Start Time

In a stack of papers called Reform.

  • Jan
  • 11
  • 2006

Driving down the road at a decent hour, having drank a good amount of coffee and eaten a reasonable breakfast, I breathed a sign of relief on this, the first day of first semester finals. Casual, relaxed, prepared, I pulled into my parking space and closed the door with a slight spring in my step as I walked to the classroom. Whistling lightly, taking note of the beautiful trees and chirping birds, I unlocked the door and readied myself, a smile on my face and a hint of optimism in my visualization of the day. A glance at the clock found it at 9:00 and I laughed as I realized that I actually felt like the day had eased in.

School starts too damn early.

We have a first period that begins at 7:15. Since I don’t start until 8:13 (second period), typically I am just getting into my car at the beginning of first period, cursing the gods for not allowing me enough time in the morning to eat breakfast or feel like I’ve actually woken up. Without time to make my good coffee at home, I know that a big pot of the so-so brand is waiting for me in the work kitchen. I taught first period a few years ago and I hated just about every day of it, though most of the kids in that class were awsome. Being among the first batch of cars to the parking lot in the morning is not something I strive to achieve.

Even starting at 8:13 means that I wake up at 6:30 (read as: my alarm goes off and I hit the snooze button 15 times before rolling out of bed). That gives me enough time to get dressed, eat a quick breakfast if I plan my time right (no oatmeal or eggs, just cereal or toast at best), and get out the door in time to arrive 30 minutes early and get some work done before the kids come swarming in, usually complaining about only getting 1 hour of sleep the night before or pissed off because their girl/boyfriend didn’t show up with the Starbucks.

Insanely, most schools start around 8:00, a time when an average person is just about awake, but certainly not ready for heavy mental activity. We in teaching like to talk of the brain as a muscle, but we encourage stretching before heavy exercise. Where’s the mental stretching when so many of our kids face demanding tasks when they still have sleep in the corners of their eyes? Instead of allowing some time to pass and for our brains to ramp up to full function, we begin a 6-hour day of (hopefully) mental stimulation that won’t stop until 2:45. And even after that, there’s the homework, sometimes lasting all night and into the next morning.

Among my many ideas about how we should reform the system, we should have options for the school day. The status quo 8 to 3 school day is in place at the convenience of parents, a schedule created around the average work hours. Why not have an option of 10 to 5? Instead of parents dropping kids off when on their way to work, they can pick kids up on their way home.

We should start the day at 7:15 for those morning people (whom I hate) that want to begin early and leave early, but also offer options to those non-morning people (whom I adore) so they can arrive to school prepared to take on the day. I was not prepared to start my day so early in the morning that year I had a first period. And my experience has been that the classes in the middle of the day, closest to noon, have the best discussions and put forth the most effort.

In our discussions of how we can improve the education system, let’s not forget to discuss start times and whether or not they match with the natural circadian rhythms of teenagers, not to mention their teachers.

(UPDATE: With perfect timing, Jenny D. has released the latest Carnival of Education and it’s a great one (terrific job, Jenny). In that list is an article about teenage biology directly related to the issue of start time for school.)


1. withheld says:

[1/11/2006 - 5:38 pm]

Okay, try this one… I live outside of NYC (as of last year) and commute back to Queens to teach first grade. On a good day it’s an hour and about 10 minutes each way, although I’ve managed just about an hour some days. School starts at 8:30 and ends at 3:00. I get up at 5:30 to get myself ready, wake up my 2 year old daughter and get her ready for daycare (she is NOT a morning person!) and get out of the house no later than 6:30 a.m. The only way I can accomplish this is if I make my lunch and set out my clothes the night before, put my schoolbag and whatever extra stuff I’m bringing in the next day in the car the night before and do all the same for my daughter. At 6:30 we leave to go to the daycare. By the time I drop her off and get back on the road, it’s almost 6:50 so I make it to school by 8:00 or later if there’s bad weather or traffic jams. Once at school I have just enough time to quickly prep for whatever is coming first in the day, heat up my oatmeal (breakfast at home? ha!) and the coffee I brought in the car but didn’t drink, and that’s about it. By mid-morning, I’m ready to crash. There’s a proposal in my district to start school at 8:20 next year, ending at 2:40 so that the extra 37 minutes will end the school day at a still-reasonable hour. Can’t imagine what time I’ll have to get up to make it in time then.

2. Debbie says:

[1/12/2006 - 1:49 pm]

Funny you should write this yesterday. I was just talking to a science teacher about how horrible freshmen attendance is 1st period. I would really like to push (and I think the APED is on the train with this) for a later start time for all students, but especially those frosh. Possible? Dunno. Willing to try? Yup.