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Education Opinion

The Truth About Time

January 24, 2019 3 min read
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How much do you understand time? Not telling time, but the concept of it -- whether time is an actual thing or just a ubiquitous human construct.

Entering winter break, I always anticipate reading the books I lacked the time to read during the school year. Exiting winter break, I lament reading only a handful of them. It’s the same every year. All of that “free time,” I think. How could I have squandered it? I always manage to read a few books, but my reality - or the reality of time - never meets my imagination. And then second semester arrives.

Friends and family say, “You need to be realistic,” but that’s just code for “lower your expectations.”

We know where they’re coming from, right? We know the risks of setting unrealistic goals, the potential for disappointment. We know that motivation can actually lessen in the wake of failed objectives. And we know that there is never as much time during winter break as it seems.

Sometimes, we take the same approach with teaching, rationalizing all the reasons to “be realistic” with our goal-setting, with our expectations. Otherwise, we might burn out or leave the profession prematurely. Therefore, we pace ourselves. We slow down. A light jog to avoid making the heart work too hard.

I have yet to meet a teacher who disagrees with the benefits of a growth mindset for student achievement and wellbeing, but I wish we placed an equal importance on it for ourselves. Rather than thinking of time in terms of retirement - or the end of a school year, or the end of a winter break - what if we thought of time as the present? Or as a present?

One of the books I did read over break was a summary of what we know and don’t know about time - a reminder that the universe is in constant motion, that time shifts with mass and velocity, that everything is subject to gravity and time is relevant. I did not comprehend all of the book (“The Order of Time,” by Carlo Rivelli), but I understood enough to consider the concept of time a little differently, with more purpose, positivity, and curiosity.

I once obsessed over what I never accomplished as a teacher. All the things I could have and should have done. All the growth my students, schools, and legislators could have and should have made. I entered this profession with such lofty goals, and it seemed like so few of them were coming to fruition. It was a disheartening approach to what could have been and what should have been an appreciation for the opportunity to change a child’s life. The opportunity to teach.

Regardless of how you choose to view time, return to the classroom this semester with this in mind: it takes a mere moment to change a child’s life. A few seconds, really. The right words. The right silence. The right attention. Seconds.

It may not seem life-changing at the time, but time is relative, if anything. Whatever it is or isn’t, there is no mistaking the reality of now, and allowing yourself to be present is what kids need most.

My next winter break will be no different: I will collect an unrealistic stack of books to read before second semester arrives. And when I don’t finish them, I will not lament over what I did not read, but rather appreciate what I did. And when I finally retire, I hope I do not lament over what I did not change, but rather appreciate who I did.

Photo courtesy of Emil and Creative Commons.

Chris Holmes is a teacher, researcher, and writer who studies student motivation. His 18-year teaching career includes working with students on the verge of dropping out, students with learning disabilities, and students who are gifted. Chris is a proud member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year.

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