Which seems to be the norm in the physical school building these days.
You need to understand something.
Every time you take away a teacher’s planning period – whether it be to cover an IEP meeting, use a teacher as a security guard in the cafeteria, sending someone to a training or otherwise – you are reducing the quality of instruction that teacher is able to provide that day.
And if you do it for long enough, you can no longer fairly judge that teacher’s annual performance by the same expectations you would have under normal conditions.
You need to put an asterisk next to her name for the year.
Meaning this isn’t the best she could do, but this is the best she could do WITHOUT HER PLAN.
Imagine an actor going on stage without having the chance to practice the play? Imagine an athlete playing in the championship game without having the chance to warm up or watch tape. Imagine a pilot flying your plane without being able to contact the air traffic controller or plan the route from one airport to another.
But I know what the excuse will be: this is unavoidable.
There are just too many absences and not enough subs. And to an extent that’s true.
However, what are you doing to alleviate that situation?
Have you reached out to local colleges to find teaching students who would relish the experience of subbing? Have you reached out to retired teachers looking for extra pay? Have you lobbied the school board and the legislature for more money to pay subs and teachers?
The people who are left want to be in the classroom because we love teaching. However, with all the nonsense heaped on our shoulders, the job has become less-and-less about that and more preoccupied with ancillary concerns – paperwork, endless meetings where nothing gets done, useless trainings so some corporation can get paid, and outright babysitting.
When you take away our planning periods, we can’t do our best for our students. And that’s why we’re here! To give our best!
When you take that away from us, you take away a lot of the satisfaction of the job.
No one devotes their life to something to do it half-assed.
Quality of instruction is not an excuse for us. It’s not a cudgel or a catchphrase or a policy decision.
We need a popular, national movement demanding action from our state and federal governments. However, in the meantime, there are several things our local school districts can do to stem the tide of educators fleeing the profession.
These are simple, cheap and common sense methods to encourage teachers to stay in the classroom and weather the storm.
However, let me be clear. None of these can solve the problem, alone. And even ALL of these will not stop the long-term flight of educators from our schools without better salaries and treatment.
1) Eliminate Unnecessary Tasks
The list of tasks an average teacher is expected to accomplish every day is completely unrealistic.
Think about it. Just to get through a normal day teachers need to provide instruction, discipline students, grade papers, facilitate classwork, troubleshoot technology, provide written and verbal feedback, counsel disputes, role model correct behavior, monitor the halls, lunches, breakfasts and unstructured time, meet with co-workers, follow Individual Education Plans, scaffold lessons for different learners and learning styles…
If we truly want to help teachers feel empowered to stay in the profession, we need to reduce the burden. And the best way to do that is to eliminate everything unnecessary from their plates.
That means no staff meeting just to have a staff meeting. No shotgun scattered initiatives that teachers are expected to execute and we’ll see what will stick. No reams of paperwork. No professional development that wasn’t specifically requested by teachers or is demonstrably useful.
I’m not saying we should tell teachers they don’t have to plan what they’re doing in their classes. I’m not sure how an educator could realistically enter a classroom of students and just wing it.
However, the process of writing and handing in formal lesson plans is absolutely unnecessary.
Teachers gain nothing from writing detailed plans about what they expect to do in their classes complete with reference to Common Core Academic Standards. They gain nothing from acting as subordinates to an all knowing administrator who probably has not been trained in their curriculum nor has their classroom experience teaching it.
For educators with at least 3-5 years under their belts, formal lesson plans are nothing but an invitation to micromanagement.
Parents need called. Papers need graded. Lessons need strategized. IEP’s need to be read, understood and put into practice.
All this can only happen within a temporal framework. If you don’t give teachers that framework – those minutes and hours – you’re just expecting they’ll do it at home, after school or some other time that will have to be stolen from their own families, robbed from their own needs and down time.
Every administrator on the planet preaches the need for self-care, but few actually offer the time to make it a reality.
Even if we could discover exactly how much time was necessary for every teacher to get everything done in a given day – that wouldn’t be enough time. Because teachers are human beings. We need time to process, to evaluate, to think and, yes, to rest.
I know sometimes I have to stop wrestling with a problem I’m having in class because I’m getting nowhere. After two decades in the classroom I’ve learned that sometimes you have to give your brain a rest and approach a problem again later from a different vantage point.
I need to read a scholarly article or even for pleasure. I need to watch YouTube videos that may be helpful to my students. I need to get up and go for a walk, perhaps even just socialize for a moment with my coworkers.
None of that is time wasted because my brain is still working. My unconscious is still trying untie the Gordian knot of my workday and when I finally sit down to revisit the issue, I often find it looser and more easily handled.
Not only will their work suffer but so will their health and willingness to continue on the job.
Some districts are finding creative ways to increase planning time such as releasing students early one day a week. We did that at my district last year and it was extremely helpful to meet all the additional duties required just to keep our building open. However, as the new school year dawned and decision makers decided to simply ignore continuing pandemic issues, this time went away.
