My wife and I had been saving up our rewards points from airlines, hotels, and credit cards in order to celebrate a 24th wedding anniversary in Las Vegas. We finally did it this past week. As a lifelong “Rat Pack” fan I looked forward to the Landmarks, the Legends, the Lights, and the Luxuries of the Las Vegas Strip. Ironically, however, our most enjoyable venture was a helicopter tour and landing in the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
One of the most impressive feats of Las Vegas Casinos, to me at least as an educator, was their ability to engage people in the casinos without regard to time. There were no clocks. There were no windows. There were no skylights. The only bells going off were on the slot machines. There seemed to be a total engagement in the moment. Time was not a limitation. The goal was to get a person’s complete and total involvement. In that environment, it seemed to work. Time is a major component of any form of competition, with the obvious exception to games of chance. The main goal in casinos is to get one’s complete engagement for the longest time possible. Time is on the side of the Casinos.
Of course education is another area where each participant’s total engagement would greatly improve the ability to achieve the stated purpose. We educators however, do not attack our purpose with the same ferocity as Casino owners. We force students to limit their engagement based on time. Clocks and schedules are the central theme of a school day. The clock determines when engagement will begin and when it will end. The school calendar is mapped out a year in advance. Considering a student’s age as a unit of time, it has an enormous impact on where a student will be placed to learn.
In general terms in New York for example, a secondary teacher has four, ten week quarters. Each week has 5 periods of approximately 43 minutes. Depending on the school the periods could be longer or shorter, and depending on the vacations within a quarter the ten weeks could be shorter. That is the time frame around which most educators plan the year.
Back in the day, giving a lecture and using direct instruction for a 43 minute period was doable. That was the way that many students were educated for years. Anyone over 60 certainly identifies with this model. That was the time when the teacher had to deliver the entire structured curriculum in the time allotted. Each year there seemed to be more and more added to the curriculum without adding time to do it. I remember referring to that as the “Spandex curriculum”.
As teaching became more creative, and project based learning began to expand, as well as group work and collaborative learning, and simulations, little could be done with time to accommodate those activities. Some schools tried flexible scheduling, but that never seemed to have caught on as mainstream concept in education. To make things worse today, we now have to add in all of the required high stakes testing schedules. In addition to the tests themselves, many schools require test preparation time. In some cases as much as a whole month of test preparation is required in each subject. Even spandex can’t accommodate these additions.
Classroom teachers are not alone in these time accommodations, administrators have had to make adjustments for their time as well. In order to run a school there are many administrative duties required, all of which take time. The more these administrators have to address dealing with their school community, as well as their community at large, the further they are taken away from education. There is no time to be a mentor, a lead educator, or an educational leader. Many admins, not all, survive by serving the bureaucracy. Even now this is being further complicated with a call for more frequent assessments of teachers. The most dedicated administrators will be hard pressed to find the time to adequately address all of the tasks which will be required.
If we are ever to address reform in education, there are a many changes to consider. There are many readjustments to make. There are many myths to be left behind. In order to change the system, we have to consider changing the culture. Addressing time as an issue in education should definitely be a goal for reform. We should never however, just add time in order to continue to do the same stuff for longer periods of time.
Time has always been a hindrance to innovation in education. We cannot expect to fit innovative 21st Century programs for education into an old model time schedule based on the 19th Century. There is nothing more disturbing than to watch a class full of students looking at the clock, so they can get their books ready to leave at five minutes before the bell. If we approach time differently to give educators a better allotment to engage students with better models of instruction, we may be on our way to positive change.
If we recognize the fact that the administrative hierarchy based on a 19th Century model cannot work within the time constraints given to a 21st Century administrator, then let’s change that model as well. Time in education is an issue to be dealt with aggressively, not passively. We need to control time and not let it control us. Casinos have it right! Controlling time for education is a goal worth pursuing, and on that, I am willing to bet.