I always run out of time!

image taken from dreamstime.com

Interestingly enough, when the majority of EFL/ESL colleagues reflect on their lessons – especially on teacher training courses, such as the CELTA or the DELTA Module Two, where reflection is part of their assessment – one area seems to ‘rule them all’ as a main weakness: time management.

This tends to be a problem in itself because time is rarely an issue per se; it is a symptom; it is the consequence of a number of things which will remain cloaked in darkness if we don’t dare take our reflection a step further and squeeze our brain to figure out what really didn’t work.

Let’s take a hypothetical scenario of a 45-minute lesson in which the main aim is to help learners practise their gist and intensive reading sub-skills:


The teacher shows the learners a video to get them engaged and elicit the theme of the lesson. Then, the teacher shows the learners the title of a text along with some vocabulary taken from that text. The teacher presents the meaning of the vocabulary and, then, asks the learners to work in pairs and predict the content of the text taking the video, the title, and the lexis into account. The learners start exchanging ideas in pairs. When the learners finish, the teacher invites them to share their answers and a discussion follows. Sounds good so far.

However, when the time to read the text and do the gist and intensive reading activities comes, there is only 15 minutes left in the lesson. So, the learners end up being rushed, and the feedback they get on these activities is poor with the teacher merely giving the learners the correct answers when they make a mistake.

After the lesson has finished, the teacher says that the main problem was time management. So, based on the assumption that time management is the symptom and not the actual problem, let’s look at some possible causes that did not allow the teacher to achieve the aim of this lesson.


Lesson planning (staging an activity):

The teacher may not be aware of the different stages an activity entails and, therefore, they may not know how much time a specific activity is expected to take in the lesson; quite frequently, we underestimate the time learners need to complete an activity because we ignore the steps we need to take to set-up and run an activity effectively.

Choice of material and activities:

A number of activities may have been redundant. For example, the video in our hypothetical reading lesson above, may have been too lengthy or unnecessary in the course of the lesson. It may have been really enjoyable, of course, but this doesn’t mean that we should include it no matter what.

Not having a clear view of the lesson aim:

The teacher may be unaware of what the main aim is and, therefore, cannot decide which activity matters most; as a result, the teacher cannot make an informed decision as to which activity could be modified or even be completely skipped. Sometimes, we do fall in this trap because there are too many things to focus on in coursebooks.

Class management (poor monitoring):

An activity may carry on for too long because it’s fun and the learners are enjoying it. A teacher may feel that if an activity keeps the learners happy, talking and having a good time, it is enough to deem their lesson successful.

Poor preparation:

The teacher may have forgotten to prepare/organise the appropriate handouts, to turn on the classroom equipment, or check that it works properly, and a number of other things that seem to be too trivial to deal with, but can get in the way of the pace of the lesson and, accumulatively, waste invaluable time.


Lesson planning (staging an activity):

Imagine you have a listening exercise; the audio is two and a half minutes long. How much time do you think it should take? Any answer at this point seems to be arbitrary if we don’t consider the stages involved. For example:

  • Giving instructions (1’)
  • Checking understanding of instructions and clarifying if necessary (30’’)
  • Providing an example (30’’)
  • Giving learners time to familiarise themselves with the activity (1’)
  • Playing the audio: the learners do the activity (2:30mins)
  • Replaying the audio if the learners need to listen to it a second time (2:30mins)
  • Allowing time for the learners to compare their answers in pairs (2’)
  • Doing feedback on the exercise replaying bits of the audio to make sure all learners understood why certain answers were right or wrong (2’-3’)

Suddenly, what initially seemed to be a (more or less) 5-minute activity is now in fact a 10-minute one at best.

Keeping your lessons material-light:

Avoid choosing/designing material to make your lesson as full as possible. Remember the famous ELT aphorism: less is more. Don’t choose material that does not, in one way or another, help the learners achieve the aim of the lesson. Even if you’ve found let’s say a hilarious video, don’t use it if it does not contribute to achieving the aim of the lesson.

