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I look at the clock, and it’s the last period. The students are ready to bustle out the door, but there’s so much for me to do. It’s Friday after school, and I’m going to be in school at least another two hours. Maybe 3. I planned on accomplishing a list of things today, but you were sidetracked. Something else occupied my time. Seemingly it always does.
Educators are continually placed in this difficult position. The special ed teacher has IEPs to write. The principal has a stack of disciplinary forms to muddle through. The language arts teacher has a stack of 140 three-page papers to grade. The math teacher has 6 students waiting after class for help studying for next week’s test. The elementary teacher has six phone calls to make. The guidance counselor has a group of students waiting to talk about problems they’re having.
On top of all this, we’re supposed to teach. With excellence. Change lives. You know. Teacher stuff.
Over the next few months, the writers here at the Educator’s Room are going to explore “10 Ways to Fix Education,” and our first is this: Give Educators More Planning Time.
As you read this during the rare, spare amount of leisure time you have left, we can totally empathize with you. Others outside the profession use the same punches, like “this is a part-time job,” wondering why we don’t just have students answer the questions at the back of the book, and remind us of what great benefit it is to have the summers off, but that doesn’t seem to be the case – this Friday in February or any other day.
That’s because teachers work basically as much as any other profession. According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the average American teacher spends nearly 11 hours per day on school work and school-related functions. Yes, a full three hours beyond the expected contractual time.
While that seems to be a bit high, it’s safe to bet a majority of teachers put in more than 10 additional hours or more per week.
This has to cease. Right now.
Detractors of the education system will quickly point to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in which the United States continually lags behind, now 25th in mathematics, 17th in science, and 14th in reading. Their mindset becomes “the teachers are failing this nation’s students, so we need to work them harder. They need to make up the ground to catch China, Finland, and the other countries ahead of us.”
Yet after thoroughly comparing the educational systems of these top 2 countries, there were so many differences. The amount of school days, the length of the school year, the pressure on school children, and even the diversity of the classroom all were on opposite spectrums when comparing China and Finland.
One thing that they did have in common – as do most of the top schools in the PISA – is that they provide ample time for teachers to plan and prepare. And they’re compensated for it.
The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education released a report in August 2010 comparing how little time the United States has dedicated to teacher planning and preparation (3-5 hours per week) to how international educators average 15-25 hours per week to plan. In fact, the United States is put at a major disadvantage because more than 80% of our teacher time is spend educating and interacting with students, not on planning or development of curriculum.
In China, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times reports in his article “Shanghai’s Secret” that “teachers spend about 70 percent of each week teaching and 30 percent developing teaching skills and lesson planning. That is far higher than in a typical American school.” They’re also given time to contact each of their students in their classroom 2-3 times per week. Yes, that’s per week.
In Finland, the best way to learn about the stark contrast between the stressed American teacher and the relaxed one there is to read a blog titled Taught By Finland, in which Tim Walker, an American teacher comments on what he’s learning while teaching in the Scandinavian country. His posts are both insightful and reflective of the lack of prep time in America. For example, one post notes how colleagues insist he take a coffee break for 15 minutes instead of grading papers. In another entry, he struggles over the fact that he’ll see his students in class just 600 hours per year (in comparison to America’s 1,080). Finnish teachers receive about 40% of their time to plan. I know what you’re thinking – unbelievable.
Believe it. In educational systems across the world, teachers have more time to plan than their American counterparts. Period.
If America wants its schools and their students to improve, there’s a necessity to improve its teachers. The first of “10 Ways to Fix Education” is to provide more teacher planning time. The American educational system will never be like China’s or Finland’s – but it can give its teachers more time to create a new, paradigm-shifting system that caters to student and teacher needs alike. But it’ll take time to get there. Literally.
In the meantime, I’m leaving the classroom by 4:30p next Friday. I promised my wife that. Even if I don’t get to grade those papers, comment on IEP paperwork, respond to parent emails, create the test for the next unit, or plan next week’s lesson, the teacher stuff can wait. I owe it to her. I owe it to my students. And I owe it to myself.