Why Teachers Obsessively Schedule Every Part of the Work Day
A familiar lament that crosses career lines during the holidays is the human desire for ample time off from work, better schedule flexibility, and pay for hours spent on the job but off the clock. Whether you've been given a free week to enjoy your family this winter or you're working through into 2015, here's a reminder that teachers' daily schedules appear impossible to maintain for anyone other than superhumans with body doubles.
In the third edition of our series on America's public schools, we asked teachers (present and former) to submit detailed itineraries of their days on the job. For relativity and honesty's sake, my schedule as a staff writer at this website is to wake up around 8 a.m., work on my current projects, and then sign off when I'm done, fielding emails and doing interviews at certain intervals. Every so often, I have a meeting. Some days are longer than others.
What I found among the many emails and comments from America's public school teachers: every minute in a teacher's day is preciously used and planned out, even down to when a teacher can afford a bathroom break. While many think of a teacher's job as an "easy" 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. babysitting shift, what our submissions revealed is a rationing of time so exact that you have to wonder if teachers ever breathe or sleep. Their endless meetings, heaped-on responsibilities from administrators, and interactions with students leave it so every single minute is valued.
An email submission from a teacher with young kids:
The schedule of teaching is great for teachers with kids—older kids. For teachers with young kids, it is difficult. During the school year, I drop them off at daycare and latchkey (for which I pay a combined $1030 per month) at 7 so I can be at school before my students. I put them to bed at 8, then resume school work most nights. I routinely tell my daughter that no, I can't volunteer at Santa Shop or attend that field trip because I have to work, and I get the same disappointed look every time. On weekends I find myself saying, "Let mama finish her school work, then we'll play." Yes, I signed up for this, and I love my job, my school, and my students. But the amount of work I must do at home to be competent in the classroom limits the time I can give at home. So, for the eight summer weeks that I do nothing related to teaching, I feel zero guilt, because I am spending them with my own children, who must share me during the other 44.
From an email submission that details how any instance of teachers' allegedly "wasting time" impacts their administrators' evaluations of them, putting their jobs at risk:
In our district, there have been no fewer than forty educational initiatives introduced to teachers over the past thirty years, the majority of which have been a waste of time, designed to fill up some Administrator's resume and keep teachers where they want them—jumping through hoops or walking on eggshells. You pick the metaphor. Connecticut has recently initiated a lengthy, cumbersome evaluation system that requires teachers collect useless data and prove the value of how and what they are teaching by uploading 'artifacts' (that's educational jargon for student work) to a frankly unworkable internet program called Bloomboard. Teachers are 'rated' based on the number of 'domaines' they hit such as "Arrangement of the physical/virtual learning environment and the logistics of learning." No, I don't know what they're talking about either. So called informal drop-ins occur without rhyme or reason. My last 'evaluator' snuck into the first ten minutes of an eighty minute class when I was hurrying to make copies of vocabulary homework for my unfocused students randomly misbehaving before the lesson could begin. This particular class of sophomores are sweet but antsy and it always takes me at least ten minutes of—"Let's everyone get in their chairs." "No, you can't go to the bathroom, the last time you went you were gone for twenty minutes," No, we don't throw our hats across the room." "Hands to self, Tyler, we don't give backrubs in school." "Joseph, please no shouting, he didn't mean to touch your chair." And "Students—please, put away your cell phones!" My 'evaluator' entered into Bloomboard "Students did nothing for the first ten minutes of class."
Such is life. The relationship between teachers and Administrators have become, over the years, decidedly adversarial. There are those chosen teacher favorites; the rest are either overlooked or harassed. They don't trust the people they have hired despite those educators having eight years of advanced university training, years of practical teaching experience, creative intelligence, endurance, and many, many ideas of how to improve education. But no one asks. In short, it's all about them and teachers—as they have told us many times—are lucky to have a job.
From an email submission that details a fourteen-hour work day:
I am a high school teacher in a rural, poor county. Folks who critique teaching without actually having taught or having made an effort to understand what teaching requires frustrate me to no end.
I love teaching. I love working with students, planning with colleagues and being a part of a community focused on providing kids with a safe space to learn and grow. I love learning new things myself, and lord knows teaching is a profession where you never stop doing that. The critiques I have come from a place of love, and a desire to make my profession a sustainable one.