Making appropriate decisions in class:

Even if the learners are obviously enjoying a speaking exercise early on in the lesson and want to carry on talking, do stop them and move on to the next stage/activity; you can always go back to it towards the end of the lesson, after you have covered the main parts of your lesson to achieve the aim. Contrary to what we may sometimes feel, the learners will appreciate the fact that a specific aim will have been achieved – don’t forget that one of our roles in the classroom is to help them remain focused on the main aim, not just to keep them happy.

These are some of the main conclusions I have reached so far, but I’m certain there are plenty more reasons that lead to not having enough time to achieve our lesson aims. If you have noticed anything else, do leave your comment!

A teacher’s tale

When I embarked on my CELTA course there was no way I could imagine I would now be a CELTA Tutor and Assessor as well as a DELTA tutor and even a teacher development centre owner!

As a young man, I wasn’t sure I wanted to work as a teacher. Teaching seemed particularly challenging, even daunting back then. Instead, I briefly worked as a translator of fantasy novels – naively believing that this was going to be easier – and had to find a McJob on the side to make a living; translation did not pay much, I quickly came to realise.

One day, a friend suggested I should give teaching a try. He said it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, he explained how rewarding it could be (albeit not financially), he even compared it to what I was doing at the time and in the end asked “how much worse can it be?”. I started having second thoughts and reluctantly took his advice and started applying to language schools.

A few weeks later, one of these schools did get back to me and, after a nerve-wracking interview, I was offered a teaching job. By the way, that foreign language school located in Nikaia will always have a special place in my heart – so will the owners and the learners I got to teach there.

Ms. K.M. had given me my first opportunity to teach. I’m not going to dwell so much on all the blunders I made in my lessons – they were a lot; however, I did try hard not to let anyone down. I kept studying, asking for advice, experimenting…

When the academic year ended, I realised my teaching wasn’t good enough and I had to do something to become a better teacher. I hated the fact that, in my students’ eyes,my lessons would be considered just one more inescapable slot of absolute boredom in their heavy daily schedule. At the same time, I did not want to betray the trust the centre owner had shown me.

So, I applied for an intensive summer CELTA course. I learnt a lot, I worried a lot, I even panicked at some point. The course itself naturally had its ups and downs; but I still have very fond memories of some of my colleagues on that course! How they helped me during the stressful weeks, how much fun we had, how we learned from each other!

September came and I returned to the Nikaia school. I was feeling much more confident. I could finally see exactly what I had been doing wrong and was able to reflect on my own teaching, exchange ideas with colleagues in the teacher’s room, plan lessons of different kinds; I was able to use a number of different techniques to get the students interested, to cater to their individual preferences; most importantly, I was able to finally focus on the students themselves since the burden of not knowing the basics had stopped exclusively occupying my mind during the lessons.

As the school owner/director started noticing my improvement, she offered me more and more hours and I finally got to work for her school full time. In the years I worked there, I taught different levels and age groups, I kept learning from my students as well as from my colleagues and I developed as a teacher. I went on to teach in different contexts, gained a lot more valuable experience, and a few years later I did the DELTA and started working as a trainer – and that has been a completely new adventure, with its own challenges.

When I reminisce about my journey in ELT, however, I always think of my CELTA as the beginning of everything.

  • Could I have gained this invaluable knowledge and experience without having done the CELTA?
  • Would I have improved my job prospects without it?
  • Would I have met all these lovely colleagues who helped me on this journey?

The (obvious) negative answers to these questions might seem to be overly romantic and immaterial now. Yet, I wouldn’t be able to ask them if certain things hadn’t happened exactly the way they did. And the CELTA course was one of them.

It gave me the confidence I needed as a teacher to share ideas and experiment even if that meant occasionally failing to achieve my lesson aims; it gave me the ability to reflect on those failures, identify the problems, isolate them, and work on them to get better and better as a teacher – sometimes as an individual, too. Last but not least, it opened up a whole new world of opportunities in the world of English language teaching; a world I couldn’t have imagined actually existed.