23 August 2014

A World Enough and Time

...and so begins...a written conversation series between husband (PhD and first year high school English teacher) and wife (NBCT English teacher w/11 years in HS classroom and currently trying to impact the profession from outside the classroom)

Since I’ve blogged previously about leaving the classroom and listed lack of time to plan, grade, etc. as one of my reasons for leaving, I’d be curious to know what you remember about the stress I faced was when I was in the classroom, especially with regard to having time and balancing life while trying to be an effective teacher and also being a mom & wife.

Yes. I remember your stress very well. And I remember how I thought, “Good grief, it’s not worth it. 70 hours a week for that salary?” And I can’t believe you were able to do it when our boys were toddlers. Wow!  You really are amazing. I also remember wondering if you weren’t giving yourself more work than was necessary. Now, I realize what you were doing as I am doing it myself. To be effective, particularly with the content we teach, it requires daily feedback. And that takes a lot of time (for sure) but also mental strain--and I don’t think anyone has ever really taken that into consideration when they make our schedules and dole out our requirements. To write comments to 100+ individual students requires extreme mental effort. That doesn’t enter into the equation of contracts, and that’s a bona fide problem in education, especially for English teachers.

Since you are coming from the college setting where instructors typically don't teach all day every day, how are you adjusting to your new schedule of 5 classes back to back in a 7 hour school day five days a week?

Teaching is exhausting!  One thing I’ve observed about teaching high school is the amount of concentrated effort it requires. Teaching college classes, I always had a break of at least one day between meeting with those students. That break allowed me time to reflect and rest and get prepared. Teaching high school classes that meet every day means there is no break, so to speak. Further, teaching high school requires one to be “on” pretty much non-stop during the day. From bell to bell, I have to be engaged, obviously. But, what’s different is that there’s virtually no time between classes to gather one’s self and get ready for the next task. I mean to say, from period to period there is five minutes time. But, students start arriving at any moment and I have to engage them and be ready to go as soon as the bell rings. During that five minutes, there are always various questions to answer (like, students who missed the previous day need to know what they missed or a teacher comes to you and asks a favor, etc.). It rarely happened teaching college that I had two classes back to back. And even when I did, there was at least 15 minutes and really, and most importantly, there wasn’t the need to be “on” in the same way. In high school, I’m finding that I have to be “on” in ways that maintain classroom order.  In college, classroom management was basically not an issue.

Time to prepare is really an issue for me teaching high school.  I don’t have it. Because I teach writing and reading, I have to spend physical time and exert considerable mental effort to respond to student work on a daily basis so that the next class can proceed. That has to happen after school, during the time that I also need to be tending to my family, eating dinner, exercising, going to whatever extra curricular activities my children have, and, oh, sleeping. So, it’s really hard to do the job I need to do with the schedule I have. I do have a planning period, but, honestly, that’s 50 minutes spend responding to emails, “sweeping” the halls, managing a student aid, and just catching my breath.

So, I really think that the high school schedule needs to be revised. I think that teachers should be required to teach three classes and expected to use the remainder of the day grading, planning, and doing the necessary research in order to provide quality instruction. The current schedule of teaching 5 classes in a 6 period school day isn’t sustainable. No wonder teachers get burned out and are ineffective. They aren’t given the time to do the job that they need do. Now, what do we do about the teachers who wouldn’t use that time as needed.  Well, I hope you’ll ask me about that because I have tons to say about the profession and what constitutes being a member of the teaching profession. 

“Had we but world enough and time.”  Ah, one day!