The importance of managing time in the classroom

The other day I spent a very long day sitting in the Texas Concealed Handgun Instructor certification renewal class. It was a very long day (class officially started at 8:00 AM and I didn’t leave until 7:00 PM). There were a few things that stood out to me about the class, but one thing in particular.

Classroom time management.

When you have a particular set of material that you must cover, you must be aware of how you present that material in a manner that is not only effective but also sensitive to time constraints.

There are a few big time killers.

First, anecdotes. There’s no question anecdotes aid learning. It gives real-world perspective to what is being taught, and the impact of the story can  aid in retention of the material. But anecdotes must be used sparingly. If every bullet-point on the slide is accompanied by a story, everything will drag out. Furthermore, a heavy amount of stories lessens the impact of those stories, both from overload and the restlessness of the audience with “Oh boy, another war story”. Sometimes as well, it expends further time because now others want to chime in with their stories. And the time-wasting grows.

What can make this worse is when you have multiple instructors (e.g. co-teaching) and everyone feels a need to chime in. Yes, we all like to make our pet points, yes we all have things to say. But all instructors must be mindful of keeping on time and on track, and sometimes that means shutting up. This isn’t to say the other instructors must remain in silence, but that the entire teaching team must have their watches synchronized and do their part in keeping the classroom on track and on time.

Second, and this isn’t so much a time-killer as a morale one, but setting time-expectations. When you start off saying this next section should only take 20 minutes to do, then it winds up taking 45 — because of so many anecdotes — people are going to be annoyed. When the invitation says class should be done by 6:00 PM then you start going on about how we’re going to run over because time’s being wasted, but then you’re the one wasting the time? Um… doesn’t sit well with folks.

Furthermore, when you know Q&A is an important part of the reason for holding the classroom session, then there’s almost no time alloted for Q&A because all the time was used up by stories and other time-wasters, that’s a problem — especially when you set the expectation that part of the reason we’re there is to have open lines of communication between the students and instructors.

Third, underpromise and overdeliver. This goes back to the time issues. If you say “this is going to take 20 minutes” then you take 45, people are going to be upset. When you say we’ll be out by 6PM then we’re not out until 7PM, people are going to be upset. Instead, you should say it’ll take 45 and deliver it in 30, or that we’ll be out by 6PM but we’re actually done by 5. Be more realistic in setting your expectations, overestimate a little bit, and that way if you run up to that time then at worst you did what you said; if you still go over, hopefully then it won’t be by much; and if you go under, everyone will love you.

Finally, realize that it’s your classroom. You are the one in charge. If you set rules for classroom procedure, you need to follow and enforce those rules. Furthermore, you should not chastise the students for being the time-wasters, because if the students are wasting time it’s only because you are the one allowing them to waste the time. If you set rules that questions should be held until a particular point of the presentation, you should not be acknowledging hands raised at other times during the presentation (other than perhaps to say “I see you, we’ll take questions at the end”… do that a few times and everyone will get it and things will flow better). But of course, you must ensure to allot and then preserve that Q&A time — it cannot be sacrificed because you failed in other areas of time management. If the classroom fails to run smoothly and on time, it’s not the fault of the students, it’s the fault of the instructor.

I do understand how this goes. I have to run classrooms, I assist in classrooms. I’ve been there, done that. I know I have my own things to work on, and that’s probably why these things stood out to me because these are things I see in myself and my own classrooms. Things we’ve worked on, things we still need to improve upon. I don’t say this to be ugly to the instructors of my CHL-I class, but rather as feedback from one instructor to another on how we can all work to make our classrooms better, more productive, and more conducive to successful learning.

2 thoughts on “The importance of managing time in the classroom

  1. After more years then I want to consider in college class rooms, I came up with a simple way of expressing it (regarding anecdotes) “It should make the class think about the issue, not how smart or experienced the teacher is”

    For too many of the items under discussion an anecdote really isn’t need; the subject matter just isn’t that complicated or controversial. This is especially true regarding Concealed Carry;I wish instructors would focus on a few items that really need to be covered in depth.

    • That’s a good way to encapsulate it.

      Still tho, I know of times when it fits that mode, yet… it’s still not right. It might just be unnecessary (did it actually lend to the discussion in a way that was vital?). It might just be a matter of simple time management and effective classroom use.

      Nevertheless, I dig your take on it… because most of the time war stories are best left for after class over a root beer.

      It’s my hope that with the CHL classroom reduction to 4-6 hours, we’ll have a lot more wheat and less chaff in the classroom.

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