Working in Desperation

October 19, 2012 by John Andrew Williams

As a teacher, I was amazed at the students who used to be weeks behind, but then in an act of desperation do all their homework in a weekend and turn it in just before the grading cutoff.  

As a coach, I get the opportunity to speak to students and get an inside story.  Check out this telling excerpt from a recent coaching session: 

Me: “How did it go this weekend” 

Sam: “It was so hard.  I really didn’t want to do all that work, but my mom was so mad at me, and I knew that I had to do it.” 

Me: “When did you get started?”

Sam: “I knew you were going to ask me that.   I had until Monday morning to finish all my work.  I started Sunday morning and stayed up until 3am to get it all done.” 

Me: “Why didn’t you start on Saturday?”

Sam: “Because I knew I could do it in a day, and I didn’t want to start until I absolutely needed to.” 

Three things strike me: 

  1. That weeks of student work can be accomplished in one day. 
  2. How stubborn people can be about not working until they must. 
  3. The power of working in desperation. 

Is this pace of work sustainable?  No.  Probably not.  

But it’s possible.  And as long as it’s possible, and students don’t have a compelling reason to work otherwise, working in desperation is a part of the process. 

In working out a solution to avoid this kind of work – and the student did change her habits over the course of the next nine week grading period – we managed to keep “hyper-productive mode” intact.  

We just changed the parameters for when she slipped into it, which happened to be the real work.

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