So much of the debate around education focuses on "big data" and test scores. To those who think that's the magic bullet for understanding and fixing schools, I say to you: you are wrong, and your focus on this at the expense of other factors is to the detriment of the entire education system.
This is not about data. This is not about test scores. That's a part of teaching, sure. But there is so, so much more to it. You cannot break what makes a good teacher down into numbers a spreadsheet.
Here's a teacher schedule for a day typical day in my school:
7:00 – 7:30 Prep for your classes. Last minute copies, schedule adjustments, reviewing what you're teaching.
7:30 – 8:20 Mandatory morning meeting with a different department each day (committees, grade level, department, whole staff.)
8:20 – 8:25 Go to the bathroom because you're not going to get another chance.
8:25 – 8:30 Passing period. Monitor the hallways, break up the rare fight (even better, spot the tension before it happens and stop it.) Say good morning to all the students as they pass, ask some to take off hats, remind some about homework or activities or parent meetings.
8:30 – 9:35 First class. Teach students of widely varying ability levels (I'm talking about a class of students ranging from kids who can't read to kids already doing college work.) There are 25 kids in class, all with 25 different worlds and lives, and you have to manage behavior, differentiate, teach, counsel, crisis manage, entertain, and constantly adjust. Also, during first period you have kids still waking up and kids coming in late, which means you have to be extra energetic and have strategies in place so that the tardy kids can catch up to the rest of the class without interrupting the flow of your lesson.
9:35 – 9:40 Passing period. No time to prep for your 2nd class, because you have to be in the hallway.
9:40 – 10:45 Second class. See the first class description for what you have to do. Also! It's a different class than what you teach first, so you have to make your brain do a U-turn during passing period.
10:45 – 10:50 Passing period, be in the hallway.
10:50 – 11:55 Third class. Everyone is hungry. You are STARVING. Don't eat in front of your kids in class though, because that makes you a jerk.
11:55 – 12:45 Half lunch, half advisory. Sometimes you have lunch to yourself, but usually you're on duty somewhere, or working with student organizations.
12:45 – 12:50 Passing period, spend most of it helping whatever student org you were with clean up, regret drinking so much water at lunch because you really have to pee but don't have time.
12:50 – 1:55 Fourth period: this is your plan period, which elementary teachers don't get every day, I have no idea how they do what they do. Elementary teachers are the most hardcore of us all. Your plan is when you have time to grade student work, prepare for future classes, do the piles of paperwork and data entry that we are required to upload but never use. Just kidding! There's a staff shortage, go sub for a teacher who's out.
1:55 – 2:00 Passing period. Rush back from the class you were subbing and steal a minute from being in the hallway so you can get the materials ready for your last class.
2:00 – 3:05 Last academic class of the day. Everyone is crotchety. Everyone. Worst behavior happens in this class because kids have used up all their brain power and patience. You have too! But you can't show that because this block deserves a good teacher as well.
3:05 – 3:10 Passing period. Lots of students want to skip now, and you're responsible for making sure they don't
3:10 – 3:45 Mandatory study hall time. If students were crotchety in 4th block, imagine how having to remember to bring work and do work feels. It really sucks to be the broken record "do your work, did you remember your work, put your head up," etc etc forever.
3:45 – 3:50 That one student who promised to get work from you never showed up. Track him down before the bus leaves at ! It's like a video game – dodge students in the hall, search different areas, avoid surprise meetings with your principal, locate your target, achieve your objective, level up!
3:50 – 4:00 FINALLY YOU CAN PEE.
4:00 – 5:30 Afterschool tutoring, coaching, admin meetings, prep work. If you actually leave at four, it feels like you're skipping out early.
5:50 – 6:30 Inevitably, someone has missed the afterschool bus. Drive them home.
6:30 – 8:30 Do all the work that you didn't get the chance to do during your plan.
9:30 Go to bed because teaching turns you into an old person.
From an email submission that reveals what teachers actually do during their "free time":
School day is 8:00 to 3:30, but we are required to be on duty every third week starting at 8 so that means we have to be here well before 8 to get organized. First and second block last about 86 minutes each. We then go to homeroom which we are responsible for helping students complete make-up work, work on their scheduling, organize and implement a community service program with them, and monitor their grades among other things.
We have a 23 minute lunch period in which we are required to serve a duty once every third week as well. In the afternoon, we have two more blocks at about 86 minutes each.
