Saturday, April 23, 2005

Time: A teacher's biggest enemy

I found out recently that the school district where I teach has decided to cut high school teachers’ conference time down to one period in an effort to cut expenses. In addition, teachers will teach six classes with at least 22 students per class. Now, math has never been my strong suite. I am more comfortable discussing literature and analyzing an author’s writing style, and so this news sent me to my calculator.

How much time will I be able to devote to each of my students with this new schedule, I wondered. How long will my students have to wait to receive feedback on their essays that they have worked so hard to write? Most students (and their parents) would hope that their teacher would spend at least five minutes reading and responding to what took some of them hours and several revisions to finish.

If I spend five minutes each on 132 papers, it will take me 660 minutes, or 11 hours, to read and respond to one set of essays. Supposing that I were able to grade 40 minutes straight without any interruption, I would need over 16 conference periods to work my way through one assignment.

Given that the one 50-minute conference period must also be spent developing lessons, completing paperwork, calling parents, and running off papers, students will have to wait well over three weeks to find out how they did. In our society where instant gratification is the norm rather than the exception, my students will probably have given up hope of hearing how they did, if they don’t forget completing the assignment altogether.

Sadly, the effort to “get their money’s worth” out of teachers will end up compromising our students’ education. In this time of teacher accountability for student learning, many school districts are making bad choices. Those who would improve education in America would do well to read the recent report released by the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality. Their study found that “teachers’ responses on the Working Conditions Survey were powerful predictors of whether or not schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and performed well on the states’ respective school accountability model.” Read the report “Teacher Working Conditions are Student Learning Conditions” at


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