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You're busy keeping up with changing standards, dozens of students, oh yeah, and your personal life. Since keeping up can be a challenge, we asked veteran educators to share their time management advice. Here are six of the top tips:

1. Set Priorities

“Do first what your students need most.” That's the mantra of Angie Clarke-Tempel, a 5th grade teacher at Korte Elementary School in Independence, MO. “It's easier said than done, but grade cards, reports, data printouts and deadlines can all wait—I am here to teach children first. I may miss a deadline or two, but I know my students have learned something that day.”

Of course, there are administrative tasks that need to be completed. “I tend to get caught up in the next great idea and lose sight of what's right in front of me that has to be done,” she admits. In those times, she regroups. “I think about what's due when and reorganize my plan of attack so I get the most urgent things done first.”

2. Rethink Planning

Over-planning a lesson is a common mistake that eats time. “I've done it many times,” says Ben Coleman, an 8th grade math teacher at Talbot Innovation Middle School in Fall River, MA. “I get excited about something I'm going to teach and I gather all sorts of resources to teach it. I get so excited I end up losing sleep the night before the lesson. The next day I'm tired, and the kids usually don't get as excited as I had hoped they would. I invested all that time and now I've got a lesson that isn't working. And after the huge time investment, I'm usually reluctant to toss it.”

To avoid that, draft out a unit in advance so you have time to gather special materials, but save the actual lesson planning until the last responsible moment. Why? The closer you are to delivering the instruction, the more accurate your planning will be, because you have a better handle on what the kids need to learn. Making lesson more relevant also increases student engagement.

3. Change Grading

Grading isn't so bad for elementary school teachers, but it can be a killer for middle and high school teachers. “I'll grade papers during lunch and prep period, come early or stay late, or otherwise try to keep my time at home sacrosanct,” says Kevin Daugherty, a 30-year English teacher at Hillcrest High School in Springfield, MO. “Sure, a couple weeks ago I spent four hours grading compositions on a Saturday morning, but this needs to be an exception rather than a habit. Timely feedback is important, but a functional rather than fried adult in the classroom each day is even more essential.”

One way Daugherty cuts down on grading is one-on-one conferences with each student during class time. “Instead of collecting a pile of notebooks to take home to grade, I call students to the back of the room one at a time [and have them] show me specific items I want to check,” he explains. He posts a list of items to be checked so students find them before their conferences, which also saves time. On conferencing day, “I give the class a scheduled independent activity—reading from a literary selection, working on a graphic organizer, etc.—that does not require teacher interaction.”

4. Embrace Technology

Daugherty prepares a PowerPoint slide deck outlining every unit and including major deliverables like tests, compositions, agendas, objectives and more. Then he posts that on his class Web site. “Parents and kids who were absent have access to the what, why and when of our instructional sequence,” he says. It streamlines communication and creates an asset that “can be re-used from one year to the next at a given grade level or for a specific piece of curriculum.”

Coleman uses technology to keep things straight. “Organization is key,” he says. “I've developed filing systems on my computer so I can find just about anything with a moment's notice. I have access to all my files and email at home, at school and on my telephone. This means I can update lessons and make changes anywhere and anytime.” It also cuts down on time wasted searching for documents on your desk or in filing cabinets.

5. Get Organized

Speaking of getting organized, Clarke-Tempel uses common school supplies to keep order. “I love brightly colored and patterned file folders,” she says. “They're inexpensive and keep similar subjects or work together so it's ready to be used each day. I label them by day of the week or by subject area so I don't have random piles on my desk.”

Calendars are critical. Some teachers prefer a monthly format while others prefer a yearly one. Choose a style that works best for your needs. “I still use my Outlook calendar, but I like having the written information in front of me so it's handy at all times,” Clarke-Tempel says. “I also try to assign colors to each topic, so school might be written in green, while one of my children is in blue and the other in orange. This is another visual reminder of all of the places I have to be at once.”

6. Use Help

Finally, don't forget to take advantage of classroom volunteers and teacher's aides. Many instructors use these helpful adults to assist with administrative tasks. But Clarke-Tempel finds them more valuable working directly with students. “That allows more students to get the one-on-one coaching time they need more often,” she says. “I can always do paperwork later.”

Margot Carmichael Lester is a freelance journalist and owner of The Word Factory in Carrboro, NC. She frequently teaches writing workshops in K-college classrooms. The granddaughter of school teachers and administrators, she's a staunch education advocate. Follow her on Google+.

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