One of the interesting things that happens on a picket line, is that people talk to one another. In a school, most teachers are so over-worked, they rarely get out of their corner of the world to interact with their colleagues.
This week, we were discussing an interesting situation that we’ve seen increasing over the years. I work in a VERY small high school with grade 8-12. There are generally only 25 students in the whole grade, so class size isn’t a huge issue for us, though composition definitely applies. In our staff of 10 teachers there are only 5 who work full-time. Of those 5, four of them have non-enrolling blocks (library, counselling, distance ed- that is, blocks used for data entry or dealing with one or two kids at a time, rather than a class) The fifth teacher is single (and exhausted!)
The other five teachers on staff, could be full-time, but they have all chosen to take part-time leaves. That means they have chosen to take a cut in pay to buy some mental health. Aside from occasionally coming in a bit later, those teachers are in their class rooms working when they’re on leave.
Most of the population has been to school, and you’re used to seeing teachers in the class room, presenting lessons, coaching, directing plays, etc. When student teachers arrive to do a practicum, they are prepared for their brilliant and innovative lessons, planned with care. They are astonished to see the rest of the job. Teaching is a lot like an iceberg. What you saw as a student is only a small fraction of what we do.
When I present workshops at writing conferences to adults, I will spend about ten to twelve hours planning, creating a power point for one hour lesson. Participants crowd around to ask additional questions, and shower me with praise. I think when I started teaching, I imagined that was how teaching was. It’s not.
If I have 4 blocks in a day, I will have spent hours reading materials, planning lessons, learning innovative ways to present the material to meet the four learning styles, laying out a long term schedule to cover all the learning outcomes of the course, developing unit plans, structuring group and individual instruction, creating projects, arranging speakers, finding resources, etc. Because I’ve been teaching a long time, I have a lot of resources and experience to draw on, but even so, it seems that planning time is at least equal to the time the lesson takes, so 5 hours of class time probably equals 5 hours of planning time. For a new teacher, it will be longer.
A full-time high school teacher teaches 7 of 8 blocks. In a regular large, semestered school, that means 3 classes and a prep block one semester, 4 classes and no prep the other. I am predominantly an English teacher. Throughout my teaching career, I have aimed to work .857 FTE so that I have a planning/prep block each semester. I make it a goal never to bring work home, but I work in school until five or six o’clock to do marking, make phone calls, manage my school webpage, enter data into my electronic grade book, and photo copy. At home in the evenings and on the weekends I’ll make hand-outs or plan units, read, and research. That is in addition to the assigned prep time in my schedule (usually 75 minutes a day).
A high school class generally has 30 students in it. At 7 classes that’s 210 students to keep track of. 210 interesting young people with unique problems, fears, joys, and concerns. That’s 210 parents to inform, 210 paragraphs to mark each day (at 5 mins each that’s 18 hours of marking), 210 essays to mark three or four times a semester (if each takes 15 minutes, that’s 53 hours of marking).
There are not enough hours to actually do the job. Employment Insurance says a teacher’s workday is 9 hours, and I think they’re probably under-estimating, because a part-time teacher will work 9 hours to manage two or three high school classes. A full-time teacher? Let’s just say, they’re not sleeping.
So if a teacher wants to spend time with her husband and children, she will give up a block, which is between$5-10,000 of pay. She will drop to 180 students, (180 essays will only take 45 hours to mark).
The teachers on part-time leave are still in school for the same amount of time, working to get enough completed at school that they can have a life in the evenings and on the weekends. I have a friend in Alberta. She is paid $15,000 more than I am, but her classes are 40 students. I don’t think the extra pay is worth it, if you can’t do the job well. That’s why class size and composition becomes important.
If you have a CEA supporting a student, you need to brief the work, provide different materials, and meet to discuss the student’s progress. If you have a student with an IEP you have IEP meetings with student, parent, and the Learning Resource teacher who manages the caseload. If that student has a CEA, you’re lucky. Most of the time you will be trying to give specialized attention to several children without a support worker. In my school 25% of the student body has a designation identifying them as having a special need (these include things like gifted, mental health concern, violence concern, autism spectrum, Fetal alcohol syndrome spectrum, hearing or vision impaired, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, English as a Second Language, etc). In practice, generally 25% of every class has a special need and requires specialized individual attention. In Physics 12, you probably won’t see more than one, if any. In Drama or Art, we’re going to see more of them. Kids with designated needs require extra time, and there simply isn’t any.
I bring this issue up as a talking point. I’m interested to know whether subsidizing public education by taking a part-time leave is a common phenomenon throughout the province. Does the public know how many of us are taking part-time leaves and subsidizing the Ministry of Education by working for free in those class-free blocks, just to be able to do the job and maintain our mental health?
What would happen if we stopped doing it?
