First Person

Commentary: Where does teacher time go?

Literacy coach Jessica Cuthbertson takes a close look at a teacher’s day and finds long hours but key professional development needs unaddressed.

The complaints are familiar. Teachers want more time. Time for instruction, time for planning with colleagues and time to learn and develop as professionals.

The public is skeptical.  More time?  What about the average 175, seven-to-eight-hour days per school year spent with students? The additional 10 days built into a teacher’s contract for in-service, professional learning and work days? The shorter summer breaks and summer school opportunities?

Where does all of the time go?

Meet Roberta McDonough.  She is a sixth grade master literacy teacher with 15 years experience. She teaches five classes daily at a large, comprehensive middle school outside the Denver metro area, which serves an increasingly diverse community of learners.

This is a typical day for Roberta:

  • 6:30 a.m. – She pulls into school parking lot and begins to prepare and organize for her day.
  • 7:20 a.m. – Greets her first group of 30 sixth grade literacy students and begins instruction in her crowded mobile classroom.
  • 8:25-8:30 a.m. – Dismisses her first class and walks to the main building to teach her second period class: a mix of 39 sixth-to-eighth-graders who fill every space in the jam-packed room for the Socratic Seminar “choices” (elective) class.
  • 9:40 a.m. – Returns to her mobile to teach her honors literacy group, her third distinct class of the day.
  • 10:45 a.m. – Dismisses her third period; by this point, she has seen nearly 100 students.
  • 10:50 a.m. – Walks to the cafeteria entrance of the main building to report for her assigned lunch supervision duty.
  • 11:05-11:35 a.m. –Takes her lunch (and first bathroom break) of the day.
  • 11:35-12:30 p.m. – Planning period
  • Roberta works furiously to respond to emails, parent phone calls and any logistical needs for her afternoon classes. She is unable to collaborate with colleagues during her planning period since no one else in her content area or grade level shares her planning time.
  • 12:35 p.m. – Teachers her fourth group of literacy students
  • 1:45 p.m. – Begins her fifth literacy class of the day.
  • 2:50 p.m. – The dismissal bell rings signaling the end of the students’ school day.
  • Roberta has seen 140 students. She stacks each a pile of student work from each class (ranging from exit slips to paragraph or multi-paragraph writing) into her “homework” bag.
  • 3:00 p.m. — Her duty day ends.
  • 3:30 p.m. — Roberta tries to leave to ensure she can pick up her own daughter on time at a bus stop 19 miles away.
  • After dinner, Roberta spends an average of two hours per night evaluating student work and planning for future instruction. (She spends three to four hours on Sundays planning for the next week.)

Following this daily routine, with some variations, Roberta’s weekly time on the job includes: 27 hours teaching students, 3.75 hours supervising students, 90 minutes in professional learning, one to two hours communicating with parents via email, phone or face-to-face conferences, one to two hours serving on a school committee which meets twice a month after school, five hours planning for her classes during her work day and 20 hours planning, grading and evaluating student work outside of her contracted workday.

In total, in a good week, Roberta works 60 hours or more to be an effective educator.

And she still feels it’s not enough to meet the ever-growing needs of the students and the surrounding community. She is teaching more classes, working with more students, and juggling her classroom and professional needs with less support than ever before.

Teachers like Roberta need and want more time for professional learning and collaborative planning with colleagues. They need to supervise less and plan, teach and analyze data more.  They need to work within schedules and structures that prioritize teacher effectiveness and learning over crowd control.

Roberta’s solutions for rethinking the way time is allocated in her school include many supports that existed for teachers in the past, but have disappeared in light of budget cuts in recent years. Support like paraprofessionals who would photocopy and help with logistical classroom needs, allowing teachers to focus on planning for instruction.

Support like daily vs. weekly collaborative planning with colleagues in her content area, a common practice when the building operated on a “block” schedule and students had longer, fewer classes within a given day. Support like teaching schedules that included teaming with colleagues in her grade level within or across contents to standardize expectations and streamline parent and school communication.

Her reflections on both what supported teachers in the past, as well as her greatest hopes for the future, echo the results of MetLife’s Survey of The American Teacher. This survey revealed certain factors, including professional development opportunities and time to collaborate with colleagues, directly relate to teacher job satisfaction.

Roberta McDonough is just one of many teachers who work above and beyond their contract day in an attempt to meet the individual and varied needs of their students. We must rethink the way time is allocated in our schools and create schedules and structures that reflect what we value – learning, collaborative planning and professional development.

After all, it’s about time.

First Person

‘I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support’: Why it matters to have teachers who look like me

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

For 10 years — the first decade I was in school — all my teachers were white women.

As a Mexican-American kid, I didn’t get the chance to have a man of color as a teacher until high school. Going into my senior year, I like how diverse my teachers are now, but I wish I’d had the same experience when I was younger.

When I think about why it matters to have a teacher I can relate to, I think back to fifth grade. A classmate said to me, “Mexicans are illegal—they cross the border every day! How about you, did you cross the border?” This bothered me. So, after class, I asked the teacher for help. But all she said was, “That’s OK, he was just playing.” From there, I had nowhere to go. She was at the top of the food chain.

In 1990, before they met, my mother and father came over the border from Mexico. My mom’s parents weren’t making enough profit from their cattle ranch, so they had little choice but to immigrate. My mom came with them to the United States and worked at a restaurant so she could send money back home. My father followed his older brother here because he wanted to start a new life. Little did he know he would one day cross paths with my mother and eventually start a family.

