Sunday, May 26, 2013

Being on Time Means Being Early

I was watching Judd Apatow's This is 40 [again] last night with my husband in order to decompress from a troubling day, and was delighted to see my favorite scene come up about halfway through the film. The main character drops her kid off at school and the homeroom teacher greets her with:  

Teacher: "Hi - um, listen, Charlotte really needs to get here on time because she really just needs the extra time to settle in."

Mom: [mystified] "We are on time." 

Teacher: [deadpan] “Being on time means being early.”

Parents laugh at this line because they think it's a line meant to satirize the arbitrary and stupid rules teachers impose on parents. 

But as a teacher - the teacher in charge of sixth grade homeroom attendance, no less - I know the truth. I suspect that Judd Apatow just might have the soul of a teacher. 

This line is truly funny; and funny because it's true. 

When your car pulls in to the drop off area thirty seconds before homeroom and you push your kids out of the car at a rolling stop, that’s not on time.

When your child bursts through the school entrance as the minute hand hits the twelve, that’s not on time.

Let me fill you in a middle school student’s morning needs – and keep in mind, I have left out the superfluous stuff in favor of the essentials.

Let's say you drive into the school parking lot at 7:40, a full twenty minutes before homeroom. And let me just say here, well done, you. By the time your kids get out of the car with all of their belongings - backpack, coat, sweater, lunch, history project - it's 7:43.

7:43 First things first. Check zipper, hair, adjust potentially embarrassing adolescent bits, and do a final check for food caught in braces. Check in with friends. Have friends re-check food in braces situation and comment on outfit. Figure out who is absent and why, and recount everything that has happened over the hours since they last checked in with each other on Facebook and Google Chat (but not Twitter, because that's for adult dorks like Mrs. Lahey). This first chapter of the school day can easily take an hour, but as homeroom doors close in :17 minutes, there's only time for the vital information.

7:45 Enter middle school, go to locker, unload books, put lunch away, put math journal on the math teacher's desk, figure out what books are needed for the first couple of periods. In a perfect world, the student sees the loose papers and textbook being squashed under the weight of four other textbooks and organizes those items. Avoid middle school head's eyes as she proceeds to homeroom so she won't notice that students' skirt is too short or her locker is tragically and cataclysmically disorganized.

7:52 Close locker door, if physically possible. Check in with friends again on some of the non-vital issues not covered earlier.

7:57 Move toward homeroom. Return to locker, retrieve forgotten math book.

7:59 Rush out of homeroom for plan book squashed under textbook at the bottom of locker and look for that piece of paper with the French verbs for today's quiz written on it.

8:00 Slip in to homeroom as Mrs. Lahey gives a disapproving look, flips up the doorstop with her toe, and closes the door.

Keep in mind, this schedule is for the kids uninterested in playing foursquare or basketball before homeroom. Some kids really need this time to work out their heebie-jeebies and figure out the daily re-adjustments in the social pecking order that governs middle school. 

So when I mark your child tardy when they arrive as the minute hand hits the 12, I'm not [just] being a nitpicky hardass. First period is going to be a nightmare for the kids who rush in at 7:59. Their brains, bodies, and belongings will be disorganized, and it will take them the twenty minutes they should have had before homeroom to pull themselves together. 

Judd Apatow is right. Being on time does mean being early. 


  1. Amen Jess.

    Recall advice from high school when my guidance counselor commented on my meeting with Mr. Pettie, the English Lit teacher. "Now on time means you're in his office five mins early. Not 10, 'cause that's too soon. But not one minute before either. *Five* mins early."

    I fall short sometimes but surely that I would remember this lesson 30 years later was one of Ms. Geismar's goals. Thank you Pat, wherever you are.

  2. So embarrassed. I'm a drive up and drop off as the bell rings kind of parent. I can only hope that we improve before my third grader reaches middle school. In all honesty, thank you for this. I commend myself when we drive up on time and rarely give the teacher and students the full consideration they are due.

  3. Jessica, I am 100% in agreement with this. I'm 46 years old, by the way, and have managed various work crews and teams for years.

    "If you are on time, you are late", was how I heard it, but no matter...same thing. That was one of the first things I would tell my crew members when they were hired along with, "I won't ask you to do anything I'm not willing to do", which I often proved.

    Both usually sunk in and I usually had great team members who would be early and bust their tails for me. Somebody needs to put the "on time" saying on a shirt and market the heck out of the garment!

    Best of luck teaching, thanks for teaching, and I sincerely apologize for any punctuation or syntax errors. It's been awhile since I seriously considered correct punctuation. :/

  4. You are a teacher. Please teach this to your students. Some people never learn that being on time means being ready to engage at the time that school or work begins.