Snake Man & The Nature of Time

When I was at Teachers College, we had a professor, Rick MacDonald. He was the chair of the high school program, as well as the Social Studies department. Everybody wound up in his courses at one point or another.

Ours was a small teachers college, made progressively smaller by the fact that I was a member of the last class admitted, and graduated from it. This meant that we had this really cool vibe happening, where about halfway through the program, your professors started treating you more as a colleague than a student. I think it was even more so for my class, as we would be the last.

Rick was a taskmaster. He was that kind of teacher that you feared. You were never late, you avoided skipping, and you made sure you did your best work for him. A super serious dude.

Which made it all the more impactful when he switched to colleague mode. He did it with a story.

He told us about his first year of teaching. He acknowledged his organization, his intense long term planning, and how he began his career that way. His first year was planned out. The whole year. Every single class. When he told us that, we weren’t surprised.

Then, he told us, about three weeks into the school year, the travelling reptile show came to the school for an afternoon. That van of snakes and lizards gave everyone the afternoon out of class, and threw his plans off for the rest of the year.

So Rick gave us a piece of advice that I’ve used throughout my career, and have passed on to many teachers,

“You can’t plan for Snake Man.”

Safari Jeff via

I’ve been thinking about the crazy nature of time for a teacher. It’s April. I’ve been out of my classroom every Thursday this month but one, attending PD, or doing special things with my family. We’ve had assemblies, meetings, guest presentations and all the usual “Snake Men” that crop up in a school. I’m in student involved conferences this week as well, which means reflection about what we’ve done, as well as considering where we’re going. So time, the time we’ve used so far, and the time we have left is weighing on my mind..


It was the last school day of Poetry Month today, and I was away. We hadn’t done near as much as I would have hoped. We ran out of time.

On the other hand, one of my Grade 10s told me that what she’s liking better about that grade, compared to Grade 9, is that this year, we’re taking the time to really dig into things, to develop and explore ideas.

As I reflected on time, I attended a Penny Kittle workshop. Guess what she talked about? Yep, time.

There’s a lot to unpack in this reflecting on time for me.

There will never be enough time to do all the things I want to do in each of my classes.

The idea that the only time I can do poetry is the time allotted in Poetry Month is ridiculous.

It matters to take the time my students and I need to do the things we value, and feel are important.

There are numerous thieves of time in schools, Snake Men if you will, and we need to be cognizant of this, and as Penny Kittle highlighted, we need to make sure that we plan our classes in such a way to make the best use of the time we don’t lose.

It wasn’t my plan, when this post started rumbling around my brain to make it about a PD thing I did, but the fact that it came up in Kittle’s workshop seemed so serendipitous. She highlighted the fact that time is the most valuable resource that we have as teachers. We will always want more of it. We will always lose more of it than we want, and will perpetually struggle to manage it.

I’ve really been focusing on the human side of what we do this year, so I want to end by highlighting the most important thing to consider about time in school… we must enjoy the time we have with our students.


  1. Years ago I had a colleague who related a story of her 6th grade year in San Francisco. In August one of her classmates was killed in a shooting. The next day her 6th grade teacher scrapped her curriculum. They spent the entire year studying death in the inner city and related topics. She felt they needed that catharsis.

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