When I’m talking with a teacher, I am prone to ask two questions: “What do you like most about teaching?” and “What changes would make you a better teacher?”
What I’ve discovered is that most teachers teach because they really want to make a difference in their students’ lives. They love it when a student learns something that’ll make him or her a more successful person.
What would they change? Well, you might be surprised. Each teacher surveyed — and in this case we’re talking about high school teachers — agreed on one major point: They need more planning time.
Incidentally, this brief, unscientific survey involves Hall County teachers only, but the problems they cite no doubt could be found in other school systems.
Yes, a little more time for lunch would be nice, and a bathroom break is always welcome. One teacher said, “I’ve come to understand that I’m not going to get to go to the bathroom at work.”
But everybody wanted more planning time. Here’s what one of those teachers said:
Hall County’s high schools now operate on a seven-period schedule — 50- to 55-minute classes — and they get only one period to plan for 140 to 180 students. Teachers were changed from a block schedule, which included four 90-minute classes, one of them a planning period. “So our class load increased dramatically, but our planning time decreased.”
Planning periods get eaten up by meetings at least one or two days a week.
Teachers are expected to differentiate their lessons for different types of learners together in one classroom.
They must give several state or federal mandated tests during the year, giving up class time, and they have to grade those tests.
They are expected to have formalized, multipage lesson plans up-to-date and stored online at all times.
They have before- and after-school meetings or specialized training to attend.
Their pay and evaluations are based partly on student performance on mandated tests and all of the documentation they’re required to prepare.
She said a lot more, but you get the idea.
Another teacher said we need to get government out of our classrooms. “If I hear the word ‘data’ one more time. ...”
One wanted longer classes. “My whole day is rushed,” she said.
The problem isn’t necessarily how teachers are teaching. It’s what’s expected of them when they’re not teaching.
“The simple solution to our educational problems,” one teacher concluded, “is this: Give teachers more time to plan for their lessons and grade papers, respect that planning time and let them have a lunch break like normal working adults.”
The fact is, high school teachers are drowning in a sea of required tests and red tape, and no doubt most of the mess is out of the hands of local school administrators.
That’s too bad. For starters, we might blame Common Core, Teacher Keys Effectiveness System, used for evaluations; and having to jump through hoops in order to receive federal money for certain programs. It’s just our government at work in the classroom.
But surely there’s a way for local officials to give high school teachers more planning time—undisturbed planning time. Money is tight; we all know that. But having teachers who are prepared, and less stressed, is critical.
We need to give teachers enough time in their work day to do the job they’ve been trained and hired to do.
Phil Hudgins is a Gainesville resident.