Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ideology and Rhetoric on Teacher Workload

Teachers at many high-performing charter schools work long hours -- specifically they're "on the clock" more hours than most other teachers. But all engaged new teachers work long hours, if they're trying, especially if they're in a small, new school.

This passage leaped out at me from Inside Urban Charter Schools, on the Academy of the Pacific Rim:

Teachers in the middle school typically focus on one subject for one grade level--for example, eighth-grade science. With three classes of students in the middle school grades, most of their teachers teach three periods a day and tutor for an additional period. This leaves them with two periods for academic planning, fulfilling advisory duties, meeting with learning specialists, and grading and tracking student work.

So at this school, teachers are required to be there 7:30 to 5:00, but only teach regular classes for three hours in that time. That frames things a little differently, doesn't it? How common this kind of schedule is I don't know -- the actual number of time spent teaching class doesn't come up as often as other measures of school day.

The most interesting thing about this to me is what it illuminates about the ideology of the discourse on these charters. The long hours and difficulty of the work are emphasized in descriptions, and may in some cases even be consciously or unconsciously maximized in practice, to focus on a perceived distinction between "regular" public schools and charters, between union teachers and non-union.

One can imagine in a different ideological context, pitching a schedule like Pacific Rim's as an advantage compared to traditional schools: one prep! three classes a day! tutor your own students! low total student load! excellent support staff! Hard work yes, but a great collaborative environment and you can focus on the kids in front of you instead of bureaucracy!


Tom said...

Sign me up.

jd2718 said...

Propose it as an option in public schools... do you really think teachers and their unions would oppose it, at least on an experimental or voluntary basis?

But that's not what most charters do; I doubt more than a handful, actually.