Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Time Well Spent

She started by asking students to "name an animal that reminds you of the Great Depression."

I didn't know where she was going with this, but she was in ed school, and I liked exposing myself to some of the new and fresh methods they were employing, so I let it go to see where it would end up.

"Sperm Whale!" one student responded after the teacher had written six or seven responses on the board already.  The students were as confused as I was, and simply named animals to avoid the discomfort of silence.  As she turned her back to write this most recent comment on the board the student turned to a classmate, "dude! She actually wrote it, she wrote Sperm Whale on the board."

I was ready to pull the plug, when thankfully she switched things up.  She stepped up to the overhead projector, this was ten years ago, started placing transparency on it, and retreated into an invisible bubble as she slid the cover sheet down, line by line, revealing the text of the notes that students were to copy.  She read them too.  As if my sophomores couldn't yet.

All teachers have those days where there just is not enough time in the class to get it all in.  But especially early in our careers we have those days when the minutes can't go by fast enough; we find ourselves struggling to fill the block and keep the students engaged in something.

Somewhere around my third or fourth year of teaching, I took on a University student in her practicum course; she needed to teach five consecutive classes under my supervision. I wasn't prepared to prepare a new teacher. I could tell that she was struggling to prepare for the first lesson, and despite my suggestions and assistance in planning the lesson I just wasn't sure that she was going to handle it.

I could go into more detail about the lesson, but from what I've recounted above you've probably figured out it was a disaster. So much of a disaster that she was in tears before we even began to debrief. I eventually had to call in her University supervisors to assist, and after a few more attempts she opted out of the education program.

My biggest lesson from the experience came out of the mouth of a student. Near the end of this teacher's first class, a particularly sarcastic student sitting next to my desk turned to me and said "Mr. Turner you owe me an hour and a half of my life back." Even though his comment was bitter and quite rude, I knew he was right. Time is precious for all of us. Time can be spent, but never saved. This means it is vital to get the best value from every minute we're given. None of us have the right to waste anyone's time. I may not always succeed, but on that day I vowed to never waste someone else's time... especially my students.

This doesn't mean that academic instruction must always take place from bell to bell. Often I even build in "down-time" to intentionally engage with students in conversation, or to give them a mental break when anxiety seems to be high. But I do this with intention in hopes of making the most of every minute my students and the public trusts me with.

Now, having children of my own, every afternoon when they get straight to work, or every evening we stay up together a little later than we should to finish all of their homework, I find myself hoping that their teachers are using every minute of their day in a productive way.

I hope that every minute of the day that my children are at school and every minute of the day that my students are in my class that the value of time is respected- whether it's learning a new skill, meeting a new friend, strengthening relationships with teachers and peers, or taking a break to recharge.

When we're given the responsibility of taking someone's time are we careful to make sure that it is time well spent?

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