Deadlines shouldn’t be a mystery to your students . . .
As I gear up for the upcoming year, the question of how to handle deadlines always seems to come up. Last year regular readers may recall my admonition at the end of the year was “finish strong!”
As we start the new year I’m advocating that all teachers take some time to consider how they will address giving deadlines and what will happen when they are not met. It’s a conundrum for many teachers. We want our students to learn time management, how to set goals and meet them, and also to recognize that not everyone gives extensions or redos.
So before teachers put down their favorite summer libation and pick up their chalk again, there are some things each of us needs to tackle ahead of that wonderful day when we see our new students’ eager faces entering our classroom after a well-deserved vacation.
I am talking about deadlines vs. breadlines.
A family member was a longtime newspaperman, and used to face one deadline every day. He loved his job, but agonized daily over what stories and photos were “fit to print.”
At 11 a.m. the pressman was ready to print that day’s edition. Although he was a voracious reader, at that moment the printer didn’t care what photos or stories were in that day’s newspaper edition. He just cared that it was finished and ready for him to start printing on time! Delivery vans would line up at the loading dock. Any minutes lost meant possible lost sales and likely higher expenses. Time was money.
School isn’t quite like that, but there are certain similarities.
Final grades have to be published. And that means the principal has given his or her teachers a deadline to get everything graded.
Students’ work that contributes to those final grades has to be reviewed and graded.
Projects were probably due yesterday, or some while back at least. Teachers need time to check them out.
Tests must to taken, and sometimes retaken, and then graded.
It cannot all happen on the last day of school — otherwise we would all explode into a grease spot on the floor.
Working ahead is the only strategy.
So how best to stress the significance of the concept of deadlines to your students? My best advice is: frequently, and with a serious admonition about the consequences of missing deadlines.
During the school year, students should have already learned much about deadlines.
For seniors looking ahead to the next phase of their lives, they will have learned that college admission departments have deadlines. And they don’t accept excuses.
Obtaining recommendations, assembling transcripts, writing essays, and filling in applications don’t happen on its own.
Imagine that a student and his or her best buddy have planned to go away to college together, share a dorm room, and enjoy the social side of the educational experience (while studying hard, of course). If one student misses the application deadline, that fun experience isn’t going to happen. One will stay home in their parents’ basement while the other begins new adventures in new-found freedom.
In related news, and equally important, financial-aid application processes have deadlines, too. Paying for college is today’s reality. This or other columns can address the rights and wrongs of “the system,” but right now scholarships and paid work experience opportunities rank highly on the wish-lists for students who don’t happen to have a trust fund to pay their way. But they have deadlines for applying, too.
The best suggestion I have is for both teachers and students to copy Agatha Christie and work backward. The British mystery writer penned 80 who-dun-its. Her writing technique was to dream up a clever ending and put together a story structure that worked all the way back to “once upon a time” on Page 1.
So if you like that approach, it means when you plan your lessons, look at a calendar and work all the way back from the finale.
Take a project, for example. What should be the first goal, the second, and so on?
In another teaching environment earlier in my career, I supervised the required senior projects for more students than I care to imagine. They were a district as well as a state graduation requirement, and once completed were often considered one of the most rewarding activities of my students’ high school experiences.
But they were work, and in some cases more work than many of my students had ever attempted. At the beginning it appeared daunting. It had so many moving parts: Select a project, work on it, recruit an adult community member as a mentor, complete the project, write a paper about the experience, and present a verbal presentation about it.
It all seemed overwhelming to all but my most organized seniors. Those who were successful started early and worked on it a piece at a time. It helped that students were able to choose their own topic, everything from rebuilding a pickup truck to organizing a wrestling tournament.
The real presentations were set for May in front of invited community members (the practice presentations took place in April). That meant the papers were due in March. The requirements demanded multiple contact times with the mentor, so that meant recruiting him or her well before Christmas. That meant choosing a topic at the beginning of the school year.
The trend should become apparent. Just like Dame Agatha, it’s best to work backwards from the neatly tied up finale. Then you can use the calendar to set interim deadlines, meet them and reduce everyone’s stress.
The old saying is that a journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step.
My track record is always to be positive, but on this issue I prefer to take a different viewpoint. It’s my belief that the school year begins around Labor Day, and if you return from Thanksgiving break without at least some goals met, you are behind and need to “get with the program.”
And setting — and meeting — deadlines can help that.
#DebWebb100, #WATeachLead, #ReadyWA