Monday, January 17, 2011

Where Is My Time Going?

The last few weeks I have really been noticing how I am spending my time working - both at work and on the work I take home.  I have come to the sad realization that I am spending it on tasks that are more clerical and custodial in nature rather than instructional.  I have no time to reflect on my teaching, engage in meaningful planning, or really take a look at how my students are doing.  It is a constant game of catch-up.  Grading papers, entering scores, making copies, running and analyzing computer reports, analyzing benchmark and testing data, cleaning.....  It never ends.

I truly believe that part of the problem lies in the fact that my students spend a minimum of five hours a week on the computer.  Now you might think, "That's great!"  And it would be if the students were using the computer to explore, think, and create.  But they are using them to prepare for the state tests.  And if they are English learners, add another hour and a half per week on the computer learning English.  When I think of how much instructional time I am losing every week, I have to take a hard look at what I am doing with the time that is left.  It just isn't enough time to get everything in, and certainly not enough time for students to participate in meaningful, engaging, and worthwhile lessons and projects.

This is what a typical Monday looks like:

8:15     Journal writing or silent reading (Flip-flopped every other day - This is when my English learners are on the computer.)
8:30     Calendar math
8:45     Computer lab (on two different programs back to back)
9:55     Recess
10:10   Read Aloud (which I REFUSE to give up)
10:30   Math
11:10   Language arts or reading groups (This is also when my English learners are on the computer.)
12:00   Lunch
12:40   ELD
1:10     Spelling and weekly planners (Because weekly planners have been linked to improved test scores)
1:30     P.E.
1:50     Recess
2:00     Promethean Board activities  (I am struggling with this - it's new to me.)
2:15     Writer's Workshop
2:45     Dismissal

You might look at this and say, "That's not so bad."  Notice anything missing?  Social studies and science?  I am able to squeeze a little bit of those in on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Now, in a typical week any number of things come up such as assemblies, All the Arts (guest art teachers), vision testing, district benchmarks, field trips (although those are becoming very rare) - you get the idea.  Just as an example, the last two weeks I had to drop writer's workshop.  We had to do two weeks worth of science lessons in order to prepare for an upcoming field trip.  Of course these lessons were worthwhile, but something had to give.  Something always has to give.

Go back in time ten years ago.  I made sure I had 45 minutes for writer's workshop four days a week.  I had 45 minutes for language arts instruction as well as an additional 40 minutes for reading groups.  Then there was the integrated block which was typically 45 minutes to an hour; social studies and science were emphasized and hands-on science and further literacy instruction occurred.  I was able to spend 45 minutes to an hour on math.  ELD instruction was delivered throughout the day as lessons were differentiated depending on language level.  (They still are, but now there is the 30 minutes of leveling them and farming them out.)  I didn't need to spend time using weekly planners - I personally think they are a waste of time and money for our third graders considering the way our program is set up.

So, what to do?  I don't know.  But as test scores become more and more of a focal point in education and teacher evaluation, we can expect to see an increase in mandates and loss of valuable instructional time.  Time I need to meet the needs of my students.  Time to work with my four students who are barely reading at the pre-primer level.  Time to work with the six that are reading at the first grade level.  (And this is just a sign of the times as well.  I have noticed, at least in my own classroom, the more we focus on test scores, the less skilled the students seem to be.)  As my students need more and more skills, I must give "interventions."  The documentation linked with interventions is another example of a massive time-suck in the form of clerical work.  And if you need to refer a student because you think they might have special needs, you better take a sub day to get that paperwork completed.  It never ends.

If I could do something else, I would.  I used to love my job.  Now I just feel like an ineffective teacher.  I want my time back.  I want my classroom back.  I want my profession back.