Sunday, March 27, 2011

If Teachers Worked Like Doctors

To follow up on yesterday's post, I went to search the Internet to see how much of a doctor's time was actually spent in patient contact. I am not intending here to be a thorough researcher, so I stopped after finding one study here: The authors estimated that doctors spent 25.5% of their time in direct contact with patients. Just to make things easier, let's round that off to 25% of their time - 1/4 of their time was spent with patients. Now, no one assumes that what the doctors do with the rest of their time is trivial or unnecessary or that it should not be figured as part of the heavy work load of being a doctor. Yet, they certainly do this with teachers.

Take the example I wrote about yesterday. 8:00 to 3:30 required work day; 15 minutes before kids allowed in; 15 minutes after last bell to get them all out. 30 minutes "duty free" lunch; 30 minutes planning time. 1.5 hours supposedly without kids out of 7.5 hours. That means teachers are in contact with their clients 80% of the day.

Just for curiosity, let's do some math. Year 52 weeks. Doctor gets 4 weeks vacation (a bit conservative, but let it go for now); works 48 weeks. 1/4 of time spent with patients. 12 weeks. Teacher contract: 36 weeks. 80% of time spent with students. 28.8 weeks. Teachers are on direct duty more than twice as much as doctors.

This completely ignores the fact that, not only are teachers in direct contact with their clients more than twice as much as doctors, but they have MANY MORE CLIENTS at the same time - typically 25 times as many. And, I can hear people object: oh, but they are just young children, they are easier to deal with than adults. The only problem is, young children are immature - what a surprise. They do not know how to behave in all normal situations, they are easily distracted, they have all sorts of needs that cannot be ignored, and all of this WHILE the teacher is trying to get them to actually learn something. The only people that think this is easy are people who haven't done it for a significant amount of time.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Teacher's Time

In the frequent debates about education, the long summer break that teachers have is often cited as evidence that they don't work as hard as other professionals. Teachers are, in general contracted for 180 days. Given 5 days a week, this amounts to 36 weeks. For the sake of generality, I will assume that other professionals typically get a total of 4 weeks of vacation. This leaves 12 weeks in excess of what most other professionals would expect. This extra 12 weeks is the reason that is often cited for paying teachers less. They can get a second job over the summer to augment their incomes. And, in fact, many teachers do.

When I lived in Alaska, I was surprised to find that there were many men teaching, even in the lower grades. Perhaps it is because they can find construction or tourism jobs in the summer fairly readily. Other summer jobs might include summer school or summer camp. With those latter two, the increase in income is not actually very large, and with jobs being scarce, the competition for summer positions is pretty high. So, while there may be potential for extra income, I wonder how many teachers are actually able to supplement their incomes with second jobs.

But the major concern I have about teacher time is how their time is allocated DURING the school day, when they are actually teaching. A typical school day might look like this: teacher is required to arrive 30 minutes before school starts (e.g., 8:00) Kids are allowed in the building 15 minutes before school begins, so teachers' jobs actually start then, as they are required to supervise. At 8:30, school officially starts. Teachers are on duty constantly unless their students have a "special" - music, PE, library, or counselor. Then comes lunch, which in the schools I was in was supervised by the teacher in the classroom, followed by recess - the supposedly "duty free" part of the day. Then come the afternoon classes, with dismissal at 3:00. Teachers are required to stay at least 30 minutes after the end of the school day. So, the official day is 7 1/2 hours, with 1/2 hour for lunch - very comparable to the official day when I worked for a brokerage: 9 to 5 with an hour for lunch.

There are a couple of problems with this time schedule, though. The actual supervision of children extends beyond the official times in MANY cases. Due to bus schedules, detentions and makeup work can often only be done during the teacher's "duty free" lunch time. And, the 30 minutes of planning time afforded by the "special" class is grossly inadequate for its purported task. If, in just ONE of the subjects/classes each day, the teacher gives an assignment that requires 1 minute to grade per student, a teacher with 25 students uses up virtually the entire planning time grading that one assignment. Given 5 or 6 subjects or classes and the teacher has to do the work "off the clock".

This completely ignores the actual purpose of planning time. It is true that with scripted lessons, ones where the teacher is told what to say and do for the whole lesson, there is less need for planning lessons. This is fine, until you decide you want teachers who actually use creativity and effort to plan interesting lessons. Or, say, you have 6 or 7 kids in the class who have IEPs and need individual plans. Or, maybe there are 3 or 4 gifted kids in the class who already know all of the material in the lessons. When is the teacher supposed to plan for them?

The problem is, there simply isn't enough time for the teacher to behave like a professional. Does your doctor spend all but 1 1/2 hours of the work day talking directly to patients? Does your lawyer spend that percentage of the work day talking directly to clients? In most cases, there is a lot of background work that goes into a professional's day - work, that does not include direct contact with their clients. We trust that the doctor has record-keeping, research, and administrative tasks to do, tasks which are in the service of their patients, but not done in their presence. The problem is, teachers need this, too.

You want to know why the teacher can't individualize the classes for the outlier kids - the ones who struggle and the ones who need harder work so that they can learn to struggle successfully - the teacher has no time.

A long time ago, I read a book about a school that was serious about supporting excellent teachers. The teachers taught kids for 1/2 of the school day and used the other half of the day for planning and grading. Teachers worked together in teams to develop creative lessons and often critiqued each other giving the same lesson to different classes, working to improve the questions asked, the procedures followed, the products developed. Personally, I would gladly give up the extra 12 weeks of summer to work in a school where teachers had adequate time to plan, develop and grade lessons.

And I haven't even begun discussing the use of technology. That for another time.

Death Notices

Someone mentioned the other day that, when someone dies, one of the first things we want to know is the cause of death, which some newspapers, for whatever reason, do not publish. I wonder why it is a matter of such curiosity to know what the cause of death was. It is almost as though we can say to ourselves, if the cause of death was X and it isn't likely that I will get X, then I don't have to think about dying right now. Sure, we all know that we will die, but personally, the best way I have of dealing with that is to not think about it.

RIP Liz Taylor, Diana Wynne Jones, Geraldine Ferraro.