Maintaining Perspective: My 5% Rule

Travis DixonGeneral Interest

While 5% seems like a low number, if you take a moment to consider everything going on in a teenager's life, it's pretty realistic.

This post is adapted from an earlier post.

At the start of the school year I like to remind myself about My 5% Rule: I should expect IB Psychology to make up less than 5% of my students’ lives.

About 98% of the time that I see my kids is when they’re in my classroom. I’d love to reduce that % and be able to say that I see them more in the playground, at their music concerts and recitals, playing sports, or away on field trips, etc. etc. I’d love to be able to say that and I suppose I can for some more than others. But the reality is that nearly all the time I see my students it’s when they’re in my class.

For this reason I’ve found that it is far too easy to lose perspective about how much I can realistically expect of them. It’s far too easy for me to simply assign a piece of homework, like an extra bit of reading or an interesting TED talk without considering anything and everything else they might have going on at that time.

Our IB students have:

  • Six subjects
  • CAS requirements
  • TOK
  • EE
  • plus all their other extra-school commitments like
    • clubs
    • sports teams
    • fine arts events
    • …and the list goes on.

And they also have family, friends and out of school hobbies that they should be spending time with.

Sure I’d love them all to be as passionate about psychology, history and English as I am but I can’t assign work like they are. That, in my mind, is unrealistic and unfair. Instead, I aim to provide every opportunity I can to those students who are passionate to explore and extend their interests in what we’re learning about.


Burnout is a very real threat for IB students and it’s something I fight hard against. I’m confident that my new course design will help with the fight.

Last month I asked all of my classes to write on their mini whiteboards and show me what percentage of their life is IB Psychology. I was thinking they’d overestimate and say something like 10% or 20% because they’d think that’s what they were supposed to say. But most wrote about 3% – 5%. And I have to say, I agree. Totally! Multiplied by six subjects, that’d be about 20% – 30%, and then throw the extra school stuff on there and you’re looking at around 50%. That’s more than enough for school, in my mind.

If we’re trying to teach students how to have healthy and balanced lives, we need to working hard to ensure our expectations allow this to happen.

How many teachers would want our job to be more than 50% of our life?

If we’re to facilitate the development of healthy, well-rounded, socially adjusted and happy kids, we need to maintain our perspective. The nature of high school teaching is that it’s far too easy to forget about everything else going on in a kid’s life because like I said, 98% of the time we see them it’s within our classroom; our perspectives are naturally skewed.

I’ve found that every now and then reminding myself of the 5% rule just helps me to keep it in check. I’ve also tried to get my students to promise that they’ll remind me any time it looks like I’ve lost this perspective.

I have found that reducing the content of the IB Psychology course by combining core and options has been key for me in helping to keep my students’ workload more than manageable.

I don’t know about your kids, but ours get pushed and pulled pretty hard throughout the IB programme. And I don’t accept the common, offhand remark, “well it’s just a demanding course” as justification for a lack of perspective about what we’re expecting of our kids. Student’s will perform better if we have higher expectations, that’s true. But higher expectations and unrealistic expectations are two separate things. We’re to strike the balance is something we need to strive to find as teachers, and one we shouldn’t stop looking for.

In my opinion, we need to be doing less, and we need to be doing it better. I started Themantic Education because I think I know how we can achieve this, and it starts with having more practical solutions to the multitude of challenges we face as teachers. Our new IB Psychology textbook is just the tip of the ice-berg of what we hope to make available for teachers in the near and distant future.