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29 Time Crunchers

Jennifer Hooks

Time is money." We've all heard that. But time is a lot more than just money -- it's the most precious, non-recyclable commodity we have.

For some teachers, time is something to control. There's always too little of it, and these people are left dashing here and there, perpetually on the verge of panic, wondering when life will settle down, fearing it'll never happen.

For other teachers, time is elusive. Their conundrum: how to harness time and best use it. How to keep time from controlling them.

Either way, don't let time get away from you! These guidelines will help you get the most out of every minute -- before, during, and after class.

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The children all wandered in around 8. Some a few minutes early, and some as many as 10 minutes late. Not that it mattered.

Mr. Dierden was always late -- and not just by a few minutes. He had some personal issues that kept him busy at the beginning of each class.

He'd been punctual at the start of the year but had quickly slipped. In his absence, the kids entertained themselves, occasionally glancing at the clock. Left to their own devices, the kids adopted a Lord of the Flies mentality. They separated into packs. The noise level rose.

Eventually, it was a free-for-all. Kids played Tag, took unescorted walks in the hall, upended desks, and raced around wielding scissors and pencils.

Before Class

Get organized. Block off 30 minutes every day over a period of weeks to get organized. Don't try to do everything at once. Being organized is a habit -- one you won't adopt overnight. If you make it a process, it'll become a habit. Trying to organize your entire life in one fell swoop is overwhelming, and it probably won't work.

  • Buy inexpensive, clear plastic tubs in a variety of sizes for your classroom. Label them with a permanent marker according to what they hold: after-class games, craft supplies, glue, and other items commonly used (but normally scattered around the room).
  • De-clutter your area. Whether at home or in the classroom, do something with all the stuff sitting around. If it's paperwork -- toss it or file it. Inventory your books and magazines. Can some of them be donated?

Be prepared. Create a game plan. Prepare mentally and physically. Will you need sponge cut-outs for a craft? Prepare them at least one day beforehand. Is maintenance being done in your room? Make arrangements ahead of time to use another room. This may seem like common sense, but think back to the most recent thing that cost you time. Could it have been avoided with a little more preparation?

The same goes for your lesson. Are children supposed to grasp the impact of Jesus feeding the 5,000? How will you ensure they do? If you show up unprepared, without having given forethought to how you'll achieve the end goal, you're setting yourself up for failure.

  • Define your goals. From the smallest accomplishment to the grandest, write what you hope your teaching results will be. If you hope to change a child's life, write it. If you hope to finish the book about leadership you started, write it. If you hope to arrive on time to all your Sunday school classes, write it. Putting your goals in writing gives them tangibility and keeps you focused. Keep your list of goals with you.
  • Make a to-do list. Keep it in your wallet or purse. Mark off the things you've accomplished, and reward yourself with a mental pat on the back (or ice cream).
  • Keep current. Take any available technology training for new systems and programs in your church.

Learn to say no and to delegate. Nobody wants to be the bad guy. But if you say yes to every request, you'll quickly find yourself stretched to the breaking point. Time becomes your enemy, and stress and fatigue become regular companions. It's okay to say no. If you say, "I'm already committed to so many projects that I wouldn't be able to devote time or energy to this one," people will understand and appreciate your honesty. If you agree to do a project when you're already overloaded and do it halfheartedly, neither you nor the person you're helping will feel good about it in the end.

  • Don't be ruled by guilt. You have the opportunity to be very good at a few things or very mediocre at many things. Choose the few things that mean the most to you, and dedicate yourself to them.
  • Delegate tasks that don't have to have your fingerprints on them. Can another person be responsible for making sure your newsletter is printed and mailed? What other projects can be handed off?

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When Mr. Dierden finally showed up, he'd simply mutter, "Let's take roll." Was he blind? Did he not see that Jamie was about to put an eye out? Or that Karyn and Elise were missing? By the time Mr. Dierden took attendance, it was time to end with a prayer and try to put the room back together.

His actions sent a message to kids that they weren't important, and that what they were supposed to be doing in class wasn't important, either.

During Class

Prioritize. At the end of a class, do you ever say to yourself, "I didn't get anything important done today"? If you do, prioritize and stick to it. Establish the level of importance for each task, and schedule your class accordingly.

  • Separate your tasks into A, B, and C categories. A tasks are urgent or highly important. B tasks are important but not urgent. C tasks are low-level and can be shuffled.
  • Decide on one thing in every class that you want to accomplish. At the end of the class, ask yourself if you achieved your goal.
  • Eliminate interruptions. Interruptions -- while sometimes welcome -- are huge time stealers. Learn ways to thwart interruptions you'd normally be willing to put up with.
  • Send the red flag signal. Establish a system for your classroom with a red flag or a sign. When the flag or sign is posted outside your door, the message to all passersby is: "Do not disturb -- class is in progress."
  • Organize bathroom passes. For example, allow one break halfway through the class for all kids to get a drink or go to the bathroom.
  • Deal with behavior issues before they crop up. Does Johnny have a temper tantrum at 9:47 a.m. each Sunday? Put a plan in place. Can someone take him away from the group until he feels better? For every chronic interruption, ask yourself what you can do in advance to diffuse the situation.
  • Don't allow others to distract you. Whether you're teaching or preparing for class, set rules and create boundaries. When you're teaching, your classroom is to be left undisturbed except in emergencies. It's up to you to decide what constitutes an emergency and to communicate that to others.

Stop striving to be perfect. No one but God is perfect. Aim for excellence, but don't spend all your time trying to achieve something unachievable. That's not to say settle for "good enough." Excellence should color everything you do. Perfection is an unrealistic expectation.

Perfectionism leads to a form of procrastination. Because the perfectionist fears failure, he or she often puts off doing what needs to be done.

