Fifteen years ago I made a choice to live and work in Hanover County. Many of my colleagues have made the same decision before and since. We do not want to work in another school division and we most likely never will. The frustration voiced by teachers is not aimed directly at our students, parents or administrators. We want to continue to deliver a high quality educaton and feel we will not be able to provide it if the proposed changes to the school day go through. Most of the negative comments I hear about schools in the media or in general come from people who haven’t set foot in a school in years.
There is a misperception about teachers and time on both sides of the coin. Listening to some teachers, they make it sound like they work 80 hours a week all school year long under a back breaking amount of paperwork for trolls living in a dungeon. “My classroom is 50+ years old with outdated materials and I have a load of kids and parents that are apathetic”, is a typical comment you might hear from a crabby teacher. Critical members of the community will usually throw back at teachers, “You’re lucky to get as much money as you do considering all the school breaks you get and summers off!” Reality falls somewhere in the middle.
School budgets are always a sticking point. My school has some desperate infrastructure shortfalls, but this is nothing new for Hanover teachers in schools from Beaverdam to Patrick Henry to Washington and Henry. We are envious of our colleagues at the “shiny new schools” like Laurel Meadows and Hanover High, (not to mention our neighbors in the counties to the South) but our schools have long proud histories that are priceless. Money isn’t what is driving desperate teachers across Hanover county to public meetings….time is.
Teachers spend the majority of their time (by choice) with minors so we don’t have the same office interaction that most adults have. This may seem trivial, but the little peer time we have is important as it gives us time to refocus our energy so we can re-engage with our students and bounce ideas off of adults before we unleash them on children. Teenagers seek the path of least resistance. If teachers spent their entire school day with students they would most likely challenge their students less as the students would wear them down. Teachers reconnect by comparing their classes with one another and freshening up their lessons by reflecting with peers.
In the summertime many teachers I know go to conferences, travel, take college classes, read books in their content areas, coach and work at other jobs. They certainly aren’t sipping cocktails at the beach all summer – if they are they have a spouse who makes a whole lot more than they do. This “unproductive” time is once again an important time to re-evaluate and reconsider what we do in the classroom for the rest of the year. Good teachers don’t just walk away from the curriculum for the summer.
Many teachers spend time outside the classroom with after school activities for which they may or may not be compensated. Like every career, there are times when teachers are excessively busy and must grade, plan, and work from home with many hours outside the work day. There are other slower times (like exams) when teachers can catch their breath and probably don’t have to work too hard outside contracted time.
Teachers value their time above all things. We use our “free” time effectively to recollect ourselves, grade papers, plan exciting lessons, search for new content, and cool off from the performance pressure of the classroom. Restricting this time and adding work load is very unwise as it will almost certainly burn out the good teachers, stifle creativity, and make teachers and students unhappy.
Good teaching doesn’t just happen; It requires careful planning, thoughtfulness, analysis, adaptation and reflection. Adding more students and reducing teacher planning will undermine this system and hurt our schools. No amount of money will change this dynamic for the positive or the negative.
–Bill Callahan, PHHS Social Studies Teacher