No Time Disease

Unexpectedly, I’ve noticed 3 things that my students are doing this year:

  • They are writing about math.
  • They are reading books.
  • They are using math to talk about social issues.

I mention these things not because I’m helping my students do any of them well. (Though we have been at it all year, a lot of kids still see no purpose in writing about math, for example. And I’m pretty sure that I haven’t helped their writing grow in any meaningful way.) No, instead, I bring these things up because they are symbolic of how to I’ve learned to deal with my No Time Disease.

Oh, sorry. What is No Time Disease? If you’re a teacher, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You have it. I have it. In fact, we all have it and there’s no cure, but some of us are better at coping with its symptoms than others. I know I’m learning. No Time Disease makes us sacrifice what we know to be important and worthwhile for our students because it conflicts with systemic and bureaucratic constraints. It makes us think we have no time for what really matters.

Take race, for instance. Integrating discussions about race in math class is practically forbidden. Bring up race at almost any math PD across the country and see what happens. You’ll hear crickets. And get stares. But assuming that the teacher gets the racial undertones of teaching math, which is an obstacle in itself (especially if you’re white), bringing conversations about race and math to our students often triggers thoughts such as:

  • I’m not sure how that will fit into my polynomial functions unit.
  • Our departmental goal is annotation…and that takes up so much of my energy.
  • Our school-wide goal is the lowest-third of students, so that’s my focus.
  • With all the standards that I need to cover, talking about race isn’t going to help them on the state exam.
  • I wish I could do it all. There’s just no time.

We’re great at coming up with lots of reasons that make us believe that we don’t have enough time to implement things that matter to us, helpful things that will help our students navigate the complexities of society. These excuses are symptoms of No Time Disease. They generate doubt. They force us to think that we can only do what the Common Core Standards or our school or our district says is best. They persuade us to think that we have no time for what we understand to be humane, relevant, and necessary.

I know this because my own values are changing. Looking back to just a few years ago, even if I had thought that writing, reading, and exploring social issues were valuable practices for teaching high school mathematics, my No Time Disease would have stopped me from doing anything about it. There would have been something that came up, something that would have justified my avoidance of what I knew to be important.

It’s not that we don’t have enough time for the stuff what we value, it’s that we instead make time for things that we don’t. Consciously or not, we prioritize. The decisions we make every day reveal what we believe is the best use of time. We teach in classrooms that reflect who we are and what we think matters. It may be annotation or a high passing rate on the state test or race. It may be all three. But this is why having my students write about math, read, and talk around social issues is so big for me. Those are teaching tools that actually represent me and what I’ve been passionate about for a while. I’ve never felt closer to my students than I have this year. I think this is a direct result of mindfully investing my own self into the learning process of my students, intentionally merging my passions with my instruction.

This requires a lot of tradeoffs. It means that I might get a lower teacher rating at the end of the school year because my kids did less test prep. It might also mean that my students may dislike me for part of the school year. I might catch heat from my admin. I’ll have to step out of my comfort zone. We may not even finish the curriculum. But I have to be able to accept these things and know that it’s worth it because my teaching will be more humanistic, more authentic, more wholesome.

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but a necessary one if I want to suppress the symptoms of No Time Disease.




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