More tasks, little time for teachers…

It is all about “time”.

For educators surviving the pseudo-accountability of the post-No-Child-Left-Behind world, “time” has devolved into just another four-letter word.

Former Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) President, Jane Stern, has inserted as her electronic tagline, “Every task takes time.” 

For as long as any perennially overworked educator can remember, all proposed methods for improving schools are remarkably consistent in their approach: Assign More Tasks to Teachers. Of late, policymakers might as well add, “…Without Regard to the Limits of Human Endurance.”

Bureaucrats labor mistakenly under the misconception that only time spent “on stage” with an audience constitutes “teaching” even though two of the four Domains in Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching are described as “off stage“, half of the teaching effort occurs when children are not in the room.  Still, most of the contractual day is devoted to the direct supervision of children. This is how all the “other-duties-as-assigned” systematize the inevitable intrusion of our chosen vocation into our personal time. When did sleep and leisure become optional? How did 12 hours of work for 7 1/2 hours of pay become a reasonable expectation?

Once upon a time, that intrusion was merely “inconvenient“; today, the encroachment on personal time is closing in on “intolerable“.

Why do more than half of all teachers leave the profession in five years? Could it be the desire for “family life” to evoke more than “Mommy’s grading papers.”? Eventually, a priority other than work arises that should not receive short shrift, a health concern for self, spouse, or parents, for example, and the workplace must become a secondary consideration. Disillusion sets in in direct proportion to the duration or frequency of such events and the propensity of supervisors to roll their eyes at any request for consideration of the circumstances.

Our communities provide some of the material resources needed for instruction, but it is left to teachers to find the time to plan lessons and correct assessments of learning because little-to-none will be forthcoming in their place of employment.

For newcomers to the profession, the time required simply to plan a lesson may exceed the time it actually takes to deliver it to students. Several well-organized lessons a day is a killing pace for even the most gifted educator.

Even experienced educators must continue to revise and update their lessons daily to remain current.

The minuscule amount of time allotted from the contractual day for actual lesson-planning is all too often usurped by the non-instructional vagaries of the school day. Filling in for a colleague; contacting a parent; a call to an unscheduled meeting ; workarounds for the broken down photocopier; data entry; an urgent letter of recommendation; any one of these events will far too regularly consume, in entirety, the so-called “planning period.”

The number of tasks assigned to teachers have increased relentlessly in recent years while untold instructional hours are lost to test prep and test proctoring. Teach more effectively and accomplish more with children in fewer instructional hours? Does that really sound possible to you? It is well past time to return to the old labor motto: “Eight hours for work; eight hours for sleep; eight hours for what you will!”

Our popular folk wisdom suggests that “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.  The endless hours contributed by this nation’s educators are probably not the sole cause of dull instruction; however, we know that excessive workload creates far too many “former educators”.

Further Reading: The Prince George’s Sentinel

[This Commentary originally appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Gazette on September 18, 2014. Photo found at:  May Day]

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