Friday August 1st 2014

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The Real Reason More Teachers Are Needed

Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney say they are advocates for hiring more teachers. While anyone paying close attention knows that not only does Romney’s plan call for cutting teachers drastically, he also believes smaller class sizes don’t matter. But lets just do what everyone seemed to do in the last presidential debate, which is believe Mitt Romney even though we know he is lying. Lets just say class size doesn’t matter. And furthermore, lets even believe Jay Greene in the Wall Street Journal when he claims hiring more teachers to decrease class sizes won’t help, and we should instead try and supplant actual people with technology; because as we know, those pesky people need health benefits and feel entitled to things like FOOD, as Mitt Romney recently said behind closed doors.

Fine, lets believe all that. There is no teacher shortage. Reducing class sizes won’t matter. What we need is more smartboards, not people. Fine. That’s great, thanks Mitt and Jay.

But let me appeal to a need for more teachers from another perspective, from someone actually on the ground level. Let me let you know why it is we need more teachers—it is because teachers today don’t have enough hours in the day to do the job properly.

This is what every teacher at my school faces every day they come into work: A 58 minute presentation, a seven minute break, a 58 minute presentation, a seven minute break, a 59 minute presentation, a 37 minute lunch, a 57 minute presentation, a 70 minute prep, and a final 57 minute presentation. Keep in mind in each one of these hour-long classes, we must prepare a full-on presentation with warm-ups, activities, differentiated instruction, lectures, group work, etc. etc. etc. The ONE prep just over an hour long is clearly not enough time to prepare all of these varied presentations, set up the room, make copies, make tests, handouts, cutouts, and everything else that goes into real teaching. Grading papers is of course never actually done on one’s prep period but before and after school.

Let me put it this way. Every year I get presentations from various career and college people who come to my classes. These people are professionals in the professional world. They have “real” jobs. They give a twenty-minute presentation with a Powerpoint. They are flustered, they have a hard time controlling discussion, they mess up. At the end of it they come to me and say, “Man, I’ve been dreading that all week, I’m glad that’s done.” I ask them how they prepared and they tell me they worked on the Powerpoint for three days (with their team), the activities and handouts for two days, and spent another day planning what they were going to say—FOR A TWENTY MINUTE PRESENTATION. I tell them, “Wow, that must have been really difficult.” When they leave the room I then go on to do back-to-back-to-back 58-minute Powerpoint presentations all of which I made the day before. After school I will then prepare 5 hour long presentations for the next day, make copies, research for a lecture, and design group work activities.

Oh, and when those people leave my classroom the kids are always like, “That guy was kind of a joke, wasn’t he Mr. Amaral (real quote from a real student)?” And I say, “Well, he doesn’t do that stuff every day, maybe we should give him a break.”

You feel what I’m trying to say?

So let me suggest an alternative to the discourse, like I always do. What we really need is more time to prep. I would be willing to bet scores would go up if teachers weren’t in presentation-mode and on their feet ALL day long. Lowering class sizes (which I know would help too, for the record), doesn’t solve the fact that we have to give 5 hours worth of presentations every day complete with handouts and differentiated activities. What we really need is one less presentation to give and one more period of time to do the kind of things that will improve student outcomes—like giving authentic feedback on student work, analyzing data, collaborating, staying up on effective teaching methods, designing killer lessons, and increasing literacy.

Here’s the dirty secret we have as teachers: We don’t have enough time to do the job right. Ask the bazillion people out there who are former teachers how hectic the job truly is. They’ll tell you, and I’ve written about former teachers before, and why we leave. Time is why we leave—or more accurately—lack thereof.

Of course there is always a danger to giving people more time off. I know about the opposing point of view, and that teachers are bound to get lazy with so much time on their hands (I say “so much time on their hands” sarcastically). But I would argue that right now, teachers aren’t lazy, we don’t have time to be. Or the ones who are lazy have given up because they just can’t put together 5 hours worth of presentations every single day. I would argue that taking away one of those grueling presentations would make teachers LESS lazy and more likely to have time to do the things they’ve always wanted time to do. I feel like it would blow some wind in our sails.

