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Blog Campaign, Philosophical Meanderings

Recess…for teachers

I distributed report cards to my students on Friday.  And although I didn’t keep track of how long it took me to write report cards, it wasn’t a quick and dirty activity.  In fact, writing report cards begins weeks before they are actually due.  And, I’m referring to the act of writing comments and/or determining student marks on the various descriptors for all the elementary subjects that I teach – English and Spanish language arts, science, math, social studies, health, and art.  And, for the last two years we have had to report on three “ends statements” – character in learning, citizenship in learning, and personal development through learning.  So, that’s seven marks and seven comments this marking period.  I have 24 students, which means I wrote 168 distinctly, meaningful comments (or at least I was supposed to) and gave 168 marks.  That boggles my mind!

Before I go any further, though, I need to confess that while I have wanted to write this blog post since November 2011, I have hesitated numerous times because I feel nervous about going public on this topic; it is a touchy issue at our school.  I finally decided I needed to say something because I need to get some perspective on this issue from the readers of this blog.  Maybe I’m making too much out of this and I should just buckle down and do what I’m told.  But, that’s where the buck stops for me.  I don’t do well at just doing what I’m told.  I need to speak up, and I do, about what I see as incredibly extreme and unrealistic demands on teachers’ time; our workload has increased greatly this year and report cards have become a burden.  Teachers try their best to do a good job because we are compliant teachers in much the same way we were compliant students.  And, for the most part, teachers don’t speak up when they need to:  at a staff meeting rather than in the staff room.  So, sometimes it appears as if I’m the only one and then I think of John Lennon’s song and everything’s all right.

So, I guess my question has to do with whether or not I am making a big deal out of nothing?  Should I be writing comments on a grade 2 child’s report card about every subject listed there?  Of course, this begs the comment of the way that we are compartmentalizing learning by doing this rather than integrating it across a child’s day.  Commenting on every subject in the classroom for every child denies the reality of elementary classrooms:  subjects are fluid things that are difficult to pin down as only social studies or only language arts.  For example, my students write journal entries, twice a week, about a story that one of their classmates shares.  Three children get to share each time and then the class votes on which story they are going to all write about in their journals.  This process has evolved into conversations about what’s fair, secret voting, attentive listening, asking appropriate questions and making purposeful comments, among others.  This activity crosses over into many areas of the curriculum.  This kind of learning event is regular fare in my classroom yet reporting to parents is supposed to be disconnected rather than integrated.  At least that is how I see it.

So, back to the title of this post – Recess…for teachers.  Teachers are expected to do more with less time and fewer resources.  We are expected to use all of our “free” time (can I even call it that?) before and after school and during prep periods to plan alone and with other teachers, mark student work, meet with parents, fill out the endless ream of paperwork we are required to do, and the list is endless.  It seems to me that teachers are trusted less and less to manage their own time and instead our time is being managed for us as it gets filled with meetings and busy work.  What is wrong with time for teachers to gather their thoughts about what went on during the week?  What is wrong with some time to reflect, alone or with a colleague – and that would be up to each individual teacher – on what is happening in your classroom?  What is wrong with down time for teachers to use as they see fit?  A kind of recess for teachers?

I would love to read your comments and feedback.

About Elisa Waingort

I am currently a grade 5 teacher in the Spanish bilingual program in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I have been teaching for more than 30 years in South and North America. I love working with kids and adults. I am a teacher who reads voraciously. I love adult, YA, MG and picture books equally. I am a proud teacher writer. Every day I look forward to the challenge of learning to be a better teacher and a better human. Join me.


11 thoughts on “Recess…for teachers

  1. Teaching is among the few occupations where a large portion of our work can never be done AT work. I teach Honors British Lit and AP LIt to 145 11th and 12th graders. I also reach 18 seniors in a honors research seminar. These are highly competent readers practicing sophisticated writing models. The more they write, they better they get. But if I am to facilitate their success, I must read very piece they write, whether it is a traditional formal expository essay, a blog post, a reading journal or the in class practice of forms and structures. I have been unwilling to sacrifice improvement for my time, but it has become untenable, if I am to avoid burnout (or divorce). This does not count my prep time: in an AP Lit course, the breadth of my knowledge in my content area is critical to the choices I make for their reading. So though my content is different than yours, I feel as if we are in the same place theoretically.
    Other teachers in our school comment that English teachers are crazy. Maybe. But I have decided that my students will succeed, but so will I. Teaching myself new ways to get the most progress out of less writing for next year. Yeah, I would go for recess! But in lieu of that, I have to adapt.

    Posted by Leslie Healey (healigan) | March 18, 2012, 4:33 pm
    • Thanks for your comment, Leslie. I hope I didn’t sound like I was trying not to do my job or that I was trying to argue for a 9 – 3 professional day. Not in the least. I agree with you that teaching requires more of us, in time and resources, than any other profession. Why else would we be sitting at home blogging and commenting on posts on a Sunday afternoon? In fact, it’s because I want to do a good job and am always searching for ways to improve my practice that I’m finding myself questioning mandates that seem contrary to what my students need to become lifelong learners. And, by this I mean, that they love to learn and are excited about school and what we do in the classroom. When teachers start to burn out because they don’t see the value of what they’re being told to do then there’s a problem. I am at a point in my life where I’m not willing to sacrifice the well-being of my family or my own health for what I see as misguided approaches to “accountability”. I don’t think that should be held against me. I was a bit like you as recently as last year and I’ve had some reality checks since then that have given me pause. I don’t think we should accept this situation as a natural part of our job. Teachers are professionals and we should determine how we use our time, both professionally and personally.

