Teachers, the ultimate DIYers

Years ago doctors took blood pressure, drew blood, and administered medicine. Today, medical assistants perform these duties.

Years ago teachers took attendance, collected parent forms, and tutored students. Today, teachers still perform these duties.

The teacher remains the sole adult in the classroom working with students even though the job has grown increasingly more challenging over the decades.

Oh sure, there are adult aides in special education classes, and up until a few years ago GUSD used to provide ed assistants in English Language Development classes, but for the vast majority of the country’s three million public school teachers, they go it alone.

Ideally, a new para-educator position should be created, an aide who would assist teachers with the tasks that don’t necessitate five years of college. One para-educator could serve several teachers, so while it would cost additional money to pay them, it wouldn’t be astronomical.

A less expensive and more realistic alternative would be to restructure the clerks already in place at a school, assigning one to be the sole teacher secretary.

Administrators, the smallest employee group on campus, usually have at least two secretaries, the counselors, the next smallest, have one, yet teachers, the largest group of workers with the most student contact, have none.

Here are some things that a clerk could do for teachers that would go a long way towards making the profession more efficient.

Taking attendance, uploading homework and grades. Nowadays parents expect their children’s assignments and grades to be posted online.   Such a task requires hours of work, time outside the teaching day. How helpful it would be to email a secretary this information.

Arranging field trips.   Teachers are required to do all the work involved with organizing field trips, including filling out forms, calling the bus company, collecting money from students to pay for the bus, and beseeching parents to go as chaperones.   With a dedicated teacher secretary, more kids would have enriching experiences beyond the four-walled classroom.

Making photocopies. Up until two years ago, my workplace had a clerk who would make photocopies for teachers. Now, teachers are on their own to take paper to a copy machine, punch in a code, and then remove the paper.   Think of the time wasted for a teacher to do this instead of helping a student in his classroom.

The other day I needed to make 24 copies, an amount that normally would take a few minutes at most.   However, by the time I went downstairs to the copy machine, inputted my code (yes, we have a quota) and loaded my paper, a misfeed occurred.   After removing the crumbled piece of paper, the machine never reset.

Not wanting to leave the machine in that condition, I told a secretary nearest the room about the misfeed.   She told me she wasn’t the correct person to contact and for me to find the clerk in charge of photocopying.

Meanwhile, my 15-minute morning break was now down to 8—and I still hadn’t used the restroom. Sometimes those who don’t work in classrooms forget that those of us who do cannot leave our rooms while students are in them.

Dejected, I returned upstairs without a single copy made. Imagine a school principal or a district administrator using his time in this fashion.

With creative restructuring of the current clerks on hand, even a single employee that serves only teachers would relieve the burden upon educators’ shoulders.   However for this to happen would require a rethinking of the teacher’s placement on the education hierarchy, more of a challenge than assigning a secretary to help teachers.

In the meantime, teachers continue to be the ultimate DIYers in the professional world.


Teachers Need to be involved in Decision-Making

In the game of education, there are many players: students, parents, teachers, administrators, district officials, state and federal politicians.   Too often, the group that has the most contact with the students, the teachers, is not part of policy decision-making.

For example, sometime beginning in the late spring, the Glendale Unified School District went ahead with a major endeavor, signing a five-year contract worth $3.4 million with Massachusetts-based Curriculum Associates to use their i-Ready diagnostic testing program, evaluating each kindergartner through 12 grader three times a year.

What was quite startling about all this was how few of the major stakeholders were in the loop, including some administrators.

Glendale Teachers Association President Phyllis Miller said that GTA was not part of any discussions about this program as well.

Just as the Common Core standards seemingly came out of nowhere, so too has i-Ready that no one knows with certainty will benefit students.

The difference between the rollout of Common Core and i-Ready was that GUSD carefully involved teachers in introducing the new standards over a three-year period; the systematic testing came like a “Bam!” a la celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.   In the past, the district has piloted new programs before committing to them.   Not this time.

Product Marketing Director for Curriculum Associates Susan Arcuri claims that there have been positive results in Glendale.   It’s a mystery how she came to that conclusion considering testing has just begun.

Miller said that many teachers who have used i-Ready say that the test itself is taking much longer than what was expected.

Where I work, the reading test is currently being administered, taking two class periods to complete. If that holds true for the math test, that would translate to a loss of 12 hours of direct instruction in arguably the most important subject classes.

And don’t forget the time it takes school administrators to organize the computer labs and monitor the testing, time better spent elsewhere.

It’s understandable the district wants to do something to help students perform well on the new Common Core based assessments.   The idea of providing teachers with individualized data to help shape future lesson planning sounds ideal.   The problem is that it is not practical.

Any teacher watching an i-Ready presentation espousing its benefits could inform upper management of this.   How are teachers going to find the time needed to analyze the data and then to modify lessons to meet the needs of each student? If a teacher were at the decision-making table, these legitimately difficult questions would have arisen.

One would have to make quite a convincing argument that spreadsheets of colored graphs is preferable to lessons taught by a qualified teacher.

Often overlooked is the analysis already occurring in the classroom on a daily basis facilitated by the expert in that field, the teacher.   Teachers don’t need third party testing results to understand that a student has difficulty understanding a Shakespearean passage.   They discover it through their lessons and assessments.

I have had the privilege of having thousands of students spend time in my classroom. I’d like to make an impact.   But the effect I could have on a child gets further diminished with each hour of standardized testing.

Teachers are very possessive of the time they have with their students so there needs to be a strong reason to justify taking that time away.