If you take away their ability to do that, why would they stay?
4) Better Communication/ Better COVID Safety
Communication is a two way street.
You can’t have one person telling everyone else what to do and expect to have a good working relationship.
Administrators may get to make the final decision, but they need to listen to what their teachers tell them and take that into account before doing so.
This means setting aside the proper time to hear what your staff has to say.
Many administrators don’t want to do that because things can devolve into a series of complaints. But you know what? TOUGH.
It is your job to listen to those complaints and take them seriously.
Sometimes just allowing your staff to voice their concerns is helpful all in itself. Sometimes offering them space to speak sparks solutions to problems – and a whole room full of experienced, dedicated educators can solve any problem better than one or two managers locked away in the office.
However, not only do administrators need to listen, they need to speak.
When issues crop up, they need to make sure the staff is aware of what is happening.
Being a teacher should mean something to district leaders. And they should prove it in every thing they do.
The items I mentioned here go some ways to showing that respect.
Eliminating unnecessary tasks, not requiring formal lesson plans, respecting our planning time, better communicating and safety measures are all necessary to keeping your teachers in the classroom.
But they are not sufficient.
As a nation we need to change our attitude and treatment of teachers.
No profession exists without them. They create every other job that exists.
We need to start paying them accordingly. We need to start treating them as important as they are. We need to ensure that they have the time, tools and satisfaction necessary to be the best they can be.
No district can do that alone. No school director or administrator can do that.
But these are some ways you can start.
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They are simply busy work – useless paper that is often filed away in the office and never seen again.
Certain kinds of principals – and we know who you are – have checklists of every teacher in the building and simply mark off your name to designate that you turned in your lesson plans like a good doggie.
But even worse are administrators who read every word and send you pages of comments asking you to change this or that so it more closely adheres to the Common Core Academic Standards. As if parroting a bunch of shoddy benchmarks made by standardized testing companies is going to have any real effect on classroom practices.
Either way it’s an exercise in futility.
Whether administrators pour over these plans or just file them away, making teachers hand them in every week has nothing to do with improving teacher effectiveness or even making us more reflective and adventurous educators. It’s about administrators justifying their own jobs.
It’s like saying, “Look what a tough principal I am! I make my teachers hand in their lesson plans. I don’t let them get away with anything!”
Here’s a dirty little secret about education – No one gets into this profession to sit behind a desk with their feet up.
If they do, they soon realize that teaching isn’t the place for them. There is so much we have to do everyday – from grading papers, to counseling students, to calling parents, to scaffolding group work, tutoring, mentoring, modeling, lunch duty, hall duty, in-school suspension – and that’s before we even begin to talk about teaching and planning!
We don’t have time to write up a detailed plan of what we think we’ll be doing in class every single day with an equally detailed justification for everything we’ll do!
Because we know we’ll never actually use it in the classroom!
The very idea of lesson plans is antithetical to 90% of classroom practice.
Teaching isn’t something you can sit back and plan and then recreate with 100% fidelity day-in, day-out.
Today we may need to go back and reteach yesterday’s lesson. Or we may have to jump right back into a discussion we were having last week. Or we may need to switch tacks and focus on something else so students can calm down or won’t get frustrated.
The reality of the classroom determines what a good educator does inside it. And this cannot accurately be guessed at from a distance of time and/or space.
Sure, as a language arts teacher I may know I want to teach vocabulary skills, or complete sentence construction, reading comprehension or anything else. I can pick out my texts and my assignments, figure out which activities would best get across the idea, what kind of practice could be useful, etc. But HOW all that comes together is more of an art than a science.
Your administrator may not even be trained in your discipline. How’s a gym teacher going to evaluate language arts? How’s an elementary special education teacher going to evaluate calculus?
And it’s even worse when compounded by experience – or perhaps I should say inexperience.
Most principals only taught for a handful of years before becoming administrators. And many of them haven’t even had much time to figure out how best to BE administrators.
Yet our warped work culture puts them in charge of the actual professionals in the classroom – the classroom teachers – and encourages them to disrupt the normal flow of things in the name of what? School improvement? Or parasitical management?
Principals should be focused on two things – (1) providing the best work environment for students and teachers; and (2) advocating for teachers and students. They should make sure teachers have what they need to get their jobs done effectively. And that means listening to exactly what those needs are. If those needs aren’t being met inside the district, the principal should go outside and work to get those resources brought in.
Educators don’t need you to stand in judgement of them and then brag to your superiors about being a hard ass. They need you to get them the resources necessary – time, salary, lower class size, counselors, anything really that reduces the unnecessary from a teacher’s day so she can focus on her students.
But demanding educators hand in lesson plans is just the opposite. You’re ADDING to the unnecessary work load, not reducing it.
So lesson plans are an antiquated notion that need to go the way of mimeographs, transparencies and overhead projectors.