If you give a grad student a deadline...: Cameron Dexter Torti, 4-27-2020

Monday, April 27, 2020
cover of if you give a mouse a cookie
Education and Applied Psychology in a Time of COVID-19

I imagine we have all read Laura Joffe Numeroff's seminal text, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. If not, it is a children's book that essentially teaches the lesson "if you give an inch, they will take a yard." As I consider this past week, I have noticed in my own experience as a student and as a TA have revolved around an ever-changing relationship with deadlines.

While the ED 150 (Teaching and Teachers) class I am TAing has been pushing back on deadlines, I find I am having a struggle with deadlines as well. I completely understand where the students are coming from, as the counter-intuitive nature of being home and effectively having extra time to get work done has not translated into that work being done any sooner. If anything, my procrastination has advanced further during this time. Personally, when given the opportunity to ask for an extension, I am not using the extra time to make the work all that much better, and the slippery slope towards not adhering to deadlines at all can be disastrous for me.

This past week, I took some time to be reflective as I noticed the struggles I was having being expressed by students. In search of some help and with a Zoom happy hour as motivation to meet, I reached out to a friend of mine from my time in Waco. He is a professor at University of Missouri – Kansas City, and discussed his work in preparing materials weeks in advance to ensure his semester ran smoothly. With his back to the wall, he essentially rode a wave of productivity during his time to prepare for distance learning, and got himself in a great position.

Inspired, I took time to reflect on my own practice and decided to use my natural tendencies in my own planning. As a natural procrastinator, I have set artificial deadlines well ahead of the real deadlines to give myself plenty of chances to stay ahead of the curve and not be swamped when unanticipated responsibilities come up! I have found this to be helpful in the first week of implementing it, and I am formalizing the process for the rest of the quarter through the use of the principles in the "Together Teacher" program.

While I am not pretending to be the best practitioner of the "Together Teacher" program, I find some of the central tenets to be useful. For one, you write out all of the recurring activities and responsibilities that occur as well as future deadlines you already know about. This includes anything related to work and school productivity and including things like going for walks or going to the grocery. Every week, the program also requires you to set aside time for a "meeting with yourself" for an hour or so, in which you write out the following week's activities and deadlines. Finally, you have a "daily worksheet" (which is typically set up during the weekly meeting and adjusted as needed throughout the week or day), allowing for each day to be its own checklist towards bigger goals.

Even just implementing these three steps has begun to make me more in control of my time and the current situation. I find that with more formal time management, I can see and work towards my free time, and not feel nearly as bad when I am catching up on The Bachelor's terrible spin-off series Listen to Your Heart or playing a video game on my phone to ensure this year is finally the Dodgers' year, even if only in a digital universe.

I recognize many people already have a formal time management structure, and am so appreciative when I see students pulling out their notebooks or planners when we discuss upcoming deadlines or assignments. For someone who is not wired to do that electively, I find having the accountability and rigor of a more strict system helps me adhere to my time more effectively. Having a little more control right now feels very nice, and is keeping me away from asking for extra time to do things. After all, if you give a grad student a deadline...

Cameron Dexter Torti is a first-year PhD student in the Department of Education at GGSE. He previously taught in classrooms ranging from elementary self-contained to high school social studies for six years in California, Texas, and Louisiana. He is currently "safer-at-home" in San Diego, where he and his wife are subletting part of the living room from their cats for "work from home" spaces.