Sunday, February 26, 2012

328 Hours and Counting

“Boy, Swisher, you must really like your cushy teaching job…the three best reasons to teach: June, July, and August, right?” Too many non-educators do believe as a teacher I’m under worked and over paid. I knew I spend a lot of time at home, before and after school hours grading and recording and planning…but even I was surprised last week when I logged my 320th hour since the beginning of school.

Eight weeks of extra work for my day job since August. These are hours on top of the full days with 150 students, meetings, planning during the contract day. Duty, and other supervision. All within the contract day.
I’ve worked 348 hours extra…in approximately 140 days of school so far this year. Full days at school and then 348 hours of extra work outside the school day.  I’ve worked two full months extra, while doing my full-time job these last six months or so.

So, what do I do in those hours? Mostly grade and record student papers. I have taken papers to Washington, DC, to Santa Fe, to Chicago, even to Germany! I am never without student work to read and grade and record. All the research shows students learn best when they receive timely feedback on their work. That means a fast turn-around on papers they turn in. In order to do that, I grade at home, at night. I’ve organized my week so I can sit at home in my chair and grade. Some school nights I grade for three hours; some nights, only one. Over the weekend I typically spend ten or more hours grading and recording.

I also log considerable time outside the school day planning. Another piece we know from education research is that we must use every moment of the class…bell-to-bell teaching and learning. My  planning must be pitch-perfect. I can’t waste my students’ time fumbling for work, running to the office to make copies, or trying to ‘wing’ a lesson. Of course, this level of planning allows me to be flexible and respond to the demands of the day and the little glitches along the way: technology not working, unexpected assemblies, fire drills, massive student absences for activities or illnesses. Every teacher can add his or her own unexpected interruptions; but solid planning allows me to be ready for the unforeseen and act accordingly.

All this brings me to my motivation for keeping track of my hours outside the classroom. Is it to beat my own chest, trying to prove I’m better than others? Is it to turn myself into an education martyr? Is it to fuel my own anger in this climate of teacher-bashing? Absolutely not!

I’ve always been curious about the uncompensated time teachers spend after contract hours. Years ago I read an article about a teacher who did what I am doing, just keeping track, documenting. He noted that when all his extra hours were added to his contract time, he worked more than a 52-week year – he just did it in many fewer days.
I am tired of non-educators complaining about our ‘six hour days’ and our ‘180 day contracts.’ I knew instinctively I worked more than that, but I had no evidence, just my gut feeling. I know others will take data seriously, and that would give me a way into the conversation about teacher time. So, with the help of a handy Iphone app, I started keeping track…to see where I spend my time.

I wanted to see if my time reflected my values. I value genuine, personal responses to every student. I value quick turn-around on graded papers; I value seeing my students read my comments on their graded papers the day after they turned them in. I value that dialogue we can have. I love seeing my students put down their books when I give them back their papers, so they can read my comments.  As a friend pointed out, that’s true, authentic assessment of student understanding, no bubble-sheets needed.

 I value planning, researching, and creating lessons and work for students that is authentic and and relevant and important.

I wanted to see if I indeed spend my time outside the classroom on these parts of my job. I’m happy to say the evidence does support my values. I’m proud that I have evidence that my practice matches my values.
Now, let’s return to that conversation at the beginning of this piece…teachers have such an easy job, with all that time off. Let’s see if the myth stands up to reality. What does 348 hours of extra work look like in the school calendar? I’m going to assume an 8-hour day, 40-hour week for the rest of my discussion.

We started school on August 18th this year…a late start. May 29 will be teachers’ last day. We were off Labor Day, two days for Fall Break, three at Thanksgiving. Our Winter Break this year was short: only 7 days. In January we were off for MLK Day, in February a day for Presidents’ Day. March will see a 5-day break, and then the long haul of April and May with no breaks.

That adds up to 20 days of enforced break, not for my convenience, not my choice, within the school year—that adds up to four weeks.  Summer break will be 12 weeks, give or take a day or two.
So, my 328 hours of extra work so far this year means that I’ve worked through every ‘vacation’ day, including Spring Break, which I haven’t celebrated yet.  Four weeks of my 328 extra hours has already been invested back into the school year.

Four of my eight weeks of extra work is already accounted for, and the other four will begin chipping away at that summer break people love to beat me up with…I’ve already worked all of June, and I’m into July. My twelve-week summer has now become an eight-week break, but this isn’t the end of the tale. We have over nine weeks of school left, and I’ll continue to count my hours. That three-month ‘vacation’ will be mighty short once I subtract all the days I’ve worked for free, essentially volunteering my time.

