Work Smarter, Not Harder: Time-Saving Tips for Special Education Teachers

I’ve already started my 2019-2020 school year with students and have been reminded again just how much work our job entails! Within 4 days of going back, I was overwhelmed by all the things I had to do, people I had to meet with, and materials I had to prepare for the first day of school.

Despite the back-to-school pressures, however, I’m determined to make this year one of less stress. I know I need to figure out a better system for balancing the demands of the job and being able to leave work at work, which is why I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can feasibly do this.

I know I can’t just magically hire more help or increase my prep time, but I CAN utilize a system to maximize the time and resources I do have.

So, here is my game plan for how I’ll work smarter this year in order to get more done in less time.

1. Create a weekly prep schedule

I made a list of all the big buckets of tasks I find myself doing, such as lesson planning, making copies and prepping materials for the upcoming week, and completing IEP paperwork. I then made a schedule for myself where I dedicated one day of the week to spend on each of these bigger tasks during my prep period.

My schedule is as follows:
– Monday: IEP Paperwork
– Tuesday: Collaborate with Gen Ed Teachers and Staff
– Wednesday: Lesson Plan for upcoming weeks
– Thursday: Copies and Material Prep for upcoming week
– Friday: Catch Up/Miscellaneous

With this schedule, I’m hoping I’ll be able to use my hour of prep more efficiently and maybe even work ahead if I have extra time!

2. Delegate daily tasks and routines

There are so many little tasks I do in my room on a daily basis that only take about 3 minutes or less. Even though each individual task is short, however, I realized there are so many of them that they end up eating away at a lot of my time.

This year, I’m going to make a list of every single thing that needs to get done on a routine basis (daily, weekly, or even monthly) and work on dividing those tasks between my paras and myself. I then plan to assign each person both a “daily” list of tasks and a “weekly” list of things to accomplish. Items on these lists include things like wiping down the blocks station, reorganizing our prep materials, copying extra data sheets, replacing dead dry erase markers, etc.

By writing down the things I find myself consistently doing and working them into a schedule, I’m hoping to help streamline my work and give myself time to focus on the things I know need to get done. I’m also hoping that the act of simply having this list written out will help take stress off of my plate because I won’t be looking around and noticing things that need to happen. Instead, I can trust my schedule and know everything is getting taken care of within a reasonable timeframe.

3. Set boundaries on my time spent working (and stick to them!)

I think it’s important to give yourself a set time you WILL leave work by (and it may need to change depending on the day); and then, actually leave! If you stick to this consistently, you WILL find a way to cut time off of tasks, prioritize, and get everything done. It may take time to figure it out, but the only way you ever will is by being consistent and actually leaving when you say you are.

One thing that really helps me is to make commitments for after work so I’m forced to leave when I want to. Sign up for a workout class, make plans to meet up with a friend, OR just write in your planner whatever it is you want to do after you leave work (even if it’s just watching TV or going to the grocery store). Having a true commitment holds me accountable for leaving and helps alleviate some of my teacher guilt.

These are my three time-management tips to make the most of your year, but I’d love to hear some of yours! Share in the comments: How have you managed your time better and accomplished more at work?


Kelsey Smith is a special education teacher for elementary students on a modified curriculum in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to her current teaching job, she spent one year teaching in an inclusive Kindergarten classroom.  Kelsey completed her bachelor’s degree in special education from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University and is a proud Commodore. Although she is still a newer teacher, she is looking forward to sharing her insights and classroom experiences with the CEC community. She also shares more ideas on her classroom Instagram account, @exceptionalelementary. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time outside and eating Mexican food. 

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One comment

  1. Great advice! I like the weekly prep schedule that includes a catch-up, miscellaneous day. Also, so many times I just delegate on the spur of the moment. A daily, weekly, monthly to do list where not only I see it but the paras, will help out a lot. (I’m already pretty good at setting boundaries for time spent at work!)

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