It’s the beginning of a new school year, and your energy and optimism are high. You’re looking forward to a wonderful year—full of new growth and learning. As you settle in with colleagues for the first staff meeting, you chat excitedly with people nearby. You’re eager to get started.
After some preliminary remarks, your principal begins to share about a new policy being implemented by administration across the district. “We all recognize the importance of professional growth and development,” she begins, “and we know that time is tight at school. You all have many classes to teach. You have prep periods, and those are for getting ready for those classes.”
You nod. This is true. You work hard all day, rarely getting a real break. And, yes, you wish you had more time for professional growth and development. Prep periods are for planning. You’re curious. Why is she saying all of this?
Your principal continues. “Many of you have shared with administration that you wish you had more time to read some of the professional books and materials that the district has purchased for you. We’ve also heard, loud and clear, that as much as you like team-time and PLC time, these feel like too much during your normal busy work week.”
Again, you agree. This is all true. It is frustrating when you’re given books but not the time to read them. You have certainly felt the tension between collaboration with colleagues and feeling ready for daily teaching. You wonder, where is this going?
“So,” she continues, “because we so value the work you do, and because learning and achievement are so important here in our district, all professional staff will be required to engage in professional learning time outside of school time this year.”
“Each night, you will be required to engage in 45 minutes of professional reading. Most of the time, you’ll have choices about what you read. It could be articles, blogs, or books. You’ll simply record what you read (including titles, authors, numbers of pages you read, and the time you spent) in a Google Doc. That will let me check in to make sure everyone is on track. Once a week, you’ll write a short summary of one of these texts. This will be shared with others so they can be inspired by what you’ve read. Sometimes we’ll all read a book together. There will be about five of these books throughout the year. 45 minutes a night should be enough, but some of you may need to put in some extra time to make sure you’re ready for whole group discussions.”
Whoa. 45 minutes a night! When is that going to happen? Don’t administrators understand what teachers’ lives look like after school? Once you get home, you go non-stop. You’ve got a family. Almost every day after school you have several activities scheduled. So much for that goal of getting more exercise this year, you silently groan. Your enthusiasm for the year is fading away.
“We’re also taking on several new district initiatives this year,” your principal states. “Many of these will require some at-home learning and practice. You will all report to several different administrators and department heads who will be leading these various initiatives. I’ve asked these leaders to try and coordinate so work isn’t overwhelming, but that may not always be possible. This means that on any given night, you might not have much to do, or you might have quite a bit. You’ll need to think about time management so you don’t get overwhelmed.”
I’ll have to think about time management!? What does that mean? How am I supposed to manage my time if multiple people may or may not be giving me assignments? What happens if multiple assignments fall during a family crisis or a big personal event? I sing in a choir every Thursday evening. Am I supposed to skip rehearsal if a lot of work piles up? What about my commitment to the choir? And what if I get stuck and need help? How will these different people leading the work possibly support me if I’m home and they’re not around?
“There will also be some big projects this year!” your principal continues with enthusiasm. “These are going to be a lot of work, but they’ll be worth it. They are really important and will help consolidate and showcase important learning that you do. A few of these will require you to work with others, so be ready to collaborate with colleagues!”
OH NO! you scream in your head. You know just how this will go. You’ll end up having to work with your two teammates who are impossible. Mrs. B is overly particular and refuses to compromise. It’s her way or the highway. And Mr. C doesn’t do anything. He just kicks back and lets other people carry the load. Great. You’ll end up doing all of the work, but you won’t even get to have any say in how it’s done.
“Don’t worry,” reassures your principal. “We’ll make sure that these projects are drawn out over many weeks so that you’ll have plenty of weekend and vacation time to work on them.”
What!!! Weekend and vacation time!!?? Isn’t weekend time and vacation time supposed to be work-free? Don’t people need time away from work to recharge and reenergize? How are you ever supposed to engage in great learning during the school day if you’re overwhelmed with work at home every night and can’t even take a break on weekends and vacations? And what about research that shows that productivity actually goes down when people work too much? How will you maintain healthy relationships with friends and family if you’re always working? How will you nurture other aspects of your life such as your need for exercise and your love of the arts if work never ends?
Your principal concludes, “Of course, it is our expectation that everyone puts in their best effort. Still, to make sure that everyone does what they should, your performance on these out-of-school tasks will be directly tied to your annual review. You will be assessed both on your completion of work as well as the quality of products. Though I suppose you could technically still pass your annual review while doing minimal work at home, it will be awfully hard.”
You’re absolutely stunned. You feel as though your fundamental rights are being violated. Who do these administrators think they are? Why do they get to dictate what you do with your personal time? If they were trying to come up with a system for beating the joy out of professional learning, they hardly could have come up with a better method.
You’ve never been a huge union person, but you decide that it’s time to get in touch with your representative. You have a contract that clearly states that you can’t be forced to work outside of contract time, which is from 7:30-3:30. Of course, you know that nearly all good teachers devote plenty of non-working time beyond the typical school day, but it needs to be voluntary and flexible. Forcing you to work beyond the school day is clearly a grievable offense, and you’re relieved that you have this important safety net. Someone is demanding that you spend a significant amount of your personal time doing work that someone else assigned–work that will directly impact your professional evaluation and future career. Just imagine how powerless and demoralized you’d feel right now if you didn’t have any legal recourse or protection!!
I mean, c’mon. We would never do that to kids, right?
Mike Anderson is an education consultant, award-winning teacher, and author of many books including What We Say and How We Say It Matter, The Well-Balanced Teacher, The First Six Weeks of School, The Research-Ready Classroom, and Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn. Learn more about Mike and his work or invite him to work with your school or district through his website: www.leadinggreatlearning.com. Connect with Mike on Twitter: @balancedteacher.