I have never been too good with deadlines. My dissertation was a three-month module where I was to plan, research ideas and analyse countless pages of magical realism, the very heartbeat hiding behind Marquez’s harrowing, yet with unparalleled beauty, ontological landscape.
I did it in three days.
Moreover, had I not charmed my way in to the heart of the administration staff at the University of Dundee over the four years, I would have lost a grade for it being an hour late. Ironic, I know, for one who was simultaneously completing a fourth year philosophy project on the ‘Philosophy of Time’. Another endeavour hastily rushed in the small hours of a haze filled university slumber.
It turns out, some people learn differently than others. Some people work differently, too.
My last two essays at University were on Plato’s ‘Phaedrus’ and ‘Symposium’. I was given a two-week timeframe to complete the essays and for the first time in my life, I used every minute given to me. I completed my introductions in the first few days. I set out an actual plan of my arguments and how they interlinked with relevant sources. I read and reread the books. I did extensive research on secondary resources. My conclusions were perfect. I felt at complete ease. These final two essays came with no pressure, no stress and no panic whatsoever. My Masters in English and Philosophy was done. Sing, fat lady, sing…
You can imagine my complete astonishment when I received the two lowest grades of my entire university career. In words my fellow Scottish friends will know – I was “pure, raging!”. The one time I had put in, what I had thought, was my greatest effort, my complete concentration, my deafening desire to ensure I would go out with a bang; I fell, with emptied lungs, crawling over the finishing line with a mere whimper. Again, raging.
Then again, I had learned everything I had set out to learn on my first day of university. I felt, at the end, that I was a Masters in English and Philosophy. It is not as if I cannot keep up with discussions of Love and Desire in philosophical circles, simply because I did not achieve an A+ in my essays. I am well aware of Socrates’ (through Plato) belief of how we attain Love and how we seek Desire and that these two are forever, intrinsically linked together. This was not the problem. The problem I encountered was that I had always been told the more you put in, the more you get out. Well, I put more in this time and got less out. Once again, pure raging. How had this happened?
It turns out people work differently. And I, it would appear, work best under pressure. Give me a month to write 12,000 words and what you will read is an unfocussed, confused thrown together piece of writing that is not only way over thought, but seems to start again every 2,000 words. Give me three days (and yes, I admit it, three nights) and I will produce a piece of writing that will be focussed, structured and without doubt will answer the question. I am not saying my dissertation never faltered toward the end, but pressure of a ticking clock kept me focussed to the point where it was nearly impossible for me to go off topic. This is the problem with extended pieces of writing. It is difficult not to ramble, to divert from the topic or question at hand.
Rereading my last two essays it is difficult not to laugh. I am all over the place. I was clearly way too at ease with myself. Two essays on Plato. Hah! I started reading Plato when I was 14 years old. If I actually put effort in this time I will sail easily to two big juicy A’s. What a way to end. Easy.
It is so strange to think that I was actually making it much more difficult for myself. I was giving myself too much leeway, too much freedom, too much time.
Throughout university, I had thought I was just putting things off to the last minute, and, well I guess I was. What I had not realised was, I was doing this because I knew that is how I work best. It is how I produce my better (written) work. For me, it is natural to write an essay in one big go. It guarantees a fluid answer to a complex question.
We all learn and work in different ways. It is important to understand this notion. As a teacher, my students do not learn and work the way I do. I leave it up to them. It is their education after all. I am always there for them and I teach them the way I like to teach. I hope it is a way they like to be taught. They all, however, work differently.
I once told a friend of mine at university that he wrote brilliant essays, to which he replied:
“Yeah, but I’m really jealous of you.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you write brilliant sentences.”
We all work differently, I guess.
Steve teaches History & Geography in KS3