Power Over Time, Part 1


Recently I have been reading slices about time. Teachers are obsessive, thinking about time all the time. We have a set amount and so much we want to do within our constraints. Indeed, rigorous standards require us to do so much. Yet we want to work in an air of calm, not cultivate frantic rush. We have so much power over how we use time in our classrooms, yet we do not have enough.

Yesterday I had one of those class periods where I was not the teacher I imagine myself to be. I was a disapproving scold. I observed my third grade science students make every transition an ordeal, brush off directions, chat and squabble- not so focused on their investigation of magnetic force. Yet, because I am a science teacher only now, I had already taught this lesson to four other classes, who made much better use of their time. With the other classes, they had used minimally directed time to make original discoveries, then we sorted their jotted notes and extracted the properties of magnets from them that they were supposed to end up learning. We ended with good discussions of use of magnets in our homes, of Maglev trains, of compasses, the Earth as a magnet, and even shifts in the magnetic North on Earth. This last class was not getting there.

And I only had a little time left. The next lesson would be moving on to something else. So I reverted to teaching AT them. Copy this, I said. Everyone, try this, I said. Not the inquiry experience I hoped for. And zero time for discussion at the end.

Sometimes, as they are supposed to be at the lunch tables, or filing out the school door with their backpacks on, but they are in front of me with many hands in the air, I explain, “I am so disappointed to not have time to hear all your discoveries and ideas. Can you remember how long it took for us to get settled at the beginning? I wish we had those minutes now.” What would you say?

I like to tell my students the story about Albert Einstein. That when he was a child, for a birthday, he was given a compass. That gazing into its face, turning until the needle found North, he became amazed. Amazed to realize that there are forces that exist that are totally invisible to us. I try to pause and let that sink in-

  • But will it have a chance to sink in, if I have been rushing and scolding?

5 thoughts on “Power Over Time, Part 1

  1. There are so many ways to think about time – I have also read a variety of posts about time. Time is at such a premium in the classroom and so frustrating when it is wasted. I feel your disappointment at what the kids have missed out on, and the self-questioning regarding your handling of it. Teaching is a never-ending balancing act. But revel in the kids/other classes that did get the full experience and hope that you, at the very least, left them all with something to think about. (I loved your Einstein “teaser” at the end of class.)

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  2. Your sentence: I had already taught this lesson to four other classes, who made much better use of their time – had me thinking about the gift of having the time to teach the same lesson again and again. And naturally as teachers we compare and reflect and want all classes to go well. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

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  3. I appreciate the honesty in your writing. I’d bet all of us have had the experience of being frustrated while a class is restless and unfocused; I certainly have! Much of teaching is done impromptu, as we adjust the lesson plans and activities according to the way kids are responding that day. I believe that while we teachers might stress over a lesson, the kids are not concerned. They get an overall picture of learning, and in that picture, I’m sure that you do a great job!

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  4. We are a time obsessed people indeed! I especially relate to these lines: “I was a disapproving scold. I observed my third grade science students make every transition an ordeal, brush off directions, chat and squabble- not so focused on their investigation of magnetic force.” I’ve been there… every day. And yet, this Slice makes me want to be your student! Discovery, discussion, a teacher who truly cares about those precious processes. You are awesome!

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