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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Will Our Planning Time Be Cut in Half?

A Teacher's Responsibilities

On Monday a group of Regional Education Directors will present to the Oklahoma City School board a plan to lower high school credits from 28 to 26. This is being done in order to implement a 7 period day as opposed to the 4 period a day “block scheduling.” The Regional Education Directors, REDs for short, are "super principals" who oversee the high schools and their "feeder patterns," the schools that send their graduates onto the high schools.

Presently, high schools use block schedules where classes meet every other day for around 80-85 minutes. The new schedule would call for 5 instruction periods, one planning period, and one "collaborative" period. It's the last part of this proposal that has me fuming, but first, I need to address the move away from block scheduling to a daily schedule, which I favor.

I've never thought that block scheduling is good for high school students. In the modern, "over-stimulated" world of adolescents, I find it difficult for them to remember concepts we have covered during a class period much less those covered the day before yesterday. It is also difficult to schedule tests to see how much the students have learned in a unit since invariably some students miss a class and complain that they did not get a chance to cover the material being tested. Also when they miss a period, they have missed at least a day and a half of instruction.

Meeting students daily is more difficult and stressful for teachers, but far better for students. We get to review daily. Scheduling homework and tests can be a matter of routine. You can tell your students to expect homework during the first part of the week and a test during the latter part (or even vice versa), and the students will know what to expect. Since one has less class time, students can be focused on one or two concepts to be taught and reinforced on a daily basis. I applaud the idea of going to daily classroom instruction.

I oppose having half my planning time being taken away from me without so much as a "by your leave." When I first taught in the district, we were on a 6 period day with one period being my planning time when I had no classes. Planning time is needed to grade papers, contact parents, set up instruction, catch a breather, and, oh yes, plan lessons. Going to block scheduling increased my planning time and decreased my daily instruction load by two classes. Good for teachers, bad for students, in my opinion.

However, with the 7 period schedule, the REDs want us to teach 5 classes in 45 minute periods (a bit short in my opinion), have one planning time, and one hour for "collaborative" work. Usually, this would mean a period for department meetings, committee and team meetings, and professional development. However, the devil, as they say, is in the details. Principals could use this period in any way they feel they can use it such as for doing hall duty, detention duty, or covering and teaching classes. More teachers may be needed to implement this schedule change, and in light of state budget problems, we may face greatly increased class sizes come fall.

Some principals have said that they would not abuse the collaborative period in their buildings, but they may not have a choice given the fact that they may not be given the staff to handle their school's increased responsibilities. And that is hardly the point. The point is that the REDs (one person who works at the Admin building told me the REDs are "running amok" in the absence of a real superintendent) want to cut teacher's planning time in half and increase our load and stress.

I would be more than willing to have 2 of the 5 collaborative periods be used for meetings and professional development opportunities. However, using all 5 would be tantamount to adding an extra period of instruction and/or responsibilities to our day. Classroom teachers are under increasing stress due a host of state and federal mandates, most of them woefully unfunded. The district should not "collaborate" to heap more stress on our workload.

The school board needs to look closely at the details before they unloose this devil on the classroom teachers in this district.


mommacurran said...

We had the 7 hour day in Enid when I was in High School. It lasted one year 95 or 96. It was a disaster for everyone.

Lynn Green said...

What do you remember about it that made it bad? Too short a period? Too many classes? To many passing periods? There are many things we need to think about with this, so I appreciate your insight.