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 daughter doesn’t get her clothes ready for the laundry by the time I ask her to, do I take away her 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, she’ll learn to get her laundry ready on time, or she’ll get out into the real world, and if she hasn’t taken to heart these lessons, she 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?

2 thoughts on “On Time

  1. A Grateful Student says:

    Hi. I was a Grade 12 IB student of yours a couple of years ago. It was really nice to read this blog. As students, I think we are so immersed in the trials and tribulations of our own lives that we don’t think about how concerted our teachers’ efforts are to educate us. I always thought that the practice of teaching was just teachers being their natural selves, progressing through a syllabus, at the front of a room. Now I know that that’s hardly the case.
    I just wanted to let you know how positively you impacted my education and personal growth. In high school, one of the only things that I actually liked was English. I was a full IB student, so I had to take a lot of everything, and most of it frustrated me because I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t want to go to school most days. And my home life wasn’t great. And I thought that everyone could tell that something was wrong with me, like it was printed across my forehead.
    But I never skipped Double-English days because you made me like what we were reading. Even the texts that I initially didn’t find interesting. Like Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea. That prose is beautiful stuff, and I didn’t see that before. English felt like the only class where my mind was growing – where I was starting to see the world in a different way, and consider human behaviour differently.
    I’m in a great place now. I find it hard to believe – impossible to believe – how miserable I was three years ago in comparison to how happy I am now. I wouldn’t believe it if it were not for the bevy of journal entries I left in my wake. Part of that change is leaving home, going to university, and experiencing new things. But a part of it also is something that I learned from you. Everybody has problems, but you are how you act; if you want to be happy, and strong and likeable, you just have to behave like you already are all of those things. Eventually, you are so steeped in confidence that it’s no longer an affectation.
    Lots of students think of high school like purgatory. T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” is something we learn in class, but it’s also something we feel very deeply. In hindsight now, I know that I left CHCI feeling really grateful that I received such a robust education. And I left with a good sense of who I wanted to become. You were a huge part of that experience. I’m glad you’re still teaching.


    • Thank you so much for your lovely comments. It isn’t often that teachers hear first-hand about the positive impact they might have had on their students, and when we do hear it, it means the world. I’m also glad that your life is going well. HIgh school can be a tremendous challenge–we can either be defeated by it, or use it to become the people we know we can be. If Eliot’s “The Wasteland” is high school, then life after high school is his “Marina” (which I think you’re familiar with):
      “…let me
      Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken,
      The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships.”

      This blog was about Time–make the most of yours, always, stay confident and happy, and keep in touch:-)


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