Saturday, October 16, 2010

Education Solution

You will all be happy to know I have solved education.  I don't know why I didn't see it before. It's really just a matter of simple Math. I'm an English teacher and I still figured it out.

You see there are basically three parts of my role as a teacher: plan, teach, and assess. You can give them other names or quibble with me about the semantics later, but that is basically it.  And, yes, you can add in all the other hats like counselor, nurse, psychologist, mediator, facilitator, mentor, coach, IT specialist, and on and on. We all know teachers do much more than teach. You can probably also factor in some job time spent on various meetings not directly related to planning, teaching and assessing.

I could explain in detail what each of those means to me, but the only part of that which is really relevant to my solution for education is the fact that each of the big three all require about the same amount of my time. So the problem with education is that the system is not set up to allow a full time teacher to spend equal time on all three. To do so we often work 10+ hours a day and weekends. Easily 50-60 hours a week and still don't get it all done.

Lets do the math. A full time high school teacher teaches five classes and has one preparation period. In my district teachers are also expected to work another hour and a half to make up "the balance of an eight hour work day." That's what it says in the contract. I read it years ago and it has always amused me. But, if it is really important to you I'll go look it up again and make sure it still says that.

Anyways, teachers get about 2.5 hours of non-teaching time for every five hours they spend with students. (These are rough numbers) So on a good day, when there are no meetings, no students staying for tutoring, and no technical problems to solve etc. We have roughly 15 minutes per class for planning and 15 for assessment. That's it. At that rate it would take me a month to grade each essay I assign, IF I grade nothing but those essays for a month. You can forget looking at daily homework, entering grades to the online gradebook, grading short answer quizzes or any other form of assessment. Once the class turns in those essays, my assessment time is spoken for for the next 18 school days. Deal.

Planning gets the same 15 minutes per class. Do you now what kind of lesson you can plan in 15 minutes? The kind like this, "Open your book to page 181.  We are going to read the story together [because I didn't have enough planning time to re-read it myself.] Then we will answer the questions at the end." And that is a big part of the problem with education in America.

Being an amazing teacher I can sometimes create brilliant lessons in five minutes, but most of the time, the vast majority of the time, I need way more than 15 minutes. You can see for yourself at my class blog.  The link is over there on the right side somewhere.

You probably saw this coming, but the solution to the education crisis is time. Teachers need more time for planning and assessment. Instead of five hours teaching and 2.5 hours for planning AND assessment. We need equal time for all three. Ideally, in an eight hour work day we would plan, teach and assess for 2.6666 hours each. I can see you laughing and calculating how many more teachers we would need and what that would cost. I'll compromise. One hour of planning and assessment for each hour of teaching. Four hours per day of each. Stop laughing.

All across the country exemplary teachers are getting highlighted. The one thing they all seem to have in common is an abundance of time to plan and assess amazing lessons. Sure they put in those extra hours on a voluntary basis because they are dedicated individuals.  They deserve all the awards, cheers and pats on the back we can give them. But dedicated individuals won't solve the education problems our country faces. Telling every teacher that not working 50-60 hours a week makes them uncaring slackers won't solve it either.

If you want to reform education give the teachers more time to do their jobs right. Then sure, hold them accountable, but hold the students accountable too. Give my kids a test that matters to their future and then you can tell me that their scores reflect what they learned as a result of being in my classroom for a year. Give them a long, boring, tedious test that does not affect them in any way at all and you've just got a big waste of state dollars, but that's another post.

I enjoy being a good teacher and a good mother.  I enjoy both so much that I refuse to teach full time. I have a 60% contract.  That means I teach three periods a day rather than five. I also earn 60% of the salary.  By my contract I should work 4.8 hours a day. That has never happened. I am on campus daily for seven to eight hours and I often have work to do on the weekend. But, full time or part time, all teachers need more time for planning and assessment and it's time our educational system recognized that the educational process begins way before the first bell and continues long after the last.