Practicing flex-time in the Adult Education language classroom

 By Anna Panunto

In general, one can agree that perception of time can create the biggest clashes among people.  As an Adult Education teacher, the world enters my classroom.

 Although this is a culturally enriching experience, the challenge has always been   having my adult learners conform to North America’s linear time culture as “learners.”  What does it mean to be punctual and to respect deadlines?  Most of my students come from a Flex-time culture and this means that in their native countries, time is elastic and so delays are not only anticipated but also, tolerated.  The notion of “late” is not punishable as it is here in North America. Now, having been an adult educator for over 20 years, this has been my greatest challenge in the classroom. My perception of time is rigid and this is due to my learned behaviour as a North American.

 Late assignments in the 1980’s and 1990’s  were punished and not even accepted at times. Class attendance was mandatory and punctuality was not only expected, but demanded as a sign of respect.   For example, an 8:30  am class, was exactly that and the teacher began to lecture at 8:35am. In an Adult Education language  class, that is  usually not the case.  An Adult Education  teacher has to anticipate that students may trickle in late  and plan his or her class accordingly. Over the years, I  learned to adapt to  a  flex time culture and found innovative  ways to still have an effective and efficient class without relying on a rigid time schedule.  People coming from a linear time schedule ( North Americans)  follow a time table and time is of the essence. We define success by how productive we are with” time.”   But, what does being productive really mean?  In a Flex time schedule, time is perceived differently and so, the notion of what conduces a successful class is also perceived differently.  So, perception of time equals different notions of success.

In a Flex time culture, people capitalize on priorities and the changing needs of the students as it comes.  For instance, a student in the class may have an urgent matter that he or she would need help on and so, the content of what has to be learned in the classroom on that day, needs to be compromised. Over the last two decades I learned how to organize a class  with an in between type of schedule that I  like to call, Flex-linear schedule. This means that students for instance, have a 48 to 72  hour time frame to submit assignments.  The daily agenda of the class has also changed over the years. I never start teaching new material in the first 30 minutes. 

 Reviewing learned material in creative ways has become the goal in ensuring student success. Bear in mind that most language classes allow teachers this  opportunity  and this may not be the case for other subject areas.   What has also worked beautifully in almost all of my language classes has been allocating   15 to 30 minutes of class time to freestyle discussions – whatever the need may be on that particular day.  Over the years, I discovered  that  adults do not like to be rushed into  the learning process. Putting pressure on them to learn this and that by this specific date has not always resulted in student success. Hence, a teacher’s course outline  also needs to have some flexibility. 

I have learned over the years to prioritize core content (what needs to taught at that level according to the school curriculum) in accordance to space content ( what needs to be taught in that particular class environment) . For example, one can teach an Advanced  E.S.L  class  in variation – ie:  depending on the number of students,  linguistic ability of the students , particular socio-cultural needs of the students, etc …  Moreover, adults, need a safe haven  to express their daily challenges as parents,  spouses, adult children, employees, etc…   The socio-economic pressures of the outside North-American world – where linear time is enforced upon them  on a daily basis . This in itself has a tremendous impact on their notion of success as income earners and  learners.  

All this to say, that an Adult Education language class becomes a mid-way point  to North American adaptation. The teacher allowing this fluidity of time gives students the opportunity to breathe a little bit and gradually process   the North American monochronic culture wherein scheduling and appointments consume the daily lives of all adults. 

Anna Panunto was born and raised in Montreal.  She completed her Bachelor of Arts and Masters in Educational Studies, both at McGill University. She is of Italian origin and speaks three languages: English, French, and Italian.  Anna is an Adult Education teacher at HSM Adult Education Centre and freelance writer by profession. She has been a course lecturer at McGill University and an Adult Education teacher at the EMSB for over 20 years.


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