Monday, March 18, 2013

Overwhelming Workload: Any Solutions?

It's that time of year when the workload is overwhelming, and that is ever so frustrating.

Teachers know how much better their teaching is when they have the time to carefully review and analyze student work.  They also know how limited the time during the day is for this, and how weary they are after a day's teaching when they come home to a stack of essays that each require a good 10-15 minutes of careful reading, analysis and response--that's just one set for a large number of students.

Now critics will say pick and choose, use computer response systems and that comes with the job, and my response is yes, I do those things and I know it comes with the job, but there is great potential for student growth and confidence building when teachers have the time to conference one-to-one at best, or second best review student papers with depth and thought.

Not all teachers have responsibility for this kind of deep response and analysis as that depends on your role and responsibility, but I do believe that teachers who have this kind of responsibility deserve some time on task for the endeavor.

I don't want to sound like a matyr, but last week my students completed 25 essays--they worked really hard to complete this work.  I knew that timely response was essential, and that timely response would take hours of thoughtful work--hours that I don't have while in school and have to work hard to carve out of my busy family life.  Hence I got up at 2am when I had 4 hours of uninterrupted, thoughtful, coffee-ignited time to thoughtfully analyze, respond and assess the work.

I was so happy to be able to pass back these papers to students and their families.  I was delighted to let students know about all the wonderful craft, organization and voice they exhibited in their work, and I knew that the small, next challenge I gave each student as I responded to their work would foster further, positive growth in their writing development.  After distributing the papers, I noticed a positive response in student attitude, effort and endeavor.

Now I have another huge stack of similarly important papers in my bag--essays and responses students have labored over and deserve thoughtful response for.  I will do it, but there's a part of me that resents the fact that year after year, week after week, I have to take time from my family or wake up in the middle of the night to do the work of my profession--it's not healthy, it leaves one tired and cranky and it's also not equitable. And it's not just a matter of time, but a matter of energized, thoughtful time it takes to correct student work.

What's the answer for this age-old teaching dilemma?  I know that other countries give teachers considerably more time to respond to, analyze and assess student work, and I've read studies of the positive affect of this practice.  I know that it's physically impossible to keep up with this level of response so teachers have to make tough choices about what they respond to, and what they don't respond to. And, I know that thoughtful response, analysis and assessment positively affects student learning.

I believe it's time that systems re-look at roles and responsibilities--who has the time and who does not for student response, assessment and analysis, and who is doing that work in a formative way that affects the daily learning and success of students?  Just one more area for revision and growth in education today.  Thoughts welcome.

4/11/15 Update:
This year the system added 30 more minutes of planning time. Also, I taught with a partner and was responsible for half the subjects which meant half as much planning and prep and less leaders and coaches to work with each week. Both of these changes have made a considerable impact on the quality and depth of work I can do. A forward step.

10/2015 Update
We've bought a bit more time by using a shared teaching model where our efforts are streamlined with regard to subject area responsibility. The next step is to gain more support for lesson planning, preparation, and response from some of the educators who support our classroom teaching--that would possibly be very helpful.