We do get a planning block, which we are supposed to use to plan for upcoming classes and to grade assignments. However, we are required to cover others' classes, attend meetings, etc.. during this period. It really bothers me when non-teachers call this free time. What I do during my planning period is pretty much what other people do throughout their day— them claiming it is my free period since I don't have kids is the same as them saying they don't do anything all day!
Any teacher worthwhile gets involved in extracurricular activities as much as possible, often without pay. While I do get paid to coach football and wrestling, it works out to less than $4 an hour. During football, I usually don't leave every night until 7 PM, meaning I work 11 hour days Monday through Thursday. I don't leave school until midnight or later on Fridays due to games. This year, football went from the beginning of August until the first week of December!!!!! This doesn't include the time spent of weekends scouting the next opponent, planning practices, or studying film. On average, I would say it averages over 60 hours a week.
As soon as football ends (this year we had a successful football team, so there was a lot of overlap), wrestling begins. We usually have matches on Wednesdays which puts me at school until 10 PM. On Mondays and Tuesdays we have a youth program (unpaid and I don't have any of my own kids in the program) immediately following varsity practice which ends at 7:30. We get done with practice at 6 PM on Thursdays and Friday but I usually spend the next hour or so running kids home all over the county. I spend pretty much every Saturday at a tournament, often leaving school at 6AM and not getting back until well after 8 PM. If my math is correct, that is about 70 hours a week (ugh)
In the spring time, I continue with the youth practices right after school until about 5:30 (unpaid) three days a week. Our state has recently allowed out of season practice for football so I spend many afternoons working with the football team in the weight room and on the field.
I have not included any time that I spend at home grading papers or planning lessons. It is hard to gauge due to a variety of factors, but I am comfortable in saying that it is at least 5-10 hours per week. It was much worse during my first several years teaching.
Our salaries have been frozen for at least 5 of the past 6 years. With the increase in insurance and other deductions, we have been getting paid less and less every year. At this very moment, we are attempting to work with our Board of Supervisors and School Board to get more money, but we are met with resistance from a very small minority of anti public school advocates that wish it was still 1953 and pre-Brown vs. Board of Education. (I currently live and work in Southside Virginia, the hotbed of massive resistance and the emergence of private academies instead of integrating)
From an email submission that shows the painstaking bureaucracy that pops up in schools: (For emphasis from the submission below, this is completely bonkers: "I fail to mention that due to the newest educational trend sweeping my district, I have to work on two different bell schedules. I have to teach both grade levels under 45 minutes while other teachers in one grade level can teach in 70 minutes and others can teach in 50 minutes.")
I am currently a Special Education teacher (Self-Contained and Inclusion) in one of the largest districts in my state, and compared to the other faculty members in my department, I get paid the least and have the most responsibilities and duties. I am usually one of the first teachers who arrives at school/work (6:00 in the morning) and the last teacher who leaves (7:00 at night, if I am lucky). Sometimes, the custodians who work the late shift leave before me. My class is the farthest classroom in the building; I am in a temporary building pod with semi-working campus streetlights and no alarms. I spent a lot of money to fix some basic maintenance problems in my classroom; I often liken my room to the boiler room of the 21st century. My campus is located in a high-poverty area, so it is not safe for someone like me to be there so late (especially with this daylight saving time thing in where it gets dark at 5:30 in the afternoon). But everything that I need to do can be only done at the campus; other work that can be done at home is being shoved into my backpack at the end of the day/week.
It burns me inside when colleagues and administrators, including my assessment specialist/diagnostician (the one over my department), think my job is easy/easier because of the amount of the students who I have under my caseload/in my self-contained class. They are looking at the quantity and not the quality of the students. Across my district, we have students who are below grade-level and they are not labeled students who should be getting services under the Special Education program. My students are students who are unable to make academic progress in the General Education classroom, and for that reason, they are with me. I am expected to have the students to pass the state assessment, and this state took away the modified assessment, the only test that they are used to. Not even the students who are in the General Education classroom can pass the regular state assessment. How could someone who is Intellectually Disabled (Mentally Retarded) pass this test? They cannot spell their names correctly on some days. I am feeling the pressure from administrators who do not understand what being a Special Education teacher is like. They say that growth matters. That is bull (excuse my French) because all that I see, scores is the most important thing in my district/campus. If they walk a feet in my shoes, then they would see my side.
