5 Things Teachers Do Every Day That Are a Complete Waste of Time

I’m done with writing lesson objectives on the board.

5 Administrative Tasks that Make Teachers Waste Time

Teaching is valuable, crucial, fascinating work. Except, you know, when it isn’t. Most of my day is spent hanging out with amazing young people and, I hope, making a difference in their lives. However, other parts of my day are just pointless. Here are some ways teachers waste time every day.

1. Write the standard on the board.

You know who reads it? An administrator doing an observation. Nobody else. Just them. I’ve never seen a kid read the standard or ask any questions about it. And sure, I’m supposed to reference it in the course of my lesson. But come on. I’ve got 50 minutes to beat some basic literacy into these kids. There’s only so much I can do.

2. Teach grammar.

Okay, some of it is useful. I’ll work on sentence fragments and run-ons until the cows come home, and I’ll drill my kids on the difference between “your” and “you’re” until it’s coming out their ears. But I just can’t bring myself to care whether they know the difference between past perfect and past progressive verb tenses. Unfortunately, the standards include a lot of pointless knowledge that will not help my students’ writing or their understanding.

3. Grade daily work.

Like most teachers, I have to put in a certain number of grades per week. Some of those are big, meaningful assignments. Some are smaller, but no less important, tasks that ask students to reflect on their learning or check their understanding. And some are filler so I don’t get in trouble for not having enough grades. With these minimums, it’s impossible not to give the occasional meaningless busywork that boosts the number of grades I’ve posted without really improving the kids’ learning or understanding.

4. Collect data.

It seems there’s always some kid who desperately needs an IEP but doesn’t have one, which means we have to go through the process to get the kid services. Yes, it’s incredibly important to provide kids with the accommodations they need. But spending 20 minutes twice a week using some “intervention” one-on-one just to prove that it doesn’t work, then giving a “probe” that’s completely unrelated to my curriculum or the skills the kid needs? That’s meaningless paperwork, and it takes away from my students’ learning.

5. Enforce the dress code.

The justification is always “If we sweat the small stuff, we won’t have to worry about the big stuff,” but that’s never been my experience. I just don’t care if Yolanda in fifth period has fake nails. Could they potentially be dangerous? Maybe. But the back row of my class is passing around a jar of Nutella and eating it with their fingers, and I feel like that’s way more of a health hazard. I. Just. Do. Not. Care.

I love my job. I plan to teach at my current school at my current grade level until I eventually collapse in the hallway and nobody notices until rigor mortis starts to set in. But I’ll admit, I get a little frustrated when I miss lunch—again—to do a reading fluency probe that will give me information I already know, or when I get knocked down on an observation for rephrasing the standard on the board into language that’s comprehensible to my students.

Maybe someday the whole teaching process will be streamlined, and I can focus my attention on things that are really important. Until then, I’ll keep ignoring Jose’s flip-flops, leave the same standard on the board for three weeks, and plug in each kid’s average three times as a “participation grade” when I realize I haven’t entered enough marks in my grade book for the week. I don’t think it’s causing my kids too much suffering.

What tops your list of how teachers waste time? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, why teachers quit.

5 Things Teachers Do Every Day That Are a Complete Waste of Time

Posted by Captain Awesome

Captain Awesome teaches seventh grade English at an urban charter school for refugee and immigrant kids. She is a big fan of books, social justice, holiday-flavored coffee creamers, righteous indignation, and Friday Night Lights.


  1. A-Freaking-Men! About writing the damn standards on the board! I teach 2nd grade at a Title 1 school and NO ONE (with the exception of one admin) ever read them or gave a rats ass about what they said. She was soo obsessed with the standards being on the board, she wanted me to type them out every day and hang them up because my handwriting was “Difficult to make out from the door of the room”. I had already decided that I was just soo DONE with her and the school at that point that I just nodded, ignored and went back to teaching. She left a month later and no one ever mentioned the standards again. Kids do not care, they just want to learn what they need to survive.

    1. Roberta Galler July 26, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      Agreed!! ??? Great reply!!

  2. Cheryl Stiles June 3, 2017 at 8:38 pm

    Exactly my feelings and experience. I spend way too much time on “administrative” tasks rather than working directly with the students. Also, having 40 students in one class is impossible. They just keep loading up the classes without regard to the impact on learning, like it’s not an issue. Going from 20 students per class to 40 students per class is a BIG DEAL. They are squeezed into the classroom like sardines and never mind me being able to reach them all in the 50 minutes I have with them. When is someone going to wake up and realize this is not helping our students learn? Not to mention the workload for the teachers. I’m a math teacher. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for the English teachers who have to grade essays. God bless you.

  3. Mary Spangenberg June 3, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    OMG yes, thank you.

  4. Andrew McCallister June 4, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    I think that you make a lot of good points here, but I must disagree with the fifth one. As teacher, we (hopefully) teach character and morality alongside the academics. When students go off someday to get a job, there will be a dress code. And if they don’t wear that dress code, they most likely won’t have a job. Why not teach that principal now and help them develop good character traits that they can bring into that world? It’s not about whether Yolanda’s nails are dangerous or not. It’s about helping her develop character and professional skills that will make her successful in the future. I enforce dress code very strictly in my classroom and I don’t ever have problems. Students know what is expected of them and having that mindset most likely helps them with their learning in the long run.

