Run before the bell

It’s a familiar scene. Between classes, students walk and talk through the hallway. The crowds thin out, the hall is almost empty, and the Tardy Bell rings. As soon as the bell rings, you’ll see a handful of late students go running to their class.

As a teacher, I sometimes had an opportunity to talk to the tardy runners, and I had a short and basic speech:

“If you don’t want to be late, that’s awesome. If you’re willing to run in order not to be late, that’s really awesome. But you have to run before the bell, not after it. Once it rings, you’re late. Running dramatically into the class doesn’t make you less late, less annoying, less a step behind your classmates. It just makes you dramatic...and late. So next time you run, run before the bell.”

It’s the sort of smart-ass speech I enjoy making. But after several years of this, I came to see “Run Before the Bell” as a way to think about all kinds of procrastination, not just tardy-bell silliness.

It’s wonderful that you’re willing to make dramatic efforts toward something: staying up all night to study for a test; starting an extreme fitness routine before a sports team try-out; concocting an elaborate Promposal; doing extra credit work to boost your grade. But run before the bell and do those things at a time when they’ll be more beneficial: stay up a little late five nights before the test instead of a self-destructive all-nighter; start exercising months before the try-out; ask that person out now in a non-theatrical way instead of waiting until Prom season; keep your grades up so you don’t have to beg for extra credit. It’s not as dramatic, but it costs you a lot less.

This advice is especially true for college-bound 9th and 10th graders, and it has everything to do with college applications. In a few years, when it’s time to send off applications, you’re going to wish you had better grades, had better relationships with teachers to get good recommendations, had cultivated your interests more, and had more leadership roles. Don’t wait until the fall of 12th grade to realize this. You can work on all those things now, and it will be easier. Run before the bell.