Getting time on our side

I’ve been thinking a lot about career continuums and school redesign lately, participating in an National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) webinar (which will be available next week) and working towards the release of an NNSTOY whitepaper (which will be released October 4th…I can’t wait!). I’ve been putting my brain in high gear, rethinking some big ideas in our profession and having dialogue with teachers across the country on the topic. But there is one catalyst in my life that has caused me to think long and hard on this…

I am just wrapping up my second teaching week in my new job as a teacher educator at Mount Holyoke College. I emphasize my second teaching week. Because before that, I had several weeks (paid) to plan, read, think, reflect. Time to grow my practice, collaborate with my colleagues, and  create ideal learning situations for my college students.

Now here is my question: How could this happen in our public education K-12 system?

Here’s another example to illustrate my thinking. It’s Friday, and I’m sitting in my office. I taught on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, but today? I am planning next week’s explorations. I am watching videos from the Teaching Channel, thinking about which segments we can watch in class, learning as a group. I am carefully responding to exit tickets, reflecting on my students’ suggestions for the way our class flows. I am meeting with several students to talk through some questions they had from class, diving deeper into their understanding. I am meeting with a colleague, collaborating on our field journal assignments and how they can be more powerful and effective for our preservice teachers. I am reading current research about reflective practice and applying it to my own craft as an educator. I am doing the things that I want to do when I am in the K-12 classroom, but I just may not have time for. And it’s making me think.

In many countries with top-performing students, teachers don’t spend as much teaching time in front of students. They have time built into their school day, not just lopped on top. In Finland, for example, teachers spend on average 600 hours a year in front of students. In the United States? Over 1,000 hours. And I would make the argument that the more time I have to grow as a professional OUTSIDE my classroom, the better my craft of teaching is INSIDE my classroom. Which makes me a more effective teacher for my students. But I need the time to do it.

So a thought to let simmer…how can we shift our thinking about time in our public schools? Let’s get time on our side so we can meaningfully collaborate and grow as more effective educators.

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  • BriannaCrowley

    Time: My Frenemy

    Megan, I too have been thinking a LOT about time this week. In my 3rd week of school I am feeling the all-to-familiar crush of planning vs. grading. At the secondary level, I have to plan for 3 different curriculums to teach to over 100 students per day. One of these curriculums is still being written…by me and my colleagues…AS we teach it. Sure we received one pull out day a month last year and sure we were given 3 days this summer, but it wasn’t enough to truly design 90 days of high-level instruction in an area of our content we don’t feel “expert” in. We are English teachers designing a course on media studies. 

    I also have all of the formative feedback I’ve been collecting over these weeks just waiting in my Google docs to be graded, but I am too busy designing new activities, finding resources to augment our new textbook, and tweaking my curriculum activites from last year based on my reflective notes and the new students in front of me. It’s exhilerating and exhausting. I’m meeting with teachers after school and emailing late into the night. 

    I feel exhilarated (despite the sleep deprivation) because I know I’m working with colleagues to meet student needs for genuine learning experiences. But I also hate my job sometimes. Hate that I never seem to be able to stop because there always seems to be more to do. Hate that I seem to work another full day after being in front of students all day. 

    I agree with you. The higher we continue to raise the bar for teacher’s knowledge, skills, and professional development the more time needs to be given for teachers to actually develop! Being in front of students is only half the job. For it to be effective instruction or facilitation, time to reflect and thoughtfully plan NEED to be built into a teacher’s day. Often the 40-50 minute “planning” period is spent on administrative tasks–emailing, record-keeping, printing/copying, etc. The system need to structure more time for teachers to be thoughtful about their practice and focus deeply on improving it. 

    Keep up the mission–I am 100% beside you in advocating for new ways to structure teacher’s PD, collaboration, and time in front of students. 

  • SandyMerz

    Time is the equalizer

    I was at a Dept. of Ed. Roundtable last week with one of their Teacher Ambassador Fellows, Emily Davis.  One teacher was very direct about how the lucky the district was to have him.  He wasn’t beeing arogant, just sincere.  His qualifications were immense and we had a chance to see how accomplished his teaching was.  Emily asked what he wanted, and he said, “June, give me June, 40 hours a week at my regular pay to plan.”  I jumped in and descibed my hybrid role.  The heads were nodding like crazy.  Not just extra planning time, but time to develop other teachers and make something of their own ideas.

  • ArielSacks


    Megan, this really is my dream–the flexibility of a university professor, but keep working with adolescents.  I would be happy to work way more than a 40 hour week on all of the professional activities I’d be involved in, but that flex time you describe would make k-12 teaching so much more sustainable.

  • SusanGraham

    Hard choices

    This is so important because time limitation because it is the least negotiable. It’s interesting that there are four responses were and each person has dealt with time limitations in different ways.

    Brianna’s response is the most common–double down with more hours and pack each hour with more. To see someone with the vision to take on leadership roles early in their career holds so much promise for our profession. The problem is  that keeping all those plates in the air can be, as Brianna says, “exhilrating”, but there is a point at which exhilaration turns to exhuastion.

    Megan’s decision was to take a different approach.She’s guiding prospective teachers as they prepare to teach through a higher ed teacher prep program and the potential of how those teachers produce a  ripple effect is huge. The problem is, she had to give up her classroom. And that’s not just a loss to those kids, it’s a loss to her colleagues in that school and the district where she was a change agent.

    Sandy is reveling in his Teacherpreneur role. He gets to have it all–teaching and working with colleagues locally and sharing his work here in the Collaboratory. The problem is that it’s temporary. And changing school culture takes time and so how to sustain his efforts compIlicates the puzzle.

    Ariel is jigsawwing multiple efforts. She has experienced working with higher ed, with leading PD, with writing her own book, with being a Teacherpreneur while still teaching. The problem is that it has required juggling roles and changing schools.

    And then there’s me. I retired. Now I have the time for all those “extras” of supporting new teachers, writing, and working on professional issues.  The problem is I miss the immediacy of being with kids and colleagues and the realties of the balancing act of practicing teacher leaders.

    Too often the pathway to fully realized professionalism looks a lot like a cross between and obstacle course. As teachers begin to reach their greatest professional  capacity they are faced with an endurance test to maintain multiple roles and projects. And then, it seems, against their will, they reach a tipping point that requires choosing between the classroom, full implementation of professional abilities, or sacrificing personal life.

    How do we balance sustainability and flexibility for teaching professionals, the schools they work in and the organizational structures of education?