A Teacher’s Bowl Runneth Over

Some years ago, a brilliant television advertisement for a well-known breakfast food featured two older siblings – both dubious about their mother’s choice of cereal – attempting to foist her latest selection upon their little brother saying “Give it to Mikey! He’ll eat anything!”

While the advertisement was clever and memorable as a marketing ploy, the strategy seems to have been adopted nationwide in formulating job descriptions for educators.

For all professional educators, the phrase “other duties as assigned” has evolved into the bane of their professional lives. No task is too intrusive on the contractual day, too mind-numbingly menial, or too irrelevant to instructional priorities, to prevent its inclusion on the long list of mandatory duties that have nothing to do with improving the cognition of students.

Give to the teachers; they’ll do anything.

The acquisition of a teaching credential does not require a three-credit course in “bus counting” prior to certification. Yet, each morning and afternoon, a teacher is likely to be found in front of the school building, clipboard in hand, charting the arrival of those yellow behemoths. 

Nothing in teacher formation programs prepares teachers for their future in lunchroom crowd-control or supervision of the hallways. Ninety minutes of delivering instruction for a large class and, without a break, supervise the 300 youngsters in the hall. 

At least those duties do not directly interfere with instructional time.

However, for eight weeks during the school year, the added task of proctoring standardized tests (Benchmarks, PSAT’s, HSA’s, PARCC, etc.) curtails the ability of teachers to deliver coherent instruction.

For those not directly involved in proctoring, the challenge becomes keeping entire classes “on standard” when a different 30-40% of the class is pulled out for testing for 45 days during the year. Teach an elective where multiple grade levels attend each class and it becomes impossible to “advance the class” as a unit through the curriculum for multiple weeks at a time. 


Furthermore, teachers spend weeks reteaching concepts to children returning from the testing hiatus. No matter how you cut it, the current protocols for standardized testing disrupt instructional programs for everyone despite the errant claims otherwise by bureaucrats. 

The workday for teachers should be mostly, dare one suggest “entirely”, devoted to diagnosing the needs of students, organizing lessons, delivering instruction and evaluating formative assessments. The inevitable collision with “other duties” too frequently results in a profound misuse of teacher expertise and, hence, the taxpayers’ dollars.

We can ill afford to fill the teacher’s contractual day with extraneous, non-instructional tasks while pushing to the periphery all the essential tasks required to improve academic outcomes.


[The original version of this  Commentary appeared originally in the now defunct Prince George’s Gazette on November 20, 2014. It has been revised for readability. ] 

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