Taking Your Time

“Take your time,” my own elementary-school teachers used to say, “and do the job right.”  Measure twice, or a thousand times, depending on which version of the proverb you prefer, and cut once.  Haste makes waste.  I’m not sure if those proverbs are still “taught” or “covered” in the equivalent classrooms today, but I know that Ms. X, Mr. Y, and Lots of Relevant Powers “don’t have time” for taking your time.  And they’re deeply suspicious of what they perceive as wasting time or doing nothing or, worse yet, the appearance of being off task from potentially “bad and lazy” students.  Doing the job right?  That’s a nice idea, of course, but the main thing is for everybody to look busy and appear productive all the time.  That’s one reason why The Girl has been so busy over her Spring Break: the lengthy, omnipresent “packets,” all due Monday, which will allow for some “coverage” and some “review” as the Enormously Important State Tests are just a few weeks away.

To be fair, The Girl has also developed some review work of her own.  With AP Exams coming up quite soon, she set up a schedule to review the content of One Particular Course from last fall, and she’s been sticking to it as faithfully as possible throughout her busy and event-filled spring.  The Boy has been working on a Lengthy Packet or two himself.  But both of them have also found time to relax, to hang out physically or virtually with friends, to do other things they enjoy.  They have the “good student” label, and the “parents who obviously care” one too, but they don’t let those labels define them.  Somehow they’ve both managed to be in but not of the factory-school experience, to learn important things while also successfully playing the Game of School.

I wonder what Ms. X and Mr. Y would think of that!  Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y brought home “all that stuff to grade” but will bring it back, ungraded and unexamined, on Monday, when they’ll also make a frantic rush to “run a bunch of stuff off” on the copier because they were “too tired” and “didn’t have time” to plan ahead before they left for Spring Break.  And yet Ms. X and Mr. Y, confronted with students who didn’t do the Packet or did it at the last possible minute, will respond, as Ms. X and Mr. Y tend to do, with yelling and labeling or threats and zeroes.

There’s something about factory-model thinking that encourages all of that, everything from the packets to the suspicion to the piles of papers and the frantic rush to the copier.  And of course Ms. X and Mr. Y “have to” get upset on Monday because there’s a Big Field Trip that will involve a quarter of the school.  It was originally scheduled earlier in the month, but then it “had to” be rescheduled, and apparently the day after Spring Break was the best (or maybe the only) possible day.  For the students involved, it will be a pleasant way to ease back into the school routine; for the teacher-chaperones, who were frantically “running stuff off” and “finding stuff for classes to do” at the end of the week, I hope it will be, if not pleasant, at least less unpleasant than they fear.  I’m not sure what will happen with the scheduled meeting on Monday afternoon; it had disappeared from the Official Calendar the last time I looked, but it certainly could reappear if it needed to.

Maureen’s post today, about “Slack and Simmer,” is a powerful reminder of how important it is to take your time … to take the time you need, not necessarily the time Ms. X or Mr. Y just knows you need.  Like her student, you might need more time, different time, or just a different allocation of time.  But can Ms. X and Mr. Y find room in their factory-schedule for such things?  Being off-task terrifies them; there’s a terrible suspicion that learning won’t happen if those “bad, lazy ones” aren’t “actively engaged” in exactly what Ms. X and Mr. Y had planned for the day.  And under that suspicion lies fear: fear of bad test scores and making me look bad, of a permanent record and losing everything.

It’s an unexpressed, unexamined fear, a nameless and faceless form of anxiety and dread.  But those very qualities give the fear an extra measure of power and control.  If only Ms. X and Mr. Y would take their time to express, examine, and name the fear, they might even see how ridiculous it is.  But apparently there isn’t time to take your time in Ms. X and Mr. Y’s universe … so they measure once, if at all, then cut and recut, teach and reteach, “remediate” the “bad, lazy ones” without checking to see what specific strengths or weaknesses those “bad, lazy ones” actually have.

You can still be fearful in a joyful learning community, but such a community won’t let you stew in unexamined, unexpressed fear.  Sooner or later, probably sooner, somebody will notice and start asking questions … and eventually, even if you resist at first, you’ll probably share your story and start feeling better.  During this Spring Break week, when I really do have time to take my time and ponder such things, I’m wondering how (and whether) to encourage Ms. X, Mr. Y, and the others to examine and express those fears.  And I wonder what other new insights, discoveries, and actions are waiting to unfold.

Published in: on April 23, 2014 at 12:55 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. Thanks for writing about this, Justin. I’m thinking. As a young child, similar to myself as an adult, I enjoyed long periods of time daydreaming, creating stories, singing, and wondering. As a college student, I found a nook that looked over the campus in the music room. I would go there, listen to music surrounded by others, and watch the campus activity as I wrote poems, thought about truth, and pondered the life within and all around me. I look forward to quiet solitude, and probably have found the busy nature of “factory-style” school life to be the most problematic part of the job. Yet, I love the excitement, activity, and shared creativity of the charrette–times when all students work to learn, synthesize and construct understanding. I’m rambling as I seek a pattern that works–a pattern that provides the needed solitude and think time, nature, health, and doing all I can to teach children well. Your post has opened up more thought in this area. Thanks as always for your deep thinking, writing, and perspective.

  2. Maureen, thank you so much for continuing the conversation. Like you, I enjoyed solitude as a child, and I still find that I need a mix of solitude and company as an adult. How can we provide for the needs of all the learners in our care, those who crave solitude AND those who need constant interaction? How can we provide for those who need to linger and ponder AND for those who need and seek new challenges? There’s something about your metaphor of simmering that I need to explore more fully, I think.

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