If a kid takes a 50-minute assessment, how much time should his teacher take to offer suggestions for improvement? What about analyzing what the next lesson ought to remediate and what it ought to extend?
Consider that this teacher has 125 students, all at different levels, spread across three different courses, each with a different curriculum guide. Now how long?
Oh, and each student is working on a complex research challenge, designed to meet both their academic and personal interests and needs. The class is wrestling with grammar and spelling lessons, too. How much time to plan for that?
Some of these kids resist learning and require individualized interventions, calls home, and collaboration with administrators. As a parent, would you appreciate a phone call explaining this? Is five minutes long enough to describe to a parent how his daughter is “not meeting expectations” and then make a plan to address it?
Now mix in the sponsorship of two extra-curricular clubs, hall and bathroom duty, new technology to integrate, and one’s own professional learning, and you’ve come close to approximating what a typical teacher in Kentucky is tasked with every single day. No wonder teachers burn out.
This happens to describe my teaching day since I started at my high school seventeen years ago, but it reflects most any teacher’s day.Check out what my colleague, Angela Gunter, pulls off in a single day:
How long do I spend on each kid’s test? About 90 seconds, looking for key words and sentence structures that reveal students’ levels of understanding. Remember, I’ve been doing this awhile. That’s down from the five-ten minutes it used to take.
I’m a parent, too, and I think about my own daughter and how long her teachers have to consider her work. I shudder and keep going. No time to wallow.
As for lesson planning, I have built up a series of next steps I can modify and adapt quickly – my heart goes out to the new teacher next door who has neither the storehouse of lessons nor the complex awareness of the implications of students’ mistakes that I do. I’ll spend my summer on a more thorough overhaul of the year’s plans.
I’m expected to input this assessment data, organized by learning standard, into our state’s accountability mechanism (CIITS). I don’t. I wait until someone gives me a deadline or ultimatum before I follow through on this. What matters most to me is that I learned quite a bit about my students, so I’ll defer proving this to the authorities and give in to the immediate need of meeting with students and calling parents.
Here’s what we know: We must individualize instruction, and students must address real questions of research, no matter what academic or career challenges they will face in the future. So, what is the best way to do this? For me, I’ve got to talk through it with each and every kid.
During the first semester, I meet with each of my 125 students before or after school, helping them to focus on a problem to solve that is both academically rigorous and personally relevant. We meet again before the end of the year assessments to review each student’s academic strengths and weaknesses with enough time left in the school year to capitalize on what we learn.
I skip both my hall and bathroom duty.
I do make time to go meet with the new teacher next door. It takes a village, right? But, it is hard for me to listen as he describes his latest challenge.
Ultimately, he’s trying to manage 130 students with three different class preps while directing the school play. The insanity of what he is tasked to do makes it impossible to offer suggestions that don’t sound ludicrously inadequate or impossible to implement. He’s brilliant and compassionate, and I’m surprised every morning that he comes back to work.
At the end of the day, I’m embarrassed by how much I’ve left undone. And when I get home, I do what I can to be present for my family and to feed my own soul, without fixating too much on the bag near the door that taunts me with the work I should be doing.
There is nothing special about my concerns. These are the same concerns expressed by my colleagues and mentors when I entered the profession a quarter of a century ago. Spend twenty minutes on the internet and you will find hundreds of teachers who share them today. Start with this blog by Peter Greene at the Huffington Post. Teachers are re-posting it like crazy for a reason.
Time’s up. We can no longer accept this archaic daily structure clearly built for everyone’s failure. A team of Kentucky teachers and an administrator combined their passion and deep knowledge of the problem and made four recommendations to optimize teacher time. What if our schedule looked like this?
To implement these ideas, we will have to think creatively, and we will have to do that thinking together. Here are some additional places to start:
- Coordinate teacher planning time to match the number of students they teach so each student and their work receive the time and attention every child deserves.
- Allow classified staff to perform some of the duties that usually fall to certified staff, like bus, hall and bathroom duties. This could even extend to study hall and club time.
- Build in common planning time during the school day for departments to facilitate curriculum and assessment design and professional learning.
- Allow new and experienced teachers to co-teach during at least one hour of the day to provide the modeling and support new teachers need.
- Re-imagine school and district staffing to lower student to teacher ratios and redistribute instructional leadership opportunities among experienced, qualified teachers.
Our culture understands “teaching” as time spent in direct instruction with students. But, that’s not even a quarter of what teaching is today. Yet, given our current school schedule, one designed over 100 years ago, it is about all we have time for. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can do better. Here’s how.