120 Minutes: The Longest-Running Reality Show You’ve Never Heard Of
School District. She is currently a math teacher of 6th and 7th
Answer: About 2 hours a night.
Question: What is the average workload for a classroom
teacher after they go home?
One of my favorite television
shows is Jeopardy. I learn so much just by watching the contestants battle it
out to see who will get to come back tomorrow. I like to compare this show to
my own classroom as my students and I learn together and also “battle” to match
answers and questions. However, in this
show—my classroom—there are far more questions than answers. And while Alex Trebek’s work stops at the end
of his show, my work as a teacher seems to just begin as my last student leaves
the classroom for home.
Sunday evening is a very
significant time for me and many other teachers across the country as we set
the weekend aside and prepare for the instructional workweek ahead. It’s when I
live out the long-running spinoff of the show in my classroom: 120 Minutes.
This reality show stars me, dozens
of assignments, an arsenal of pens, and a tall glass of iced tea. If you miss it,
don’t worry—it also runs most other nights of the week! The show’s length may
vary, and as the seasons change, the tall glass of tea becomes a large mug of
hot cocoa, but the ritual stays the same. This is the unknown and unseen side
of teaching. The side only spouses, partners, and teachers’ own children
Question: When will you
be done with your correcting so we can watch a movie?
Most nights, I bring a stack
of assignments home from school to assess what my students have learned. Turns
out I’m not alone. According to a 2010 survey by the Department
of Education, “All full-time staff in primary and secondary schools
continue to work more than a fifth of their total average hours before/after
school, and on weekends, which equates to around 10 additional hours per week.”
I’m not “just grading”—I’m gaining a sense of what to reteach or
what skills to reinforce. Research has shown
that timely and specific feedback to students increases their interest in and
achievement of that subject.
So, like most teachers, I
cart papers back and forth between home and school—or take them with me on
airplanes, during car trips, and on public transit. The pressure’s on and time
is of the essence—if students have forgotten what the assignment was about, let
alone what they were supposed to have learned from it, we’ve missed a big
opportunity. So, I diligently work away, looking at each student’s answers and supporting
mathematical details to figure out just how deeply they understand the math concept
we’re currently studying.
What’s the tradeoff? It’s
different for each teacher. We may lose
an opportunity to devote our full attention to our own children, or even tend
to an aging parent. We may miss a chance to take care of everyday tasks: to sew
that button back on, hang a piece of art, figure out a solution to our latest
computer snafus. And we may have little opportunity to recharge ourselves for
the dozens of learners we’ll serve the next day.
Answer: A restructured school day/year.
Question: How can teachers begin to realistically and
sustainably support their students’ needs?
I guess one possibility would
be to compensate us for the 10+ hours of overtime we put in each week. But
while these additional compensated work hours would help many teachers, it may
make even more sense to look at educational systems that purposefully
restructure teachers’ existing hours.
The education system in
Finland is considered one of the best in the world. One of the many reforms
they have put in place is that teachers have autonomy to structure their
teaching day to meet the needs of students. Finnish teachers spend less time
testing and have less contact time with students than do their American counterparts--yet
Finnish students achieve at a level far above American students. Finnish
teachers devote about two hours of each day to conferring and collaborating
with colleagues, strategizing about how to meet each learner’s unique needs.
Answer: Because I believe in the power of education.
Question: So why do you stay?
I really do believe in being
accountable, in letting students know how well they are doing in a timely
manner, and in providing them with the opportunity to correct mistakes. I am
committed to this profession and all that comes with it. I just wish that I
could feel energized and not drained by the mandates (unspoken and spoken) of
We no longer live in the era
of black and white television. Our telephones now fit neatly inside our pockets.
I can order groceries and other goods via a machine poised on my lap and have
them delivered to my house.
The way we do business in the
classroom has to change as well. Students need a revamped school system that
will put them on par with their international counterparts. Rather than
hunkering down for an extra two hours each night grading papers, I would rather
spend two hours each day learning from and strategizing with my colleagues as
we look at student work together.
I may not have all the
answers to life’s (or even Jeopardy’s) questions, but I do know one thing: it’s
time to discontinue 120 Minutes, the
long-standing reality show that nearly all effective American teachers