This is Part II of a Two Part Blog Essay
In Part I of our two part essay, we discussed the benefits of having a planner and a good schedule that is linked with that planner, and how to start immediately setting up and executing both. We continue our discussion with the final three elements that round out a plan for “Starting the Academic Year Right!”
Overtime. I often drive from class to class. Early on, to accommodate requests for various class times, I would unwittingly only give myself enough driving time under the best of conditions. However, anyone who has driven in and around Boston knows all to well that Murphy’s Law is always in full force, and my schedule very quickly goes to hell by 12:00 PM. This would be further compounded by the fact that I would want to end each class with my students and parents by recapitulating what we learned and skills that we worked on together, and what our short and long term plans were going forward, and because my schedule was so tight, having a full and appropriate discussion just exacerbated the problem. So, following the advice I received that Thanksgiving, I started putting in buffer times, which is really a code word for “reasonable amount of time,” which necessitated being more flexible with scheduling. It actually has paid off dividends once I got myself into a very good rhythm.
The lesson for a student? If you think that researching in the library for a paper will only take you an hour, then give yourself thirty minutes of buffer time in the schedule. In the first place, you will not do a rush job on the research. You’ll be cognizant that you need to wrap up what you are doing, and have the time to assess what has been done and what you still need to do going forward. You can adjust your plans in the planner (yes, this all comes full circle!). And, if you really only need another fifteen minutes to finish what you set out to work on, well, you have it!
The same goes for studying for an exam, working on a problem set in physics or chemistry (something I have learned from personal experience!), or making sure you don’t miss a meal. Just be judicious about buffer time, and don’t abuse it!
Balance. You may wonder what balance has to do with organization, appropriate scheduling practices, and so on. Honestly, it’s everything. High schools and colleges give students a proverbial smorgasbord of courses, extracurricular activities, and challenges that demand nothing less to admiration of those watching their students participating in.
When I was a high school track coach, our track captain decided that he wanted to take my AP Chemistry course, a course he nearly begged me to let him take. I still recall sitting in the cafeteria before school started, all of us eating breakfast, and going through the same arguments with him that this essay talks about. We decided together for him to take on both challenges at the same time. It took a lot of hard work, for both of us, to keep him balanced and making sure that he fulfilled his captaincy responsibilities, all of the challenging work and rigor of AP Chemistry, as well as his other academic work, familial obligations (at that time, he had a brother and sister who were toddlers, and helped his father when he worked overnights from time to time), and stay mentally healthy. We had some stumbles along the way, a late assignment, an athlete that slacked that he was responsible for, a poor quiz grade, and even a little bit of arguing between us, but he found his successes, with a lot of work and support from family, his friend, and myself. Balance, discipline, and support – that was the name of the game.
I will say this to you – I was damn proud of him to stepping up to both challenges, even if his grade in AP Chemistry wasn’t quite what he had hoped for. He learned some serious life lessons about organization, scheduling, discipline, and balance to get it all done, in no small part to the fact that I would not cut him a single nanometer of slack. He would never have been successful if we did not strive to make sure that we found the right balance of challenges for him, and reevaluated that balance along the way. And he is a better man for it.
I want all of my students to be challenged, to be pushed just a little bit outside of their comfort zones, because with the right support and mentoring, they will do some awesome things for us to revel in. However, they will never succeed if they take on too many responsibilities or challenges. For one, there are literally only 24 hours in one day. For a person to complete a challenge well, they need to a sufficient amount of time to actually do the job well. It is a finite quantity, and usually more than one would think at first pass. Even this essay, I thought I would write something that I would be proud of sharing with you in an hour or so. And looking at the clock, I definitely underestimated (time to update my calendar for next week so that I have enough time to write this without rushing!). And with balance comes support – a person will always be more successful on a challenging journey if he has supportive people along the path.
Bottom line: Do not overwhelm yourself with more than you can do. Take on as many challenges as you can handle and test yourself with, and no more. It doesn’t make you a weaker person if you didn’t do the school musical because you have a swim meet commitments, or if you take one less AP course so that you can do exceptionally well in the other classes. Challenge is important. Staying happy, healthy, performing to the best of your abilities, and not incredibly stressed is part of the key to being successful in school. And don’t be prideful or ashamed about asking for help and support along the way.
Make sure you are taking the classes you want, participating in the extracurricular activities you like, and still have time to sit with your family for dinner every once in a while without tapping you foot, anxious about what you still have to do in your planner.
Discipline. We have to come full circle. With everything we’ve discussed in this essay, none of it will truly lead a student to success without discipline. And by discipline, I do not mean sincerity or conviction. Much like a new year’s resolution that nearly always bites off much more than it can chew, if a person is neither truly devoted to achieving their goals, nor willing to take the necessary steps to get there, failure will ensure.
“Take the necessary steps.…” This is where students often get themselves in trouble. Through pressure, stress, impatience (“I have to be the best now,” or “I have to do everything perfectly in this essay just as soon as I start following what it says.”), inexperience, and rash judgment, the steps taken either become unmanageable, or skipped altogether. We demand perfection right off of the bat, and don’t allow for a stumble or two along the way.
Take this program in steps:
- Start by getting a planner that you like, and is large enough.
- Set up a preliminary schedule for yourself with broad strokes.
- Make sure that you are recording all of your homework and major assignments, following what we discussed.
- When you get a long term project assigned, on the first day, decide ideally what you would want to do each day until it is due, so that your drafts are done well in advance.
- Decide what you will study each day.
- Meet with a teacher, an advisor, your tutor, talk to me, whatever you’d like, so long as they have experience, and see if what you have done is realistic.
- Monitor for the first couple of weeks how long it takes you to do a great job on each task. Adjust your schedule and expectations each day to fit what you can reasonably do.
- At the end of each week for a month, ask yourself about balance. Speak with someone you trust to give you an honest opinion for you (in other words, not necessarily imposing what they want on you).
- Keep reflecting and revising at the end of each week to make sure you have a good schedule with overtime, and balance.
- Try and stay around positive people who will support you and give you courage. Staying disciplined in this kind of environment is far easier.
- When you stumble, remember that you did not fail. Learn from the experience and make adjustments. Failure occurs when you make the same mistake again and again when you could have avoided it.
Have a wonderful and successful academic year! Be sure to check out the next blog posting (yes, we practice what we preach, and have a set schedule!) If you have questions, or if you think we can be of help to you and your family, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (617) 981-4940
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