Why it Matters
Quality teaching is time-dependent. Teachers need time to collaborate with their peers, discuss and observe best practices, and participate in professional development that prepares them for changing curriculum and the challenges of teaching a diverse population.
Current school schedules demand that teachers spend the vast majority of their time in classroom instruction. Most teachers have little non-instructional time during the school day, and in that time they must prepare instructional materials, assess students, and communicate with parents. Additionally, teachers often must serve on school committees, staff various extra-curricular activities or cover hall or lunch duty. Such schedules do not allow adequate time for the continuous professional learning that is necessary for quality teaching.
In order to promote best practices and meet the needs of diverse students, schools need to reconsider and redesign the ways that teachers spend their time.
What We Know
In their 1994 report Prisoners of Time, the National Education Commission on Time and Learning recommended that teachers be provided with the professional time they need to do their jobs well and thereby improve the quality of education. Ten years later, time still emerges as the area of greatest concern for North Carolina Teachers with regard to their working conditions.
We know that teachers with a solid understanding of content and the ability to teach their respective subjects effectively have the greatest effect on student achievement. But such quality teaching requires a significant investment in continual professional learning. A study by Cohen and Hill found that teachers who participate in collaborative, curriculum-based professional development implemented changes into their teaching practices, and as a result, increased student achievement. Because of the important relationship between teacher learning and student learning, the National Staff Development Council advocates that teachers spend at least one quarter of their work time on collaboration and professional development that is embedded throughout the school day.
In many European and Asian countries, teachers spend no more than half their time in classroom instruction. They spend 17-20 hours per week teaching and devote the remainder of their 40-45 hour work weeks to planning, collaboration, meeting with students, and observation of other teachers. Because American teachers are so busy teaching, they lack the opportunity to step back and evaluate the effectiveness of their instruction.
By restructuring the conventional school schedule, it is possible to find more time for teachers while still offering the same amount of instructional time for students. For example, rather than 8 classes per day of 42 minutes each, restructured schools can create 3 to 5 class periods of 70 to 120 minutes each. As in a college setting, students take 4 or 5 courses at a time rather than 7 or 8, studying them more intensely. This approach reduces teachers' overall pupil loads and the number of different "preparations" without reducing instructional time for students. The smaller teaching loads that result make more teacher time available to students and more learning time available to teachers.
Two recently passed state laws will affect the use of teacher time in North Carolina. The class size reduction law, which caps third grade classes at a maximum of 18 students, will reduce overall student loads so that these teachers can spend more time addressing the individual learning needs of each student.
Conversely, the school calendar law, which requires that schools start no earlier than August 25, creates new challenges to finding time for teacher learning. The law eliminates five valuable teacher work days, reducing the time that teachers have to participate in professional development and plan for the school year in disciplinary and interdisciplinary teams. The reduced number of teacher work days increases the importance of incorporating extended planning and collaboration periods into the actual school day.
What the Toolkit Provides
The following recommendations suggest ways that community members, teachers, administrators and policymakers can help create more time for teachers. The recommendations and action steps emphasize the need for school schedules that allow for reflection and collaboration. They stress the importance of community awareness and involvement in schools, and they encourage teachers and administrators to not only find new time but also use existing planning and professional development periods more effectively. The recommendations encourage all stakeholders to think differently about the way things have traditionally been done. In order to create more time for teacher learning and collaboration, all education stakeholders should consider:
Structuring the school day to allow sufficient time for direct planning, productive collaboration with colleagues, and overlapping time for mentors and mentees, all embedded within the school day;
To the greatest extent possible, protect teachers from non-essential duties that interfere with teaching by creating a system that allows community members, administrators, or other qualified adults to assume some of the extra-curricular duties traditionally performed by teachers;
Structuring the school/district calendar to allow for meaningful professional development activities embedded throughout the school year; and,
Creating school processes and infrastructure that are responsive to teacher concerns about time and other impediments that limit available time to meet the educational needs of all students (class size and student loads).