About Jake Miller

Mr. Jake Miller teaches middle school history near Harrisburg, PA. He is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year and a 2017 NEA Foundation Teacher of Excellence. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, WeAreTeachers, and several other periodicals, but Miller has called TER home since 2012.

Give Teachers More TIME NOGAINA few weeks ago, fellow columnist Jeremy Adams posted an article called “The Magical Solution Illusion,” illustrating how schools, students, and teachers are being pounded by an array of self-proclaimed “saviors” of the education system. I loved the article. He examined our proclivity to move toward change, from increasing class sizes to shrinking them; from emulating Finland or China; and examining advocates of adapting to the 21st Century to those who want to throwback to traditional methods. He examined every “panacea du jour.” But if we really want to fix schools, we need to give teachers more time.

The average citizen is probably scratching their head right now. “Wait,” they’re thinking, “give teachers more time? These people already have off June, July, and August! And, what, don’t they only work until 3 o’clock or whatever? Heck, when they work, they just tell students to read the textbook and walk around, slapping the ruler on the desk a few times before returning to their desk to watch cat videos on YouTube and then sharing them with their union buddies. No wonder the schools in America are terrible.”

But the fact of the matter is, teachers don’t have time for everything we need to accomplish in the average school day, and the small window of time we do have is often dominated by things that have no bearing on student achievement. Case in point in Pennsylvania, where teachers are now held to a new standard of evaluation (called The Danielson Model). While there are many benefits to this model, it takes time to implement. And, like many other things in education, it’s just added to the list.

Coupled with the fact that our State Department of Education’s latest goals, which have take us to task with something called Student Learning Objectives (ironically abbreviated as SLOs (pronounced SLOWS). The state unleashed these ponies without even knowing what to do with them or how to even saddle them. Most teachers are probably experiencing similar great-in-theory, terrible-in-practice methods of focusing on student achievement. But, most importantly, is a place where more teachers’ time is spent.

On top of that, every district has new initiatives to roll out into the educational sphere. Ours this year wanted us to focus on using Windows 8 (with just a bit of training), Google Drive, and a new grading program called MasteryConnect. Exhausted yet? Wait, there’s more.

Each school then has certain things on the agenda – and the students at them just keep getting more (and not less) identified, specialized, and paperwork-laden. Oh, and the meetings! Could you even imagine being a principal and doing all the meetings? God help us all. More time expected. Still just 24 hours in a day.

And let’s not even talk about what’s going to happen next year!

With all these new things coming down the pike for teachers, there is only one thing that suffers – and it’s the most terrible observation to make –we have no time. With that come several hard-to-swallow facts:

  • We no longer get to know our students
  • Setting our own professional goals is lost in a sea of others’ mistrust
  • We don’t speak with one another about the latest, greatest lesson, and collaboration is almost non-existent
  • Call home? I can’t do that – I don’t have the time. I’ll just send an email
  • We don’t have time to create, to build culture, or to care
  • Among other things

We’re too busy paddling to keep our heads above water, because we’re tethered to a sinking weight called “LOST TIME”

If I had all the time I needed, here’s what I would do:

— Begin to write my own student-centered, mind-activating curriculum again

— Work with my colleagues to build worthy assessments

— Afterward we could share and compute data, and then perform our own self-assessment instead of the district paying millions of dollars to have someone else do it

— Call every student at the beginning of the year to introduce myself

— Call and speak with every parent once a month

— Visit the homes of the ones who struggled last year

— Sit down with my guidance counselor to see how I could help students going through a divorce

— Help the principal become a school leader and steward again

— Have a conversation with the principal to discuss my shortcomings as a teacher, and find a way to fill those gaps

— Observe my colleagues

— Take a new teacher under my wing

— Learn three positive things I like about each student

— Write a play with a student for our upcoming topic

–Work with other teachers on my team to have our subjects become fully cross-curricular

— Explore the latest technological program that could benefit my classroom

— Read, read, and read some more and become a master of the lessons in my class

— Encourage students to do nice things for the community, like sponsoring a food drive or writing letters to troops who are currently in the hospital

— Grade papers and thoroughly, reading every word and offer at least 5 comments / tips

— Watch a webinar about something I don’t know enough about

— Explore going big in a new project, competition, or field trip

— Sitting down with the next student / parent / colleague I come across with a clear head

— Invest as much in my next lesson as if it were my last lesson… and then do it again tomorrow

You see, if teachers get more time, we’re going to become better performers. Our students will benefit. We’re not going to pay the bills or clip coupons. We’re going to really cause a paradigm shift in education. But that would require trust. And time. And we don’t seem to have much of either right now.

There are many things we can ask for as teachers. More pay. Smaller class sizes. A more supportive legislature, school board, superintendent, principal. Kids who come to school ready to learn. The latest technology. Updated curriculum. But, most of all, teachers just need more time.

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