  • Is it worth the time you spend to measure out to the millimeter the length of the chenille craft wires you're using? Is it really necessary to convey God's accounting of every hair on our heads by counting, hair for hair, a student's head of hairs? Can you substitute Kool-Aid drink for hand-squeezed grape juice?
  • Take time to reassess your processes. Are there ways you can trim repetitive or inconsequential duties? Do you go on craft-buying excursions for individual lessons, or do you keep a bin of craft supplies well-stocked in your classroom?


Mr. Dierden was habitually late, but it wasn't because he didn't care about his class. He was actually late because he was trying to pull together all the paperwork for a scholarship he was applying for. A scholarship honoring Sunday school teachers!

If only Mr. Dierden could've taken the time to genuinely evaluate what was happening in his classroom. Then he might've known the real honor of having children say, "Thanks -- you took the time to make a difference in my life."

After Class

Get help cleaning up. Don't be afraid to ask for help. When class is over and you're standing in the shambles of your classroom, speak up. Asking for help is something a lot of people have a hard time doing, but there are great advantages in enlisting the help of others. For starters, you'll be finished with this least pleasant of teaching tasks sooner. And, you may be led to wonderful people you might not have met otherwise.

  • Use job cards or a rotation schedule to have parents or kids help you. Ask that parents who can't make their rotation let you know in advance, and let kids know that sharing in cleanup is a classroom expectation.
  • Put the room in order before you go home. Don't leave a mess, thinking you'll clean it up later; left messes seem to grow into insurmountable heaps that breed despair and resentment.

Evaluate what you've done. How did class go? Consider this while classroom events are still fresh. Did the kids hate the craft? Why? Was it too difficult? too easy? Maybe they loved the craft, but didn't make the faith connection. How can you change that? Would things have gone better with another adult? Would Styrofoam balls have worked better than clay?

  • Jot notes. Follow up by making appropriate changes you have control over.
  • Communicate larger changes you'd like to make. With your team leader, brainstorm possible curriculum changes or ideas for recruiting extra volunteers.
  • Capitalize on what works. If you use a lesson that really packs a punch, analyze why it's so successful. Are there less successful areas you can bolster by applying those principles?

At All Times

Set limits. Don't allow yourself to become overwhelmed. People who are overwhelmed experience stress, burnout, and plain old unhappiness more than those who aren't. If you catch yourself daydreaming, playing with paperclips, or staring into outer space, it usually means your brain needs a rest. The key to avoiding overload is knowing yourself well enough to know how and when to rest.

  • Break large tasks into smaller ones. Spend about 15 to 20 minutes on each task.
  • Set a timer for the amount of time you'll work on a project. When the timer goes off, stop. Your brain will thank you. Communicate clearly. Communication is the key to success and the foundation of a cooperative environment. If you need help, tell someone. If you see a process that needs to be changed, discuss it with others. When someone helps you, acknowledge it. Let people know what you're doing, what your expectations are, how you plan to achieve them, and who's supporting you along the way.

Establish a system of communication with parents.

  • Touch base frequently with your team leader.
  • Make note of important things.
  • Let people know what you expect of them.
  • Be clear when you talk to people. Ask if they have any questions or concerns, and listen when they respond.
  • Discuss things that aren't going the way you'd hoped.
  • Say thank you.

Get To The Bottom Of The Top Excuses For Lateness

  1. "My alarm didn't go off." While sometimes a legitimate claim, this excuse is often translated to: "I hit the snooze seven times, crawled out of bed, stumbled into the shower, and stood in the stall, dazed, for 30 minutes." Or "It's not important enough for me to get out of bed in time to get ready."
  2. "I had to return home because I forgot something." This excuse is boiled down to: I didn't prepare. We're all rushed in the mornings. Why not spend a few extra minutes gathering all the supplies you'll need for class and putting them near the door the night before, when you aren't pressed for time? You'll be a lot less likely to forget things.
  3. "We couldn't get everyone out of the house on time." This is Frenzied Family Syndrome. Alex and Andy are having a water fight rather than getting ready, the dog ran off, and your spouse is taking time burning the pancakes. The obvious solution? Get everyone out of bed earlier.
  4. "I had to pick up some last-minute supplies." If your class uses a large amount of a particular item, such as glue or tape, keep an abundance of it on hand. Watch for bargains on these items when you're shopping for other things. Or get creative and figure out ways around a missing supply.
  5. "I'm not feeling well." Examine what's really going on. Are you sick, or are you sick and tired? Do you avoid going to class until the last minute? Is every sniffle a reason to show up late or not at all? If so, you may be experiencing burnout.
  6. "The traffic was terrible." Leaving earlier or taking an alternate route will usually put this excuse to rest. Plan on arriving at church 15 minutes early instead of right on time.
  7. "I couldn't find my (insert item here)." This excuse means you need a habit overhaul. If it's your keys, get a key holder. If it's your dress shoes, make a point to always put them back in your closet. Create a habit of always putting things in the same place, and you'll never be caught at five minutes past rifling the couch cushions for keys.
  8. "I'm running behind...again." Why? This nonspecific reason raises more questions than answers. If you're chronically late for everything, it's time for a lifestyle change. If you're only late for your class, it may be time for a different kind of change. Stop finding ways to sabotage timeliness.
  9. "I was doing a favor for (insert name here)." While no one will fault you for lending a helping hand, there are certain downfalls to being a recognized yes-person. Eventually, you'll be stretched so thin that even everyday things are overwhelming. Learn to say no.

You are the only one for your class; God led you to be there. Choose by first assigning your class the priority it takes. Can someone else do the favor? Can you ask the person to wait until after your class?

Jennifer Hooks is managing editor for Children's Ministry Magazine. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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