Needless to say having time to grade is the number one reason people leave the profession—especially English teachers. Essentially what I am suggesting is the answer to retaining good teachers, which is one of the most enormous problems we have in education. Prep periods are the answer.

Now don’t mistake what I’m saying for complaining. I am not saying boo hoo our job is so hard and poor teachers and people just don’t understand. What I’m suggesting is that the biggest problem we face isn’t class size but the number of classes we teach. What I’m saying is that if we want people to stick around in this profession, they need time to go to the bathroom, check their email, and just sit and think.

So yes, there is a teacher shortage, and yes increasing the teaching force I believe would raise student outcomes, because for every prep you give a teacher, you need to hire another teacher to give that hour-long presentation. Now I’m not naïve enough to think that is going to happen, but I will point out that some districts, like Palo Alto Unified here in California, are already doing this.

But don’t let anyone fool you when they talk about not needing more teachers. Scores are low because we don’t have enough time in the day to be Teachers—right now we are Presenters scrambling around to fill in 5 hours worth of presentations per day.

When’s the last time you gave an hour-long presentation? Now imagine five of those back to back every day you go into work. This is what is wrong with education, and this is why we can’t get people to stick around—not that it’s going to be mentioned in any Presidential debate. Or anywhere.

Reader Feedback

7 Responses to “The Real Reason More Teachers Are Needed”

  1. Kay says:

    I teach in an elementary school in Camden, NJ and I can say that I do not get one second to breathe. I am constantly running around trying to get lessons together for my class, paperwork for administrators, organization for my sanity, as well as everything else teachers do during the day. On top of that, I’m trying to plan for next week while grading assessments, homework, and classwork, making sure my class is together for the random state walkthroughs, and putting out any behavior problem fires there might be either in my classroom or outside of my classroom. It’s exhausting! As a newer teacher, I can definitely see why teachers leave. We were never prepared for this in grad school! I force myself to stop doing things at home so that I can have a life outside of work and keep my sanity so that I can come to teach another day.

  2. Kimberley Gilles says:

    Katie,

    Don’t give up. All the seeming chaos does resolve itself into a bizarre and wonderful rhythm. I think teaching is like a 6 hour jazz jam session — there are structures that underlay all the improvisation. After awhile, you’ll feel the art of teaching flow through you.

    Until then, know that this feeling of overwhelm is all too familiar. It can be crushing. I get that. But, as long as you keep on putting school aside and choose your life, you’ll find your balance.

    Honest!

    That’s 27 years of experience speaking. :)

  3. Patricia says:

    As an introvert, I can get behind this totally. I barely want to see my husband anymore because I run around talking to and at people all day with a 1 hour break. Just one more break would work wonders on my productivity. I dream of a day when I could get my job done during contract hours.

    Grading day is tomorrow, but instead of getting some precious grading time, we have meetings that will no doubt insult our intelligence. It really grates on me.

  4. Steve says:

    I agree that we need more teachers and I agree that we spend too much time outside of work doing work. However, we need smaller classes too. Its crazy to think that kids are going to get all the attention they need when one teacher is responsible for 30 kids growth and achievement. Teachers are educators not miracle makers. In addition, the more often we label our kids as having learning disabilities or ADHD (which is on the rise) the more attention and support our students are going to need and expect. We need more good teachers. We need more people like myself who went to school for the last 4 years and recieved a great education and are passionate about their subject. I am the first to agree that we have some teachers in schools who somehow got their tenure and are facing a class for all the wrong reasons with out all the skills and knowledge necessary to make a difference, but cutting more teaching jobs will not help, and continuing to discourage young people wo are inventive and knowledgeable is only going to continue to hurt the profession. As a society we dont have all the answers, but we almost always resort to education as a way of making things better or heping a group of people succeed. The only way to ensure education is to have good teachers.

  5. rick holbrook says:

    is there research that proves the value of smaller classes? If we could show where hiring more teachers are cost effective we might get somewhere. the reason American agriculture is the most efficient in the world is because it is based on 150 years of research and farmers understand cost vs. benefits. Why can’t we get our leaders to do the same. Sounds like a good job for NEA

  6. [...] the mastery of their craft.This job is too difficult as it currently is. I’ve been writing about that for years now. You can’t expect people to give five hour-long presentations every day of their life to groups [...]

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