But my classmate was “just playing” when he insulted all of this. I wish my teacher had done something else.

If I’d been the teacher, I would’ve taken a different approach and worked to understand why we were acting and responding the way we were. Maybe the other student and I could’ve found common ground. But, unfortunately, we never had a chance to try.

Up until ninth grade, I had zero male teachers of color. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support when things like the fifth-grade incident happened. Many of us students felt that way — and that’s why I want to be a teacher, a fifth-grade teacher in particular. I want to make my culture an asset in the classroom and be a teacher students feel comfortable confiding in, no matter their background.

A teacher’s perspective: Cut from the same cloth: Why it matters that black male teachers like me aren’t alone in our schools

In middle school, I started seeing more male educators, but they were all white. Then, when it came time for me to start high school, I ended up going to school in a different neighborhood — an hour commute away—and things finally changed for me. Since starting high school, I’ve had six male teachers of color, and it’s made a huge difference.

My high school makes a big deal out of the whole “building relationships” thing. To my teachers and everyone else at the school, relationships are just as important as academics. At first, it was hard to get used to, but eventually it started making sense to me. I’m in an all-male mentorship group led by two African-American men who openly share about their struggles growing up in New York, and give us advice in any area of life — including what it means to appreciate our cultures. This is one of the things I like most about my school.

It’s hard to explain the way it feels to have a teacher who looks like you; they’re like older brothers who become a huge part of our lives, even if it’s just for four years. They make it easier to connect and socialize and help me feel more like I belong. To me, learning from someone who reflects who you are is one of the best things a student can experience.

Near the end of the school year, my mentorship group did an activity where we took turns getting asked questions by other students and staff. One of the mentors asked me, “What’s it like being Mexican American and how has your background influenced your goals?” No one had ever asked me that before, and it took a long time for me to process the question.

After a few moments, I spoke a bit about my family’s story and shared some of the stereotypes I had encountered and how they affect me today. Everyone was so supportive, and the mentors encouraged me to continue breaking stereotypes and defining myself rather than letting others define me.

It was nerve-wracking at first, telling my story in that group, but after three years of high school, we’d developed that level of trust. It was the first time I’d shared my story with that many people at once, but it felt intimate and very different from the time in fifth grade when that kid tried to tell my story for me.

Finally having teachers that look like me has made a huge difference. They don’t just mentor me and help me with my academics, they also make my goal of becoming a teacher seem more realistic.

Having men of color I can look up to and model myself after is a big part of why I have no doubt I’ll make it to college — and eventually be able to give other kids the type of help my mentors have given me. I know where I’m needed, and that’s where I’m headed.

Jose Romero is a senior at EPIC High School North in Queens, New York. This piece originally appeared on the blog of TNTP, a national nonprofit and advocacy group that trains new teachers.

First Person

A Queens teacher on Charlottesville: ‘It can’t just be teachers of color’ offering lessons on race

PHOTO: Bob Mical/Creative Commons

In a few short weeks, school will resume in New York and I’m already thinking about how we are going to address racism within the four walls of my classroom. I’m thinking about what texts, historical and current, we can read and films and documentaries we can watch to support dialogue, questioning, and solutions for combatting that ugly, pervasive thread in the fabric of our country’s patchwork quilt called racism.

Last year we read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” a former slave turned abolitionist, and juxtaposed its reading with a viewing of Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which discusses modern-day slavery in the guise of mass incarceration. Students asked questions of the documentary as they watched it and discussed those queries within their groups and with the class at large afterwards.

We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. If anything, not talking about racism in the classroom further perpetuates racist ideologies that are, at their root, born out of ignorance. Education’s goal is to dispel ignorance and replace it with truth.

With that being said, just how many teachers feel equipped to facilitate lessons that touch heavily upon race in the classroom? Not nearly enough.

According to Teaching Tolerance, “The dialogue about race should start in the classroom — the teacher-prep classroom, that is. Preservice teachers should be exploring multiculturalism and discussing ways to honor diversity in their future classrooms.”

But often, Hilton Kelly, a professor of education at Davidson College in North Carolina told the site, the coursework isn’t giving future teachers the training they need to talk about race. “Even when future teachers take courses on diversity and multiculturalism,” Kelly said, “those courses don’t take the critical approach to race that future teachers truly need.”

“Food, folklore and festivals are not the same as an analysis of race in America,” Kelly argued.

But an analysis of race in America is exactly what needs to happen. Furthermore, it can’t just be teachers of color solely facilitating such lessons in their classrooms.

I don’t want to write about the events going on in Virginia. I don’t want to think about it. I’m so tired of the hatred and I long for peace, but I can’t very well in good conscience remain silent. That would be akin to protesting with those hate-mongers in Virginia last weekend. I can’t just write about back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, and business-as-usual while my brothers and sisters in Virginia are being murdered in cold blood by white supremacist American Nazis.

Are the children of Virginia safe? Are our children anywhere safe? What can I do to make a difference within the hearts and minds of the children whom I teach? If education is our best vehicle for bringing about change — which it is— how am I going to infuse the lessons I teach with critical thinking and analysis about racism in the United States for the seventh-graders entrusted in my care? How are other educators planning to address these events with their students at every grade-level?

I pose these questions to all who are reading. Whether you are a teacher, a student, a parent, an administrator, or a community member, I plead with you to work together to create answers that work toward healthy conversations and hands-on action in the fight against racism.

Vivett Dukes is a teacher at Queens Collegiate: A College Board School. A version of this post first appeared on New York School Talk