About time

by Amy Collier

I remember vividly the first time I taught a college class.

I had been teaching classes for the university where I attending grad school, but I had never been a teacher of record and I had never worked at the small community college where I had been hired to teach. This was my first opportunity to design a syllabus, plan course discussions and activities, and to figure out how to assess students.

And I had fewer than 24 hours to do all of that.

I had been in talks with the community college for months about my teaching for them, but they did not have any classes available for me to teach that fall. Until they did. I received a panicked call from the director of the Associate of Arts in Teaching program. She said she needed someone to replace a Child Growth and Development teacher she had to fire two days after classes started. Could I teach the class and, by the way, the class is tomorrow and, by the way, it’s also using this mysterious videoconferencing technology that you’ll have to learn how to use…today? Can you come in and learn how to use the videoconferencing system? (this was 2005 or 2006)

I remember with horror the way I cobbled together a class the night before I took it over from my now-fired predecessor. I am still a little embarrassed to admit that I used the textbook resources heavily that semester, including, for the love, overhead transparencies of fetuses in utero and such. Thankfully, the students were all very understanding and grateful that I had taken the reigns and somehow, somehow, we managed to survive the semester together.

This story came to mind when I was part of an exchange on Twitter last week about time.


The tweet itself was in reference to a conversation we were having at the American University in Cairo as part of a Digital Pedagogy Lab workshop on praxis. We were discussing the conditions under which we have critical pedagogy discussions.

Two colleagues on Twitter, Timothy Harfield and Maha Bali, began a conversation about the notion of time as a privilege and its relationship to critical pedagogy:




I love this exchange because it helped me to think more deeply about my original statement and about this question of time as a privilege. We often talk about time in higher education as this thing that no one seems to have, that’s always associated with a trade-off, that’s an indicator of priority. We talk about time associated with credit hours and time to graduation. We talk about “time on task” as part of good practices in undergraduate education. And lately, I have heard a lot of campus conversations (at Middlebury and beyond) about time for reflection, contemplation, mindfulness. But the notion of “time” itself—what we actually mean when we say time—can be contested. Are we always talking about linear time, or something else?

I did a brief search for literature on time and critical pedagogy and found very little. If you know of any literature I missed, please feel free to tweet at me. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire wrote, “The oppressor consciousness tends to transform everything surrounding it into an object of its domination. The earth, property, production, the creations of people, people themselves, time — everything is reduced to the status of objects at its disposal” [my emphasis]. This is what Maha was saying in her tweet, that often those in power keep those over whom they have power in a state of not-enough-time-ness. Is time an essential ingredient to helping people develop critical consciousness, or conscientização? What is “time” in the context of a liberal education? Is Kate Pahl’s statement “Time is ‘linked to the becoming of the possible’,” true?

When I wrote the initial tweet about time, I was thinking about two recent examples from Middlebury of experiences where, given time, faculty made some pretty transformational shifts in their thinking about pedagogy. In both examples, Sean and I were working with faculty from our Language Schools, most of whom have appointments at other universities during the year and then work for Middlebury during the summer. In both, the project team was given time and space to discuss challenges they and their students face and to imagine ways to better support students in facing those challenges. What do I mean by time and space?  In this case I mean a sequential number of hours dedicated to and focused on discussing pedagogy as a community of teachers. I mean dedicated support, energy, and resources focused on the instructional opportunities and challenges facing our teachers and their students.

Too often, I think, we try to (or have to) cram dreaming about and critically reflecting on teaching into narrow windows of time and effort and that may stifle good thoughts that need time to marinate or be tossed around for a bit. Too often, I think, time is too short for reflexive practice that can lead to transformational change in our teaching. Maybe these discussions we had with Language School faculty were not critical, in the purest definition of the word, but they were positive steps in toward critical practice that would have been much more difficult—and probably not as grounded in a community orientation of teachers working together toward transformation–if we had not had the time to sit, reflect, and discuss.

I am aware that much of the work we do in digital learning demands time from faculty. This has been a consideration in every project we’ve launched–not just about the demands on faculty time but the need for uncommitted time for reflection and discussion. Clearly, there is no easy way to solve issues around time but I hope these are conversations we can keep having with empathy and care for the time of others.

Note: I don’t have the energy to write about it right now, but I came across the Slow Education Movement a few years back and am interested in further investigating their views on time. See the UK Slow Movement website (left column call-out) for more: http://sloweducation.co.uk/about/

Amy Collier

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