Time Management

Educators question contract's bet on teacher training over student tutoring

PHOTO: Sarah Darville

The proposed teachers contract stakes a claim about the time educators spend with students: quality beats quantity.

The new agreement would upend a key provision of the 2005 contract, which added two-and-a-half hours to the school week so teachers could work with small group of students. Now, most of that time would be devoted to teacher professional development and some to parent outreach.

The idea behind the contract changes, officials explained, is that better-trained teachers will have a greater impact on students even if they spend less time with them.

“We have to train teachers so that the time they’re spending with students is much more effective and valuable,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. “Versus doing, once again, this political punch line — more time with the student. Let’s make it better time with the student.”

While that approach makes sense to many, others note that professional development can vary widely in quality, and they question whether teacher training ever trumps instructional time.

“I honestly have never met one teacher who thinks the solution to the educational crisis is less time with students and more time in PD,” wrote the author of the education blog, Doenuts.

The 2005 contract had most schools divide two-and-a-half hours per week, or 150 minutes, into four after-school tutoring or small-group sessions each week, with some exceptions. “Multi-session” schools that have staggered starts were allowed to spread those extra minutes throughout their normal school day. Also, schools could request to use some of that time for teacher-team planning rather than tutoring.

The new contract, which must still be ratified, would take back those 150 minutes and split them into three chunks: teachers would spend 80 minutes each Monday in school-based professional development, 35 minutes on Tuesdays collaborating with colleagues, and another 40 minutes each Tuesday communicating with parents in writing, on the phone, or through newsletters and class websites.

Not every school would be affected by the change. Multi-session schools will again be exempt from this default arrangement, though they will be expected to provide professional development and parent engagement, according to union officials. Also, schools that prefer their current arrangement with the extra instructional time could request an exemption that would allow them to keep some part of their schedule.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña said that schools could pay teachers to tutor students after-school or on Saturdays with money saved by running their own professional development rather than hiring outside trainers. Also, the new contract would allow up to 200 schools to restructure their school days, potentially freeing them to add more small-group time.

After details about the proposed contract emerged last week, some educators expressed concern about trading extra instructional time for teacher training, which might not be helpful.

Peter Lamphere, a high school math teacher in Washington Heights, said some school leaders carefully consider teachers’ needs and plan professional development where educators help each other improve. But other administrators run top-down, unhelpful trainings.

“Now they’ll have 80 minutes to do that rather than a faculty conference once per month,” he said. “So it could be torture for some people.” 

Others questioned whether the contract needs to set aside time for parent communication, which most teachers already find time to do without such provisions, said Evan Schwartz, principal of the Bronx’s Alfred E. Smith High School.

“It wasn’t like they were sitting around saying, ‘I have these great creative ideas, but it’s not in my contract so I’m not doing them,’” he said.

But other people who work in schools welcomed the extra time for training and collaboration.

Darlene Cameron, principal of P.S. 63 in the East Village, said the after-school time built into the current contract has helped some struggling students but is not a perfect system, since some students resist staying after the normal school day and some parents pick them up before the sessions end. She said now the school will find time to offer those students extra support during the school day and that the new training sessions could focus on ways to reach those students during class.

“I think in the end this will have a bigger impact for children all around,” she said.

Teacher committees at each school will help decide how to use the new training time, though a main focus will be on the Common Core standards and the city will offer some guidance, officials said. Fariña said teachers could spend some of the time writing curriculum or sharing best practices.

“This is peer-to-peer, teacher-to-teacher,” she said, “And it really is, to me, a dream come true.”

Research has shown that when teachers meet for about 90 minutes per week to plan lessons, analyze student work, or devise supports for students with special needs, it can boost student achievement, said Lynette Guastaferro, executive director of Teaching Matters, an organization that works with public schools to increase teacher effectiveness.

She added that the new learning standards place greater demands on educators and make regular professional development even more essential.

“When our entire educational force has to reboot because of the Common Core, it is essential that teachers have time to learn,” she said.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”