Not that I’m unhappy where I am–I am not really thinking about leaving MPS for the burbs. But the recent moves rearranging Oconomowoc High School and its teachers suggests that if the time ever comes I do search for greener pastures, Oconomowoc doesn’t have them.
Here’s what the deal is, courtesy of Erin Richards of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
In a move sure to capture the attention of school districts across the state grappling with how to reallocate resources in a time of reduced funding, the Oconomowoc Area School District administration on Tuesday proposed a profound restructuring of its high school, cutting staff and demanding the remaining educators take on more teaching duties.
The kicker: Those remaining staffers would each get a $14,000 annual stipend.
The plan requires reducing Oconomowoc High School’s core teaching force by about 20%–from about 75 to about 60 people–across the departments of math, science, social studies, language arts, foreign language, physical education and art, Oconomowoc Superintendent Pat Neudecker said Tuesday before a school board meeting where the plan’s details were released.
Oconomowoc’s dramatic step reflects a district responding to reduced resources amid an urgent push to reshape teaching, with newfound leeway to adjust compensation, staffing and school structures without having to bargain with unions.
Richards starts putting this change in the context of last year’s Act 10, the bill that lets Wisconsin school districts have their way with teachers–school districts that want to, anyway. Oconomowoc apparently does.
A $14,000 a year bonus is not something to sneeze at, but the trade-off is why Oconomowoc may have trouble finding and keeping teachers: teaching four out of four blocks a day. OHS is on a 93-minute block schedule; teachers currently teach three of those blocks with one block for planning time, according to Richards, which is the standard for such schedules. For most of my career, in fact, I taught on the block–this year being year 3 out of 15 that I am not teaching on the block.
Which is why I know that teaching four–even with OHS’s oddly long 54-minute lunch hour! (pdf)–blocks without a break or any time to prepare anything would burn me out.
I often say that teaching is like doing one-man show. Or, rather, 180 one-man shows, several times a day. More than that, actually, because these days you have to differentiate–one show for most students, one for students who are behind and need extra help, and one for students who need enrichment. And you’re also required to provide accommodations for special education students. So, really, for every prep–that is, every different class you teach–you’re doing six or eight or ten different things every day.
In Oconomowoc, that’s now all day, with no time to plan.
Or time to call parents. Right now I have to call parents when students hit a certain number of times absent or tardy, I’m supposed to call when students are in danger of failing, and I really should call sometimes with good news, too.
Or meet with my department. Make copies. Go to the bathroom, for that matter.
When I write stuff like this, I feel kind of guilty, or like it’s just a bunch of self-serving nonsense, and usually I give up on the whining. (I began and abandoned a post, for example, complaining about this Alan Borsuk column bemoaning how now even the “top performing schools [are] feeling pinch from MPS budget cuts”–when one of my supervisors regularly suggests I sign up for donorschoose.org to get things like sets of novels to teach, it rankles to hear better-equipped schools complaining.) After all, I’m not digging coal in a mine or crab fishing on the Bering Sea–my job, while tough, is not exactly life-threatening or sending me to the poorhouse.
But this is a practical concern: As Borsuk notes in his column about the plan yesterday, to work smarter (rather than just harder) on this schedule means being creative and inventive in what you do:
Since it’ll be so hard to handle a four-block teaching load using conventional approaches, teachers will be motivated to adopt innovative approaches. One school board member asked at Tuesday’s meeting what teachers will do differently under the new plan. “I hope a lot of things,” Moylan replied.
In many ways, it can be summed up in the jargon of those who want a teacher to be “a guide on the side” rather than “a sage on the stage.” Less lecturing, more coaching. Fewer teacher-directed hours, more time centered on students taking responsibility for their progress.
With this caveat, that hardly anyone is a “sage on the stage” anymore. That transition has long since happened, something Borsuk and those running the Oconomowoc School District should know by now. And this is not easy work; a “sage on the stage” needs to write a set of lecture notes, once. I haven’t written a lecture in … ever, maybe? If I talk for more than five minutes at a time I feel pretty sure I’m doing something wrong. Teaching well these days takes a ton of front-loading, planning lessons that are both engaging and, you know, teach stuff, with all the necessary variations. It is not unusual (though, thankfully, not constant) for me to do two or three hours of prep work for one hour of teaching.
Oconomowoc teachers know this; one of them, Mark Miner, lays it out in yesterday’s paper. “It really is quite simple: Adequate preparation time is essential to quality education,” he says.
Oconomowoc teachers are losing that. With the hammer having fallen on 20% of their colleagues–15 teachers let go in an opaque process that, Borsuk says, is a “sure bet” to have included somebody’s definition of “quality”–teachers will work like the dickens outside of school to make sure they’re prepared. They’ll never have time to spend that extra $14,000.
So I’ll stay where I am, thank you. It may not pay as well, but at least I have the time (if not always the resources) to do my job right.