Ask a teacher: “What do you need more of?”
The answer is simple and I can almost guarantee that most teachers will agree when I tell you the answer.
Teachers need time. I could ask any of my colleagues at any given moment, “what do you need?” and the inevitable answer always has to do with the desire for more hours in a day than the frustration of needing more desks in the room or bandwidth for the internet.
This phrase is worth repeating: Teachers need time.
Think about the last time you planned a party. It took a lot of time, didn’t it? Days, even months, of planning for 4 hours of enjoyment. Forming the guest list, sending out the invitations, creating the menu, buying all the goods–including the food, the tablewares, the decorations, and any other commodity fit for celebration–preparing the food, coordinating any other important provisions such as music or entertainment…and this all happens before the guests arrive. And even after the guests arrive, you, the host, spend a lot of time (there’s that word again…) making sure the party runs smoothly, everyone is happy, and the food and drink keep flowing. And when it doesn’t flow, you make it flow. By the end of the night you’re exhausted and grateful you only plan parties once or twice a year–if that.
Planning a lesson and implementing it is like preparing for a party every day. Teachers must consider their students, determine the goal of the lesson, and set up an interesting way for students to accomplish that goal. They must create materials, sometimes several versions of one particular tool in order to differentiate for various learners, make sure they have enough materials for everyone–and extras–and coordinate outside components such as booking time in the media center or getting an iPad cart. And this all happens before the students arrive to class. After the students show up, the teacher has to put her plan into action by making sure the lesson runs smoothly, everyone is happy, and the flow of the class period leads the students right to the ultimate goal. By the end of the period she’s exhausted, but has to do it 4 more times with different students and usually with different content.
Please understand, I am not trying to make all the non-teachers feel sorry for those of us who chose this profession. I knew what I was getting into and if I wanted to get out of it I could. I say this because just as planning a party takes time, so does planning a lesson. Really thinking about the students, what they need, what materials will help them achieve the goal you have set forth, and how they best learn takes a lot of time. And the time it takes to plan and prepare for a lesson is disproportionate to the time it takes to implement that lesson–just as it takes more time to plan a party than to host it. It takes hours to plan a lesson and minutes to put it into action. So, if we know this, why are teachers always clamoring for more time?
During the course of a typical day I have 42 to 84 minutes of preparation time built into my 7-hour scheduled day. (I work far beyond this required schedule as most of my colleagues do. Nights and weekends are definitely not ‘free minutes’ for us.) So out of my 420 minutes a day I have 84 with which to plan and prepare my lessons. That’s 20% of my day. And that’s on a good day. Most days my planning periods end up being about 10% of my time. The other 336 minutes of my day are taken up with teaching, duties, or curriculum development/PLC time.
Eighty percent of my day is spent in action, right? I’m performing. I’m maintaining the flow of the party, if you will. It’s easy to see that I’m “working” when I’m interacting with my students and colleagues. It’s easy to justify the 336 minutes of work because it’s visible. Anyone can walk into my classroom, to my duty post, or into my meeting and say, “great! Looks like you’re working hard.” but what about those 42 minutes my body is off but my brain is on? No one ever says, “great! Looks like you are really thinking.” unless there is something to show for it.
Planning requires thinking and thinking is not visible. Because of planning’s invisible nature it is not as valued as much as visible work is. This is evidenced by the fact that teachers don’t get a lot of time in their day to plan or prep. You can’t look at me and know that my brain is calculating which teaching strategy I want to use or how to set up a particular graphic organizer–you will see it later if you come into my classroom, but that’s if you decide to do so. If not, it looks like I sat at my desk for 42 minutes and stared into space or doodled on a piece of loose-leaf.
My point is this: Teachers need time and unfortunately the sad truth is that they will not get any more time during the day to plan and prepare lessons. Already for some (particularly politicians who know nothing about teaching or education) 42 minutes of “prep” time is too nebulous…too open-ended…as it does not yield immediate results. So it’s up to us, those of us who live education to resolve this need for more time. Whether you are an administrator, a teacher, or a support staff member, help out the teachers in your building. Administrators can give teachers co-planning time during department meetings or PLC time. Teachers and support staff members can offer to take over duties–I have had this done for me, and it was as productive for me as it was kind of my colleagues to do so for me. Teachers and support staff members can share ideas they have used or have seen in the past. There are ways to create more hours in a day for teachers, but we need to work together to make that happen.
And even if I end up working on those nights and weekends–beyond my 42 minutes a day–which is highly likely, I invite you to come see what my brain did by watching me in action. It’s just further proof that time really is a commodity when it comes to planning and implementing successful lessons every day. And that it is necessary in order for teachers to be successful in the classroom.