Wednesday, February 22, 2012

An Age-Old Teacher Dilemma - Procrastination!

In addition to being a Vice Principal, I am also teaching AP English Literature this year. I am once again reminded of the many teenage tendencies that frustrate a teacher. After talking to other teachers, I am encouraged that I am not alone in these frustrations. Understanding that "no man is an island entire unto himself" is comforting, however it does not cause the frustrations to cease. So, I come here to question if there is anything we can do to change this behavior.

One such behavior is the innate ability to procrastinate. Now I know I still have some of that tendency in me as an adult... at least in certain areas of life. For instance, when it comes to making doctor's appointments I have earned a Master's Degree in Procrastination. However, teenagers procrastinate incessantly. For example, I assigned my students a novel to read four weeks ago. They were able to chose a novel from a list and will now be using that novel to develop a research question and write a complete research paper. Out of my five students, the majority didn't begin reading the book until last week. As a teacher, I want to say "next year, I'll give my students a week to read a novel" but that is certainly not the proper response. Another teacher in our building has her seniors finishing their research papers. Since they are due tomorrow, many English teachers from years past had students asking for editing help today and the library computers were filled to capacity during lunch with furious typing fingers.

So my question remains, how can teachers deal with the procrastination present in the student body? If we give less time to accomplish tasks, parents will complain and it will also punish the few diligent students who use the time wisely. Are teenagers, whose brains have not fully developed, able to properly manage time and foresee consequences of procrastinating? Considering the procrastination factor, how can teachers effectively teach using projects or long-term assignments?

There you have it... my musings for today. Comment on this post if you see the same thing in your school or if you have any helpful tips for the rest of us.


  1. I have taught in three high schools over the last many years and this has certainly been the pattern in each school unless very specific deadlines are presented for each step of the paper. But even then it is the nature of most students to even put off each step until the last minute possible! We are in the process of writing a literary criticism paper. I have broken it up into many steps: Topic, Sources, Thesis,Notecards,Outline,Intro,Body of work, Conclusion,Abstract,Title page. My principal, who like you, is also in the classroom part of her day has her students actually write most of the paper in front of her during class! This certainly takes up much class time, which I am not so willing to give up, but it does keep things moving along and almost eliminates plagiarism! I am anxious to hear others weigh in on this topic!

  2. Susan, I'm so glad to hear it isn't just at our school, but it is discouraging that this is our future of America. I hope it is a developmental issue that will corect itself at some point. I have heard of teachers having the students write much of a research paper in class as well, but like you, I find it difficult to "lose" all that teaching time. It would prevent plagiarism though.

    Sometimes teaching feels like trudging through the mud while dragging several people with you... but trudge along, fellow teachers. If we give up and wallow in the mud with them, they will never find their way out.

  3. As a chronic procrastinator myself I see where you are coming from. I have debated this question endlessly myself, and trust me, these students are kicking themselves for it. They know it is habitual, but it isn't laziness, or even poor time management. For myself I find that it is the overwhelming nature of the task at hand. Things coached as "BIG RESEARCH PAPER" are instantly stress inducing, I would have to say that breaking things down is probably an easier way for the population to wrap their minds around the problem/assignment. If I feel that I don't know what I'm doing, or that I don't have all the tools I need, or even if I know that what I need to do is important for my grade... my self-esteem is going to shudder with inadequecy.The fear of failue is the ultimate culprit. What helps? reminding myself that I can handle it, assignments that start as contemplation, more geared to opinions and finding answer's or question's within my own mind, that then branch out in research.

  4. So true, Charlie. Thank you for your insight. I have broken my research paper down into more sizable chunks. I am hoping that eases some of the fear and we can find success together.