We expect teachers to accomplish so much in so little time. We teach curriculum, manage behavior, and monitor student data. Beyond actually teaching, we also communicate with parents, organize class events, and build relationships with our students. Good teachers know how to make sure a student’s basic needs are met before learning can take place.
But what about the teachers? How are we ever going to give students what they need if our own basic needs go unmet? We know that students need to learn through high-quality, hands-on lessons for multiple hours each day. Which then means that teachers need enough time to plan for those lessons.
The amount of time it takes to teach and then actually run a classroom extends far beyond a daily 40-minute planning period. Quite frankly, teachers are tired of unpaid labor. But where do we find more plan time during contract hours with students always present? That is a question my own school district addressed this past year with a welcome schedule change.
What started as a simple survey to assess the feelings of our staff ended in an early student release every Friday for the entire year.
The school district promised more plan time for teachers that would not be interrupted with meetings. To accomplish this, schools would dismiss all students by 1:15 p.m. on Fridays!
At first, I was cautious. I tried not to save any work for Friday afternoons, thinking there would inevitably be something extra that filled that time. (We veteran teachers get pretty used to being promised things will get easier and then somehow they get harder and/or busier.)
I’m happy to say a few Fridays into the year, I realized we actually would be getting extra plan time.
The communication from my principal regarding Fridays was excellent. She made it clear that we would still have meetings occasionally, but she would prioritize work time for teachers. Any meetings that did take place did not take up our entire time. Finally someone was meeting our basic needs by providing paid time to prepare to teach.
I spent most of my plan time on Fridays gathering materials for the following week, entering ongoing assessment data, and actually cleaning up clutter in my classroom. It sounds simple, and these are the same things I would have squeezed into several shorter prep times. Suddenly, we had unhurried time with no student interruptions. Actually finishing an entire project calmly was amazing. My desk stayed cleaner. The work load felt lighter. The added prep time each week allowed me to be more creative in my classroom, instead of just managing the chaos and hoping for the best.
With the early dismissal schedule in full swing, what happened during my actual 40-minute prep time each day? I filled that time with meaningful work too. I collaborated with other teachers on my team, which always benefits both teachers and students. Of course, I filled some daily prep time with the usual rush of making copies, filling backpacks, messaging parents, running to the restroom, and filling up my water bottle. I appreciated the extra work time all year long, but it proved crucial at the end of the school year. Family engagement activities, end-of-year assessments, student portfolios, and packing up my classroom all required extra time.
Looking back on the entire year, I can honestly say our district upheld their promise of more weekly plan time for teachers.
I left school each afternoon feeling less stressed and happier with my job. I fully believe the Friday schedule adjustment and quality communication from my principal greatly contributed to my happiness at school. This August, as I head into my 9th year of teaching, I feel prepared to meet the needs of my students because I have the time to prepare to teach. I’m glad to see that other districts are adopting this practice too.