I am not usually well enough organized to prioritize efficiently. I just fight little battles as they come at me. Stephen Covey observed that “most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important,” and I routinely fall victim to this tendency. There is one exception, however, to this general ineptitude on my part – I always remember to put my teaching first.
Late every afternoon, I make a list of the things that I hope to do the following day. Some must get done. I would be delighted if I got to some of the others. Whenever items related to class preparation are on the list, as they almost always are, they get my attention first. This emphasis is not necessarily consistent with the official reward structure at my school. Still, it works for me. I like research and writing. I truly do. But my vision of myself as a college professor features most prominently my role as a classroom teacher. Therefore, teaching always comes first among my professional responsibilities. Doris Lessing had it right when she said, “It is the mark of great people to treat trifles as trifles and important matters as important.”Like others in academia, I have research obligations, administrative responsibilities, and other tasks that I cannot shirk. But in the academic realm of my life I have learned to put first things first. And for me, teaching comes first.
“Behind our prioritized “to do” lists – and the actions that result from them – are our thought priorities. I have received two bits of advice from esteemed teaching colleagues over the years that frame my priorities. The first was: “There is something to like in every student you meet; it is your job to find it.” The second was: “If you always put what is in a student’s best interest above all else, you will make the right decisions.” I embrace the first by making an effort – a sincere and deliberate effort – to get to know each of my students personally and to find a point of connection. Beyond the connection, I look for that unique something that I can honestly commend. For me, the second piece of advice translates to my belief that it doesn’t matter how well I teach if students don’t learn. Student learning is my thought priority. ”