Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Pacing and Opportunity Cost

When I graduated college, I got an awesome first job that paid $25,000 a year. Having no clue how taxes and withholdings worked, I got a nice apartment, a new jeep, a cell phone (big spender back then!) and I set myself a budget of $2000 per month (25,000  ÷ 12 months = $2083. I obviously had no idea what was going on, having never had more than a part time job)

Three months later, I was resorting to buying all my groceries at the Exxon station, because that was the only credit card I had left.  Mmmm, gas station food!

The debt from that debacle stayed on my credit for years. I paid ridiculous interest rates on everything for the next decade.

All that to say that we all make choices with the resources we have.  We can spend our money on nice apartments OR new Jeeps, but probably not both at the same time with a cellphone bill on top. We can go on vacation or make home improvements, but we probably can’t do big vacations and big home improvements in the same years.

We all have limited resources and unlimited wants.

In personal finances, we call that a budget.

In economics, we call that opportunity cost.

In teaching, we call that 180 school days.

While I won’t get into our financial resources for teaching expenditures (it varies everywhere), in the classroom we have limited time resources and unlimited passion for our content. And unlimited Google-able access to more content knowledge and cool lesson plans. And unlimited teacher knowledge. And unlimited cool stuff we want to do with our classes.

But, still the same 180 days.

It’s not like history is getting any shorter. We get more every day.

We could teach an entire course on George Washington. We could spend YEARS learning about him. But we still only have the same 180 school days and the same giant set of standards to teach.

It’s so frustrating! Opportunity cost teaches us that for every extra minute we spend on George Washington is a minute we DON’T get to spend on something  else. It’s a minute we don’t spend on any of the hundreds of other topics we want to touch on. It’s a minute we don’t spend on any of the dozens of activities we could do with the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the birth of the nation, the Constitutional Convention, or the First Presidency.

We have to make choices every day as how to best spend our instructional time. What do we keep in and what do we leave out. Where do we teach in depth and where do we just “cover”.

We have two guides to help us make those instructional time decisions: our standards and our pacing guides and/or blueprints.

  1. Our standards come from the state. The state Department of Education (with input from the general public) determine the standards for each course.
  2. Our pacing guides and test blueprints come from our Pinellas County schools colleagues (except the 7th Civics and HS Us History blueprints, which come from the state also)

All of these tools are there to help make some of those decisions for you. Whether that’s helpful or frustrating is up to you.

Now, with the advent of the dd-EOCs (district-developed End-of-Course tests) and semester exams it looks like the Wild West days of Social Studies are over. The days when we could stop and teach whatever we wanted (Dinosaur unit in US History? Weapons unit in Civics? ) are over.

We choose where to put our time resources in our classrooms.

Our kids have to take assessments based on what we teach. If we don’t teach our standards, we do our kids a disservice.

We do a disservice to their grades with the EOCs and dd-EOCs counting as parts of their grades but we also do a disservice to the teachers grades above us. If kids don’t learn what they need to know in 6th grade, we really mess things up for our 10th grade colleagues. If they don’t learn what they need to know in 10th grade, we make their college professors reteach our content.

I really messed with 11th grade teachers when I didn’t teach about Reconstruction.  

Pacing is a struggle for everyone, middle and high school, required and elective, state EOC and DD-EOC courses. No one is immune anymore. It’s so hard when you have so much knowledge and passion about your content.

Unlimited wants. Unlimited passion for content.

Still,  only 180 days.

As we ALL struggle with pacing and test blueprints and the same 180 days, I encourage you to look at your time resources again. Where are you spending too much time? Where are you spending too little? Are you teaching all of your benchmarks? Are you teaching the ones that will be tested? Are you balancing the time it takes to do a project with the amount of learning a kid actually gets out of that project? Are you spending a lot of time on management or technology or bellwork or tests or wrap-up? Where can you tighten your belt, time-wise? Where do you need to catch up and where do you need to keep it up?

Like it or not, these tests narrow the options of what we can do with our 180 days. What do you find effective to stay or get on pace? How do you keep to your pacing goals?What time management tricks work for you? As always, I love to hear from you! Email me at

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