The most important lesson I teach my students is time management, and I’m afraid I don’t teach it very well. Most classrooms in most schools are very structured and organized palaces of instruction full of meaningful and complex coursework assigned and submitted on a regular and reliable schedule. Vocabulary words on Mondays, definitions due Wednesday, spelling quiz on Friday. New chapter on Monday, lab time on Wednesday, chapter test on Friday. It’s a schedule ballet that teachers and students have danced for years. If students can keep pace with the teacher and tender their completed work on time they pass.
But what happens when the structure is loosened up? Have you ever transplanted a plant from a smaller to a larger pot, or into the ground? When my father taught me to transplant I was shocked by what he did to the roots. My dad would pull the plant out of its happy and comfortable home and then “massage” the base breaking up most of the dirt and loosening up the roots. As my dad put the plant into its new home he explained that by properly preparing both the roots and the soil the plant had a better chance.
The plant did not look happy in transition, in fact it looked more like it might die. The exposed roots were tangled and twisted. Dad explained that was because they were “root bound,” the old pot was now too small for the growing plant; If the plant was left in the smaller pot, it would die. We needed to provide a larger space, with looser dirt in order for the roots and the plant as a whole to continue to grow. And he was always right. Whatever plants we transplanted always came back bigger and healthier. Miracle Gro helped too.
What does transplanting plants have to do with teaching and time management? I wrote earlier about how I handle late work. I always take late work, and I rarely assign makeup work. When the students ask what they can do to improve their grade, I tell them to do the work that I have assigned, and if they didn’t like the grade they earned, then to go back to the assignment, redo or finish it, and then resubmit for a re-evaluation. Returning to unfinished work forces the students to reflect on their efforts, make needed improvements, and complete the assignment.
Offering students the opportunity to return to their work does not fit the schedule ballet experienced in most classrooms or into most teacher’s idea of proper time management. But students who are doubling up on assigned work must manage their time appropriately to complete all of the requirements by their scheduled due dates. This forces students to do two very important things: spread out their roots, and find fresh dirt to grow in. The transition may be ugly and uncomfortable, but the end result will be a student who is learning and growing into a better and healthier human being.