The Myth of Teaching from Bell to Bell

The Myth of Teaching from Bell to Bell
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Throughout my career I’ve often been told by school administrators that the expectations for every teacher is that they teach from “bell to bell.”  Meaning that instruction should begin the moment the classroom bell rings and not stop until the bell rings again.  As a teacher or student maybe you’re familiar with this practice.  I remember always being scolded by my teachers as I started to quietly pack up my things before class ended, only to be told something like, “Mr. Aldrich, class does not end for another 45 seconds, please continue working!”  Yes, how ironic that my many teachers referred to me with same formality that I receive as an educator today.

Additionally ironic is that as teachers we often default to the same teaching practices we experienced as a student, and therefore as a young teacher early in my career I often found myself insisting that the young Mr. Aldriches “remain seated and working until class ended!”  So preoccupied with meeting this goal, I remember resorting to slowing down my class lesson, or rambling on a topic (a natural talent of mine), or stretching out a discussion, even giving an impromptu quiz just to avoid finishing early (Don’t judge me too harshly, didn’t we all make foolish teaching mistakes when we’re fresh our of college?).

Of course the assumption of this practice is that if teachers allow for a slow start or class to end early, students will miss out on valuable instructional time, which multiplied by 180 schools days could equal hours of lost time.

When was the last time you challenged this assumption?  Let’s let today be that day.

Last week a few of our teachers had a chance to shadow students in both the middle school and academy (high school) here at Punahou.  One of the big takeaways our teachers gained that many of the students shared, was that when instruction ended early and students were given a chance to use that time to start homework in class, or ask the teacher a side-question, or just gather their thoughts it made picking up where they left off at home so much easier.

Truthfully, we should all know this.  Just think about when you were a student how nice it was to get a few math problems finished before you had to start again at home.  Would you prefer continue an essay with the introduction already complete, rather than have to start from scratch at your kitchen table…after swim practice, showering, and dinner?

So if you’re an administrator that insists that teachers teach bell to bell, or a teacher that think’s downtime is a weakness, I encourage you to experiment for one week by leaving small chunks of time at the end (or even in the middle of your lessons) for students to apply what they’ve learned on their homework.  What do you think will happen?  You won’t know unless you try it.  Or maybe you think I’m crazy because classroom time is valuable and when you stop teaching your kids often check out.  Alright don’t hold back and let’er rip in the comments below.

Speaking of lettin’er rip have you thought about joining our non-book and noncommittal UnBook Club? You should.  This week’s interesting topic is around the question: Does Experience Matter?  Check out this post to learn more about how you can engage in the UnBook Club Community.

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Author: Andy Aldrich

Andy is a founder of Learn[ed]Leadership as well as a school administrator at Punahou School in Honolulu, HI. In addition to pontificating on ideas in education, Andy stays busy chasing after his daughter and impressing his wife with his big muscles.

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