Apr 24, 2009

On Being a Slave to Routines

I have a habit when I teach a class in which I arrive at least an hour prior to arrival of students. I upload my PowerPoint to the computer, make sure all the technology in the room is working, review my lecture notes, and perform any last-minute changes to the material I am presenting.

For some lectures - especially those once-a-week, three-to-four-hour marathons - I am known to show up as much as two hours early if the room is empty. I find the quiet time an excellent way to focus on lecture preparation, and something about the classroom environment sharpens my attention to the upcoming lecture.

Perhaps this is akin to an athlete arriving at a stadium, or a politician arriving at the venue where a speech will be given. The military uses the phrase "it's go time" to describe the no-nonsense moment where preparation meets action, and though a college history lecture is hardly equivalent to a soldier entering combat, "go time" for me begins when I walk into the classroom.

Except on days when some fellow instructor camps out after a previous class, and my pre-lecture ritual falls by the wayside. Such was the case yesterday, when I walked into "my" room 90 minutes early and another lecturer was using "my" classroom's computer.

As luck would have it, I left my laptop at home, and I had to find a backup work station in the noisy student computer lab to finish my lecture prep.

Had I been born twenty years later, professionals might have slapped a label on me, such as obsessive–compulsive personality disorder, Asperger syndrome, or ergophobia. However, I prefer to simply sum this up as being a slave to my routines, and on most days this desire to make sure the classroom is close to perfection before the lecture starts does not interfere with my life.

After 15 minutes of being denied access to "my" room, I began to get fidgety. Peeking in the classroom, I noticed the other instructor was still ensconced at the computer, and I began to imagine that the person was wasting time on Second Life or instant messaging. This, of course, was my own projection of irritation onto the classroom interloper, who likely was engaged in legitimate computer use.

Finally my perceived adversary removed his belongings, smiled at me on the way out, and I sheepishly reclaimed my routine. There was still 30 minutes before even the earliest student would arrive, and I could have given my Cold War lecture without any preparation, as I have delivered it many times, but my slavish devotion to routine had to be followed for the lecture to be a "success," at least in my head.

I am sure the students noticed nothing amiss, and truth be told, I caught oratorical fire in the second hour in debunking some notions about the fall of the Soviet Union. Still, I could have been on par with Cicero yesterday if only I had those 30 minutes back...


Tim Higgins said...


The joys of preparation and routine are not to be taken lightly. If an athelete can show up early to "get his head in the game" why not a preparer of young minds.

If only more took such pains ...

Anonymous said...

Some obsessive rituals are a virtue, which you should not deny yourself or your lucky students. Although it is a tautology, you prove that virtue is its own reward.

Mad Jack said...

From HistoryMike: Finally my perceived adversary removed his belongings, smiled at me on the way out...Or, more accurately: Finally the educational roadblock yielded to his 'inner Caliban', collected his bric-a-brac and removed both his person and his offensive odor from my classroom, giving me a condescending yet vapid smile on his way out.