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Had we but world enough and TIME

25 March 2013

I was so stoked by the Global Education Symposium we went to before Presidents Day that I promised myself to begin working on my blog.

Now here we are a month later, and I’m just now typing my first entry, and creating very rough pages designed to correspond with the required items of our Teachers for Global Classrooms capstone project. What happened?

Nothing much–just regular life. 130 students in six classes with one planning block and four preps happened. Teaching nights at community college happened. Little League happened. A bunch of stuff breaking in the house or in a car happened.

All of which brings me back to a point described to us in one of the workshops at the symposium in Washington: At Google, employees can spend up to 20 percent of their time, or one whole day each week, working on projects that aren’t part of their job descriptions.

We are constantly being told that for schools to be run more effectively, they need to be run more like businesses. Usually those notions have oversimplified representations of schools or businesses (or both), but I’m getting swayed by a book by one of the speakers in our online course. I’m finishing Yong Zhao’s Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization (ASCD, 2009)–the book in my bag from the symposium–and among his recommendations are that schools become more like global enterprises: “Schools should consider themselves as resources and assets to other schools, including schools throughout the world” (p. 192).

How much time do teachers have to develop such resources? As I wrote above, I have six classes and one planning block. Now, I’m fortunate in my district in that we are on a four-day week, which makes our blocks longer, giving me 62 minutes of planning per school day, while most high school teachers in my district get about 45-50 minutes.

It’s not part of my contract, but since the school is almost always open on Friday, even if my main classroom is being used for a district workshop, I often go to school anyway to find a space for some extra planning and development. I think most successful U. S. teachers are doing a significant amount of planning and development outside of contracted hours.

This situation is rather different internationally. In Japan, only 60 percent of teacher work time is spent in classrooms filled with students; the rest is used for planning, development, collaboration, and tutoring. At the symposium, a teacher from India told us they usually teach five classes and have two class periods for planning (their class sizes are much larger 40-50, so they are looking at work from at least 200 students). Even the Wall Street Journal (usually not a supporter of public schools) published a report that said U. S. teachers spend more time in the classroom than teachers from other industrialized countries.

The court (both the legal kind and the one of public opinion) is still undecided on how much teachers should be seen as entrepreneurs in the first place. There are income-producing peer-to-peer lesson plan selling sites, as there are legal decisions claiming the district one works for essentially owns any lesson plans its workers develop.

Should U. S. teachers be treated like Google employees? Or at least like teachers from an industrialized country (e.g., Japan)? I would love to have their freedom, but I can understand why it won’t be bestowed on us anytime soon. Fellow Teachers for Global Classrooms, I know you would produce even more amazing and enterprising work with your 20-40 percent. But I bet you could all list teachers at your school (no names here please) who would fritter away that time.

Years ago in Florida, a statute called the “Gordon Rule” was applied to high school English classes. Class sizes were capped in the low twenties, English teachers had an extra planning period, all with the assumption that students would be writing thousands of words to be graded carefully by their teachers. There were many teachers who did increase their required writing–and there were many teachers who did not. So what did the state give us? Standardized writing tests, less planning, more “accountability.”

In other words, precisely what Zhao (and many other education scholars) claims is moving U. S. education away from the necessary spirit of enterprise and leadership.

I don’t have a solution for all this, but if you’re still reading this far down, maybe you do–or maybe you ARE the solution. Thanks for your TIME!

I’ll try to post regularly as we get close to our departure for India. If you have any feedback on any aspect of this site, I’d be glad to read it.

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