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Writing Across the Curriculum


Holloway Hall

Missing the Bells of High School
Stefani Pautz
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 classes.

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 manage busy.

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, 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.


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