The best teachers are the ones who put in the most time, right? Those teachers who leave early — they are the problem-teachers, aren't they?
- Brazilian soccer players are often better than non-Brazilian soccer players because of their “childhood immersion” in a game called futsal — essentially a condensed version of soccer that uses less players, a smaller field, a heavier ball, and a quickened pace . This constrained version of soccer ultimately tends to produce better soccer players.
- Dr. Seuss' publisher famously bet the author that he couldn't write a book using only 50 words. The result was Green Eggs and Ham. Could it be that the constraints placed on Seuss' writing of the book helped make it the timeless classic it has become?
- Down the hallway from me, my colleague Doug Stark (author of the Mechanics Instruction that Sticks books) has for years made a point to leave school by 3:30pm (at the latest) each day in order to pick his children up from school. Because he teaches about 100 students in his open-enrollment AP Lang courses, Doug does take papers home periodically, but this isn’t his norm. Despite — or perhaps because of? — these limitations, Doug’s student writing gains are some of the best I’ve ever seen. This isn’t because there is some magic in leaving at 3:30pm, but rather it’s because Doug Stark is relentlessly focused on making better student writers while also placing strict limits on the time he makes available for achieving those results.
The point: Giving yourself a “blank check” for your working hours is a sure recipe to estrange your loved ones, develop a one-dimensional life, slow down your trip along the teacher's learning curve, and increase the odds that you'll leave the profession before your large time investments really start to pay off.
The truth is, counterintuitively, when we constrain the amount of time we'll give to teaching (or to tasks within teaching), we'll improve faster and persist longer, creating a drastic increase in the impact of our life's work.
In the new year, how do your working hours need to change? What limits do you need to put in place?
Note: An earlier version of this post put Doug Stark's drop-dead leave time at 3pm. It has been corrected to 3:30pm. See this post for more on Doug's process.