Confessions of an Educator

You Can’t Build a Time Machine

E789BFF3-8129-43A8-AC6D-847B86BCE33BI didn’t write my column last week. The days leading up to last Tuesday came and went, and I knew I needed to sit down and write up something, but I just couldn’t think of anything worth writing. At least that was the excuse I used. My wife kept reminding me that I needed to sit down and get it done. I just didn’t. I love writing these posts, but I just didn’t have it in me last week to actually do it. So, I didn’t do it..

I’m going to run with the excuse that because my dog had just gotten fixed, and was running around like a bull in a china shop, with this huge cone around his head. I’m going to say that it was so hot outside, that I just couldn’t pull myself away from the great outdoors. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of the sun, so that would be too obvious of a lie. I could say that I was busy gardening, or playing music, or writing the next great American novel. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, but life just got in the way. For so many students, life also gets in the way.

It can be hard to remember that the student sleeping on their desk might have worked the night prior, or had to take care of siblings, or had to do x, y, and z, and all were so much more important than school work. It wasn’t that they couldn’t do the work, it was that they were not able to actually do the work.

In my early years as a teacher, I had no problem telling a student that late work was unacceptable. It ended up in the recycling bin, or crumpled in the bottom of a backpack. I told them time and time again that they could always build a time machine. Where was my empathy? Where were the memories of similar moments? In no way was my response to their needs a positive one. I had my expectations, but they were unrealistic for both student and teacher.

In high school and beyond I was awesome at last minute work. I’d find a quiet space, toss on some headphones – typically a Miles Davis album – and get started. It was easy. I think my head works better under pressure. I do better when I don’t think too much about it, and just keep typing. In Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird, she urges writers to just move one word at a time, not overthinking anything, but rather putting word after word as they come. This means the drafts might be dirty, but they are on paper, and can always be edited and cleaned. As long as I could leave myself enough time to go back through the piece of writing and correct my errors, I was good to go. I think that because I loved this pressure-based writing, I just developed a knack for it. But still, if I don’t do the work it doesn’t really matter how good I think I am when it comes to a last minute finish.

But here I am, another Tuesday has arrived, and I’m just now sitting down to write today’s post. Sometimes we all do last minute work. Sometimes there are real life obstacles for students, teachers, professionals, and everyone else in this world. I did not complete my post last week, and I do not have a time machine. It’s Tuesday, I am running against a deadline, and this is my last sentence.

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Follow Chris Margolin on Twitter @theEDUquestion

Christopher Margolin

Chris Margolin is a Curriculum Specialist for English Language Arts, Social Studies, World Languages, AP, IB, and College in the High Schools. He spent 12 years as a high school English teacher, working not only with students but also as a member of the district curriculum design team, developing the district’s Creative Writing course. He is a contributing blogger with The Columbian, NCTE, McGraw Hill Education, The Buck Institute of Education, Ed Tech, and The Medium. He currently resides in Vancouver, Washington, with his wife and daughter.

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