Time Is (Sometimes) On My Side

Old living room clock

No matter what I try, I can’t slow this down.

There’s a theory in physics about time, that as an object’s speed approaches the speed of light, the rate at which time progresses changes. The faster the object moves; the slower time progresses for it. As much as I tried, it doesn’t seem to apply to me. I can spend my days hustling and bustling around my classroom, campus and district and yet my clock runs just like everyone else’s.

For teachers, time is a precious commodity, a thing which allows us to plan, instruct, mentor, coach, grade, copy, call, clean, serve, and still spend time with our families. I sit down every morning with my calendar and my to-do list and meticulously plan my day so I can make every meeting, plan every lesson, grade every assessment, and appear to have it all together. I prioritize everything that I do to devote my valuable time to those things that matter most.

I am privileged to work in a high school with block scheduling, meaning that I teach three 90-minute classes a day, and have one 90-minute prep period. My elementary colleagues are lucky to get 45 minutes each day, provided that the specials are available that day. If the library is closed for testing or the music teacher is home sick, they may teach their entire day with just a twenty-minute lunch as a break. Try organizing and facilitating activities for 30-plus six-year-olds for seven hours and you’ll understand how exhausting this is.

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What elementary teachers need after a day with no prep.

Several districts, mine included, have now structured their school weeks to include professional collaboration time. During this time, I meet with colleagues to reflect upon our instruction and determine ways in which we can improve or expand student learning. These days our students are released two hours early, but the positive impact on student learning as a result of this collaboration and development time far exceeds the loss of two hours of instruction.

Finland is often used as an example of an excelling educational system. They’ve experienced a large boost in math and reading scores in the last two decades, correlating with sweeping changes in education policy. One of these changes is in how time is regarded as an educational commodity. Frequent breaks for students, shorter instructional days, flexible scheduling and increased teacher planning time have all used time, not to increase the amount of instruction, but to increase the amount of learning.[1]

It can be often said that education mandates, while well-intentioned, rob us of our time. The movement to teacher accountability has been accompanied by mandated testing, paperwork and other hurdles meant to provide our children with rigorous instruction and the highest quality education possible. The reality, though, can often mean teachers are spending more time filling out paperwork than they do preparing to teach and reflecting on their instruction.[2]

One of my amazing colleagues in special education recently told me she spends anywhere from six to ten additional hours each week on paperwork and meetings for her student caseload. This time is in addition to her teaching, planning, and collaboration duties. It’s no secret that special education positions are a challenge for schools and districts to staff. Nationally, their numbers have decreased by 17% in the past decade.[3] When these everyday superheroes have a full workday of extra work each week, it’s no surprise to me that their numbers are dwindling.

The solution to this crisis of time isn’t a simple one; if it were, we might have discovered it by now. In the meantime, educators will continue to do all they can to ensure our students receive the highest quality education possible by devoting our time to the things that truly matter. We plan, we collaborate, we instruct, we console, we mentor, we coach, we assess, we refine, we grade, we call, and we advocate. We use our most precious commodity, our time, to do what we know is right.

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Precious time, just draining away.

[1] Walker, Tim. “”How to Bring Finnish-Style Teaching and Learning to Your Classroom.” NEA Today, National Education Association, 18 April 2017, http://neatoday.org/2017/04/18/teach-like-finland/.

[2] Brundin, Jenny. “After 25 Years, This Teacher Says It’s All the Paperwork that Made Him Quit.” NPR Ed, National Public Radio, 4 September 2016, https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/09/04/485838588/after-25-years-this-teacher-says-its-all-the-paperwork-that-made-him-quit.

[3] Samuels, Christina A. and Alex Harwin. “Shortage of Special Educators Adds to Classroom Pressures.” Special Education: Practice and Pitfalls, Education Week, 5 December 2018, https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/12/05/shortage-of-special-educators-adds-to-classroom.html.

photo credit: verchmarco Alte Wohnzimmeruhr / Wanduhr via photopin (license)

photo credit: VisitLakeland Hammock on the shore of a lake via photopin (license)

photo credit: Phil W Shirley Long Day via photopin (license)

 

Melissa Girmscheid

Melissa is a passionate advocate for physics education. She is currently in her twelfth year of teaching high school students about the world around them through the study of physics and carries this passion to her secondary job developing and leading Computational Modeling in Physics First with Bootstrap workshops. Melissa is a Master Teacher Policy Fellow with the American Institute of Physics and American Association of Physics Teachers, and in 2019 worked with a team of Arizona physics superstars to successfully lobby for ongoing education funding for STEM and CTE teachers. Her goal is to ensure every student in Arizona has access to a high quality physics education. She continues to advocate for students as an Ambassador with the American Physical Society’s STEP UP program and a coach in the Arizona Educational Foundation’s teachSTEM program. Melissa achieved National Board certification is 2017 and now serves candidates as a Candidate Support Provider. She believes in the power of Modeling Instruction, student-centered learning, and the Five Core Propositions.

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