Am I the only teacher working extra hours? Not by a long shot. All teachers come early or leave late or take home work to do at home or come back to school on the weekends. Some do all that, and work with students during the weekend. All teachers put in extra time. All teachers don’t choose to document their investment as I have decided to do. But if they did, we’d see the amazing power generated in this country by its teachers.

Some teachers have told me they’ll never keep track of their extra hours.  They’re concerned they might begin resenting their jobs and their time if they actually saw the hours accumulate as I am seeing mine. Some are concerned this will appear to be pulling a ‘poor me’ act.

I can only speak for myself. I am documenting my investment in my students and my practice to make sure I’m using my time for the right reasons. I’m documenting my hours to have solid data to counter those critics who tell me I’m overpaid and underworked. I’ll be able to show my hours of work, and I’ll be able to express my conviction that I’m a stronger teacher for these extra hours, and my students have benefited from my time as well.

Want to know the funny thing? My app ‘pays’ me $10 an hour for every hour I log…That $3280 would help my family a lot, and might go a long way to soothe their feelings of abandonment for all the extra hours I spend on schoolwork.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Yes, Teenagers Read!

At the beginning of each semester of my class, Reading for Pleasure, I give kids a scavenger hunt, designed my my friend and colleague, Shelbie Witte, and let the kids collect book recommendations. I have several purposes for this work -- ours is a very quiet class, and I look for ways for students to be more active and be able to talk to each other about books. The first day of school kids typically sit all day and listen to teachers read their syllabi...I try to mix things up.

So, we wander the room collecting book titles and then I compile all the pages into a master list. This is what I'm sharing today...but I tell the students it's a rough draft...they have to help me with editing -- spelling, punctuation. I use this list in presentations and I tell the kids my credibility with my audience will suffer if I've got typos in our list. So, I ask them to read and proofread...then add at least one more title to our list. At the beginning of the semester, many students have NOT read for pleasure and feel a little intimidated...but by this time in the semester, nearly every student has finished a book (at least) and have a solid, real recommendation. The final list will be close to double this one.

But I share this, unedited, to make my point: young people DO read. Providing an elective class that values reading attracts those readers, and helps create those readers as out-of-practice and reluctant readers discover a book that moves them.

We Recommend
13 Reasons Why
A Child Called It
A Long Way gone
Across the Universe
All the Pretty Horses
Angela’s Ashes
Angels and Demons
Animal Farm
Anthropology of an American Girl
Battle Royale
Beyond Belief
Black Stallion
Bluford Series
Breaking Dawn
Cage of Stars
Castle in the Attic
Cat in the Hat
Catcher in the Rye
Century of Sports
Chain Fire
Charlotte’s Web
Cirque Dr Freak
City of Glass
City of Thieves
Clockwork Angel
Dances with Wolves
Dear John
Death on the Nile
Death-Tossed Waves
Diary of a Girl
Dolphin Tale
Ender’s Game
Evil under the Sun
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Eye of the World
Fahrenheit 451
Falling Up
Four Colored Girls
Friday Night Lights
Game of Thrones
Giving Tree
Goose Bumps
Gossip Girls
Hardy Boys
Harris and Me
Harrison Bergeron
Harry Potter
Heaven is for Real
Heir of Mystery
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Horus Heresy
House of Scorpions
Howl’s Moving Castle
Hush, Hush
I am Number Four
I am the Messenger
If I Stay
Invisible Monsters
It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Jade Gruer
Jane Eyre
Julius Caesar
Junie B. Jones
King of the World
Knight Life
Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff…
Lamont the Lonely Monster
Last Battle
Leaves of Grass
Life of Pi
Lord of the Rings
Lovely Bones
Man without a Country
Maximum Ride
Mere Christianity
Million Dollar Shot
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Montana, 1948
Nancy Drew
No Country for Old Met
Not ‘til the Fat Lady Sings
Oh, the Places You’ll Go
Once a Runner
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Other Side of Dark
Paradise Lost
Perfect Chemistry
Perks of being a Wallflower
Picture of Dorian Gray
Picture This
Pictures of Hollis Woods
Pleasures of the Damned
Pride and Prejudice
Redeeming Love
Safe Haven
Scarlet Letter
Shadow Riders
Ship Breaker
Sirens of the Titan
Slaughter House Five
Something Borrowed
Something Rotten
Spoon River Anthology
Star Wars
State of Fear
Summer of the Monkeys
The *uckup
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Art of Moving
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice
The Bible
The Compound
The Eternal Ones
The Five People you Meet in Heaven
The Forest of Hands and Teeth
The Foundation
The Future of Us
The Gift
The Giver
The God Box
The Goddess Test
The Great Book of Amber
The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby
The Green Mile
The Guardian
The Gunslinger
The Help
The Hobbit
The Home at the End of the World
The Host
The Hunger Games
The Last Battle
The Last Song
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Magician’s Nephew
The Outsiders
The Pleasure of My Company
The Princess Bride
The Road
The Secret
The Things they Carried
To Kill a Mockingbird
Trail of Texas
Tuck Everlasting
Vampire Academy
Vampire Kisses
Water for Elephants
We Were Here
Where the Heart Is
Where the Red Fern Grows
Where the Sidewalk Ends
Where the Wild Things Are
Wildwood Dancing
Winn Dixie

