Rip Van Winkle, wake up!

Rip Van Winkle illustrated by Arthur Rackham
Rip Van Winkle illustrated by Arthur Rackham

Rip Van Winkle is a story written by Washington Irving, in 1819, about a man who likes to wander away from hearth and home, and let’s just say ends up taking a very long nap. He wakes up to find his friends and family gone, and life has passed him by. His fable has been used as a metaphor for those who “sleep through their lives.” Miss trains. Lose track of time. Procrastinate, then panic.

I used to have this dream when I was in college. Not a “I have a dream” dream, but a recurring, while sleeping, dream. I am sitting in my senior year social studies class, though I don’t belong. I try to tell the teacher that I am already accepted in college, and I don’t have to be back in high school. He says I didn’t pass this one test, and everything I’ve done since then is null and void, meaning–worthless. High school diploma? Worthless. Acceptance letter for college? Nope. The dream was one of those that are so real, they stay with you, burned in the psyche and soul decades later. More of a nightmare than a dream, I’d say.

Every checkpoint along the way of a school year, inevitably I have students who pull a Rip V.W. on me. The third quarter is over. (And no, I’m not going to get into some arbitrary discussion about grading, assessments, the artificiality of time, blah blah blah.) I will get an email from the dreamer asking “Is it too late to turn in assignments?” Now, mind you, these assignments are formative assessments – I check for completion, and then give feedback separately. And, many of these assignments are two months old.

“Dreamer Dan” loves to read in class. Well, that tugs on my Language Arts teacher’s heart. Dreamer Dan will poke his head up out of his book from time to time, and provide an insightful discussion point. Tug, again. Now I’m just feeling baited. This student is obviously bright, insightful, and has something to add. So why doesn’t he just get his assignments turned in on time so I can see his thinking on paper? (Virtual paper, yes, but on paper?) Where is the resistance coming from?

Maybe I’m asking the wrong question. Maybe the question is, “What makes a student turn in their work?” Most students do get their assignments turned in on time, or close to it. And, I always accept late work, to a point. I send email reminders, links, access to resources, and stay after school to help. I answer questions, clarify, assist, modify, differentiate, and guidance.

At some point, my dreamers, it is over. The school year will be over. You won’t get to go back and redo it. You will have a job to be on time for, a plane to catch, a dental appointment to keep. We are all battling “Man versus Time.” I am doing my part by providing as creative, interesting, and meaningful instruction as I can. But wake up, kid. Be proud of your accomplishments in the moment. And no one can turn that into a nightmare for you.

One thought on “Rip Van Winkle, wake up!

  1. Your dedication is evident. I feel your pain… I’m grateful the ‘homework’ I assign in K is viewed as fun. One of my good friends teaches 7th grade – not sure how you do it. 🙂


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