Schedule: Oy, boy. This is why that I wanted to post here on Gawker. In my self-contained classroom, I have both grade levels of my campus at the same time. I am expected to teach mathematics and language arts to both grade levels. I can do just fine with language arts, but with the new mathematics standards for my state, I am unable to do that. One grade level is on prime and composite and another grade level is on rates and ratios. I am 6 weeks behind in one grade level, and 10 weeks behind in another grade level. It does not help that I am being called for ARD meetings and being called by faculty members in my department to help them with paperwork and stupid crap the other times (e.g. one time, a faculty member, the same faculty member who wanted me to stop instruction to help with her paperwork last minute, wanted me to send one of my students to fetch water from her room to give to her while she was in the Inclusion classroom).
For several weeks, I work on a 50 minute conference/planning period, while the other Special Education teachers (full Inclusion teachers) worked on a two-hours (120 minutes) conference/planning period. I am required to attend all core subjects area department meetings during my conference (because either I serve students or am the teacher of records in that particular subject) while the other two are only required to attend one subject area department meeting. This is the best part: for three months, because the administrators did not want to listen to me regarding suggestion of the schedule, I have to bring my self-contained students to one of my Inclusion classes in an effort to maintain "compliance." When I found out that there was a simple solution to my problem in that they could have combined two Inclusion classes, leaving one of the teachers free to take one assignment from me, I blew a gasket. As soon as the new schedule took effect, I was being called out by administrators and that teacher who lost one of their conference periods and being told by all parties that what I did was out of my "boundaries." The teacher wanted me to remain silent while my students suffer. What?! I lost a hour of instructional time every single day. I can never catch up, even if I tried to do after-school tutoring. I had to do something, somewhat of a last attempt, to give my students a fighting chance. I am not the one who made the new schedule; I merely brought up this concern. I am doing paperwork every single day, even during break/holidays. I am flipping tired.
I fail to mention that due to the newest educational trend sweeping my district, I have to work on two different bell schedules. I have to teach both grade levels under 45 minutes while other teachers in one grade level can teach in 70 minutes and others can teach in 50 minutes.
Final comments (for now): One of my colleagues encouraged me to try paralegal work. You know what? He is right. This is bull (again, excuse my French). This is the icing on the cake of what I have to face with as a Special Education teacher. I need to find a career in where I would be appreciated. I will be part of the statistics of the low rate of teacher retention.
From an email submission on "violating protocol" aka going to the bathroom:
I used to teach seniors at a charter school in Washington Heights. During the three minutes students had to pass between classes, teachers were instructed to stand in the hallway to help monitor transitions. I taught from 8:15 am straight through until about 12:30pm - these three minute transition times were the only time I had to use the restroom, but we were specifically forbidden to abandon our posts outside our doors. My classroom was directly across from the women's bathroom, so I would sneak to the bathroom on occasion. The head of the school caught wind that teachers were going to the bathroom during transition times, so she started monitoring the security cameras from her office to catch teachers using the bathroom. She called me down to her office to review a "week's worth" of footage of me "blatantly violating protocol." I went to the bathroom twice, each visit less than a minute, and towards the end of the year this was used against me as they tried to fire me (second big piece of evidence was that I was caught sitting down while teaching - my ankle and lower leg were in a cast at the time.) Anyone who thinks charter schools are the solution to education issues in America is insane - at least my union contract at my previous job included time for bathroom breaks.
From a commenter that suggests teachers likely have a high rate of (unreported) anxiety-related illnesses:
Wake up at 4:30am. Try to eat breakfast and not vomit from the stress of your job. Grade papers or write lesson plans for two hours. A quick shower, get dressed, and you're out the door by 6:45 so that you clock in at 7. More paperwork. Kids come in at 8:30 and the bell rings to start the day at 8:45. Admin crap. Uniform checks (supposedly, anyway—I'm told those are actually rare). Maybe teach for an hour before morning recess, during which you're either on duty or desperately trying to catch up on yet more paperwork. Teach for another hour and a half before it's lunch. If you're lucky, you can suck down a pack of crackers before the kids are back. Afternoon recess is the same as the morning one. You might get to teach for two hours in the afternoon. The bell rings at 3:45pm, but you've got another hour wrapping things up at school or—god forbid—a workshop or meeting. When you get home, you might be able to squeeze in dinner sometime because there is still more paperwork, and parents to call, and lessons to prep for the next day. Exhausted yet? This happens Monday to Friday from August through May. Holidays and weekends are spent stressing out, and even the summers you're supposedly off for are spent doing school-related work. It is amazing to me that there aren't more stress- and anxiety-related illnesses reported among teachers.
