Today was an incredibly productive day at work. I’m an elementary school teacher, so I rarely get to make that statement. I can say it was a good day, or a great day, or a day full of successes, but productive? Not usually. At least not for me. So today, a day spent on planning as a team, was a real treat.
My work isn’t about being productive anyway. It’s about helping my students to be as successful as they possibly can be, whether it’s helping them understand the ins and outs of division, or challenging them to imagine themselves as early pioneers. My days aren’t filled with clients and reports, they’re filled with children and challenges. When a student shows that she understands causes of hurricanes, or when a student demonstrates compassion for another, these are successes. They are not, however, particularly productive in terms of my work.
For me, being productive generally happens outside of regular school hours. Unfortunately, those are also the hours that are devoted to my family, my health, running my household, and maintaining my general well-being. I can’t, and won’t, spend them all doing schoolwork.
You may wonder why I just don’t do everything I need to do more efficiently, during my paid hours. It’s a good question, and a valid one. Let’s see, I arrive at school between 7:15 and 7:30 am most days. During that time I pass back papers, write the day’s schedule on the board, make sure I have my materials for the day, send and receive lessons to and from my colleagues, read and reply to emails, listen to phone messages, and, on some mornings, go outside for playground supervision.
At 7:55 my day really starts. I take attendance, lunch count, and collect any notes that kids may have for me. I also deal with any little emergencies that children may come in with. Then, after an overview of the day, morning announcements, and the pledge to the flag, it’s math time. During math I teach the whole time. First the whole group, then I circulate as kids practice skills, and sometimes I pull small groups to work on material.
After that I have a thirty minute prep time three days a week. The other two days I either have a grade level meeting or I teach the children in the computer lab. That thirty minutes goes quickly, believe me. I make copies during that time, or put grades into the gradebook, or answer phone calls or emails, or talk to colleagues about various students. Before you know it, the time is up. Then I teach writing, and by teach, I mean teach. I don’t sit at my desk and file my nails while my students work silently.
This continues until lunch time, which, in theory, is thirty minutes. In reality it’s significantly less, since the lunch line moves very slowly, and we don’t just drop off kids, we actually supervise them as they wait in the line. Then I rush off to heat up and gulp down my food, with barely time to use the restroom.
Blink your eyes, and lunch time is over. I pick up kids, read aloud to them (we all love this), then teach a whole group reading lesson, followed by 4 small reading groups. What do the other kids do when they’re not in reading groups? Work that has been created just for them to help them practice their reading skills and to improve their comprehension. Some of it is in the form of worksheets (prepared and copied by someone on our team) or on the computer (also prepared by someone on our team).
After that, we have a science or social studies lesson, which I also teach. Then, finally, the day winds down and the kids pack up and head out. I stay at the parent pick-up area for nearly 20 minutes each day with one or another of my students because his or her parent isn’t on time. Yes, that’s an hour a week. Yes, it’s too much time.
Some days after school I teach a club, where I work with kids on particular skills that need reenforcement. Other days I have meetings to attend, either staff meetings, trainings, or meetings regarding issues with specific kids. Then there are the planning meetings, where we, as a team, decide what we’ll be teaching next. We stay on the same page as each other and we divide up the work and share the lessons between us.
What lessons? The ones we teach our students. We use Smartboards to help our students better understand new material, and it takes time to create those lessons. We look to the standards to guide our lesson planning, then create lessons that engage our students and teach the appropriate skills and concepts.
Sometimes we find the perfect lesson in the textbook (hey, it can happen), other times there’s very little available so it has to be found, modified, or created. Thank you Teachers Pay Teachers website, and all the teachers who not only figure out what we need, but put it together for us.We scour the internet for appropriate websites for our students, and we spend hours putting together written assignments and assessments.
I have 32 students for which I’m responsible. I have to stay on top of their oral reading scores among other things, which means I have to assess this skill regularly to all of them. I am behind on this, due to a lack of time.
So when do I create new assignments? When do I put together my Smartboard lessons? When do I correct papers, or enter grades, or pass them back? When do I read the upcoming text, pull out the materials I’ll need for small groups, or even sharpen pencils? Never mind about the niceties of creating bulletin boards and wiping down desks with disinfectant wipes.
No, I’m not inefficient. I simply don’t have enough time to do all the things that need to be done in order to properly run a fourth grade classroom. I’m not complaining, I’m simply sharing my reality with you. The old days of kids sitting quietly in rows doing long division while the teacher corrects papers at her desk are long gone.
That’s why today was such a gift. Today I was able to spend the entire day with my two fourth-grade colleagues planning. We had subs in our classrooms, and we were able to go over test data, adjust some reading groups, and plan, plan, plan! It was wonderful to be able to bounce ideas off each other and to have lessons for the next several lessons ready to go. I wish we could do this more often, but of course we’re needed in the classrooms. This kind of planning, however, makes for stronger, more focused lessons, and in turn, better teaching and learning. It was a day well spent, and for that, I’m thankful.