What would happen if we only used our assigned ‘preparation block’ to do marking, planning, etc?
How would it impact our schools?
Could they function?
I brainstormed all the meetings that happen throughout a school year just out of curiosity. Some are optional, but most are not. If you’re a member of the public, did you know about these? If you’re a teacher, are there any I’ve missed?
*Informal staff meetings weekly to high light the week’s events, check on kids, disseminate information like a police incident involving a student or family, suicides, family traumas, etc.
*Formal staff meetings monthly
*Committee meetings- montly Pro D, Safety, Sunshine, Staff, Literacy, Numeracy, Athletic, etc
*Department meetings- monthly for teachers in multiple departments (a regular thing) this can be several a month Math dept, Science, dept, English dept, Socials dept, Phys Ed, Applied Skills, Fine Arts, Business
*Student Services- weekly Students that draw concern for any reason are brought up to put a plan in place to see to their safety and success, this inevitably leads to more meetings
*Student meetings- as needed with individuals for extra help, tutoring, planning, concerns
*Parent meetings- as needed either by phone or in person. These are rarely short
*IEP meetings- 2-3X year to go over students’ individual learning plans
*Support Service meetings- as needed with community health workers, mental health workers, aboriginal support workers, band counselors
*Staff committee- monthly meetings about school organization
*ad hoc planning meetings for things like dances, assemblies, and other events
Education- Small but mighty learning November 24, 2018
Tags: BC, cross-curricular, cross-grade, curriculum, eagle river secondary, education, innovation, rural school, school, students, UBC, UBCO, University of British Columbia
The following article was originally published in The Gateway newspaper, Sicamous, BC, June 2014. I no longer teach at ERS, but the school continues to engage in innovative programs with some of the most skilled teachers in SD 83. When I left, half the teachers had Masters degrees and a third of them were published authors!
SMALL BUT MIGHTY LEARNING AT ERS.
© Shawn L. Bird 2014
Eagle River Secondary (ERS) has been the educational heart of Sicamous since students began learning on the property nearly a century ago. In recent years, declining enrolment has required the school to become creative in order to offer programs that keep students in town. These successful innovations are causing a stir throughout the province.
The changes have included offering grade specific Core classes (English, Social Studies, Math, and Science) in the mornings and multigrade electives in the afternoons. The electives have embraced the teachers’ varied passions, allowing students to learn through classes in geo-caching, horticulture, international cuisine, cake decorating, hockey, outdoor education and guitar as well as more traditional classes like volleyball, biology and art. Of special note is the Social Justice class, which has students in the community helping at the thrift store and Meals on Wheels, harvesting vegetables for the food bank, gardening, and collecting for various charities.
A new focus on flexible learning by the Ministry of Education became the key to Eagle River’s innovations. The school has been given freedom to develop unconventional approaches to timetabling and course offerings. As a result of the success of these efforts, ERS has been recognized by the provincial government as a flagship school of the BC Ed Plan. Grade eight and nine students have had the opportunity to learn together in their choice of six mixed Science/ Socials classes throughout the school year; grade ten will be added in 2014-15. These courses have provided hands on, project based learning exploring local plants, controversial issues, water, astronomy, sound, electricity, revolutions, world religions, and cultural fashions among other offerings.
ERS is also very active in Career Education initiatives. Students are able to earn credits for their work experience in their jobs outside of school. There are two ERS students working in the community as Secondary School Apprentices, collecting hours with BC’s Industry Training Authority and gaining high school credit while they work as a marine mechanic or electrician. ERS works with School District 83 to provide two other students with dual credits (both college and high school) for career training as an automotive repair technician or a hair dresser. These students do a semester or year of training at another SD83 school, and will return to ERS tograduate with their friends.
Students also have the opportunity to parlay their own interests into Independent Directed Study (IDS) blocks. Students develop a set of learning goals, based on existing Ministry courses, and then leave the building to explore. Presently a pair of students is doing an IDS in fly fishing, learning about insect and fish life cycles, creating flies, fishing, and recording their findings. This is science and physical education for real life! Other students have created IDS courses in music, mountain biking, fitness, and long boarding. ERS partnered with UBC’s Okanagan campus to offer Maker Day. This was a chance to explore creative thinking and problem solving by students and community members working in small, multi-age groups to create prototypes of inventions. Maker Day is a movement dedicated to inquiry learning. Three ERS teachers are working on Masters degrees at UBCO, and the university is keen to have greater involvement with the school.
Eagle River’s innovations are making waves. Schools from all over the province are calling or coming to see what is happening within the walls. With only 150 students in grades eight to twelve, ERS may be small, but it’s mighty. Great things are happening for Sicamous’s kids, and the province is taking notice.
You can find the original article in situ here on page 8. GatewayJun2014-SmallMightp8.
Shawn L. Bird BA, MEd.