Teachers Need Time to Think

When I read about ‘holding teachers to a higher standard’ I am reminded of the Norwegian folk-tale that highlights a complaining husband. In the folk-tale the wife suggests she and her husband change places for a day, because she is tired of his criticism about the way she maintains their home. They do change places, and the result is chaos and a husband who learns to appreciate the work his wife does so well.

I would like to change places with those who take cavalier aim at the teachers of this country. I am tired of the constant, uninformed criticism leveled at these hard-working, dedicated workers. Are teachers perfect? Definitely not. Do most of them try very hard to do a great job despite adverse conditions? Yes, they do. Do those who are the loudest critics – like the husband in the folk-tale – have the slightest idea how hard it is to be an effective teacher in the educational system we have created in this country? I think not.

To say the job of a teacher is complicated is an understatement. Some of the challenges are: maintaining high quality classroom programs for students despite high-stakes testing; the reduction or elimination of arts, physical education classes, and recess; sharply reduced budgets for stocking basic classroom supplies like pencils and crayons; constantly evolving technology with mandates to use the new gadgets effectively; an entirely new engine for driving curriculum,  known as standards-based grading, just in its infancy but touted as education’s saving grace; lack of time for thought and collaboration. Of these problems, arguably the most devastating is a lack of adequate time for teachers to study data, analyze research, discuss approaches to curriculum and instruction, think, plan and compare results.

I get the feeling most people – like the husband in the folk-tale – have no real idea what goes into the work of which they are so critical. I do know what goes into it, and let me tell you – no CEO has a more complex assignment than that of a teacher – tasked with simultaneously meeting the individual and very different intellectual and social needs of dozens of students  in a world demanding twenty-first century skills of graduates. And all this in a system that provides the teachers with almost no supports – not even the most basic and necessary – time to think.

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.