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:
- Efficient, applied professional development
- Longer work days
- Longer work years
- Alternate student programming
- Departmentalized teaching
- Smarter scheduling
* 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.