      Posted by Elisa Waingort | March 18, 2012, 4:49 pm
  2. So, what would happen if your school community took all the time and effort sunk into that kind of reporting and transferred it to some kind of public exhibition and celebration of student work? Is there something beyond seeing the work that your community needs for adult evaluation or student norming that has to be met by teacher performance on report cards rather than by student performance in community?

    I wonder all the time about how to get away with using student work to stand for student work.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | March 18, 2012, 7:40 pm
  3. You make a good point, Chad. We do have student-led conferences but I get the feeling that after all the work teachers put into report cards these conferences are not truly representative of what children can do. The emphasis on all of the writing that teachers do on report cards is due to extreme monitoring, in my opinion, of what teachers say and how they say it to parents. I don’t blame my administrators because I sense they’re feeling the pressure, as well since this seems to be a system-wide phenomenon. All of us have friends at other schools that are experiencing heavier work loads, and more demands on how teachers write report cards and what words they choose to deliver their message.

    On another note, this Friday we had grade level meetings at the end of the day. My team decided that each of us should use this time to do work in our respective classrooms. It was wonderful to have even an hour to work in my room doing things that needed to get done. In another time, I would have suggested to admin that we be given one Friday afternoon a week, which really amounts to about an hour, to use for whatever professional task we had identified that needed attention. Then, I remembered what we’ve been going through this year and decided that this suggestion would likely not be well received.

    Posted by Elisa | March 18, 2012, 7:56 pm
  4. Elisa, To build on Chad’s comment, I also have seen second-graders do some powerful editing and peer-reviewing of each other’s work (see Ron Berger’s videos online about how this works) to develop a “community of excellence,” rather than all evaluation flowing through the adults or the older, “authorizing” bodies of the institution. This is a powerful idea–everyone gets better by building group understandings of what “great” work is and how you achieve it–which is ultimately what we want kids to be able to do on their own, with each other, without any adults around or running the show.

    In addition, you sound (of course) like one of those teachers whom kids and families remember forever. 168 individual marks just during this period is a lot of reflecting and commenting, in addition to all the other things you are doing–and this happens among great teachers everywhere, as Healigan notes above. What pulls you to the work is the way in which you can see that it makes a difference in kids’ lives, but that is also what makes it untenable–because the demands are unending. What would be a reasonable set of professional boundaries around this? Perhaps you could start a brave conversation about norming this. Saying out loud what a teacher’s workload at your school should look like?

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | March 19, 2012, 8:14 am
    • Hi Kirsten,
      Yes, I think you’re right that a brave conversation is needed. It’s hard being the Lone Ranger in any situation but I feel compelled to speak up. That is why I wanted to finally write this blog post so that I could get the kind of brave responses I am receiving. It gives me courage and the will to keep going.

      Posted by Elisa | March 19, 2012, 9:57 am
  5. Dear Elisa and other readers,
    After teaching for 28 years, as an FSL (French as Second Language) teacher, report cards are essential, informative and motivational to students, parents and the teachers writing them. Report cards should never be a burden (and believe me with the introduction of computers they get done so much more quickly! Ten hours per class hand written now is about 3 hours per class on computer). This year I am in a small school and teach about 150 students across the grades. There are 3 strands/marks required plus comments, I would say 390 is not “mind boggling” at all. I always try to say “distinctly meaningful comments” for each individual student! As subjects, even French, are fluid – last year I was assigned to teach French and the Arts (music, dance, drama, and visual arts). So add on another 4 marks and comments to report cards and I was doing approximately 910 “distinctly meaningful comments! NOW that is mind boggling.
    Staff room venting and sharing of experiences is healthy among peer. Staff meetings, however, are for the business of the school, following the chain of command. The principal should have an agenda, and maybe Board requirements that need to be done as a staff. If there is a concern, get on the agenda (weeks before the meeting). Staff meeting are not a recess…(maybe July is our recess?). Any principal worth their weight in salt, will give time at every Professional Development Day for meaningful educational pursuits at the teachers’ discretion. That’s our only Recess. Teaching is a profession and vocation not a nine to five job.
    (P.S. Elisa, for all it’s worth, I think your students are lucky to have you as their teacher because you are part of this “new” generation of online educators…this entry is my first time responding to anything I’ve read on line, good blogging to you!)

    Posted by Kim | March 19, 2012, 1:36 pm
  6. Sorry Elisa, I spelt your name wrong!

    Posted by Kim | March 19, 2012, 1:42 pm
  7. Never said teaching was a 9 – 5 job. Just that the demands on teachers are increasing and they are not always good or worthy demands of our time as professionals or that of our students’. Report cards is just one example. I have been teaching for over 25 years and while report cards have always been the least favorite part of my job, I always looked forward to writing comments about my students because it was a chance for me to communicate what I was noticing, observing or concerned about. The new way teachers are being micro managed through how and what we write on report cards is another way to control our work. I work very hard at being a good teacher. Sometimes I spend an inordinate amount of time improving my teaching by reading, writing, serving on professional organizations, and going public through blogging and commenting on others’ blog posts. I strive to include my students’ families in everything we do in the classroom. I think that by saying, “bring it on”, we are aiding and abetting those that are busy working overtime (theirs is not a 9 – 5 job because it would mean less money in their coffers) to de-professionalize our teaching lives. We have allowed a lot of folks out there, who are not teachers, to dictate to us what is right and what is not right to do in the classroom. I disagree that the principal should have full control of the agenda of a staff meeting or that it should be used primarily to hand down mandates from above. We have lost control and power over our profession. It’s time we did something about it before it’s too late. Or is it?

    Posted by Elisa Waingort | March 19, 2012, 3:45 pm


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