The Luxury Of Planning Time – Never Had Any

Stanford Professor Identifies Qualities Of Effective Teachers. The Des Moines Register (5/22) features an interview by Editorial-Page Editor Linda Lantor Fandel of Stanford University Education Professor Linda Darling-Hammond. Fandel asks, “What are the qualities of a great teacher?” Darling-Hammond asserts that “teachers tend to be more effective when they have a strong background in the field they are teaching, and a strong background in how to teach that content, how to make it understandable to other people.” She also notes that in practice, “effective teachers set up active learning situations for students, so kids are applying and using their knowledge.” These teachers usually “have a wide repertoire of teaching strategies” and “are very attentive to the learning of each individual child.” To become more effective, Darling-Hammond noted that “in most high-achieving countries, teachers have 15 to 25 hours a week where they are planning collaboratively with their colleagues.”

I highly respect Linda Darling-Hammond’s research.  She is not afraid to say what needs to be HEARD – even if it generally falls on the deaf ears of well intentioned educators/administrators.

As I caught this particular piece, I wondered how many people the comment would fly by, over and around.   Having never had the luxury of  planning time, although I have had the luxury of ridiculous staff meetings and mini-seminars which are supposed to be for my edification/professional development, I decided to elucidate what passes for planning time at most public/charter schools.

(1) How to  use Grade-Pro and making sure every teacher is using the same conditions for marking/grading so we don’t confuse parents.

 (2) How to use the new – new test prep computer program that will simplify our life by allowing us to use the already submited and matched to state standards questions (none of which existed for science as it was not tested by the state two years ago, but, could  I generate some appropriate questions and align them to the standards, being sure the focus was science ‘literacy’ as we are really focusing on language arts – oh, and be sure to share those questions with the ‘charter school enterprise’).   Note – no time for planning, even less time to make questions after sometimes reviewing what other teacher colleagues put in and realized the questions did not align to standards, none of the possible answers could individually be correct – they were all partially correct and could be construed as such by a reasonabl person.  Further note – IT was working as hard as it could to make the system stop crashing (we were less than 50 miles from Silicon Valley and had extremely dysfunctional IT on a good day), could you just grade or something for an hour and check again (I was employed/married to  a non-union charter school)?  Oh, by the way (from principal), I need the data from your test prep reviews so I know what the students are prepared for….sorry about the IT problems, it is system wide, not just our school.

(3)How to write up a copy order for a parent volunteer (who does not speak English so we made illustrations on the order form) or for the main distrct copy center (it is too expensive to repair copiers at the school site and paper is outrageous.   If it is really a pickle, just have the students copy something from the board or maybe we can set up autodialer with a message.

(4) Discussing feeling ‘burned out’ and what to do about it by sharing with staff  and  college professor who clarified for the mostly white, middle class teachers that now we understand how underserved parents feel and we have college degrees.  Note – don’t be too sincere, principal in room and will hold it all against you, no matter what you say – ‘professionals’ don’t have these problems so we, as a staff need to get a handle on our work load.

(5) How to use my pre-packaged, pre-canned science kit (being as I have strong background in subject matter, teaching and even have an opinion about text books and can support opinion with research) as each drawer is specially labeled and organized for maximum efficiency.

I want to continue, however I believe readers of this piece get the jist.

During the time I was teaching,  I craved planning time.  I met with teacher colleagues outside of work on my ‘free’ time so I could improve my craft. I attended tons of workshops on my own dollar (school disticts do not ‘pay’ for continuing ed to renew credential) and time. I gave up righteously beautiful summer days to work on getting units in order. 

My question is this:  What is it teachers in other countries forego to have the luxury of planning time?  Is it modified grading?

*Smaller number of students (typically  had 110-150 a year, split over five periods a day, five days a week and generally two to three ‘preps’ – translation: variety of classes  I taught and needed lessons for. Ex: One Grade 7 Science, One Grade 7 Algebra, One 6,7,8 remedial math or One art class;  another year it was Grade 6 Science and math and Grade 8 Science…..)

* Less breadth to subject areas and more depth, whereby students passing to next grade really know/understand and can apply material?

*Less parental interactions – ex: student behavior is such that teachers need not spend hours contacting parents?

*Administration is responsible for more…..parent contact, student behavior issues, materials?

*Teachers work all year round but have shorter days?

My guess, having traveled and visited/taught in foreign schools, behavior is astoundingly different of students – in fact, education is REVERED in most other countries.  Teachers are respected and not considered the enemy by parents, students or school administration – teachers are treated as professionals.

Many of my teacher friends continue to laugh with me about this commodity called planning time – we don’t have the slightest idea where one may purvey or purchase this item. Suggestions?