Managing Class Time

Inexperienced instructors sometimes have trouble gauging how much time various classroom activities will take or how long they should expect to spend on a given topic or activity. Many TAs worry that they won’t have enough material to fill the time. Some TAs try to cram too much into a class meeting, determined to get through everything that might be relevant, whether or not their students can absorb and process all of it. Others assume that students will come to a discussion or recitation section with questions about the lectures or the reading material, so they don’t have to do much planning for class, or they think that a few discussion questions will carry them through an entire class period; in either case, the TA may be at a loss if the students aren’t forthcoming with questions or if the issues raised by the TA fail to evoke the desired responses and spark a productive discussion. (See Leading a Discussion) As you gain experience in the classroom, you’ll get a better sense of how to pace your classes and how much time various activities should take. In the meantime, thorough preparation and a willingness to be flexible can help you manage class time effectively.

When you prepare for a class meeting, think about everything you might potentially cover and decide which topics are absolutely necessary, which ones are somewhat important, and which ones you would include only if there’s extra time. If you prepare a lot of material but prioritize beforehand, you can be sure you get to all the most important topics and also be ready if you get through those topics more quickly than you expected. (This may seem obvious, but instructors often simply cover material in the order in which a text presents it, or if there are multiple texts, cover every minor detail of one before moving on to the next.) If you plan to spend part of a class session lecturing and part using more active learning techniques, be sure to leave sufficient time for student interaction and participation. Trying to cram in a brief discussion or group work session at the end of a long lecture sends the message that these activities aren’t really an important element of the class and students don’t need to take them very seriously. If you’re going to break students up into groups to work on a problem or discuss an issue, leave time at the end for a debriefing when the groups can share what they’ve done.

The geographical layout of Rutgers, the bus system, and construction on Route 18 all conspire to promote lateness, but class meeting should still begin on time. While you may not want to unduly penalize students for tardiness that may be beyond their control, you should encourage students to show up on time and pay proper respect to the students who manage to do so by beginning class promptly. If you routinely start class five or ten minutes late, you let students know that you will wait for them and invite them to be late. Make it clear that class begins on time, and that students who are forced to show up a few minutes late should slip in quietly and make sure to speak with other students after class to find out what they missed. If you can, get to your classroom ten or fifteen minutes early to chat with students before class begins and to deal with administrative matters. Try to spend the ten or fifteen minutes before that collecting your thoughts and going over your notes. Doing these two things will help to ensure that both you and your students are ready to start class at the scheduled time.

At the beginning of class, give students a quick overview of the topics you plan to cover. If one or two students want to linger over some point when you feel the class needs to move on, invite those students to take up the issue with you during your office hours or at some later time. If the class as a whole seems to be getting a lot out of the discussion of a particular point, don’t rush them on to the next issue just to stick to your agenda.

Wrap up the class with a summation of key issues (or have a student do so) and give students some sense of what the next class meeting will cover and how the coming material follows from the current class, to help your students make the appropriate connections and mentally prepare for the new material. Immediately after class, take a few minutes to jot down some notes about the class session, including what went well and what you might like to do differently next time and whether there are any residual issues that you’ll need to cover in the next class. This will help you better manage the time during future class meetings.