Guest post by Ellen Mulligan

“If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I’d like to do….But there never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do…"  

It must have been Jim Croce’s short stint as a junior high school teacher in South Philadelphia that inspired him to write "Time in a Bottle."  The need for more time is always at the top of every teacher’s wish list.  How do we compensate? Never fear, there are many ways to trick time and establish the perfect pace for your classroom:

1. Don't be Held Hostage.

One of the first things teachers can do is to stop being held hostage by the text book. If we continue to follow the pattern – lesson 1-1, lesson 1-2, lesson 1-3, etc., there will never be enough time to complete the book.  This loss of instructional time snowballs each year. Our objectives should be to look at the standards for the grade level, map out a yearly plan with benchmarks, and create meaningful lessons that address the objectives. To help, we can evaluate the first few chapters in the text. They are usually a review of the previous year’s work. Yet, we continue to use months of valuable instructional time to re-teach the topics.  Think about using that material in more creative ways:

  1.  summer assignment
  2.  folders
  3.  quick review and assessment
  4.  bi-weekly review day
  5.  centers
  6.  homework packet 

Instruction then really begins with Chapter four.  Wow!  What a time saver!

2. Refresh Memories with Cyclical Skills.

Another thing to look at is the appearance of what I call “cyclical” skills.  These may include such things as time, measurement, and money.  Most of these topics can be addressed as a problem of the day.  You can define the skills and assign them to a marking period. There will be consistency as they are presented daily over time, but again, valuable instructional time for topics that should be emphasized at the grade level will be gained.

3. Know When to Assess.

When do you construct your assessment instrument? It should be done after you have identified your unit objectives and before you begin instruction.  It brings focus to your planning.  If you know what your goals are, it’s easier to reach them. Your emphasis can now be placed on attaining those goals you have determined to be worthwhile. Remember, the type of assessment and the level of difficulty of the questions contained in the instrument are vital. If we never change the way we test, we will never change the way we teach.

Each school is a unique entity.  Our responsibility is to work with what we have, identify what we need, and devise a plan to achieve it. The implementation of state and national standards is imperative. But we can’t stop with the content. It’s the identified “math practices” that will make teachers effective and children knowledgeable.

“If I could make days last forever, if word could make wishes come true…”

In a perfect world we can manipulate time to our advantage.  Are you up for the challenge?


Biography: Ellen Mulligan has a B.A.S. in Secondary Mathematics from West Chester University. She graduated summa cum laude with an M.A. in Curriculum, Instruction, and Supervision from Rider University. She was named Distinguished Educator for the Philadelphia Archdiocese in 1988. Ellen has over 40 years’ experience in classroom teaching from grade school to college, in school district curriculum development, in supervising K-12 math teachers, and in one-on-one tutoring with kids who are not doing well in class or need help with SAT prep. She is currently working with several schools to train staff in infusing the Common Core Standards into the classroom.