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.