My thoughts on timetables

I’m sure if you asked any teacher they’d say they rely on some sort of weekly, or even daily timetable to structure their lessons. They might even say they can’t work without one. I used to feel the same – until I got into teaching.

It’s a policy at our school that each teacher is to fill in a weekly timetable of the subjects they teach, which TA or HLTA they have present, and how long the lesson is taught. Once we do this, we need to save it on the shared server so that all teachers can see it (along with our medium term plans, daily plans for maths, English, foundation planning, and a weekly foundation plan). Seems fine, and I can get behind the reasons for doing so. After all, you need to know when you’re going to teach certain subjects, right?

What I’ve come to realise lately, though, is that no matter how articulate and well-organised my timetable is, I very rarely stick to it. This isn’t because I’m disorganised or because I can’t be bothered to stick to it. It’s simply because no matter how hard anyone tries, teaching is not that simple.

How many times have you finished teaching in the morning and gotten around to lunch, setting up the lesson you’ll be teaching in the afternoon, then realised “There’s no WAY I’m doing ____ with them this afternoon!” There could be several reasons for this:

  1. Lack of supplies/materials – this could result from a lack of preparedness, or could be the fault of someone else not returning them, etc.
  2. Surprise speaker or assembly – not common, but it does happen.
  3. Poor behaviour – It would daunt many teachers to pull out the clay/paint/mod-roc/pastels to teach an afternoon lesson, knowing full-well the state of the kids in the morning (if they were particularly unruly).
  4. Mood of the children – by no means should a teacher reorganise an entire day around their class’s mood or “what they want to do” – but a good teacher should be mindful of the mood his or her class are in.
  5. Needing to finish a task that was supposed to be finished in the morning – I’ve had a few occasions where I’ve needed a TA to cover my lesson, and returned to find that the work hadn’t even been started.
  6. Class assembly/play/choir practising – something that might not take an entire afternoon, but sneaking in 20-30 minutes in an afternoon can seriously derail your afternoon plans, thus throwing off your timetable.

I’m sure you can think of other reasons, but I can’t wrap my head around the idea of submitting a weekly timetable, and honestly sticking to it. I think there’s far too much uncertainty and spontaneity that goes on in a school in any given week to take your timetable seriously.

Like I said at the beginning, I get timetabling – we should have a rough idea about what we’re going to teach in a week – but for SLT to expect teachers to not deviate from them, or to modify them after each lesson to reflect the actual amount of time spent on each subject, is ridiculous (especially when you know a big reason for why it’s required is to have evidence of “consistency” throughout the school). Teaching is too spontaneous and, often times, too unpredictable to rely on a strict timetable.

What do you think? Agree or disagree, I’d love to know in the comments 🙂