Considering Time

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During a recent class, I volunteered to convert a Works Cited page from circa 2010 to MLA 8. To me it was clearly something I should do as assistant teacher, freeing up the lead teacher to do more “teacherly” things. My idea was that I’d complete this task while the students were on their break.

The Task

Five citations (two websites, a book, and a magazine). 10 minutes.

Citation generator or the Purdue OWL guides by hand? With so little time, I went with Purdue rather than trusting the first citation-maker I tried to work.

Probably a bad choice.

One tiny screen. Three windows to juggle, plus tabs. I swear I spent more time trying to find the right window with the right information than actually updating the citations. At no point was I able to fully concentrate. It was unpleasant.

I got it done in about 15 rushed minutes. And by “done,” I mean that I improved them all but made many small errors in the process.

On Screwing Up

We went over it in class, the students pointed out my errors and the teacher updated the document further.

It was fine. The students got value out of correcting my work and we ended up with a correct document to reference.

But.

  • It was embarrassing. I’m one of the instructors and I got their exercise wrong.
  • I tell my students all the time that their mistakes are valuable and encourage them to move past being embarrassed.
  • This would have all been avoided if I hadn’t been rushing.
  • When I’m lead teaching, I rush my students through in-class assignments all the time. Often on clunky school computers, often on software they’re not familiar with, always in a distracting classroom, always in their L2.

So I now have some more empathy for my students when they dislike screwing up in class.

And I have more empathy for my students when they’re trying to produce zero-error work in an impossible amount of time.

Time

A New York Times cooking article referred to heat as The Invisible Ingredient in Every Kitchen.

I’m now wondering if time is the invisible element in every lesson plan.

The parallels are there: each is something we inherently rely on, that we don’t necessarily plan around and sometimes fudge, and in a way only notice when it’s not available.

Rushing is just not conducive to the detail work required in accuracy practice. Rushing creates stress, and stress is a great way to activate your affective filter / lizard brain.

And while I do consider time to some extent in my lesson planning, it’s been sort of an arbitrary measure on the side.

What would change if I upgraded it to a primary lens when I’m planning?

How could this be compatible with working with a syllabus?

What do you think?

 

Photo Credit: Jean L on Flickr

You’re reading Considering Time, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

 

 

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I Need More Hours

I’m feeling overwhelmed by everything I want to do in the near future:

  • write an amazing two-week curriculum unit on Personal Finance
  • mentor my volunteers more closely
  • clean my office till it’s sparkly
  • devise a better system for collecting and submitting volunteer stats
  • have a balanced and from-scratch meal plan that I follow
  • completely deep-clean my apartment
  • get my TEFL from Hamline
  • start another 5 Week Course
  • have friends over for dinner
  • run/walk everyday
  • actually follow a laundry schedule
  • read and write more
  • continue to spend quality time with my long-distance family and boyfriend
  • start a pre-literate class at my learning center
  • reach out to the other people in my life more
  • start a peer-mentoring project with another coordinator
  • learn Somali
  • conduct numerous site visits to sites like mine and other sites that work with my students
  • roll my newsletter into a new, more professional format

I didn’t think about that list for very long.  That’s what it looks like off the top of my head.

Conventional wisdom says “just pick something and start.”  I have.  And it’s something.  I’m trying a new chili recipe as we speak, and I’ve been working on several other of the above personal and professional goals, as well as others that aren’t really blog material.

The problem isn’t starting (for once); it’s wanting it to all be in line Now.

So I’m going to go see how the chili turned out, and put on my running shoes, throw my laundry in this evening, and ponder curriculum as the machines are going, and remember that I’ll get there inch by inch.

My Latest Lists

At work, I’ll periodically get this sinking feeling that I’m forgetting to do something.

Juggling Now, Soon, and In Two Months is hard for me – they don’t feel like they should be on the same list. Also, a list with 25 things on it, some huge and some small, can be kind of scary.

Pen and Paper by LucasTheExperience on Flickr
Pen and Paper by LucasTheExperience on Flickr

I’ve tried Checkvist and liked it, and I’ve tried Google Calendar Tasks, but the main problem with both is two-fold:  it doesn’t feel concrete to me when it’s electronic, and I can avoid the list by just not opening the list’s webpage.  Lifehacker has an interesting poll on the five best To-Do List Managers, and for them as for me, pen and paper won.

