Extracurriculars: What’s a teacher to do?

A week  ago I realized several of my students would be away on Monday for an extracurricular activity sponsored by the school.  In addition, another handful would be gone the preceeding Friday for another school sanctioned extracurricular activity.  I had a big test scheduled on Tuesday, which had been on the Upper School’s test calendar for about two weeks.    With a variety of teams and activites for students to participate in year round, somebody seems to always be going somewhere. What is a teacher to do?

Nothing.  I did not move the test.  Why not?  Because there is value for my students in learning to make adjustments, manage time, and accept limitations. Every choice creates a limitation.  To play baseball in the spring means one can’t be on the school golf team. To be on the dance team  this fall means one won’t be cheerleading.  These are obvious.  Less obvious:  to participate in extracurricular activities that take one out of class occassionally means grades may be lower, hopefully temporarily.

Now before a host of my students’ parents call for my head, let me explain two things.  First,  I am willing to work with students who miss class for any reason, but I can’t reproduce the actual classroom environment.  If a student says something great in a discussion or a group presents an outstanding project, that scenario can’t be re-done in a make-up session one-on-one with a teacher before or after school.  I always encourage my students to get class notes from at least two other classmates, as no one students will get the full scope of what another needs in note-taking. Note-taking is very individualized.

Secondly, and most importantly, I am proud and supportive of my students who are missing class for a regional track meet, a state volleyball tournament, or Youth Judicial or any other school team or activity.   These students are doing good things in their lives, wholesome activities that are building life skills that can’t all be taught in my classroom.   In high school, I performed with a show choir and competed with my school’s debate team.  The skills I gained in those two activities are on display every day that I am in front of my classroom.

Our son began flying lessons during high school.  By the beginning of his freshmen year of college, he had completed his solo flight and become a licensed pilot.  Did his grades suffer because he spent time in pilot training?   I doubt it.  Perhaps his overall GPA could have been two tenths of a point higher or he could have done more ACT prep, but the skills he gained such as paying attention to detail, focused and sustained concentration, the ability to troubleshoot problems and remain calm far outweigh the slight increase his grades might have gained had he not spent time on this worthy endeavor.  Furthermore,  the confidence he gained has enhanced his academic life by enabling him to tackle challenging courses, seek out  competitive internships, and set goals for his future.

When it comes to extracurriculars and missing school, we must take the long view.  Students need to learn that all of life involves choices. Sometimes schedules get hectic. Good planing, time management, and working ahead are skills to develop. At the same time, we will have times when we must accept we’ve done our best, given the tight circumstances, even if the grade or the performance is  not as high as our usual standard.  The payoff will come in another area of life that can’t be measured on a test.


3 thoughts on “Extracurriculars: What’s a teacher to do?

  1. I think your blog should be mandatory reading for parents of students in high school. You have a way of making life ‘real’ and taking the anxiety out of the chaos that embodies a teenagers life. Your, “it is, what it is” approach to living will help us live longer if we apply the message.


  2. Your reasoning makes perfect sense. Parents and students need to understand that the law of diminishing returns is real. With only so many hours in the day, one must make choices and then live with the tradeoffs that come with those choices. Good post.


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