As we are inundated with calls for measuring teacher performance, weeding out bad teachers, and hiring, firing, and paying teachers according to student performance on multiple choice standardized tests (and when, by the way, has a multiple choice test ever accurately measured problem solving, critical thinking, perseverance, initiative, collaboration, research, writing or anything we really care about—other than short-term factual recall or algorithmic manipulation?), it might be wise to take some time to reflect on the importance of time to teacher professionalism, teacher inquiry, and more effective teaching.
Consider the facts: US teachers spend more time in front of a classroom teaching than do their peers in educationally high achieving nations. Linda Darling-Hammond points this out in her 2010 book, The Flat World and Education. In it, she notes that “teachers in high achieving nations spend 40-60% of their time preparing to teach and learning to teach well,” while “most U.S. teachers have no time to work with colleagues during the school day” (p. 201). Spending nearly all one’s time teaching, with almost no time to talk to others teaching the same things, has a debilitating impact on teachers’ ability to do what all of us want to do as teachers—get better at teaching. If 80% of our workday is spent teaching with the remaining time spent going to the bathroom (can’t while we’re teaching), grabbing lunch, dashing off copies, grading papers, updating period-by-period attendance reports, returning emails and calls, conferring with counselors, and maybe, just maybe, when we’re lucky, actually reviewing the materials we’re about to teach, there is almost zero chance that teachers will have any time to talk to other professionals who might be innovating and developing better ways to teach. When a doctor is presented with a challenging case, she consults colleagues or reads up in the professional literature. In many hospitals, especially academic ones, part of each workday is devoted to clinical conferences or “rounds” where groups doctors confer about particular cases. A U.S. teacher who wants to improve faces a Faustian choice: skip the bathroom, lunch, reviewing materials for the next lesson, grading, or that nagging list of emails and calls—often from students or parents—to carve out the time to consult with her peers. And, having sealed her own deal with the devil of time, can our desperate-to-improve teacher reasonably expect her professional peers—on the outside chance that “planning periods” should miraculously overlap—to do the same?
Take a minute to think about it. We, at the Teachers' Inquiry Project, are doing the same.