In the early hours of May 29, 1914, the RMS Empress of Ireland sailed slowly and cautiously up the dark and foggy waters of the St. Lawrence River. At about 2:00 AM local time, the Norwegian collier SS Storstad collided with the Empress. Of the 1,477 persons on board the Empress, 1,012 died. 134 of the passengers were children, and of those small and helpless passengers, only four survived.
The sinking of the Empress of Ireland remains to this day the most tragic of any Canadian maritime accident. While there were plenty of lifeboats and life preservers on board, the severe damage to the Empress caused it to sink in a mere 14 minutes. Blame for the collision between the Empress and the Storstad remains an issue of controversy to this day. However, there is one issue that is beyond any questioning: every single person on board the Empress of Ireland wanted - with all their soul - to live. But all the wanting in the world could not allow those individuals to overcome the most formidable opponent that one could ever be called to battle: time. Time gives no quarter. Time is relentless, time... is merciless. Time is an immutable force of nature that is woven into the very fabric of the universe. We fool ourselves if we ever believe that we can outsmart, outrun, or overpower time. In a battle against time, time will always win.
The Implications for Teaching
Think about the last PD session you attended. I'll bet you saw some pretty good ideas. Right? Yet, I'm also willing to bet that you aren't pursuing those ideas in the classroom... not to any meaningful degree. Right again? As my final wager, I'll bet the reason why you're not pursuing the really great, innovative ideas that you saw in your last PD session is because of time... or the lack thereof. I'll bet that's three direct hits. I sunk your battleship.
If the sinking of the Empress of Ireland has anything to teach us, it is that we cannot bargain, negotiate, or plead with time. Time doesn't care about our problems, our ambitions, our ideals, or our dreams. Time will not be overcome. As such, we must set each and every one of our professional expectations firmly within the cold, harsh parameters of time. To do anything else is simply to pursue a flight of fancy... and to guarantee failure.
The world, and our students, are constantly changing. Thus, it will always be necessary for teachers to review practices, identify challenges, propose solutions, and pursue innovation. However, we must always begin any pedagogical planning with time as our foundation. We must ask ourselves what we and our students can genuinely accomplish, and benefit from, within the time that we have available. We must then plan from within that framework of reality.
Whatever you do, don't ignore the element of time when developing your plans or setting your expectations. Unless you like losing, never, never, never pick a fight with time.
The New Learner Lab
Exploring the ever-changing, often challenging, and always controversial world of teaching.