How Are We Using Those Precious Minutes in Class?

Big Ben in London


Time. We all know there is never enough of it in life and in teaching. Ask a first year teacher, what they need and inevitably the answer is more time. Time to plan. Time with students. Time to reflect. Time to breathe.

If I could redesign our entire education system, it would include more individual time with students, more time for instructional design, and definitely time for teachers to process the difficult issues they are faced with each day.

Unfortunately, I am not sure teachers will get more time in the near future, but what can we do with the time we have? How can we make sure those precious minutes are used to promote growth and change for our students?

In short, students need to do.

When I was in college studying to be a teacher, like many education students I spent a lot of time thinking about students. How can I create an environment for my future students to be successful? What are they going to be like? How will they benefit from my interactions with them?

It is easy to stand in front of the room and lose sight of what your students are doing, because you are so busy doing the work yourself. You often miss the subtle expressions or misunderstandings happening right in front of you. For many teachers it seems like their students are doing, because the teachers are doing the work. Teachers are talking, answering questions, grading. Teachers are learning, but are the students?

I find myself reflecting on my own training as a teacher and the training of teachers in general. We too often think standing in front of a room and talking is teaching. Where are the students? What are they doing? The scary answer is most of the time they are doing nothing. Nothing. We can pretend they are all intently listening every time we speak, but we know that is not true.

Students should not be outside observers looking in at what the teacher is doing. If students are not thinking, creating or problem solving, they are not growing. As teachers we hope to change students and move with them to reach their goals. How will they do that if they are missing from the process?

I am reminded of a quote from the book “Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students” by Gregory Michie.  “Teaching is the willingness to explore with kids, to reach with them, follow a dimly lit path together, often unaware of the dazzling surprises that may wait around the bend.”  Everything we do in education must be for and with students in mind. If we never forget that fact and we pay attention to what students are doing, every minute of every class will be time well spent.

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