My latest strategy:

  1. Write down every task or project I can think of. I work on this for a day or so to ensure it’s as complete as possible.
  2. Estimate time per task. In the left margin, I write in the estimated minutes it will take.  This step eliminates a lot of “this list is scary!” for me.  “60 minutes of stats” is easier for me to tackle than “annoyingly time-consuming volunteer stats.”
  3. Rewrite the list in two columns: Longer Term and Shorter Term.  I fill in some details like due dates and collaborators in Longer Term.  I just make a plain bulleted list of the shorter-term projects (which are usually 60 minutes or less).  The process of rewriting it helps me internalize it.
  4. Circle my first four tasks. This way I can evaluate what my next priority is in a quick and ongoing way.
  5. Check them off when they’re done. It feels gooood.  🙂
  6. Keep my list in plain sight. The list lives just to the left of my computer.  It does not get put away, it does not travel, it does not get buried.  And it gets more and more crossed off until it’s done.

It’s not perfect.  I think they keys that make it work for me are that I sit down and really think about it in terms of minutes and that it’s always on my desk and in my face.

What makes a To-Do system work for you?

Is it cheating to make things easier?

Juggle Strobe by Sam UL on Flickr
Juggle Strobe by Sam UL on Flickr

Wednesdays are new student registration day at my learning center.  I’d never get anything done if I took new students whenever they walked in or called, so I have everyone come to fill out their application and take their placement test on one evening out of the week.

Yesterday I had 8 students signed up for registration, and I usually get additional people who haven’t contacted me.  That would have been pretty chaotic, even for me.  So I did the unthinkable.  I asked for help.

It was great.  My volunteer told people about the schedule and helped with the application.  Then I could focus on finding the right test for each student and monitoring their progress. We ended up only having five new students (it was about 3 degrees outside, so I wasn’t surprised) but it was still a much calmer, more controlled process than other nights with five or so intakes.

So I want to know why it took me so long to ask for help, and why it still feels a little like cheating to change the system so that I’m not needing to juggle five (or eight) people at once.

Stress and Direct Service

Yesterday was kind of hectic.

I was out two evenings this week at a training I really needed, and even though my substitute coordinators were amazing (perhaps even magical?), I was having some trouble feeling like I 100% knew what was going on at my center.  Being out also meant that I wasn’t doing my normal job for two evenings, so I had a backlog of “stuff” to take care of.

So I was getting a little stressed about falling behind.  I was getting worried about needing more subs this coming week and the next.  Our curriculum work has just started and I’m not sure how that’s going to fit in to the rest of my typical week.  And I really need to be doing some student outreach, which involves being out of the office and out in the community.  It just feels like I’m running out of hours when so much needs to be happening.

The thing about direct service is that each evening people come pouring into my learning center, reminding me why I bother to worry about what I’m worried about.  Unpaid teachers arrive early to plan the lessons they’ll be delivering on their own personal time.  My students come in, some after 12-hour work days, and work hard to learn more and more English.  And I see again and again that yes, everything I do is worth it.

It’s surprisingly calming to know that.

Tributary (photo by me)
Tributary (photo by me)

Management Suggestions: Communicating

One of my organization’s biggest strengths and biggest challenges is that we have a main office and several satellite sites.  This week I got a chance to talk to some satellite coworkers I rarely see, and it was fantastic to get to reconnect.  I spoke with one coworker in particular, largely about communicating with supervisors.

What I Realized:

  • When people work really really hard, they need to know that the people above them do also.
  • The wheels that aren’t squeaking still need you.
  • It’s easy to assume the worst in lieu of facts.
  • Face time, with people and at places, makes people feel better.

Management Suggestions:

  • Face time.  Make time for it.
  • Make sure that at least some of your hard work is visible.
    • If you’re at work at 10pm, make sure to send some emails then.  Time stamps are subtle and say a lot.
    • Share your to-do lists, projects, and finished products.
    • Take a moment (not an hour) at check-in meetings to report on what you’ve been up to too.
    • Make at least some piddling tasks a priority.  Fix that water cooler, address the lighting in that parking lot, help with that crazy landlord.
  • The line between trusting an employee and ignoring an employee has a lot to do with the employee’s perception.
    • Send a quick thank-you to the people doing a great job.  Acknowledge that you’re being very hands-off, and that you’re still there when they do need anything.
    • Have regular meetings and switch up the location.
    • Publicly recognize accomplishments, and not just the momentous ones.

What are some other suggestions or lessons that come to mind?  How else can management communicate effectively?