I remember the transition from elementary to middle school, especially how difficult it was for me. I learned that expectations would increase dramatically, my teachers would specialize in content areas, which meant I would visit several different rooms a day, and the frustrations that come with experiencing adolescence were nothing to look forward to.
In spite of all of these dramatic changes hitting me all at once, I found it all to be manageable compared to one horrible adjustment – starting school at 7:10 a.m.
Why?!? Who?!? “Who thought of such a torturous schedule,” I thought. I functioned well with an 8:30 a.m. start time. I went to bed around 9:00 p.m. I received a quality nine to ten hours of sleep every night and I was ready to go! Now all of a sudden I was getting at SIX IN THE MORNING! Do you know what is happening that early? I will tell you – nothing!
After my first day of middle school, I felt that I figured out why school started so early. I had homework, copious amounts of homework. Of course school had to start early! School needed to end early as well so I could rush home and begin my homework! Nothing beat digesting my school day like spending hours on homework. I am choosing the word “digesting” because it was one thing my body was not finished doing by six in the morning!
And like that, the struggle of my middle and high school years began. I lived a constantly battle between stomach cramps, lack of sleep, lack of time, and the feeling that I was underachieving. I went to college and avoided any class that started before 11:00 a.m. I refused to go near a morning ever again. When it came time to choose a career path, I wanted to make sure that I would never, ever, have to live the life as an adult that I was forced to live as a child.
Naturally, I became a teacher. Now, I wake up at 4:30 every morning and I appreciate mornings. Exactly the ending one would expect, right?
I share my experience because I teach students every day who are not morning people, and I understand. I would not be either. My life might be more difficult than theirs is, but my priorities are simpler. I know what is important to me and I move in the same direction every day. The average high school student is constantly pulled in different directions.
When I see my students face planting, I do not take that personally. My first instinct is to reflect and identify opportunities that I can improve my lessons to engage them, but I also know there are other factors in play. An article in NEA Today by Elizabeth Malatesta inspired my column. In the piece, she talks about the same topic I reflected upon; early start times are impacting student attendance and achievement.
With the bipartisan support that Malatesta talks about, I hope eventually school districts across the country realize that school start times are a variable that impact chronically out of school students and it is something that can be controlled. I am very interested to hear individual districts’ views on why there has not been a more proactive movement toward changing school start times. The conversation is certainly worth having.