From a commenter on the lack of the necessary prep block:
I see you're talking about scheduling next. That's always my favorite. We currently have 4x86minute blocks a day and teach 3 out of every 4. This sounds pretty sweet until you get my schedule: I teach 4 different classes in my 3 blocks, including one inclusion class. That means my "prep" block is regularly filled with SPED, 504, or RTI meetings. Actually getting prep work done during prep is something I've yet to achieve this year. Did I mention that my co-teacher and I don't have the same prep block? We literally never have school time to meet, plan, and modify for our special education students, one of whom has an IQ of about 70 and a communication processing disorder...and is expected to do the same curriculum as the rest of the class.
In January, we'll get new classes and odds are I'll have students who haven't taken an English class in a year due to the 4x4 schedule. It's amazing what regular education students lose, skill-wise, after a year of not having a class, never mind the special education students.
From a commenter on taking sick days in order to get work done:
As an elementary music teacher, I see my students twice a week for half an hour. In music teacher land this is AWESOME. So many others only see their kids once a week. So in that regard, I can't complain. But what I can complain about is how my schedule is set up. Because it's EXHAUSTING.
Since my contract only states that my schedule limitations are "no more than 40 classes per week," there's a lot of flexibility in how that plays out. On Mon, Tues, and Fri I have 9 classes. But on Weds I have 6 and on Thurs I have 7. Now, if I taught at the high school, I'd be limited to 8 classes per day and my schedule would be balanced, but since no one respects elementary teachers this doesn't happen for us.
And you'd think that the schedule would be organized. Say... all 5th grades in a row, all 4th grades, all 3rd, etc. But it isn't. On Friday, it looks like this: 4th grade, 1st grade, 4th grade, 2nd grade, 2nd grade, 5th grade, 1st grade, 3rd grade, 2nd grade. I get one prep and that's only after the first four classes have happened. There is no time in between classes, either. One class goes from 8:55-9:25, then the next from 9:25-9:55 and so one. So if a teacher is late in picking up or early in dropping off the shift is even more impossible. My classroom literally has a revolving door. I have a class of 3rd graders immediately before a choir class of 40 5th graders and the chairs are too big for those kids to set up so I have to line them up early so some 5th grade helpers can come in and set up the chairs. And of course the behavior for choir is off because I didn't get the time to set up the room the way I need it to be set up. As a professor of mine once said: Control the environment before it controls you. Too bad I don't get the chance.
And I probably wouldn't know any better had I not worked in districts in which all the grade levels were grouped or I at least received 2 mins between classes. Or where the union contract states how many classes per day can be taught. Or how many grade levels per day can be taught. I've even worked in districts in which the contract required 2 preps for day. Technically, my district can get away with only giving me time for lunch in a day and I'm just lucky they haven't done that to me.
On top of this, we are expected to finish a class at 3:20 and be at a meeting across town by 3:30 on threat of being reamed out by the assistant superintendent. Door duty? Find someone else to do it those days. Can't be to the meeting on time? Get coverage for the last 15 minutes of your class. I'm sorry, what happened to the job you want me to do? To those duties that are going into my final APR score for doing?
And in being a specials teacher, your schedule is automatically less important than someone else's. For in-school concerts and assemblies that I have run, I have often JUST finished directing the entire school and since a teacher has music right after that, brings their students down to my room because "they need their prep." What about the one I sacrificed for the assembly? The one during which I was conducting/accompanying/working my ass off for over an hour while they just sat there on their phone? And no, the principal doesn't defend you. The principal takes their side because they would complain more.
And the final thing I will leave you with: I have actually taken sick days in order to get work done because I don't get enough time in my week for all the extra that is asked of us.
As always, we are accepting submissions from America's teachers, aides, and administrators. Please comment with your stories below or email me here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously in this series:
Why Teachers Pay for Students' Supplies Out of Their Own Pockets
Teachers Want You To Know: We Don't Get Summers Off
[Image by Jim Cooke, photo via Shutterstock]