Schools Look At Providing More Time For Teachers

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By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 18, 2008

Loudoun County elementary school teachers who feel overworked might soon have some official data to bolster their claims.

A School Board committee is surveying the county's elementary principals to see whether too many demands are being placed on teachers during the school day. Personnel Services Committee Chairman Tom Marshall (Leesburg) said he hopes to have results by early next month.

"The biggest complaint I've heard from elementary school teachers is that they don't have any time to do any planning," Marshall said. The survey will get the principals' perspective.

"A lot of time that supposedly could be used for planning, is it being taken away by principals who deem it important to do other things?" Marshall asked. "Teachers do have time during the day, but in such small increments that it's meaningless for any kind of planning."

The school system allows elementary teachers one class period a day, or about 40 minutes, for planning work, but teachers say they don't always get the full amount.

Teachers use planning time to prepare lessons, grade assignments and confer with colleagues about individual students and coordinated teaching strategies. Some say requirements such as staff meetings and lunchroom and tutoring duty increasingly cut into that time.

Planning time during the day provides "a good block to get things done," said Loudoun Education Association President Sandy Sullivan. She said that having more uninterrupted stretches of planning time during the school day would improve teaching quality.

Her association surveyed teachers last year and found that many felt overworked, Sullivan said.

"One teacher said in a comment that she thinks she's being a pretty good teacher but not a good parent," Sullivan said.

Marshall said that depending on the results of his committee's survey, the School Board might set a policy on the need for teacher planning time during the school day. Or, he said, if responses seem to indicate that a few principals are out of line with general practice, central office staff members might try to address the issues on a case-by-case basis.

One way to provide more time for planning, Marshall said, would be to hire substitutes to allow teachers a half-day of coordinated grade-level planning every marking period. Paying teachers to come in on weekends for two- or three-hour planning sessions would be another solution, he said.

The main stretch of free time in an elementary school teacher's day is a 30-minute lunch period. But teachers have to walk students to and from the lunchroom, which cuts into that time, Marshall said.

"It just isn't an ideal situation if you want to give teachers time to plan," he said.

In a sign of what the coming budget season might hold, Marshall also said that the personnel committee would start working soon on a policy on "destaffing," or laying off employees, in case it becomes necessary during the economic crunch.

Marshall said the policy would clarify such issues as whether an employee's seniority is based on years of service at a particular school or in the school system, so that the approach to layoffs would be more predictable.


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