Monday, August 16, 2010

Time for Teacher Work to Work (Part 1)

Lawyers would flip out if asked to spend 80% of their work time in trial. Surgeons would revolt, and probably make serious mistakes, if they had only 20% of their time to research cases, prepare for operations, and follow up with patients outside of the O.R. How good would plays be if actors spent only 8 hours rehearsing for a 20-show run of a 2-hour play?

I wouldn't want to be a lawyer, doctor, or thespian in any of those professional environments. And you probably wouldn't trust any of them with your lawsuit, health, or admission fee. Why then, do we think it's okay to give teachers 80 minutes or less each day to develop 5 or more hours of rigorous student instruction*?

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has spoken recently of increased quality and length of professional work time for teachers, and many educators have known it's necessary for years. Teachers who carve adequate professional time out of their personal lives often burn out and turn over quickly, which of course causes loss of professional wisdom and high recruitment and training costs for districts. When we don't get the time needed to plan and develop our skills, the effectiveness of our teaching for children suffers. The role of the teacher is growing fast, but our professional systems have changed little. In an older but on-the-money report by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, Cathy J. Cook and Carole Fine write, "The reality is that teachers likely will require more than 20 percent of their work time for learning and collaboration if they are to be successful in implementing ambitious reform initiatives."

In my own teaching experience, I find myself looking for a road between the no-win options of over-working and under-preparing. I often work too much, which compromises my teaching as well as my ability to stay long-term if I can't find a way to slow down. But other days I choose not to complete plans and preparation I know will benefit my students, because I need the time for my life. Either way, children and teachers suffer. We all know it's a huge problem. (If you know of other articles which document and analyze the issue more fully, please post them as comments.) My purpose in this series of posts is to explore possible solutions to the problem that teachers don't have time to do the work we need to be effective.

From research and brainstorming, I compiled a list of 7 possible solutions. Many of these solutions could co-exist and complement each other. I'm sure there are many more possibilities. I don't think any of the ideas are original, and people who think about these issues full-time have probably written about them in greater depth than I will here. My hope for this post series is to briefly explore a range of solutions from a classroom perspective to remind us of our options and renew a conversation of them.

Ways to give teachers the professional time we need to excel:
  1. Efficient, applied professional development

  2. Longer work days

  3. Longer work years

  4. Alternate student programming

  5. Co-teaching

  6. Departmentalized teaching

  7. Smarter scheduling
Each day this week, I will write about some of these alternatives from a classroom perspective. Please contribute your thoughts and resources on each.

* A note on figures: I calculated these numbers based on my own teaching schedule -- one with MORE planning time than many. For me, each official school day contains 30 minutes before students arrive, usually used for school meeting or training, 50 minutes during the students' day for planning, often scheduled for grade-level planning or development, and about 5 hours teaching students. Like many teachers, I spend a great deal of time after school and on weekends developing plans, assessing student work, and meeting one-on-one with students. Those hours and the fact that official school days are shorter than a typical professional day make the calculation a little murkier. For me, the widespread anecdotal evidence is more convincing. Find me a good teacher who isn't overworked, and we'll talk.


Anonymous said...

Oh, and next time efavorite comments, ask her for a discourse that includes ideas. I bet you efavorite will back track in a hurry and say that reading your blog is just part of being a concerned citizen. I wish that concern would have started many years ago in DC and actually came with solutions.

Anonymous said...

Teaching Serendipity seems to be managing quite okay without making her blog private, if you want people to read and respect a blog about education you have to be open to the ideas of ALL those who post in response. Maybe if you are read all her posts and those in the WaPo with an open mind you might learn something from efavorite, I think her points were valid. However, I also like Teaching S.'s blog and will continue to read it precisely because she is open to criticism. Last year as a new teacher with 4 preps and 2 grad. classes a week and trying to make sense of IMPACT (not a Fellow or TFA), I fell asleep most nights at my desk at home trying to lesson plan, rarely slept more than 4 hours, and was a wreck by the end of the year. I think new teachers should co-teacher for at least the first 6 months.

Anonymous said...

I have seen people openly ask for opinions and solutions, certain commenters, including efavorite, reply with nothing as far as ideas. I always read the WaPo with an open, it gets harder to read the comment section with an open mind though as it's usually just hate.

TeachingSerendipity said...

Anonymous 5:24, thanks so much for sharing your experience from your first year of teaching. I feel you on trying to figure out teaching and grad school at the same time -- it's impossible to do it all at once! I'm curious about your suggestion of co-teaching for new teachers. Would this be different from the student teaching students in education programs do? What would your ideal co-teaching induction program look like?

Anonymous said...

Regular ed. programs do provide co-teaching opportunities and supervised teaching experiences; however, if you are in one of the new accelerated area university programs then these opportunities are not provided. I tentatively saw my new schedule today, it could involve 5 preps!!!!! Plus with the additional stress of CSC and SVA, it is impossible for me to succeed in the classroom and get my masters. I am stressed just thinking about it. Why would you put new teachers into such a ridiculous situation. I think new teachers should have a maximum of 2 preps that they are solely responsible for in the first year and collaborate on 3 others. It should be a graduated co-teaching experience with them taking on responsibility for the whole lesson including planning and assessment by 6 months, but I'd take 3. My experience with DCPS so far is that they don't care about teachers, we are expendable. I don't understand why there are no first year teaching criteria or support systems in place. I love my school and my students but hate the system.