If you could add one more book, a book you know young people enjoy, what would it be? If YOU can help with proofreading, I'd be ever so grateful!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

OK Lawmakers are attempting to destroy the National Board program

A little background: years ago Oklahoma Legislature created a program of scholarships, professional development, support groups for  National Board candidates, and annual stipends for National Board Certified Teachers. Nearly 3000 of us answered the challenge, but we've seen support erode to nearly nothing. This year several bills have been introduced that will either kill the program quickly, as the Senate Bill I've written about, or slowly strangle the program out of existence. Our State Superintendent of Schools, a dentist who was on a board for a charter school, has made no secret of the fact she wants the money the state promised to NBCTs for other projects...her new voucher law will distribute tax credits for wealthy donors to private schools equal to the NBCT stipends she refused to fund.

SB 1879 will quickly kill the entire program, and the money saved will be used for a teacher 'merit pay' scheme. My letter is addressed to members of the Senate Education Committee.

I open and close with a reminder of a pot-luck lunch we invited them all to attend with us...not one member attended. Not one responded to the invitation.

I am the host of the NBC support meeting and Pot Luck lunch you were invited to, I'm sorry the invitation came so late...we will be holding meetings and hope to see you in the future. We'll be getting another invitation to you...but tonight I'm writing about SB 1879.

As a long-time teacher in the state of Oklahoma, as a teacher who has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary over the 30+ years because I've chosen to teach in this state; as a teacher who took the state's challenge to hold myself accountable to the highest Standards in my profession; as an NBCT, I strongly urge you to defeat SB 1879. Doing anything less will be to send a strong statement to all the children of our state that their teachers are not valued -- that the state government does not keep its promises. That the strongest teachers in the state do not matter. That students' being taught by the best teachers is not a priority of our state lawmakers.

I'm approaching the end of my career; I renewed my NBC because I did not intend to retire as a former NBCT. But now I look into the faces of young teachers who should have the same opportunity as I did to analyze their practices, to become the best teachers they can, to find meaningful ways to impact student learning. I see young teachers who will never, if you pass this bill, ever have the support of ELO with scholarships and professional development and quality, ethical support throught their process of pursuing NBC. They will never have the opportunity to contribute to their family's financial well-being. Teachers' families sacrifice for their decision to teach. We do it willingly, but NBC offered us a chance to create a better life for our families. You will be cutting that opportunity for other teachers and their familes.

Oklahoma is a national leader in NBCTs, and in our amazing support program. It's ONE education success story in a state that is notorious for its lack of support for quality education, and yet SB 1879 would destroy it and send us tumbling down -- again -- into the basement of state rankings.

I am currently working with teachers who are paying their own way through NBC. They hope the state would lift the moratorium on stipends when it said it would. They hope the state will make good on the stipends when they certify. I am also working with amazing bright young teachers who are doing the Take One! process: one Entry for NBC that will be scored and the scores 'banked' for a time so the teacher can pursue full NBC. All these teachers will be left high and dry by their state policymakers. They will be ignored by their lawmakers.

I also work with young teachers who are approching the time in their career that they're ready for NBC...ready to be honest about what works and doesn't work in their classrooms. Ready to become the best teachers they can be.

SB 1879 will rip the heart out of thousands of teachers in this state, teachers working with hundreds of thousands of students and parents.

SB 1879 will decimate Oklahoma education for a generation.

Please, for the children: do the right thing and defeat this bill. Look for real solutions, include educators in your solutions. Please respond to our invitations to work with you...