The Teaching Profession

Dear readers,

I am off to Chicago for the tail end of AERA, for a Save our Schools meeting and for the second annual Network for Public Education gathering and, most importantly, to visit friends from “the old days.” My three children were born in Chicago, I started to teach there, and only left… let me see… fifty years ago! Can that be??

As I was packing I ran across an unusual piece in the April 15th Education Week, by Jack Schneider, at the College of Holy Cross in Massacheusetts.  I am going to read him more often.


He is the first writer on education reform who mentions the issue of “downtime.” He has five concerns about the profession (?) of teaching which even the unions don’t seem to really get: (1) Lack of downtime; (2) workload—for high school teachers up to 150 students, with frequent turnover; 3) Lack of the kind of autonomy that often defines professionalism; 4)  Structural isolation; 5) Not much feedback; none from colleagues.

But what astounded me most was what he put Number One: time to plan, prepare, and reflect. Time to collaborate. When I would hear folks demand MORE homework I would wonder—what kind of teacher time does that require. In elementary schools, with only (?) 30 kids, each assignment takes some planning (and don’t forget “differentiation”–the same assignment, without help, makes no sense for the all), some explaining, and then–oops–if they get returned they should be looked at and reflected on and given feedback. If we try to do each of these in 1 minute, that’s 3 minutes times 30=90 minutes.  Ad that’s just time for the homework! What about the other 5 plus hours of class time?

Enough. Maybe these professional gathering I am attending this week will solve this one.


p.s.  Just think, probably more than 200,000 families opted their kids out of April’s English language common-core tests in the State of New York.  Wow.

8 Responses

  1. I’m a high school English teacher from California: 173 students, all writing essays. The work IN the classroom from 7:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. is about half if what I have to do, every day. Every weekend. Every holiday.

    • That’s criminal. Unbelievable. I have no idea how I would ever assign anything if I had that many students. Even 100 is bad for an English teacher, if we are actually going to do it right. Ideally, an English teacher should have 3-4 classes and 60-80 kids if we are really going to help them become strong readers and writers. That’s what we’ll have in that school I’m starting when I win Powerball.

  2. I always say that we are in a people business so it’s people first and then programs and tests and data. Teachers have needs too!

  3. Deb, even I get that downtime for teachers is way undervalued and under-provided.

    I’ve so missed chatting with you this year.

    You’re still the one person I really want to meet now.

    God bless,

  4. This resonates with me deeply — especially as someone who is prone to expect no downtime for myself (time to sit and watch the light change in a room, time to wonder, explore, pour into myself). I think that the best teaching comes from the heart, but with so much to do on a daily basis, teachers feel that the time to listen to themselves, time to be still, is a luxury they simply cannot afford. We need to collectively re-center on what matters most. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I was a ghetto middle school Language Arts teacher 1994-2000. Averaged about 175 students a year. Brutal. Anomic. Guerilla teaching. I hated what homework meant for me, and did not think it was great for the kids either. (Unconscious reaction to knowledge of “homes” I didn’t have the courage or energy to visit.) I also came to hate the word “professional” in the mouth of half-eddicated teachers and administrators, which was code for structures and hierarchies used for appearance, power, and deadening the engagement with real kids. ” Grownup” itself is arrogant and problematic. But if I didn’t love the kids I wouldn’t have lasted a month. Oh yeah, it was — and still is — Baltimore.

  6. P.S. to my comments above, for optimists: My most important relationship with an adult was a friendship with a veteran teacher and softly fierce “strong black woman”. ( She functioned as an AP or Dean of ‘dealing with the hardest kids.’) I was a 47-yr. old beginning teacher who had everything to learn from her. Why did she value the friendship? I think it was simply because I am a cogitating blabbermouth who always had something to say about this kid or that, some book I was reading, and what I was trying to teach. THAT is how rare, uh, collegial reflection, was in her long teaching experience.

  7. Thanks for sharing this information

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