    1. Cheryl Manning July 27, 2017 at 9:26 am

      I have two daughters. I am a teacher. I hate dress code. Dress code is almost always a way to make girls feel ashamed of their bodies. After 25 years, I know that character and morality are important but have much more to do with how students talk to others, how welcoming and kind they behave, and how willing they are to stand up for those who are being put down. The length or composition of a girl’s nails is irrelevant. Professionalism is always important but I will never use that as an excuse to make someone feel bad about the length of their legs, the shape of their bodies, or the color of their skin (and all the other ways I have seen dress code used as an excuse to make teachers feel more powerful).

    2. Exactly, and if they learn that society has expectations of proper behavior or polite behavior it’s less of a shock when they become adults.

    3. Jadesø Britt July 27, 2018 at 1:02 am

      That is so funny to hear from a teacher where dresscodes have never been used in schools.

  5. Patricia Power June 8, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Are you kidding me? Wow.

  6. The only thing that is a waste of time in this list in my opinion is enforcing the dress code (unless it is causing a disturbance). I am utterly amazed that the other items are considered a waste of time. Expectations are set with writing what is going to be learned that day. You don’t know who reads it or who doesn’t. IEP’s, yes a struggle, but if you can’t meet student needs…why are you even there? Grammar….if you don’t know how to read, write or speak a sentence with competence? I can’t go on. I am disgusted honestly. Furthermore, most subjects should have cross-teaching involved so that you aren’t trying to add extra teaching to a lesson. There is something lost in this article.

    1. I don’t think daily work needs to be graded…but inspect what you expect.

  7. I don’t think all of these are a waste of time such as teaching grammar, grading daily work, or enforcing the dress code. Its the way these are done that counts. If they are done in ways that don’t take students into account, then, yes they are a waste of time as is any of the hundreds of tasks that teachers are required to do. Grammar can change the meaning of text. If there is a dress code, teachers need to do the best they can to enforce it as our students learn just as much from what we do as what we say. As educators, we are responsible for their practice of good citizenship.

  8. Maura Fitzgerald June 12, 2017 at 10:38 am

    1 Write Standard – skip. I do however, write specific, standard based, objectives, which I have a volunteer read each day at the beginning of class. Ex: I can analyze a text to determine the author’s purpose.

    2. Teach Grammar – do. I struggle with this, but as E.B. White says: “A schoolchild should be taught grammar for the same reason that a medical student should study anatomy.” – E. B. White

    3. Grade Daily Work – skip

    4. Collect Data – keep, but use sparingly and wisely as an overall view of what each class needs extra focus on. Refer kids to learning team as needed w/ copy of the data.

    5. Enforce the dress code – skip. Admin can act as the fashion police.

  9. I notice that this opinion piece is tagged as humor and not opinion, but I fail to see the humor in it. You say that posting standards, data, grading daily work, and teaching grammar are a waste of your time. So to me, what you are saying is this:

    1. It is a waste of your time to allow the students to see what they are expected to accomplish each day. And you are too busy to refer to these as a checkpoint to ensure you and students are staying on track and ultimately successful. Shame on you.

    2. It is a waste of your time to teach, in your words, refugee and immigrant kids, the tools of the English language in order for them to communicate successfully in their new country. Shame on you.

    3. It is a waste of your time to make every single assignment meaningful to your student’s learning. You admit that you give meaningless, filler work. Shame on you.

    4. It is a waste of your time collect data. I’m not sure where your definition of data comes from. I use data to tailor interventions and tutorials to each student to clear up misconceptions. I use and analyze data on a daily basis. Students who need to be tested, who could use an IEP, need my intervention and attention and time, even more. It’s a waste of your precious time to help the students who need the most help with “meaningless paperwork.” Shame on you.

    5. As far as dress code goes, I will give you that one. As long as my students are learning, I don’t care what they wear.

    It seems to me, in my opinion, you need to find a job that will not harm students with your “righteous indignation” or will help you fulfill your “social justice” ambitions. You have proven yourself to be a detriment to these students with your own words. Shameful.

  10. As someone who worked many years in industries that required a uniform before I got into teaching I can tell you I’ve seen people sent home, not let onto a work site, brought into the office for questioning and even been sacked for simply not wearing the correct uniform while at work. Talk about nail polish, I’ve seen a lady forced off the work-line to go take off her nail polish or go home and don’t bother coming back. She tried to argue, the boss came and took her to the office and I never saw her again. She learnt the hard way. Perhaps she was used to being at school where the teachers didn’t sweat the small stuff and she was used to getting away with it. I myself was refused entry at a front gate before I could even enter my work because I wore thongs (unclosed footwear) even though my work boots were in my locker ready to get changed into. I had to get someone to bring my boots out to me. Enforcing the dress code is not a waste of time, it teaches them rules must be followed, which is required in the workforce.

Leave a reply