Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Time for Teacher Work to Work (Part 3)

Today, we continue to explore solutions to the problem that teachers don't have time to do the work needed to be effective. Read Parts 1 and 2 to catch up. Today, we will examine 2 more of at least 7 possible solutions ...

3) Longer work year: This option is one of my favorites. It doesn't necessarily mean more school days for students. (That's a whole other ball of wax, one that's pretty hot right now.) Instead, it means teachers doing professional work on the days students are out of school, either during the summer or during shorter, more spread-out breaks for year-round schools. I think using student vacation days for professional work is a particularly good for with year-round schools, so planning and analysis can be done while the teaching year is still happening. If all the professional work is done in the summer, we can still make good instructional plans and materials, but it's less meaningful to analyze student data and differentiate instruction with our old students gone and our new ones not yet arrived.

Of course, a longer work year means giving up that mythical treasure of the teaching profession, the summer vacation. We teachers like our vacations. Of course we do -- who wouldn't?! But, much as I would miss the long stretches of time for horseback riding by the Mediterranean or working in a progressive bookstore, I would gladly trade them for better year-round quality of life for me and mine, and better learning for my students. Teacher readers -- would you?

4) Alternate student programming: Some (or all?) Fairfax County schools have Early Release days for students every Monday. I suggest alternative student programming as a way for teachers to get the weekly planning and collaboration time offered by Early Release, but with consistent supervision for families and additional learning opportunities for children. Students could stay in schools, perhaps in programs led by Recreation and Parks counselors or part-time employees. Alternate student programming could follow a wide range of calendars. In my opinion, more time is better, as are longer blocks of time. (I and many other professionals tend to be more productive in one 4 hour block of work as opposed to two 2-hour blocks, especially at the end of a school day, half or otherwise.) Two possible configurations for alternate student programming are a half-day every week, as in Fairfax, or one full day every other week. Even one full day per month is far better than nothing.

To increase the pool of high-quality educators available to deliver alternate programming, schools could take their professional time on different days. So one alternate programming counselor might see students from different schools each day of the week, leading to part-time programming for students and part-time professional work for teachers, but full-time employment for counselors. And to accommodate the reduction in students' weekly academic hours, districts might add more school days throughout the year, or find qualified, professional educators to deliver academic and/or special subject instruction during Early Release days. Alternate student programming, like options 2 and 3, carries the advantage of giving shared planning time to all teachers in a school, thereby facilitating collaboration of teachers within and between grade levels.

Check in next time as we explore more solutions ...