Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | June 6, 2013

Reinventing the Wheel


     My first teaching job was at Indian Mountain School, a junior boarding and day school.  Each weekday we held a special study hall y at 5:15 p.m. for boarding students  It was called 5:15.  Any student who failed to do his homework could be assigned to 5:15.  Looked at in the most positive way, 5:15 was the school providing a supervised setting for students to make-up work not done for a class.  Looked at in the least positive way, it was a punishment given to students for not having done their homework. 

     Faculty entered students’ names into a notebook labeled 5:15 along with details of their assignments.  Each day a different teacher supervised the study hall.  He or she was called the 5:15 Master, irrespective of gender.  Each day another different teacher was assigned what was called 5:15 Roving duty.  That teacher was called The Rover.  Rovers spent their time between roughly five o’clock and five minutes to six roving the main building, just in case. 

     A minute or so after 5:15, the Rover checked in with the 5:15 Master.  The latter handed the former a list of names of students who had not shown up for 5:15.  The Rover’s task was to find those students and remind them of their obligation.  That often turned out to be a goose chase since at that time of day students were not required to be anywhere in particular.  There were, however, a number of places they were required not to be.  A missing 5:15 assignee was more likely to be in those places than where other students usually congregated, common and dormitory rooms.  To be fair, some students really did just forget, but not too many.  Some habitual offenders made it a habit to check in with the 5:15 Master just to see if their presence was required.

     Once in a while, 5:15 worked in its most positive way.  A student who regularly did do his homework might, say, have simply run short of time.  Such a student would report dutifully, prepared with text, paper, and pencil, do his assignment and, were study hall not yet officially over when he finished, be dismissed early.  Should you think that such examples had a salubrious effect on the habitual 5:15 students, think again.

     Having found a missing student, Rovers did not as rule escort him to the study hall, they simply told the student to go there.  Then, later on, the Rover checked in to see if the missing had shown up.  Those that did not became the subject of a discipline report. 

     Indian Mountain’s boarding population  in those days was all male.  One year two of my fifth graders were not very good about doing their homework.  They happened to be day students.  We did not generally have boarders that young.

     I began to send home what I called 5:15 Letters.  The letter – a mostly mimeographed note – explained what 5:15 Study Hall was and noted that “were insert student’s name here  a boarder, he or she would have been assigned to 5:15 Study Hall for the following assignment:  insert details of assignment.  Please sign this letter and have student’s name  return it to me tomorrow with the completed assignment.”

     I thought it was a neat idea.  The parents of those day students did not, perhaps because the letter turned them into de facto combination 5:15 Masters/Rovers.  One mother called me after a week or so and told me to stop giving her son those letters.  That flummoxed me.  I still thought the idea was a neat one, and so, in fact, had other faculty members who adopted.  The more who sent 5:15 Letters home, the more Day Parents who were less than enthused.  In due course, 5:15 Study Hall became a Faculty Meeting Agenda Item.

     The IMS faculty met each Wednesday evening at 7:30 in the library.  On Wednesdays, all boarding students were required to go to a supervised evening study hall so all but one faculty could attend the meeting, at least until 8:30.  Those meetings often lasted until eleven or even later.  Faculty who had left the meeting at 8:30 to supervise a dormitory till after lights out commonly returned to the meeting.  To tell you the truth, I liked them.  I found them stimulating and sometimes exciting, but I was then mostly one side or the other of thirty years old than not.  I’m not sure I would have felt the same way twenty-years on.

     The night that 5:15 Study Hall came up for discussion, the meeting lasted a long, long time.  I won’t try to recount it, but I will tell you that the concept of 5:15 was deconstructed, torn apart, torn down, abolished, introduced, modified, modified again, rebuilt and reestablished.  The reestablished 5:15, called 5:15, bore an uncanny resemblance to the former 5:15.

     Some days after, perhaps over the weekend during a social evening, conversation turned to 5:15.  The Headmaster, Dick Rouse, spoke about how the faculty had re-invented the wheel.  Dick was, for me anyway, the best head of school I ever worked under.  Someone asked him if he had known the reinvention of 5:15 was likely to happen.  Yes, he did.  Why,we asked?  Because re-inventing the wheel is very often a very good thing to do.

     As far as I know, 5:15 Study Hall was already an institution since before any of the faculty then teaching at Indian Mountain came to work there.  No of us gave it much thought;  it was what happened Monday through Friday at 5:15.  We assumed it to be a good thing educationally.  The reinvention we went through let all of us experience the creation of 5:15 as a pedagogical means to an end.  In the process we focused on the good it was intended to do, and the unintended but nevertheless real not so good consequences.  Namely, a habitual 5:15 habitué was likely not benefiting from the experience.  In the New and Improved 5:15, those who showed up three times or more a week were treated to a variety of different approaches.  Advisors invited their chronic 5:15 advisees to spend the 5:15 period with them, working on their homework and, perhaps, study habits.  Some teachers began to hold special 5:15 classes to which they “invited” students rather than sending them to the official 5:15.  Resident faculty in dormitories were encouraged to make note of what students had been assigned to 5:15 Study Hall each day and to seek them out.  Shower lists began to have check marks next to the names of students who were assigned to 5:15 Study Hall, and thus were reminded after sports of their obligation.  (In a junior boarding school, everything is supervised.)

     All of those innovations made 5:15 mostly affirmative.  Next time I’ll tell you how and why, in my experience, a 5:15 study hall would never exist in public school, and were it to exist, how any attempt at reformation through reinvention would be botched.


  1. sent twice?  any changes made?

    >________________________________ >From: cornvillenutmeg >To: >Sent: Thursday, June 6, 2013 5:44 PM >Subject: [New post] Reinventing the Wheel > >cornvillenutmeg posted: “[contact-form][contact-field label='Name' type='name' required='1'/][contact-field label='Email' type='email' required='1'/][contact-field label='Website' type='url'/][contact-field label='Comment' type='textarea' required='1'/][/contact-form]      ” >

    • Confusion on my part. The second one is likely the one I meant. Thought I had deleted the first.

  2. I think in the public school I attended it was called ‘detention’ – and it didn’t have a whole lot to do with homework – more a disciplinary exercise. I wouldn’t know because I, of course, never had detention (wish I could insert an ironic cartoon here of an angel with a halo…). Looking forward to the continuation of this theme.

    • IMS had detention, too, but it was called Penalty Time. For from one-half to two hours each Wednesday afternoon, bad boys and girls sat in the main study hall writing one sentence, selected by the Penalty Master, over and over and over and over and over. As with most discipline systems, it was an effective punishment (if we were discussing public school, I would be required to say Consequence) for about 75% of the students. The rest saw Penalty Time as the price of admission, so to speak.

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