On the Proper Use of Time


At times, the school year seems to extend endlessly, a pile of days that stretches beyond our sight, under which we all seem to be crushed slowly. If there’s a class that’s an inordinate challenge, the weight of that pile seems to double, and somehow, no matter how well things are going in the year, a few more days seem to be tossed carelessly on the pile as third quarter approaches. “What?! I’m this exhausted, and we’re just now in the back half?!”

Decorating his pinewood derby car

Other times, the year seems entirely too short, something requiring calipers to measure. The list of standards the state requires teachers to cover seems to require twice the days the state allocates for the challenge. Some standards seem as if they might take a lifetime to master in and of themselves. “Assess the processes to revise strategies, address misconceptions, anticipate and overcome obstacles, and reflect on completeness of the inquiry.” I’m still working on that one. “Determine appropriate disciplinary tools and develop a plan to communicate findings and/or take informed action.” Ditto.

An unusually-attentive Clover

In between those two, the powers that be, in their infinite wisdom, allocate a certain number of days to testing. In the decade-plus I’ve taught in the States, that number seems to grow every year. In the case of the hard-to-handle classes, it’s a relief in a sense — for the obvious reasons. It’s tiring keeping them focused and engaged every day, and a test is just the right mind-numbing exercise to make the period pass by fairly painlessly. They get little to nothing out of it, and they put little to nothing into it, and everyone knows that’s what’s going to happen, but we do the dance anyway, and everyone goes home with their dance card happily filled. And yet for those same classes, it’s a nightmare, for teachers already feel we’re trying to cram too much into to little.

It just doesn’t seem like the proper use of time.


Wednesday afternoons are often when I catch up with school work. The Girl has choir practice, until five and K and the Boy are out doing the grocery shopping as they wait, and so when I arrive home, the house is empty and silent. I make a cup of coffee, get out some papers to grade, or more likely, load this or that website that now holds my students’ work and begin assessing, or I start sketching out my plans for the next week’s activities.

Frustration at the difficulty of cleaning up after an experiment

Today, however, I had a thought: I don’t have anything to do for school that is terribly pressing; my school is quite near the Aldi where K and E are shopping; I could easily pick up the Boy and take him home for a bit of playing. I called K; she asked the Boy; he was thrilled. Home we went, talking all the way about what we might play.

Said clean-up

We settled on cars, with a bit of blocks. And in the midst of it all, out of seemingly nowhere, we ended up building jails for the misbehaving cars. E designed one, which meant he placed the blocks, and I hunted them down for him if he couldn’t find them. Then we tested it, which meant he rammed a big car into the jail to see if it stood. It didn’t; the bad car escaped. So we did it again, alternating who designed the jail. No jail held the prisoner for longer than a few moments when the Boy really set his mind and muscles to the task.

The final jail

We made a big mess. The Boy got semi-hurt as he crashed his car into the pile a bit too hard. I accomplished absolutely nothing for school.

It was a proper use of time.