AMERICAN TEACHERS NEED MORE TIME
High achieving nations around the world have shown that less is more…less teaching time with students and more learning time for teachers results in higher learning for students.
One thing that [high achieving nations of China and Finland] did have in common – as do most of the top schools in the PISA – is that they provide ample time for teachers to plan and prepare. And they’re compensated for it.
The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education released a report in August 2010 comparing how little time the United States has dedicated to teacher planning and preparation (3-5 hours per week) to how international educators average 15-25 hours per week to plan. In fact, the United States is put at a major disadvantage because more than 80% of our teacher time is spend educating and interacting with students, not on planning or development of curriculum.
…In Finland, the best way to learn about the stark contrast between the stressed American teacher and the relaxed one there is to read a blog titled Taught By Finland, in which Tim Walker, an American teacher comments on what he’s learning while teaching in the Scandinavian country. His posts are both insightful and reflective of the lack of prep time in America. For example, one post notes how colleagues insist he take a coffee break for 15 minutes instead of grading papers. In another entry, he struggles over the fact that he’ll see his students in class just 600 hours per year (in comparison to America’s 1,080). Finnish teachers receive about 40% of their time to plan. I know what you’re thinking – unbelievable.
Believe it. In educational systems across the world, teachers have more time to plan than their American counterparts. Period.
Tim Walker, who now teaches in Finland, wrote the following about his teaching in the U.S. I don’t doubt that every American public school teacher will recognize the pattern…
At the time, Johanna’s friend and I shared several things in common. We were both first-year teachers at the first grade level and we were under 25 years old. But that’s really where our similarities ended.
My first graders’ 7-hour school day was nearly twice as long as her students’ school day. By the time she had left school, I hadn’t even completed my last class. And I had a mountain of planning waiting for me as soon as I waved goodbye to my kids.
In my first year of teaching, I would typically spend about two hours planning before school and three hours planning afterschool. I had virtually no boundaries, spending these additional hours of work either at the classroom desk or the kitchen table at home. And even when I had the chance to enjoy a break during a lunch block, I’d often work through this time, zigzagging across my classroom with a peeled banana in one hand, nibbling on-the-go.
All told, I was putting in 12-hour days of work. It’s no wonder why I was bothered by the hours of Johanna’s friend in Finland. My workday was twice as long.
Given her lighter workload, I was arrogantly convinced that she was an inferior teacher. I believed that teachers proved their strength by the number of hours they devoted to the teaching profession. By my estimation, she didn’t measure up.
By the end of my first year of teaching, I discovered that I was, by far, the weaker one. A dreadful lack of work-life balance had caught up to me. I was brimming over with stress and anxiety. And worst of all, the job of teaching was no longer joyful.
We spend so much more time with our students than in Finland, yet, on average, our achievement levels are lower. Why?
The short answer is that teachers who spend time in collaboration with colleagues, planning lessons, and increasing their own learning, are able to help students learn better. Teachers who work 11 hour days trying to keep up with planning, grading, and data collection, become overstressed, overworked, and less able to do what they were trained to do.
There are other factors, of course, including student SES, and cultural differences in the attitude towards education, but teacher quality is the most important in-school factor for learning. We don’t give our teachers time to improve their quality of teaching because they’re so busy trying to keep up with the huge class sizes and mountains of paperwork dumped on them.
Linda Darling-Hammond, in The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future, wrote…
Whereas teachers in high achieving nations spend 40 to 60% of their time preparing and learning to teach well, most U.S. teachers have no time to work with colleagues during the school day. They typically receive only about 3 to 5 hours weekly in which to plan by themselves, and they get a few “hit-and-run” workshops after school, with little opportunity to share knowledge or improve their practice. A far greater percentage of U.S. teachers’ work time is spent teaching than in most countries — about 80%, as compared to 60% on average for secondary teachers in the 31 OECD countries. U.S. teachers have more net teaching time — nearly 1,100 hours per year — than any other OECD country, far greater than the OECD average of 800 hours per year for primary schools and 660 hours per year for upper secondary schools.
She reports on high achieving nations…
Ongoing professional learning, embedded in 15 to 25 hours a week of planning and collaboration time at school, plus an additional 2 to 4 weeks of professional learning time annually to attend institutes and seminars, visit other schools and classrooms, conduct action research and lesson study, and participate in school retreats.
The OECD comparison between Finland and the U.S. is clear. More time for teachers pays off…
Teachers in the U.S. spend so much time trying to keep up with the workload that they don’t have time to improve their skills, or share what they’ve learned with other teachers.
What does this have to do with teaching and learning time?
Our teachers get about a half hour a week for colleague collaboration and about 5 hours a week for planning. Instead of adding more days to the school calendar, the school system will likely cancel collaboration time, and extend the school day reducing the amount of time for teachers to collaborate and reducing the amount of in-school planning time. Many teachers are in favor of this as an alternative to adding days to the calendar at the end of the year. The school systems are caught by the demand for student contact time…the requirement that, in order for a year to be “valid” students have to be in attendance for 180 days.
Other OECD nations, however have shown that to be unnecessary.
Obviously the Finnish system, or any other high achieving country’s school system, can’t easily be transplanted into the U.S. The Finns, for example, spent years improving teacher education and developing a national school system which was equitable. They provide broad safety nets for the few children who live in poverty (about 4% compared to the U.S. 23%). They don’t waste resources testing every student every year. Unlike the U.S. they have a culture which understands that education is “paying it forward” to improve the future.
Meanwhile we’re wasting our money on an obsessive reliance on tests and punishments, lowering standards for teachers, ignoring the massive number of students living in poverty, fighting each other over providing health care for our children, and privatizing the public school system which is one of the foundational institutions of our democracy.
Until the U.S. becomes serious about public education and the educational future of the nation, we’re stuck with overworked teachers — and students — and making up snow days by extending already long school days.
All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.