There are 604,800 seconds in a week. During term times, children spend around 117,000 seconds a week in school. In theory homework might use up another 18,000 seconds each week. If they sleep for 8 hours a night, that uses up 201,600 more seconds. Let’s say that they also spend an hour and a half a day doing things related to eating and drinking, which is another 37,800 gone. Washing, going to the loo, getting dressed, getting around, let’s allocate those 40,000 seconds. So, while they’ve used up 414,400 seconds without even thinking about sitting down to watch some TV or read a book or play on a computer, they still have 190,400 seconds of each school week left over to spend as they wish during term time, and discounting holidays. (Apart from chores, family outings, after school clubs.)
If every second counts, maybe some important questions for teachers are what does each second count for? and is it possible to influence how children spend their seconds when they’re not with me? (and perhaps also bloody hell, I hope I’m not doing the every second counts thing when I’m 68). Interestingly, while teachers might have a limited number of seconds in school with the children, the children have a lot of spare seconds outside it. As a parent, it is my responsibility to help my children spend their spare seconds wisely (although I do get them when they are tired, so I also have to give them a chance to rest). The idea that every second counts might lead us to the conclusion that we have to keep children very busy when they are at school. That we should fill up their heads with skills and knowledge as quickly as we can, as though they are at a pitstop with an empty tank, and four bald tyres, and we need to sort them out so they can get back in the race.
When I’m working on a book, I sometimes spend long periods walking around in what might look like a daze: wandering in the garden, or across on the allotment, doing odd jobs around the house. The seconds tick away and not much gets done. But all the time I appear to be doing nothing of consequence, I am letting the ideas bubble up in my mind, until the point at which they are ready to flow out of my fingertips as words. This probably sounds like Romantic nonsense, but it’s not, it’s just how writing works for me. A deadline is the perfect antidote to procrastination. When a book is ready to bubble over, the secret is for me to sit down and write it. I mustn’t shirk, or falter. I must just get the damn words down on the page, as quickly as I can. You can’t edit something that doesn’t exist.
If every second counts, then maybe one of the most important things about a child’s education is that they know how to learn self sufficiently, and that they don’t stop loving the idea of learning. That they still come home curious, wanting to pick up a book because they love to read, or ask to make a clay model of the Solar System, because it’s just so interesting, and they want to surprise the teacher. Children need the skills, and the capacity, but also the desire and energy to want to learn, and to make the most of their lives. Sometimes that takes a bit of downtime, or of wandering in the garden. There are a lot of seconds in a childhood (I googled it), but there are a lot more seconds after we grow up. And teachers are very lucky indeed, because we don’t only get the seconds we spend with the children. We get the chance to influence all the seconds in the rest of their lives.