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Longer School Days and More of Them?

Is just 28 hours and 45 minutes of school, 33 weeks a year, long enough - for teachers? Let's try my "35-35" plan.

In addition to approving its annual budget at the September 14 meeting, the District 200 school board also appointed members Ken Knicker and Jim Vroman to serve on the teacher contract negotiation committee.  Many people focus on state funding issues when talking about the budget, but the teacher contract actually has the single greatest impact on the District’s ability to balance its budget.  How much do you know about it?

Former Board Member John Bomher used to say that he wanted “longer school days and more of them.”  At the previous board meeting Member Ken Knicker suggested the board examine the Chicago Public Schools' effort to implement this idea.  A recent article suggests that it might not solve Chicago's academic problems.  But I’m willing to give it a try:  IF we start with the teachers.  

What’s the length of your work week?  Increasing District 200’s current 28 hour 45 minute required teacher work week would provide significant additional resources for tutoring and other student assistance, and potentially save the district millions of dollars.  I propose a “35-35” program – 35 weeks of instructional time at 35 hours a week.  That is still only 1,225 hours per year.

At this point I expect to hear outrage about the amount of time teachers already spend outside the classroom.  Many dedicated teachers do so.  However, much of that time is compensated.  The District spends about $3 million a year on stipends, which are extra pay for assignments ranging from coaching sports, to monitoring lunch rooms, to standing outside making sure kids get on the bus.  Surely some of these duties could be added to the contract work week at no extra cost.  And if all teachers are already spending extra class preparation time anyway (beyond the daily preparation time they’re already guaranteed, in the current contract, as part of the school day), then surely the union would have no objection to adding it to the contract?

Before you respond, please read the contract, available on the District web site (article 5 deals with instructional time).  Right now, high school teachers are required to be at school from 7:05 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  That’s a 31 hour 15 minute work week.  However, deduct from that a guaranteed duty free lunch period and you get a 28 hour, 45 minute work week.  Of that, teachers are guaranteed at least four hours and 10 minutes of duty free planning and preparation time.  Teachers cannot be required to teach more than 5 classes a day without extra pay.  The maximum student contact time, per the contract, is 21 hours and 15 minutes per week, and the remaining time can be used for tutoring. 

A teacher’s school year is 181 days, roughly 36 weeks.  However, they also get 15 paid sick days – three full weeks.  Who is sick one day out of every 12 work days?  Let’s have the contract track reality, not Excess sick days accumulate without limit and get cashed in on retirement, also boosting teacher’s pensions.  All these provisions are spelled out in detail in the contract.

When you add it all up, teachers are required to work less than 1,000 hours a year.  Even if they spend 20% more time than contractually required, they’d still only be working about 1200 hours.  If we’re really concerned about kids learning, let’s spend more time teaching them.  The 35-35 plan would do this, and save taxpayer money.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

kerry mansour September 16, 2011 at 10:05 PM
Teaching is one of the only professions I know of where you are expected to do 2 jobs in the time span of 1. At the Elementary level, where I am experienced, you are teaching from 9:00-3:30. You do have a few short break periods, throughout the day, and yes, you get an hour for lunch. But as I said, the time with students is time spent TEACHING. That is Job One. Job Two is a different story. Job Two is what makes Job ONE possible. Job Two is the prep work, the planning, the sitting down with your teaching standards, your text books, your supplemental materials, your past experiences, and your specific needs of your current class and deciding not only what to teach next, but HOW to teach it. Every minute of teaching time is meticulously planned and prepped, with every word spoken and written planned for a specific purpose. What do I want the children to learn from this lesson? How will I best be able to convey this information in a way that makes sense to all of them? What visuals will I need? What models can I use? How will they best understand this information? What supplemental material will I need to reinforce the concepts? No one tells you what to do each day. You must figure it out for yourself, every single day, every single lesson, and you must do it outside of the school day.
kerry mansour September 16, 2011 at 10:05 PM
CONTINUED: And that's for ONE lesson. In Elementary school, we teach about 6 subjects each day. So you have to repeat the lesson planning 6 times. And then, you must also do all the record-keeping, grading, parent-communication, and general classroom housekeeping tasks that keep things running smoothly. You also must prepare materials for upcoming lessons. And don't forget that your classroom should be student-appealing, with ever-changing examples of student work on display on bulletin boards in your room and your hallway. And all of this must take place outside of your teaching time I can’t think of another profession where all of your prep time, planning, record-keeping, etc. is relegated to time outside of work, in fact cannot be done during work hours if you are truly doing your job well.
kerry mansour September 16, 2011 at 10:12 PM
CONTINUED: And as for sick days, teachers do get sick—they are exposed to many, many sick kids, week after week. But most teachers are hesitant to use their sick days because even when you are sick, you are still responsible to plan the school day for your students, for someone else to get paid to carry out. They do Job One, but it’s still you doing Job Two, no matter how sick you are. Also, if any of my children are sick at home, I use my own sick days to stay home with them. And teachers get none of their OWN vacation days. Yes, I know, they get the same vacation schedule as the students, and it’s quite nice. The world doesn’t always revolve around the school schedule, however, so if you need a day off that isn’t on the school calendar, it will be unpaid. Unpaid. Your child’s graduation? Unpaid. Distant wedding? Unpaid. A funeral? Unpaid. Yep, teaching sure is a luxury job. I just don't understand why everyone doesn't become one. Go for it.
Norasein September 20, 2011 at 01:44 AM
I left teaching and now drive a bus. Kerry Mansour may sound angry but really she's exhausted. She's telling you the truth. What she's not telling you is the emotional cost to being a teacher. You grow to deeply LOVE your students. You worry over them, cheer them on. On weekends you wonder how they're doing. Of course not all but MOST teachers would and some have given their lives for "their kids" If you think it's so easy why don't you get a job, secretly, as a teacher for just 6 months as a "research" project - THEN get back to us. At that point I would be interested in what you had to say.

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