What if teachers had more time?

I’ve been wondering: what would happen if educators had the time, space, and incentive to write outstanding lessons, do quality action research, and submit their work to peer reviewed journals? As it turns out, novice teachers might benefit the most from time set aside to write curriculum and connect with colleagues (Allen 2013).

Regardless of how well preservice programs prepare teachers, demands of the induction years leave little time for reflection and collaboration around issues that impact student learning. The Met Life Survey of the American Teacher (2009) found that the average teacher spends only 2.7 hours a week in structured collaboration with other teachers. In contrast, teachers in high-performing countries on the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) typically have more than 10 hours a week to work with colleagues, teach significantly fewer hours a week, and participate in up to 100 hours of professional development each year (McKinsey, 2007; Tucker, 2011). While most teachers have 45 minutes per day or 225 minutes (3.75 hrs) per week set aside for planning, duties such as meetings, parent contact, and paperwork quickly consume this allotment and more.

Teachers feel frustrated and ineffective when they don’t have time to create quality work, and these feelings of inadequacy may lead to burnout. Perhaps, then, more teacher education programs should consider emulating Trinity University’s Summer Curriculum Writing Institute (SCWI), a program that invites graduates to return during the summer to design curriculum for an entire week with other MATs. According to a 2013 Teacher Education Quarterly article, this ongoing professional support for Trinity MAT graduates contributed to lower teacher attrition rates.

A few quotes from students:

As a first-year teacher, I struggled to put one foot in front of the other. There was no time to plan for more than the next day. This week has given me the time I needed to pull back and think about the curriculum and my students and their needs. It has been like a vacation for the mind. (Participant, 2008)

After a stressful and often overwhelming year, it became easy to lose sight of my own dreams and hopes when I decided to teach. This week has restored my energy and refocused me around high expectations and best practices for teaching. (Participant 2007)

There were certainly limits to this study. As Allen points out, the students discussed in the study self-selected to attend Trinity’s summer institute; it’s also unclear how universities might sustain ongoing professional development programs, or keep track of all graduates who may live across the United States (2013).  However, are several interesting points to consider:

  • High-quality induction programs are associated with lower teacher attrition rates. In particular, novice teachers need opportunities to learn from well-matched mentors.
  • Teacher education programs do a service to graduates when they offer continuing support, and provide opportunities for students to expand their professional networks.
  • Schools will benefit if teachers have a desire to return year after year, and if they are becoming better teachers with each school session.
  • Teachers crave sustained periods of time to do their work, particularly in the early years of teaching. Short bursts of time aren’t cutting it.

I’m wondering: How can teacher education programs get better at supporting their graduates? How can individual school districts get better at providing time and support for educators to do high-quality work?

Works Cited
Allen, L. V. Z. (2013). The impact of induction support on teacher development, teacher retention, and the teacher quality issue. Teacher Education Quarterly, 40(3), 75-92.

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