Time Management in Class: What You (and Students) Can Do

Time seems to melt away as soon as class begins. There is so much material to cover and never enough time. I feel this way especially when teaching a survey course. And there’s always less time than a full class period: the first five minutes are for settling in, announcements, attendance, and in the last five minutes notebooks slowly shut and slide their way into backpacks as the clock ticks… With only minutes to make it to the next class, and crowded hallways, slow elevators, and long lines for the bathroom in between, those last five minutes sound more like mutterings from Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit — “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” — than they do fruitful class discussion.

There are several ways to approach the problem of time-melt in class, and I’ve found a combination of two or three things help me stay on task and get to everything on my list for the majority of class meetings.

Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory

Many of the suggestions below can be used in department and other office meetings. Who doesn’t love a meeting that ends at least on time if not early? Ending meetings and classes on time not only shows respect for attendees and students but also helps you to earn the respect of those in attendance. (Danica Savonick’s Inside Higher Ed article on “Timekeeping as Feminist Pedagogy,” is a must-read.) At first it may seem rude to interject to keep everyone on task but once your colleagues and/or students understand why and what you are doing, they will be grateful and they will be more likely to pay attention because every minute of their time is given value.

Tips for Time Keeping

  1. Build a lesson plan or agenda. This may seem obvious, but how many times have we walked into class without a fully-formed lesson plan either printed out or available on a laptop or classroom computer?
  2. Share the lesson plan or agenda with students/attendees in advance. This holds you accountable for creating and finishing a lesson plan or agenda before a meeting begins, and it also gives everyone time to prepare, time to formulate questions, and time to start thinking about the agenda so that they are ready to begin when the meeting begins. Less warm-up time is required when everyone knows what’s coming. (I do this with students by adding my lesson plans to our collaborative notes Google document, a document all students have access to and can add to, comment on, or edit at any time. I keep a separate copy of my lesson plans for myself in a separate folder that is kept private.)
  3. Add time slots to your lesson plan or agenda. It may seem odd to do at first but it forces you to think about how long an activity or discussion really takes. If you want to cover a topic fully, how much time does it need? Adding time stamps to things helps you pick and choose what is most important for the day and give each item enough room to breathe and marinate for as long as it needs rather than giving everyone a sense of being rushed and incomplete. The more you do this, the better sense of time you’ll have both in the pre-meeting planning stages and within the meeting itself–if you check the time mid-meeting and compare it to where you want to be, you’ll know whether you have room for a tangential discussion or if you need to keep to task and move on.
  4. Ask for volunteer time keepers. A fantastic way to keep everyone on time is to ask participants to set timers. I do this with my students and with audience members or conference attendees, especially when I’m giving a talk about teaching. If someone asks an unexpected question in class (and I know it needs to be given attention but I also know it could take up a lot time) I often ask my designated “time keeper” for that day to set a timer for five minutes. When the timer rings, we either move on or get back to where we were before if it needs circling back to before we move on. I started doing this in Fall 2018, and rotating time keepers for each class period. It was a great way for students to earn their participation for their chosen day, and it gave them more control in the classroom. The time keeper has the power to interrupt anyone at any time, including the instructor. It’s not rude — not in the slightest — when everyone in the room agrees that our time is important and valued by the whole community. Instead of seeming rude, it is responsible and respectful.

Speaking of respecting time, I’ll keep this post respectfully on the short end of the blogging spectrum. If you try one of these methods in your classroom, do report back and let me know how it goes!

Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot—
— T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Images via Wikimedia.

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