Q: Why do teachers from different subjects always have their assessments due in the same week?
A: While I wish I could speak to you in hushed tones about a major, international conspiracy involving teachers and a plot to slowly, incrementally, alter the very nature of time, the academic calendar is mostly to blame. Seriously. I noticed this a few weeks back while putting together my syllabus. Being the rough-and-tumble revolutionary that I am, this time around I wanted to throw off the yoke of the ultimate cruel despot (myself) by changing up the course schedule I’ve used in the past. However, when I started blocking off national holidays, school breaks, beginnings, and ends, I realized that there wasn’t much leeway in due dates. So, I revolted against my revolt and switched content, but not chronology.
I should also point out that at the end of the semester we are assigned the times for our final tests and also deadlines for submitting final grades. Again, there isn’t much wiggle-room. So there you have it: assignments for different classes are usually due at the same time because there isn’t another time at which they can be due. You can’t schedule a major assignment early in the semester, before you’ve had a chance to get acquainted with the class and the material. As teachers, we need at least a few weeks to assess where the class is at, and at least one or two "diagnostic" assignments to see how students are reacting to the course material. Factor in time between the major assignments, and time taken up by grading, and voila, the rush periods naturally result. This is true for subjects across the board, in my view.
True, there is something to be said about coordinating things more tightly between different subjects and classrooms, but students are also taking different classes, so I’m not sure how that would play out in practice. Finally, my personal opinion is that learning works best in peaks and valleys—our brains need time to process things, and I think it is valuable to have really intense periods followed by "reboot" times where that experience can mentally marinate and incorporate new material. Exercise works the same way, no? If you’re training for a marathon, you have a base level of daily work, and then you push really hard at key intervals to tack on a few more miles. Then, recovery, and back towards the next peak. This is also my justification for winter and summer breaks. In short, while I sympathize with your frustration, I would only note that teachers are in the same boat, and barring major revisions to the academic calendar, the boat will likely stay on the same system of low and high tides for the foreseeable future.
Mr. Jung teaches college writing in Chicago, where he lives with his wife and their growing collection of street maps.