On Time

Dearest Protege:
Time has been on my mind lately. With IB orals going on for the next two weeks, my school life is structured around 20 minutes increments, measured by a stopwatch. I’ve also been thinking about time in a larger sense–thanks to T.S. Eliot–and worrying that I’m wasting time like Prufrock, that time is ticking away and if I’m not careful, I’ll run out of time. Time is a precious commodity, but it’s only a human construct. Should we ever measure our successes by how long it took us to achieve them, or how “on time” we were? Which brings me to the point of this post. Our Board has just put out a new Assessment and Evaluation document which outlines policies for September and aligns with the Ministry’s Growing Success document. One of the new policies which is sure to have some people gnashing their teeth is the policy surrounding late assignments. No marks can be deducted for late assignments as of September. I can hear the outcry: “But how can they get full marks if they don’t hand it in on time?!” There’s that pesky human construct again. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t deducted late marks for assignments for years–it was my dirty little secret. But I could never justify punishing a student for lack of punctuality by taking credit away from their work. We often forget that teenagers are stretched so thin in their own lives–how does a hard and fast deadline for a) someone who works almost full-time to support a family because Mom’s a single parent or b) someone who just found out that a younger sibling has cancer or c) someone who’s just really bad at organizing 8 classes, extra-curriculars, a part-time job, and a social life make them less intellectually successful than someone who has no family issues, no other commitments, and no “baggage”. Well, the answer is, it doesn’t. Academic achievement needs to be separate from behaviours. Students KNOW that punctuality is important. Most of them feel terrible when they miss a deadline. They come to you with those big, desperate eyes and say, “Can I still hand it in?” I always accepted work without penalty once I stopped believing that my job wasn’t to punish people for things that had nothing to do with their ability to be academically successful. Don’t get me wrong–meeting deadlines is important, especially in the workplace, in the “real world”. But let’s be honest–school isn’t the real world, gods forbid. And our students know the difference. “In loco parentis”–there’s the key. What would a kind and judicious parent do? If my son doesn’t get his clothes ready for the laundry by the time I ask him to, do I take away his pants? Of course not. But we do have a conversation about the importance of pants, and the necessity of getting them into the laundry on time. And eventually, he’ll learn to get his laundry ready on time, or he’ll get out into the real world, and if he hasn’t taken to heart these lessons, he will have no pants. Family laundry day aside, it’s the same thing for our students. We evaluate their work, and we assess their learning skills, and that’s our job. If any of us want to be the keepers of time, we’d better make sure we’re never late for anything–like class, haha! What are your thoughts on this as someone who hasn’t come from the timeworn tradition of penalties for late work?

On Ingratitude, and Why It Doesn’t Matter

Dearest Protege:
Today I had the great misfortune of seeing a Twitter post from the parent of one of my students that read (and forgive the errors–I’m quoting verbatim): “teachers strike. simple. lock the gates and keep them out. next meeting in one year. overpaid underworked no accountablility #teachersstrike”. I wasn’t sure where my feelings lay. I was simultaneously disgusted, dismayed, and disappointed. You see, not only had I taught one of this parent’s children, I also coached another last year. The same parent “volunteered” on occasion with the team by coming to practices, helping to run drills, and attending games when he wasn’t out of town (he missed a couple because he was in Fiji on business–I remember feeling envious that I could never afford to go to Fiji myself). I spent a considerable amount of time with him, and had a couple of friendly conversations with him. To read this now made me feel incredibly sad. Aside from the time I spent in the classroom helping one of his children succeed in my subject area, I spent countless hours away from my OWN child in order that HIS other child could have a team to play on. I stood on a pitch for hours in blizzards, freezing rain, regular rain, and beating sunshine cheering on my players, and making sure that they had the best experience possible, despite my own health issues. I could spend a lot of time addressing what he said in his post (in fact, I did, but then I deleted all of it) but ultimately none of it matters. His ingratitude is irrelevant to me, and what and who I am. I don’t teach my students and coach my players because I’m looking for some kind of affirming and resounding Thank You from anyone. I am who I am. I do what I do because I am who I am. Other people are entitled to their own opinions. And that’s OK–we’re all entitled to our own version of the truth. But at the end of the day, I know which truths count for me, and that’s all that matters (even if it means NOT doing something I enjoy because there are higher stakes, and larger truths, involved). So Dearest Protege, as you continue on in your own career, which will be long and successful (I have no doubt of that) remember this one thing: Don’t look outside yourself for validation or confirmation. Do what you love, love what you do, and hold fast to your values and principles. That’s the only real road to happiness.