A Learner Rather | thoughts on teaching



I'm Still Yawning


The first sound of morning jars most out of their sleep. It is never a subtle sound. If it were, the jarring would be nonexistent–a weekend rise, or a waking-up with nothing planned ahead. But the weekdays, especially the first few times around, jar. I turn over and see the clock, hit snooze, try not to hit snooze again and maybe wake up and stumble to the shower– time permitting.

From this point, I’m lost. I’m always lost in the mornings. The coffee helps wake up but fails to help the mind sort. Finding clothes, getting my keys, packing up– all seem to take five minutes longer than they should. Eating breakfast is a matter of time. Not real time measured in minutes, but time measured in causation. If I stop to do X, will this affect Y? Then there is the drive, which without routine would be difficult to navigate. But the feeling of being lost still persists, unable to recognize songs or understand the morning news.  Any given street is a haze of signage and stoplights.

Then there is the classroom. Things clarify slowly. The white board is blank and ominous and the first few words are difficult to put down. The agenda rarely appears without mistakes. Mistakes that an alert student may or may not notice. More coffee and prepping. Too many or too few copies get made. The machine jams and a simple correction feels Sisyphean. The return to the classroom often reveals a student, in their own haze, prepared to make an excuse or simply tell their story in their own unprocessed way. Then the bell rings, another jar.  Students file in, bodies moving awkward and heavy, tripping over desk posts or flopping into seats. They look at the board, stare off into the distance, or share a quiet conversation with a friend. Some take out homework, some search their bags swearing it’s there, and some insist it was never mentioned or asked for when they try to hand it in later in the day. The first few minutes are filled with silence and the abrupt entrances of the frequently tardy. We are all sharing it.


Yesterday, Emily Sohn contributed a piece to the LA times recalling the body of evidence that supports the idea of having students (and teachers) start the school day later.

Now, fueled by accumulating research showing that adolescent bodies are designed to sleep late and that delaying school start times — even by just 30 minutes — makes a huge difference in how well teens feel and perform, an increasing number of schools around the country are ringing morning bells later than they used to.

So where do we go from here? The various data presented by Sohn demonstrates an increase in student performance, improved attendance, and a tendency for students to sleep up to an hour more. I find this last bit most intriguing because a frequent position for those against starting the day later note the students will just stay up later. However, the data shows the exact opposite occurs.

Even though the new schedule started just 30 minutes later, students actually went to bed 15 minutes earlier and got 45 more minutes of sleep each day. When interviewed, kids said they felt so much better from even a little bit of extra sleep that they were motivated to go to bed sooner and sleep even more.

The “big” question that arises out of this is: Why don’t schools and districts make this simple change? Why are we rooted in starting high school 7:30-8:00 when data and personal experience seem to dictate otherwise. Many will cry that kids need to learn to wake up early, to try to function when not at their best mentally and physically. Is their education the right time to learn this “skill” set?  The skills of waking up and facing the day when you don’t want to and working well on a schedule that can be inconvenient are necessary. Pushing back the day by thirty minutes or so does not make the application of these skills nonexistent. In addition, I have yet to read or hear a decent argument of how a half hour can drastically change logistics, more often than not the rhetoric on this subject is akin to lazy group think. Somehow it’s not right, or it is too difficult, for students to start their day at the same time as their parents. Or that it will be too difficult change the schedule for buses or after school events. How? I don’t know, but the rhetoric is out there, as I’m sure many of you have noticed.

Parts 3. and 4. forthcoming…


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  • Dan · August 24, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    Could not agree with you more, particularly at the high school level. It makes sense to offer a limited number of 8AM sections of courses in college (for working folks), but the few times I have taught them they have been utterly disappointing for all involved. Most of the students were passed out as soon as they sat down, and I am sure I said all kinds of incomprehensible stuff to the few who were awake. If we want to actually maximize what students get out of their education, taking practical steps like starting the school day later is a better first move than simply funneling money into costly pilot programs with murky track records.

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