It’s summertime! Finally, teachers have a chance to breathe, reflecting on the past year and regrouping for the year to come. I’m always amazed by the kind of thinking and planning I’m able to do over the summer. This year, I’m spending a lot of time reading Jim Burke’s awesome book, The Common Core Companion (Grades 9-12). Burke makes the Common Core standards far more accessible and shows you ways to apply them. I especially appreciate the layout of the standards in this book so that I can clearly see in one glance what a standard would look like in my English courses vs what it might look like in my history courses. I’m definitely thinking through the implications for my classroom next year (more on that in a future post!).
But all this reflection has also gotten me thinking about the issue of time as it relates to teachers. During the school year, there simply isn’t time to do my best thinking. I rush from one task to another, following the trajectory I set at the beginning of the year, but unable to stop and reflect as much as I would like. It’s a real problem of practice. I guarantee that our teachers would do better work and be more reflective practitioners if they had the time required to plan, reflect, research, and create.
Beyond that, there are lots of opportunities out there for teachers to get involved in public policy debates, fellowships, research opportunities, etc. but the average teacher simply doesn’t have the time to tackle it all. I’m often frustrated when I have to turn down an amazing opportunity because I simply can’t spare the time away from my students. It’s a true conundrum. The best teachers need to be involved in those sorts of opportunities and have their voices heard by those who make decisions about education. But, ironically, the best teachers can’t be involved because they’re busy working with students, where they’re also desperately needed.
Thoughts? How do we ensure that reflection and teacher leadership opportunities are a regular part of the school year and not just part of the summer break? Beyond that, how do we help teacher leaders to get involved in public policy and research without sacrificing their classrooms?
Here are a few pie-in-the-sky ideas I have off the top of my head:
- Provide sabbatical opportunities for teachers much as professors have. Let them take a semester to work on a problem of practice or a fellowship without fear of losing their income or their position. This isn’t a paid vacation. It’s letting a teacher focus on a problem with intention and having them create a final project/product that can significantly impact the organization and/or the profession.
- Provide teacher leadership opportunities that don’t involve leaving the classroom completely. Perhaps a teacher would like to be involved in creating curriculum but, in not working with students, they lose touch with the reality of the classroom. Instead, give them an opportunity to be a 0.5 teacher and a 0.5 curriculum developer, offering the best of both worlds.
- Value personal professional development in the evaluation process. Go beyond adding it to a rubric. Instead, offer incentives such as a non-student contact days, a stipend, or even a pay increase for teachers that undertake meaningful professional development or public policy projects.
I don’t think that workload is ever a problem we can solve completely. The profession of teaching will always be a bit overwhelming because of the nature of the work. But let’s find some ways to help teachers be the best they can be year-round and let’s put the best voices in the room with policy makers to truly make a difference in the way we educate kids.