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Lesson 4.4

Time Management:
Spending School Time Well

Teachers should spend their time teaching, right? Well…

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In education, as in most everything, the ultimate scarce resource is time. Who “owns” the time spent in education, and how much is it worth? What does it mean to spend time well in education?

How much is an instructional hour worth?

As discussed in Lesson 4.3, there are roughly a thousand instructional hours in an American school year. Everything that a school system does ultimately matters to students (or doesn’t) because of things that happen during those 1,000 hours. What’s the rough per-student cost of an instructional hour? It depends on your school district, but in California in 2014, on average districts spent on the order of $10,000 per student per year. So the average rough price of instructional time in California public schools is…

Rule of thumb: The value of students' time is about $10 per hour

…about ten bucks per student per hour.

This rule of thumb can be handy for evaluating the rough dollar value of things that take time or save time in California schools. What is the instructional time cost of a one-hour bus delay that affects 50 students? How much instructional time cost could be recovered through smoother transitions between classes? How can we think about the instructional time cost of administering a standardized test, or of taking kids on a field trip? Putting a dollar value on instructional time per student doesn’t make tradeoffs simple, but it can help make them more concrete. It is also a helpful reminder that students’ time has value.

Time Management Can Be Learned

The clock spins in only one direction; each day, teachers have a limited time to inspire and guide students through their lesson plans. Some teachers make masterful use of their limited minutes with students, advancing the powerful use of time to something of an art form. In Teach Like a Champion and his other work, Doug Lemov describes techniques collected from master teachers that enable them to keep students engaged and learning. His instructional videos have become popular because they are practical. His primary thesis is that teaching skills can be learned and improved, with clear examples.

Time to prepare.

To do anything well requires preparation, and preparation requires time. In the context of school, teachers need to know their material and have a solid plan to teach it. In many countries, school systems set aside time [PDF] in the school day and school calendar for teachers to collaborate and prepare.

Review

Suppose a transit delay causes 50 students to be an hour late to school in California. What is a reasonable ballpark estimate of the value of the lost instructional time?

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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
cnuptac March 22, 2015 at 6:29 pm
I would love to see k-6 teachers get a paid prep time like 7-12 teachers do
user avatar
Jeff Camp - Founder March 23, 2015 at 6:30 pm
@cnuptac -- paid prep time is negotiated at the district level with the bargaining unit.
user avatar
Mary Perry October 28, 2014 at 8:33 am
How teachers use their time is a very important, and often overlooked, part of the conversation about how education can be improved. At least it's overlooked in the U.S., where we make assumptions based on what school has always been - a teacher in front of the class all day.
This new international data should make us ask the question again. http://www.ncee.org/2014/10/statistic-of-the-month-teachers-salaries-class-size-and-teaching-time/
In particular, put this data into a California context, where salary levels are relatively high but class sizes are way off the chart. Getting comparable data and placing your district on these charts might be illuminating.
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