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?