The Value of Five Minutes

Five minutes equates to 300 seconds. I stopped for a moment to make a list of how many things I do that only take five minutes, and the list was quite extensive. To name a few, I can check a few e-mails, make a phone call, grade one or two objective tests, or photocopy a few papers. Looking over the brief list above, it takes about five minutes to do each task. However, what if you had a five-minute personal conversation with each of your students?

Near the end of each semester, I have a “Five-Minute Exit Interview” with my students. During this interview, I give them an opportunity to reflect on the semester in my class and their other classes. Afterwards, I elaborate on their performance in my class and offer words of encouragement as they move on to the next chapter of their academic journey. Of course, I always have a treat for them—cookies, fruit, or chips. Homemade chocolate chip cookies have been the most requested cookie for me to bake. As I listen to their responses, I am continually amazed at how students are juggling school, work, and their social activities. As you know, many students are working 30-45 hours a week and taking 12-15 hours of classes. Some students contribute to their parents’ house mortgage payments. Then, there are those students who do not have to work, who are simply unfocused and drifting from major to major. There are so many scenarios and challenges for today’s students. For those students juggling work and school, I ask, “How is that working for you?” The response 100% of the time is, “It’s not going well.” It’s very difficult for students to experience success with a heavy class and workload.

Five minutes provides for a teachable moment to gently make a suggestion about making wise choices. Downing (2014) stated that the main ingredient in all success is making wise choices. Every semester presents many “forks in the road” in which students have to make choices. A faculty member can help guide students in the right direction by listening, being nonjudgmental, and suggesting other resources that maybe unknown to the students.

Faculty members are not only the instructors of record, but also cheerleaders, encouragers, motivators, and guideposts. We are the guardians of the students of the 21st century. At the end of one semester, Brenda (pseudonym) visited with me after class to thank me for taking time to listen to her story and for offering her words of encouragement. I did not know that Brenda and her son lived in her car during the semester for two weeks. I wish I had known, but at that time, she chose not to share that information with anyone. However, what I said to her in those five minutes in my office encouraged her to persist and not drop her classes. I am happy to say that Brenda has completed her studies at Blinn and is now working in the health field.

Take a few minutes to step away from the learning outcomes on your syllabus to visit with your students. You may be the guidepost that helps keep a student in school and who makes a difference in his or her personal life. One can never overestimate the value of five minutes.

Essie Childers is a professor of Student Success and Developmental Reading at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas, USA. She also serves as consultant to the American Adjunct Educators Association.

What about you? Please share your five-minute encounters with students that possibly made a difference in their class performance or goal achievement.

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Reference: Downing, S. (2014). “On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life” (p. 3). Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.