3. Early Morning Classes
A few semesters ago, I requested the “early schedule” (8 a.m. – 4 p.m., as opposed to 10 a.m – 6 p.m.) for the first time.
I had been relegated to the early schedule fairly often in my early CEGEP teaching days, when my preferences were moot and I took what I was given. (In fact, I frequently taught Cont Ed courses from 6-10 at night, and then taught again at 8 the next morning. My office mate and I concocted all sorts of plans to set up a cot in our office so we wouldn’t have to go home at all, but never did it because apparently security guards check offices in order to stymie such plans.)
Once I graduated to full-time ranks, I vowed that, given the choice, I’d never teach another 8 a.m. class.
But in the years that followed, I noticed something about the late schedule. The late schedule is great if it’s not actually late. Teaching between 10 and 4 is nice. Students are awake, but resigned to being trapped at school for however many more hours. They tend to be at the peak of their productivity (such as it is) somewhere during those hours.
However, 4-6 p.m. classes are never good. Never. Students are exhausted. So am I. Students are desperate to get out ten minutes early so they can catch a bus that will get them home an hour earlier than the next one will. Students have been drinking a variety of caffeinated drinks since early morning, and have probably ingested at least one mild but illegal mind-altering substance in the parking lot. 4-6 p.m. is a particularly nightmarish time for remedial classes, where a lot of students tend to know little and care less about their own learning patterns and biological rhythms, and so are not likely to have, say, gone for a quick walk around the block or drunk lots of water or even completed the necessary homework before coming to class.
So, as an experiment, the semester after I returned from my last sabbatical, I decided to request the early schedule. How bad could it be? I thought. I’d often hauled myself out of bed at 5:30 a.m. when I was a private language teacher; if need be, I could nap. I would have time in the afternoons to get marking and planning done, and even to get home and make dinner instead of living on takeout and whatever I could scrounge from the back of the freezer. And colleagues often told me that they loved getting all their teaching done by noon.
It was not only not bad. It was fantastic.
All of the above turned out to be true. I was completely unable to have a social nightlife, even on the weekends, because I was falling asleep by 9 p.m., but frankly, I’m not much of a partier. I was able to sit in my office at work until everything was ready for the next day, and STILL be on my bike and on my way home before rush hour traffic began. And prepping and marking after class was far less stressful and more effective than scrambling to get things done before going in to teach in the afternoon.
What I hadn’t counted on, though, was the remarkable difference in the students.
You’d think that an 8 a.m. class would make for a lot of late arrivals, but I really didn’t notice more than at any other time. (This term, I had a student in my 8 a.m. whom I’d previously taught in a class that began at noon, and he supported a theory that I have held for a long time: people who are late are late. This student was a “late” person, and the time he was expected to show up made no difference to his lateness. The only way to make “late” people show up on time is to lie to them about schedules, and you can’t really do that in a classroom context. Punctual people will show up on time for class at 8 or at 4 or at 1 in the morning, because that is what punctual people do.)
What I did notice was that students come in at 8 a.m. wanting to do something. Occasionally a head will go down on a desk, but, more often than not, in the early morning, students are grateful to be given a task, any task. A lot of lecturing goes over less well, but I don’t lecture much anyway. Group work, pair work, and class discussion are all pretty effective at 8 a.m., because they’ve just had their first cup of coffee and they need to keep that blood moving.
Also, students are less likely to spend a lot of time texting their friends, because their friends aren’t awake yet. What’s more, they’re not ready to be disruptive, because if they’re the disruptive type, they probably a) didn’t sign up for an 8 a.m. class or b) were up late last night causing trouble, and so slept through the alarm, or c) are groggy.
Finally, teaching at 8 a.m. gives me a chance to give them a good start to their day. Now, if I’m giving or returning a test, I can’t count on them being happy about it, but otherwise, I can try to find ways to make them laugh, make them think, or make them talk about things they care about.
I was especially grateful for my early schedule this semester, because last term I didn’t get one even though I requested it. I have my fingers crossed for the fall. I will happily get up at 5:30 every morning for the rest of my teaching life if it makes my job as enjoyable as it has been this term.
Previously on the list:
Wonderful thing #2: Incorrect First Impressions
Wonderful thing #1: My IB Students
Image by Oleksiy Petrenko