with all my flash cards, clocks, protractors, counting blocks, etc. right by my teaching table so that I can easily reach over and grab what I need.
Sticky notes are great. Sticky notes are great. Sticky notes are great. Every day I have a sticky note that I write on.
Today’s sticky note reads:
Later in the day, I will never remember these thoughts that I have while I’m teaching, but if I write them down, I will. So, I quickly jot them down, and when school is out, I can research or find these things.
Eat lunch, talk, and laugh with the students. I have found that spending this time with my students does much to shape the culture in my classroom. We also just enjoy each other’s company, and having lunch together builds camaraderie and esprit de corps.
Science right after lunch. This used to be my least favorite subject, but since we’ve begun using science sketch books, it’s one of my favorites. I like to have science class right after lunch and right before physical education class because very often, when we’re outside, we will find something that we just studied in science class, or something related to science because we are outside and make a concerted effort to look for interesting things in God’s creation.
Physical Education class: variety, variety, variety. We enjoy having a different activity every day. We play basketball, tennis, golf, four-square, yard games, and go on lots of nature walks. I usually plan this out and only occasionally let the students choose the day’s activity.
Afternoon classes: history, music, Spanish, and art. The end of the day is usually the hardest. The end of the day should be the time for the most enjoyable subjects, if possible. This time of day we have our history, Spanish, music, and art classes.
When I was in school, I remember sitting in the classroom staring at the clock at the end of the day, half asleep, with a teacher droning on and on while I was completely tuned out, and I absolutely loved school. Instead of having my students dragging at the end of the day and staring at the clock, I am usually telling them, “Okay, I dismissed you five minutes ago. Let’s put the paintbrushes down. You can leave now.” That’s because we’re doing the most fun subjects of the day.
After school, I quickly grade any remaining fix-ups or straggling papers and put them on my students’ desks. I return every paper (with the exception of research papers) by lunch the same day, or the very next day so students can get immediate feedback and learn from what they got wrong.
Clean up. Next, I tidy up the classroom a bit, and then I go to my sticky note list and try to get as much done as I can before it’s time to start dinner.
So, there’s a snapshot of an average day for me. While it does change a bit based on the number of students and grades I am teaching, it basically stays the same as it works for me. I hope there are one or two tips you can glean for yourself!