Time theft

My brother recently introduced me to the idea of time theft. Workers steal time from their employers. They surf the internet, check their phones, read the newspaper or write op-ed pieces for chemistry teaching magazines. On some level, we are all guilty of this kind of thing, but one hopes that the time spent chatting about the latest sporting event or UFO sighting will be made up by marking that set of tests at home.

We steal time from our colleagues: not making the next pot of coffee, leaving the photocopier without paper, hitting “reply all”, and discussing items of borderline relevance at a faculty meeting, are some people’s favourites.

Our students steal time from their peers by arriving late to class, talking out of turn, not opening their books, being unprepared for labs, etc. Students steal our time with nuisance email. My favourite is “I will be away tomorrow.” What am I supposed to do? Beg him to reconsider? Formulate a miracle cure? Pay ransom? It’s easy: you’ll be away, check our website. End of story.

We steal time from our students, too. We have poor — or no — routines for the efficient distribution of handouts; we return several items of student work in sequence, instead of bundling all of a student’s work; we make students traipse across the lab to gather equipment or to weigh something that we could have weighed for them. We waste time calling the class to order, when a simple “ding” of a bell will do.

In Ontario, 110 hours per course is all we’ve got — and that’s if you teach at Paradise High School, located in the picturesque town of Xanadu, where everyone’s personal hygiene is above reproach, and the internet is never down. These mythical 110 hours of classroom instruction are like government fuel economy stats: nice to look at, but about as unrealistic as Bigfoot chasing the Sasquatch through the Land of Oz.

The list of educational time stealers reads like a litany of the saints, except that they’re not saints: long-running-assemblies, snow days, fire drills, field trips, sporting events, pep rallies, guest speakers, faculty meetings, professional development activities, parent-teacher interviews, PA announcements of questionable value. The list goes on…

Consequently, every minute — every second — of class time is precious. We need to make this clear to our students and to conduct our classes in a manner that respects everyone’s time. I write an agenda on the board; lessons are fast-paced with plenty of change. Anything a student can do at home will be assigned for home. When students are in class they will capitalize on teacher face-time, not seatwork. Call me Scrooge — I don’t do Christmas parties or bake cupcakes for Valentine’s Day.

We have too much to do.