One idea to keep teachers out of work is to end teacher time crunching

When a Texas task force set out to develop a plan to attract and retain more teachers in the state’s schools, it ran into its first problem before it even got started.

The group was initially made up of school district leaders and had no more than one teacher, recalled Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers. That didn’t sit well with him or the Texas AFT members.

“We started making some noise and they ended up getting an even number [of teachers]Capo says of the task force, which eventually had 23 teachers and 23 administrators. “It was actually tangible evidence to see what we were talking about when we say there’s a lack of respect for educators when you don’t even want them on a committee to talk about what keeps them in a system. class.”

The changing makeup of the Teacher Vacancies Task Force, Capo said, helped reveal one of the group’s key recommendations about how changes to working conditions can attract teachers to the state and entice them to stay.

After somewhat predictable sections on low teacher pay and the need for better ways to train teachers, the report includes a section on a topic so mundane it’s almost startling: “Show respect and value for the teacher’s time.”

In it, the report’s authors list the myriad tasks, in addition to teaching, that teachers perform as part of their jobs: meeting with parents, participating in professional development, and evaluating. Those duties all regularly tip teachers after 40 hours of work.

It’s a reality that worries teachers across the country. The average teacher works an average of 54 hours per week, according to a 2022 nationally representative survey conducted by the EdWeek Research Center. And among educators at 14 different schools surveyed by a Harvard researcher for the 2019 book “Where Teachers Thrive,” most teachers said they don’t have enough time to do the “core” responsibilities of their jobs.

To address this problem, the report’s authors recommended that the Texas Education Agency begin a time study to get a full picture of teachers’ time constraints. That study could be used to help administrators revise their teachers’ schedules, the task force wrote, and relieve them of time-consuming non-instructional tasks that could be spent collaborating with peers, reviewing their students’ learning data and generally completing. their classes are better.

“I work at least one day every weekend. I grade papers at night. One 45-minute planning period is not enough time to prepare for three different classes,” wrote a high school teacher interviewed by the task force. “I like to teach, but if things don’t change, I will look for another job. I have been teaching for 15 years, but this lifestyle is not sustainable for me or my family.”

Redefining the workload of education

What would it mean to respect teachers’ time?

An important part of this, educators say, is that leaders are aware of the hours teachers are expected to put in long after the last bell rings.

“Teaching is like having two full-time jobs,” wrote one Texas teacher who recently quit in a survey to the task force. “You teach and support students at school. At home, you answer emails, evaluate, plan, and analyze data. There is no such thing as balance. … This is a crisis.”

The report notes that in other countries with strong education systems, teachers typically spend less time in front of students and more time on planning and professional development. Capo says U.S. teachers don’t have to spend their days cramming in classes, given that they have time to work on their lessons and discuss ideas with their colleagues. Preparatory time is the expectation of almost every profession, he regrets, but it is not given to teachers.

“Professional time is expected to really hone your craft,” Capo says. “It’s not meant for teachers in the US because we prioritize direct instructional time. We prioritize the fewest number of people needed to supervise students for the longest period of the day.”

She says she shouldn’t be surprised that many teachers feel they are “glorified babysitters.”

Having time to prepare for classes during office hours is especially vital for new teachers, says Valerie Sakimura, executive director of Deans for Impact. The organization aims to improve education by raising the bar for teacher preparation programs.

New teachers who feel overwhelmed and insecure are likely to quit, Sakimura adds. They need time to find mentorship among more experienced teachers if they are going to improve their practice.

One of the recommendations of Where Teachers Thrive is that schools provide teachers with relevant curricula and materials, rather than expecting teachers to develop or find their own. That’s echoed in the Texas report, which cites studies showing that teachers report spending hours a week searching for instructional materials.

“It’s so much [work] without adding to it by designing your own classes from scratch,” says Sakimura. “When I talk to first-year and second-year teachers, they tell stories of sitting in their living rooms and crying at 2 a.m. on Teachers Pay Teachers, a popular platform that educators use to buy teaching materials from each other.

Even if schools have high-quality curriculum that can take lesson planning off the shoulders of teachers, they can’t use it if they don’t have the time or training in how to use it.

“It’s important to think about hiring and strategies around workplace culture and other issues like compensation,” says Sakimura, “if we’re really going to overcome some of the challenges we’ve had. [keeping people] in the profession who are truly trained and feel trained to do right by children.”

In addition to more planning time, studies have shown that teachers want to dedicate their work hours to teaching. An EdWeek Research Center survey found that teachers want to spend more time teaching and less time on administrative tasks or policing hallways.

As one high school teacher told a Texas task force: “Today, in too many schools to count, teachers are not given enough time to do what they were hired to do: teach.”

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