Too Many Tasks, Not Enough Day

If you feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks you have to do each day in the classroom, read these tips on how to organize those chores and make your job easier. New teachers will find this resource particularly valuable.
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Updated on: January 25, 2007
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Share Responsibility to Save Time

One of the best ways you can increase the amount of time available to you in your classroom is to share the responsibility of certain (often daily or repetitive) tasks with your students. I mentioned that teachers traditionally make more than 1,500 educational decisions every day, but you don't need to! Give your students classroom responsibilities and decision-making power, and you'll increase your available time.

So Much to Do, So Little Time

Numerous tasks, chores, and assignments must be accomplished every day, from taking attendance to taking lunch count to handling late-arriving students or getting instructional materials. Most teachers do these out of habit or because they see them as “teacher jobs” or responsibilities.

Tip-Top Time Tips

You have a lot of things to do every day in your classroom. How can you get a grip on it all? The answer: turn some of those responsibilities over to your students. “But my students are too young … too old … too dependent … too …,” you wail. Not to worry; any child can benefit from taking on classroom responsibilities. The ultimate benefit will be more time for teaching and more time for learning. These suggestions are for saving time (and your sanity); feel free to modify and adapt them to other daily duties and chores in your classroom:

It's Elementary

When students arrive in the morning, have each student remove a clothespin with his name printed on it from a special coffee can. Then he clips his clothespin to one of two strings strung across a bulletin board. One string is labeled “Packers,” the other string is labeled “Buyers.” You quickly have a count of who brought their lunch and who is buying it in the cafeteria.

Secondary Thoughts

Instead of using paper passes for students to leave and use the restroom, make a large block of wood for the restroom pass. Make the block large enough so it won't fit inside a student's pocket. Paint it a special color, and print your name in large letters along the side. Hang it by a chain in the back of the classroom. Provide a single block rather than two separate blocks (only one student out of the room at a time).

  • Post library pockets on a special bulletin board. In each pocket, place a colored index card with a student's name printed on it. When each student arrives in the morning, she or he is responsible for removing her or his card, turning it over, and putting it back in the pocket. A quick glance at the bulletin board will show you who is absent. You've just taken attendance.

  • Purchase small Styrofoam cubes from a local hobby store. Glue a 1×1-inch square of red paper to a toothpick, then stick the toothpick into a cube. Make enough for all your students, and distribute them to the students. When a student needs assistance with an assignment or doesn't understand a task, she or he can pull the flag out of his or her desk and place it on the desktop. By glancing around the room frequently, you can determine who needs individual help. Students don't need to call out and disrupt the flow of instruction.

  • Assign and rotate the job of “classroom greeter” to students on a weekly basis. This person's responsibility is to greet any and all persons who come into your classroom. This frees you to continue with a lesson rather than taking time out to attend to the visitor. Most visitors are there to deliver information (the buses are late) or obtain information (the lunch count). Students can easily handle these tasks.

  • Place all your materials and supplies in properly labeled drawers, cubbies, cabinets, compartments, and storage bins. Assign the task of “materials engineer” to two students each week on a rotating basis. Those students are responsible for obtaining the necessary materials for selected assignments, experiments, or other instructional tasks to be completed by a small group or the entire class.

  • In some classrooms, there are many tasks to accomplish in the morning (hang up jackets, put notebook inside desk, use the attendance chart, put homework in a basket, get a book, etc.). I found it advantageous, particularly at the beginning of the school year, to make a list of all those duties. I duplicated the list onto sheets of card stock (65-pound paper) and laminated them. I taped one of these cards in the upper right corner of each student's desk. When a student came in, he or she would use a crayon or wax pencil to check off each item as it was completed. Later in the day, we wiped off the cards so they were ready for the next day.

  • Glue a picture of a boy on one sheet of card stock and a picture of a girl on another sheet. Laminate both sheets, and hang them by a string on hooks in the back of the classroom. When a student needs to use the restroom, she or he goes to the back of the room, turns over the appropriate card, and leaves. Upon returning to the classroom, the student flips the card back to the picture side. You can continue teaching without any unnecessary interruptions.

  • Pencil sharpeners can be a frequent interruption in any classroom. Rather than have students use the pencil sharpener during the day or during a lesson, assign one student each week as the “tool master.” That student is responsible for sharpening a collection of pencils at the beginning of the day and placing them in a special container (an empty coffee can, a shoebox, etc.). Students who need a pencil can obtain them from the container on their own.

  • Obtain colored baskets or trays from your local office supply store. Designate these as homework bins for your students by color:

    • Red: Place completed homework here.

    • Green: Get your homework assignment from here.

    • Blue: Obtain homework assignments that were given out when you were absent from this bin.

    • Yellow: Place uncompleted homework here. (This can alert you to students who did not understand the assignment, had difficulty completing it, or simply chose not to do it.)

Creating these routines and procedures will mean little unless you take the time to teach or train your students in how to use them. Clearly explain a routine to students and provide sufficient opportunities for students to practice it under your supervision (you might need to model some routines before encouraging students to practice them). This training time early in the school year will save you countless hours during the remainder of the year.

Excerpted from

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher
Anthony D. Fredericks, Ed.D.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher © 2005 by Anthony D. Fredericks. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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