Efficient teaching: class needs to end on time


clockClass needs to end when it is supposed to end.

If you did not plan adequately, it is not acceptable to unilaterally decide that class can be stretched beyond the scheduled time.

Your students might have another class to get to, or a study appointment, or a job. And, they probably want class to end and whatever you want to squeeze in during the last few minutes isn’t likely to have the desired educational outcome anyway. (Unless all you wish to do is blithely “cover material.”) Also, someone else might need to occupy the room, and if it’s a professor who is using digital stuff during the lesson, they need to get hooked up to make that happen and that could take a few minutes.

Here are some guidelines that I suggest, on handling the timing of class sessions:

    • Make sure that a clock is visible to you while you are teaching.
    • Tell your students at the beginning of the semester that you vow to always end class on time.
    • Ask your students to inform you when the end of the class period arrives. If this happens while you’re still in the middle of a lesson, stop at that moment and say “see you next time” immediately. No content is important enough to keep your students captive beyond the time allotted to a class session. (This still happens to me a few times per semester, and I’m thankful that students are comfortable enough to call me out on it.)
    • Start your class on time, even if people haven’t arrived or settled in. This promotes professionalism about the use of time in your classroom.
    • Assign your homework and reading, collect assignments and do other bookkeeping at the start of class, so that it doesn’t make the end stretch longer than planned.
    • Plan for your lessons to end a few minutes early. If they go to the end of the period, you’re okay. If you have a few minutes left as planned, you can do a quick “muddiest point” for students to complete on their way out. You might find muddiest points to be an important part of the course and it is useful to regularly leave time for them.
    • Write exams that can fit within your class period. Write them so that slower students can finish them within the prescribed time. (It varies by discipline, but a chemist colleague once said that if it took more than five minutes to take his own exam, then the exam is too long.)

If you can’t start a class on time because the room is being occupied by another class that has gone over schedule, quietly sneak up to the front and tell the instructor that your students will be entering the room in a minute. This will give them the time to make sure their students can leave the class unimpeded before you claim the room scheduled for your time slot. If you suspect that this instructor is a novice teacher, you might want to give them a few more minutes because they’re still learning how to run a class.

It’s easy to get peeved when students start rustling their bags and packing up before class is over. It annoys me, too. This bag-rustling is not its own problem but merely a symptom of poor engagement and time anxiety. The engagement problem is a whole ‘nother enchilada: you can’t be expected to keep everyone rapt at every moment. But you can take care of the time anxiety by being reliable and predictable. Students pack up when they feel like they are done and want to leave. If they know that they are staying until a precise time, and that they will always be free to leave at that precise time, then you’ll hear fewer zippers and rustles. You might even keep them more engaged.

Do you have any thoughts about managing the duration of a lesson, or have particular challenges with managing when to end class? How do you design exams to evaluate what you need to but make sure that nobody feels rushed? Any other tips you wish to share?

2 thoughts on “Efficient teaching: class needs to end on time

  1. This was my philosophy when teaching lab classes. I told the students at the beginning of the semester that we would be there for three hours. I was good at timing my lecture at the beginning of class. At the start of the semester, based on the students’ reactions, they didn’t like the idea that I was going to make them stay, but then later in the semester, I had a couple of students thank me for taking the time to go over the experiment and theory again right before they did it. For some students, nearly a whole week had passed since the formal lab lecture. While students obviously want to get out of lab quickly, I think that maybe telling them that they have three hours (around 2 hours for the actual experiment) somehow made them feel less rushed. Unlike some of my fellow TAs, I wasn’t in a hurry to get out. I had planned in my research schedule the six hours per week plus grading, so I wasn’t in a hurry. So, maybe this rubbed off on the students. The experiment success rate was pretty good in my class. Most students were able to get their reaction to work. One of the big problems I think with organic lab is that their experiments fail, and then they feel like they have wasted the time. The following week this feeling is still there, so they just hurry through the motions because they know it’s not going to work.

    By the end of the semester, I and my students were masters of efficient time management; a well oiled machine.

    I really miss teaching.

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