What Do Rahm Emanuel, Boned Lamb, and a Longer School Day Have in Common?

What Do Rahm Emanuel, Boned Lamb, and a Longer School Day Have in Common?

Hurrah for Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago!  He says We need a longer school day; here’s the money. Well, it’s more complicated, and he’s raised the ire of the unions; but I’m with him.  A too-short day is the elephant in our schoolrooms. Unfortunately education traditions, like the length of the day, are hard to change.

It’s like my family’s Bone the Lamb tradition. Mom said, It’s Great Grandmother Rebecca’s recipe. It’s the way we do it. Come to find out, Great Grandmother took the bone out because her pan was too small to fit the lamb otherwise.

In our schools the intractable tradition is the Co-Curriculum. This is a partial, non-prioritized listing. It doesn’t include music, gym, and art.


Instrument lessons




Bullying counseling

Divorce counseling

Business Buddy Mentoring

Halloween parade

Holiday parties

Holiday party prep

Character Counts

Birthday cupcake treats

Lunch count

Absentee count

Class pictures

Fund raising assembly

Counseling with (psychologist, social worker, speech therapist, guidance counselor, school nurse, intern, visiting university faculty)

Field trips

Intercom announcements

Routing sheets

Pep rallies

Poster contests for pep rallies and municipal events


Italian lessons

Arts in the Schools Program

Author, Musician, and Artist Visits

Field Day

Grandparent Day

Lunch and recess transitions and lines

Bathroom breaks

Keyboarding lessons

It’s the Stuff Versus Teaching dilemma. We have only 5 or 6 hours to get the job done. We know we need to teach the basics three times longer than is usual to create literate kids who can tackle anything life throws at them. Uninterrupted time is what we need, and yet the Co-Curriculum is the tail that wags the Basic Curriculum dog.

You would NEVER send your child to a private school that you’ve paid big bucks for and expect her to leave a reading class for a cello lesson–and I’m a cellist, so don’t say I’m against the arts!!

At the high-poverty school I’m writing stories about this tradition of adding wonderful opportunities for the kids was the Way It Was Always Done. But in the high-achieving classrooms where the teachers hunt for three times the usual amount of time to teach the basics Just Say No has begun to have a new application. They battle constantly to hold onto and reclaim instructional time.

Besides specific instructional gambits, there are two main approaches to reclaiming time:

1. Fine-tune routines like taking attendance and bathroom breaks: Start teaching at 9:10 rather than 9:30 and gain 100 minutes a week. Don’t line 32 kids up in the hall as they wait for space at one of the six bathroom stalls, etc.

2. Work on lengthening the day. Place the co-curriculum after school.

This problem is not solved. Far from it. Most co-curricular stuff still sits within the school day.

We’ve got to leave the bone in the lamb and get cooking on this problem.

Maybe WE need a Rahm Emanuel?

Patty 9/18/12

John Wooden, UCLA’s famed basketball coach, told his players “be quick; but don’t hurry.” I sense Coach Wooden’s spirit in these high-achieving, high poverty 5th grade classrooms.*

John Wooden, UCLA’s famed basketball coach, told his players be quick; but don’t hurry. I sense Coach Wooden’s spirit in these high-achieving, high poverty 5th grade classrooms.

I walk in as Mrs M says take three minutes to finish the math. Put your worksheets in the bin and get your notebooks out. We want to get writing workshop started. I feel a frisson of excitement. Anticipation of the next thing gives a thrum to life, builds momentum, makes the pace seem fast and fruitful.

Mrs M uses her big schoolroom wall clock. Okay! Math papers away, pencils down, eyes on me. 5..4..row one is ready…3..almost everyone in row four..2..1. Let’s start.  And all during the workshop she uses the time to keep things moving. At different points in the lesson she says, We have two minutes. Tell me everything you know about a power paragraph.  OR: Let’s write for 10 minutes and then we’ll listen to what we’ve got. OR:  One minute left. 

Every minute has value. This is important work they do in this classroom; it’s urgent.  I wipe my brow; it’s that intense. Mrs M is at all times in charge, actively managing what’s going on.  Workshop has several parts to it and she announces them. The students know for sure when one is ending and the next begun.

Let’s take five minutes here. Watch me while I show you how I figure out my topic. She writes, and then asks, what did you notice that I did here, Joseph? OR:  What do we need to have in a power paragraph, Felicia? I had the feeling that everyone knew that Mrs M might call on them, and so they stay engaged and ready to give their ideas. There was no mucking around, waiting for hands to go up and children to get called on. Now let’s take 10 or 11 minutes and you do what I did. Quick Quick, let’s get started. Then: Complete the idea you’re on; we’ve got one minute left before share time.

The class is keen both to read their pieces and to listen. Mrs. M says, Enrique, your first simile for the year. All right! Frances, what else did you notice that Enrique did? Then she asks, And what score would you give this paragraph? We know we don’t have any 1’s or 2’s in here, but was this a 3,4,5, or 6? And why do you think that? What would make it better, Mary? I agree, strong verbs. Absolutely. More specifics? Yes.

And then, the clincher: I want you to think about the verbs and nouns you’ll use tomorrow in your next paragraph.  

This ending to the writing lesson made me look around for Coach Wooden. He liked to say everything in practice must happen at game speed and be useful in the game. Writing workshop was full of actual writing even down to the closer: real writers think about their writing even when they’re not writing.

Game speed and real.

Patty 9/17/12

* Vogel-Wetmore School, Church St., Torrington, CT 06791

Implications of the Red-Breasted Nuthatch’s Protection Tactics for Helping to Better Protect the Already-Fortified Bases in Southern Afghanistan: Audacity and Troubles. Time to Rethink Afghanistan? (A 9-Liner in 420 Characters)

How to deter enemies?

Does the Red-breasted Nuthatch know the tactic?

Collect gobs of sticky pitch from conifers; smear it on the entrance to the nest hole.

Keeps House Wrens out, but not Red Squirrels.

I notice the RBNs are showing up in my yard,

when usually they stay in the boreal forests.

Is there a lack of food up north,

or did their enemies overwhelm?

What would be the “sticky pitch” in Afghanistan?

Patty 9/17/12