Teachers Frustrated by Lack of Time

Many public school teachers work in environments that hinder them from doing their best to meet the needs of individual students in their classrooms. A lot of teachers find this frustrating, and many talk of leaving the profession.

Hype from the media and from politicians could easily make the public think the problems with our schools stem from teachers who don’t really care about doing a good job. The reality though is that almost all teachers join the profession because they care enormously about children and want to help them develop into adults who can thrive in our society.

A real problem with our schools is that most are still operating on an outdated factory model, and few school boards or administrators are willing to tackle the reform that is needed. So in schools today children are herded in and out of classes all day long in large groups. Teachers are saddled with back-to-back classes and have almost no time to connect with individual students. Scheduling literally allows almost no time for collaboration with other teachers or for reflection on how best to meet student needs. Teachers try to pay attention to the individual students in their care but the reality is that they have almost no time with which to do so.

Society has changed, and this factory model of education designed to prepare workers for life on an assembly line is no longer relevant. We need a new model of education. We need graduates who have the discipline to think creatively and work both alone and with others to invent solutions to the problems that plague us. We need citizens who understand the complex challenges we face and have toolboxes of strategies for meeting them. Educating students for the acquisition of these 21st century skills requires attending to the individual. Most teachers want to do this. The problem is that most teachers are so overworked they can’t stop to really re-orient their programs.

If you take the amount of time per week the average teacher in my area is given for preparation work – work designing curriculum, photocopying papers, grading assignments, filling out forms, looking at data, problem-solving the social, academic, and emotional needs of students – and divide that number by the caseload of the teacher you will find that at best each child gets approximately two minutes per week of thought on the part of the teacher. This is not enough time to attend to the individual needs and gifts of a unique, developing individual. Young, ambitious college students who are considering what field to enter realize that at this stage in our history teaching is in many ways no longer an attractive profession. The environment in which most teachers work makes it incredibly hard for them to do their finest work.

The currently touted reforms in education – standards-based grading, better teacher training programs – hold out hope for better results from schools. However without significantly more time during the school day for teachers to do the work that supports their teaching these reforms will prove a disappointment.

Please speak to the administrators and school board members who make the decisions about how teacher time is spent in your district. Tell them you want the teachers you support with your tax dollars to have enough time to attend to the needs of the individual students in their care.


Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.