It seems to me that the longer we teach, the more non-teaching tasks we are required to perform. Consider the added paperwork that we must submit which has nothing to do with the lessons we are preparing, the new technology we must master just to keep up with our jobs, the professional development courses we must take to maintain our teaching certificates, and the list goes on! This problem is compounded even more by constantly growing class sizes and the extra time that it takes us to perform certain tasks as blind teachers. The unfortunate result is that we spend more and more time on busywork and less time preparing quality lessons, and our students suffer. To me, this is utterly unacceptable because, left unchecked, it wears me down and interferes with my ability to be an effective teacher. This is why I constantly evaluate the way I perform my job as a teacher and devise methods for doing things more efficiently so that I can reclaim some of the time which is squandered on non-teaching tasks. Here asome of the time-saving methods that I have devised to perform my job more efficiently. Perhaps you will find some of them helpful.
1. Sometimes, it's helpful to borrow a set of eyes. I would be a millionaire if someone were to give me a dime for each time that I have wished for just ten seconds of sight to find a lost object that I dropped on my carpeted classroom floor, to identify a mysterious print document that found its way onto my desk, or to know for sure that I didn't hang anything upside-down on my bulletin board. I cringe when I think of the amount of time that I've wasted crawling around on the dirty floor looking for lost paper clips and pushpins, or waiting for my scanner to warm up in order to identify just one print paper which the scanner couldn't read anyhow because the document was handwritten. I have learned that even though it is important to be independent, sometimes, it's much more efficient to be interdependent. This means asking for assistance from the next student or colleague who walks into the classroom and getting certain tasks accomplished much more quickly in the long run. Being interdependent also means returning the favor by helping others whenever I can.
2. The efficient use of access technology can also help you to save time. From time to time, I find it helpful to take an inventory of the tasks that I do, the capabilities of my access technology that I am not using, and determine whether my access technology could help me to perform my daily tasks more efficiently. For example, I used to ask my aide or my reader to read all the class rosters to me so that I could Braille them for my gradebook. Now, the school secretary emails the rosters to me in Microsoft Word attachments, I open them on the Apex, and Braille them independently. I have discovered that doing it this way takes less time and it makes it possible to check the spelling of my students' names. I am also learning to fill out forms independently by transferring them to the Apex, and using the cursor routing keys to jump to the places on the forms where I can fill in the required information. Then, the forms can easily be translated into print, transferred to the computer, printed, or E-mailed to the proper people. This also gives me accessible copies of the forms for future reference. I am also learning how to use the bookmarking feature of Kurzweil 1000 to bookmark textbooks and generate outlines of bookmarks that I can use for classroom presentations. Admittedly, there are times that using access technology may not be the most efficient and quick way to perform a certain task. You will have to determine this through trial and error. The important thing is to learn all the capabilities of your access technology, analyze the tasks that you must do to perform your job, and devise ways to use your access technology to perform your work more efficiently.
3. Much time can be saved when you develop learning materials which can be used for more than one purpose. For instance, students need to learn letters of the alphabet, numbers and telling time in all the languages that I teach. Instead of writing separate worksheets and listening tests for each language when teaching these concepts, I write universal materials which can be used for all of the languages. I do have to write separate alphabet tests for Spanish because this language has four letters that are not present in French, Latin, German and English, but the same alphabet tests can be used in the other languages. Picture-only flash cards and activities can be used for all the languages, thus eliminating the need to develop them for each separate language and saving a lot of preparation time. Even when teaching days and dates, I use the same worksheets for all the languages with English words and the simple directions to "Translate each date into TL" (target language). Games, rubrics and project requirements can also be used in a variety of subjects and situations. In short, this time-saving strategy can be adapted and used in the teaching of almost any subject and level.
4. Eliminate unnecessary repetitive tasks when possible. One way of accomplishing this is to create a template file, opening it, saving it with another name and filling in the specific information needed at a particular time. This gets rid of the need to type the same information over and over again and conserves a lot of time. For example, my least favorite chore is typing up the mid-term and final grades for each class to turn into the homeroom teachers each quarter. Writing all those lists of names, numbers and grades seems to take forever. This year, I'm trying a new technique. I am making a blank template for each class containing the grade level, course title, my name, a list of the students' names, and the other information that the teachers need which never changes. At grading time, all I will have to do is open the template, rename the file, fill in the grade and percentage beside each student's name, save the file and Email it to the homeroom teacher. I am sure that this will speed up the grade preparation process a great deal. Templates can be made and used for a number of situations. Another time-saving technique that I have developed is a set of index cards telling the secretary how many copies to make which can be clipped to a stack of papers to be copied. We reuse these cards each time I need copies and I no longer have to type notes to the secretary telling her how many copies to make. I'm sure that you can think of many more examples of how to eliminate unnecessary repetitive tasks in the classroom or at home when preparing to teach. If you put these methods into practice, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much time you will save.
5. A little bit of organization can save a lot of time. If you are like me, you have probably wasted a lot of time in your life looking for lost or mislaid items. This problem can be easily resolved by being more organized. For me, this means arranging the papers in my class folders in the order in which they will be used and the folders in a logical order so that they can be found quickly, having students and others hand me papers so that they can be filed immediately rather than leaving them on my desk to form a messy pile of disorganized print junk which will have to be identified and filed later, always keeping things in the same place, getting things out as I need them and putting them away immediately after I have finished using them, and keeping frequently used items where they can be accessed quickly while stowing items that I use less often in cupboards and filing cabinets from which they can be retrieved whenever I need them. For you, being organized may mean something entirely different. However you accomplish this, it is important to realize that those of us who are blind must be much more organized than our sighted counterparts because, unlike them, we do not have the luxury of quickly glancing around a room or inside a cabinet to locate a lost object; so, if we are disorganized, we will waste a lot of time looking for things. Not only must we organize our physical environment, but we must organize our time to make the best use of it. This might mean multitasking, making the best of your reader's time by having all the papers ready for her when she arrives rather than having her waste her time looking for them, running less errands to that remote part of the building or campus by accomplishing more goals each time you make the trip, or only firing up your scanner once a day and scanning all your documents at that time. How you organize your time will be a very individual matter which will depend on your particular circumstances. The important thing to remember is that if you organize your time well, you will gain more of it.
In conclusion, most of the time-saving methods we have discussed above involve streamlining. According to my Oxford Dictionary, streamlining means to "make (an organization or system) more efficient and effective by employing faster or simpler working methods." There's an old proverb that states, "A stitch in time saves nine." Perhaps you can use some of these streamlining time-saving methods and some of your own to help you become a more efficient teacher and a happier person.
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