Wednesday, September 18, 2013

This Really Can’t Wait. Really?

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

One of my best professional development experiences occurred when I came back from a conference.  I attended my first annual meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, and was almost giddy from the amount of pamphlets, pennants, information, and college bling I brought back to the office. 
I was stunned when I walked in Monday to find a stack of mail and memos on my desk that was at least twice the height of the pretty pamphlets I’d brought home.  A quick flip through the stack showed paper after paper with highlighted titles like “Respond Now!”, and “How many credits is a yearlong class?  I have to know by tomorrow.”

I put aside the small stash of imported information from the conference, and dove into the more important trove of student questions and teacher issues that threatened to fill my morning.  Digging in with the same energy I always applied to the mail, the first fifth of the pile was gone in a flash— since I’d been gone five days, this meant the “urgent” business of Friday was now taken care of.

The project took on an entirely different dimension when I came across the third memo sent by my principal marked “Reply needed ASAP.” Her request was dated last Thursday, and it asked for my input on a pep assembly that was held last Friday.  It ended with “Let me know what you think right away.”  Too late now, I thought, as the paper ended up in the garbage can.

And suddenly, the spell was broken.

The next memo was from the Honor Society sponsor, asking for volunteers for last Saturday’s dance. Sorry.

The Wednesday memo about the faculty pot luck on Thursday?  Nope.

The Tuesday afternoon note from a student who just had to have a copy of his transcript Thursday for a scholarship application?  He either got it from someone else, or is working on another funding source.

Almost three-fourths of rest of Mount Memo was issues that had come and gone in the time I had gone and come back. When my first student came to see me that morning, I had two items that required my attention, and those were taken care of by lunch.

I’m heading to this year’s NACAC conference, and I’m more excited than ever.  It’s great to see colleagues and talk with colleges about this year’s special applicants, but the best part is knowing my students will have to make do while I’m gone.  Texting, e-mail, and “preferred admissions” applications have accelerated the college application process in ways I couldn’t have predicted at my first NACAC conference twenty years ago, and my seniors are too easily caught up in the rush.  Thanks to the marketing mania that has replaced much of the thoughtful discourse in a good college search, applying is all about doing it now, getting it over with, or getting someone else to do it for you.

That won’t happen this week, as my students with essay drafts will have to wait to exchange ideas that can only occur in person, and build Plan B when I respond to a complicated e-mail with “We really need to talk about this.  Set up a meeting for Monday.”  I’m not worried they will melt before then; a generation of bright seniors that preceded them suggests they’ll be just fine.

And as for the mail waiting for me?  I’ll run through the top fifth, then toss what’s left in the recycling bin.  It turns out the rest really could have waited.

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