A couple of weeks ago, Colorado's new governor made some announcements regarding his budget proposal to the state. Specifically, he announced about half a billion in proposed budget cuts for next year, which wasn't a huge surprise. What was a surprise -- at least to me, although I should've seen it coming -- was that he directed most of those cuts at K12 education.
That's disappointing, but almost understandable. (The Governor did acknowledge that K12 is a huge line item -- and one that has flexibility, compared to say, giving prison guards a month of furloughs. Of course, this is Colorado, where we amended our state constitution to provide additional monies for education, and the legislature used some creative math to circumvent that constitutional requirement as the economy worsened. So funding's never been pretty.) What kills me, though, is that the budget scenario will probably be good political cover for an unfortunate move being made in the school district where I live, my children go (or will go) to school, and my wife is a teacher.
Basically, they're going to ask high school teachers at three of the city's schools to teach another class per semester. It's a kind of peer pressure move. (Hey. C'mon. The other high school in town is doing it. I'm sure it's good.)
I've been following this story for a while -- it first surfaced last fall, and I exchanged emails with a district assistant superintendent on the plan before Christmas. But I didn't think I'd need to say anything. I had thought, perhaps naively, that the plan wouldn't come to pass. The move is based on faulty logic and poor math. (It seems that, according to one district source, asking a teacher to teach one additional course would only mean twenty minutes more of teaching per day. I don't get that. Do you?) Surely, I thought, the human filters would be thoughtful and wise. I mean, come on. This was a school district that understood the importance of teachers having meaningful time in their school day for professional development. For collaboration. For individual and small group student contact time outside of class.
Or so I thought.
As this plan has emerged, and opposition from the high school teachers who, rightly, believe this will harm the quality of their instruction as well as their ability to meaningfully build relationships with students, I've heard, quietly, from elementary and middle school teachers in the school district. They've not had the same time without classes to interact with students and each other. These middle and elementary school teachers, or at least the vocal ones, aren't willing to advocate for something that they don't have themselves.
The whole thing's a mess. All teachers should have time to be meaningfully thoughtful and human to their students. Every day.
Perhaps my biggest concern with the entire deal is that it's easy to hide behind big words like "efficiency." I'm a fan of efficiency when it makes sense. (And it does make sense. But at what greater cost?) But I'm thinking that some of the most important work that teachers do, and do quite well, isn't about being efficient. It's about being available. It's about being human. Patient. Kind. Thoughtful. Reflective.
Those are hard things to be when every minute of your work day is full of teaching and you've now got an additional class to look after during your grading time at home.
The fact that teachers are spending so much of their time grading at home is of larger concern. But no one seems to want to talk about that much.
We should be looking to have our teachers, all of them, "teaching" less and learning more .
My friend Zac wrote a while back about a scary kind of school: The kind that are breaking teachers. Those are the kinds of schools that look good on a balance sheet or a collection of test scores. They're probably, at least on paper, very, very efficient.
They're the ones where on the outside, everything looks great. But then you open the place up, and you see that stuff's pretty rotten. And will only last so long.
In this time of tightening budgets and scary realizations, I hope that central administrators, classroom teachers, parents, students, politicians and everyone else realize this:
We can do more with less. And good folks, if asked to, will do so. But, if the "more" isn't very good, then maybe we shouldn't. Maybe our leaders should say "let's do fewer things better rather than so many things poorly."
As next year starts to take shape for educators and legislators, let's hope at least a few folks are considering that position.
You probably know of stories about folks being asked to do more with less. This is one of ours. One I can't quite wrap my head around. These stories are complex and difficult.
I'd look forward to hearing yours, and how you think we can work to make things better in a difficult time.
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