Missing the Bells of High School
Education Specialties Department
Once upon a midnight
dreary, while I pondered, weak and…whatever.
It's actually closer to 2
a.m., and I’m staring at a pile of not one, not two, not
three, but FOUR assignments I simultaneously collected
from my classes, roughly 200 pages of text. As snoring
echoes from the next room (my husband, the dog, or
both), I sigh, arm myself with my favorite green pen,
and begin to read again.
Why would I do this to
myself? Am I a masochist? An insomniac looking for ways
to pass seemingly endless hours of darkness? No. I am
first year faculty at a small liberal arts university.
It is my second week, and I have just learned, the hard
way, the very important lesson of aligning
your syllabi when you are teaching three different
I come to university life not
via a post-doctoral job search, but via a successful
career in public education. My titles throughout my
career included teacher, Literacy Specialist,
Professional Development Coach, and Bridge/HSA Coordinator.
I successfully balanced a full-time job, graduate
school, and numerous part-time consulting projects and
program directorships. I understand busy. I can
So why do I find myself so
overwhelmed when I’m only teaching three days a week?
Why has my previous experience not prepared me for this?
What’s missing in translation?
The problem, as my colleague
Bob advised me, is structure. In the K-12 world I came
from, structure is paramount. It’s an example of
classical conditioning at its finest. The bell rings,
the students come in. The bell rings, the students go
out. A bell rings to tell you when to plan your lessons
and when to grade your papers. Bells tell you when to
eat and when to use the restroom. Bells, bells,
Now, in this unstructured,
bell-less world, I sometimes forget to eat lunch. I lose
half a day planning a lesson, searching for just the
right pedagogical approach and supplementary materials.
I spend twenty minutes perfecting a single word choice
in my writing. I look down at my computer and wonder how
it got to be 6 p.m. so quickly. I end up grading essays
at 2 a.m. because, somehow, all of the other daylight
hours have slipped away.
I needed a new lesson in time
management: a lesson that would address not how to
manage being busy, but how to manage having flexible
use of my time. Luckily, there’s an app for that. I
downloaded a to-do list widget to my Android. I synched
all of my calendars so that notifications appear on
every technological device I use. I printed a Covey time
management matrix, and hung it next to my desk so I can
remember to focus on my Quadrant I and Quadrant II
tasks. I make lists, and piles, and chunk tasks. Most
importantly, I printed a day planner that looks
remarkably like a lesson planning book.
My K-12 turned college
educator colleagues assure me that one day this will all
become second nature and the scaffolds I have given
myself will all fall away. That busy will always be a
key word in my vocabulary, but that the feeling like
I’ve been catapulted backward to my first day of
teaching, that overwhelming survival phase, will wane.
That I will, in fact, embrace this freedom and
flexibility. But, until then, I’m also arming myself
with an alarm clock, set to go off every 50 minutes,
just in case I still need to hear the bells.
Back to Academic Life Page