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Member Blogs: Secondary Scheduling

This post dedicated to sharing opinions on the options of: 6 of 7, 5 of 7, 5 of 6, or block.

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An argument for teachers returning to teaching 5 classes:

In the discussion regarding secondary scheduling and teaching 6 out of 7 something that I haven't seen mentioned yet anywhere is the issue of clubs/coaching, etc. Since we moved to 6 out of 7, the number of teachers willing or able to take on extra duties such as yearbook, planning field trips, coaching, clubs, etc. has dropped. At several middle schools, many of these activities are now being organized or run by non classroom teachers (media specialists, counselors, testing coordinators), parents, and/or teacher aides, or no longer being offered.

An argument for block scheduling, or 5 of 6

I have taught both on a traditional (5/6) and block. I am blessed to be at the only block high school in the district and I am so much more effective with my students.

There is time to actually discuss concepts and conference with students individually on a block schedule. Of course, the workload is the same because we teach a years worth of skills in one semester, and although 90 minutes a day seems like a lot of free time, it is not enough. Students are able to achieve more credits on block and are able to focus on four classes instead of 7. Remember, quality, not quantity.

The solution: It is imperative we return to, at the very least, a 5/6 schedule. Our past board has been focused on money, not student needs. Do away with ineffective programs, stop spending millions of dollars on software that does not work, and please, return to paper and pencil testing for ALL courses. I have seen so much waste with obsolete technology that it makes me sick. My students need BOOKS, not a web site that does not work or they do not have access to at home. We have printers with no toner because we cannot afford the cartridges. We have unused projectors (21st Century) with no bulbs because we cannot affor to buy bulbs. We have VCR/DVD players that have broken but we don't have the money to replace them.

Say NO to mandates! We'll loose money? OK, the money we get is earmarked for state mandates anyway, so we don't have to spend that. It really is this simple and I cannot, for the life of me, understand, why an adult in our field would willingly choose to go along with the status quo. I am tired of rhetoric, state mandates, excuses, non-educators in Tallahassee and Viera making decisions, and wasteful spending.

The solution is simple: get back to basics and, for heaven's sake, ASK TEACHERS what their students need and fund those needs. I do NOT need 50 paper pushers in Viera for me to teach. I do NOT need folks in Viera creating work for me through unnecessary PDs or surveys so they can check off a box on their PGP. I do NOT need a speaker who is paid thousands of dollars for a rebranded idea or a partial program that does not work. Stop buying crap equipment. I went to Wal-Mart and bought a DVD player for under $50.00 over five years ago and it has outlasted the expensive, broken one from the District. Go back to old-fashioned overheads. A bulb is only $60.00, not $300.00.

This is my 18th year with BPS. The motto: "To serve every student with excellence as a standard" has become a farce. Students have endured cuts year after year. I am tired of our students having to "make do". Buildings are still falling apart, mold continues to grow, computers and software do not work, ESE students have lost major resources and support, classrooms are crammed to standing room only, ... I could go on and on.

The bottom line is this: IF our Board, ESF Staff and Superintendent are truly for the student, they will stop the nonsense and ask themselves, "How does this HELP a student?" If they cannot answer that simple question, they should resign. Our students need and deserve adults who see students as a priority, not a "product".

An elementary school teacher's perspective:

If secondary teachers get extra planning then it would be fair for elementary teachers to be financially reimbursed for the extra planning we don't get. We are lucky if we get our 40 minutes and many times that is taken with grade level meetings and parent issues.

Some outside the box thinking, that helps elementary as well:

  • High school schedules can be adjusted for a 7:20 AM start time ( I have taught in such High Schools in Orlando and Miami). Elementary school programs can start later at 9 AM. This allows elementary school teachers who are certified for High School classes to pick up a "sixth period" at a local High school if available. We currently have many teachers who teach at multiple schools, so this option really is not a new idea.

  • Personally, I am for hiring more teachers and spreading the workload for sustainable efficiency, but I realize the State has produced by design a teacher shortage cutting salaries to the bone, removing job security and threatening pension programs. Still, it remains cheaper and more flexible or principals to hire for sixth period positions than to hire additional permanent staff. The rule of thumb has been (from the eighties, up to the mid two thousands) that if 5 slots in a subject area are open, all possible avenues are to be pursued to recruit a new full time staff member for the position. (if available). Only if such an individual is unattainable by a certain date prior to school opening is the position split into 5, sixth period supplements.

A teacher taught other places, comes to Brevard:

I am currently in my 7th year as a teaching professional. I am from Washington state and have a master's degree in chemistry. I moved to Florida to become a teacher in 2010. My first two years of teaching were difficult as they are for everyone who is new to the profession. I came the year after the professional certification ended and the year before Vam became included in evaluations. The district I joined was not Brevard county, and was extremely difficult by comparison. I came to work in Brevard county in my third year of teaching. I didn't stop actively looking for a different line of work until my fifth year of teaching. In my first two years, the school I worked at was Hardee senior high school in Wachula, Florida . The school was on a six period day with one planning period. I felt very strongly about being a teacher. During my first year of teaching I worked 60 hours a week consistently. The extra time during the regular work week was spent primarily on planning my class. Since I was new to teaching and the only chemistry teacher on campus, I had to work harder at deciding what to teach and how to teach it (also reteaching other science as it was the last year of 11th grade science fcat). I spent a minimum of 8 hours a weekend grading papers. Because I am trained in recognizing patterns, I figured out that each assignment I graded for a class of 25 took a minimum of 3-4 minutes per student. I knew that I could grade for completion, but felt very strongly that a student deserved the feedback on their work to learn from their mistakes.

Fast forward two years to moving to Brevard county with a 5 of 7 schedule. For the first time in my career I was grading and planning in less than 60 hours a week! I was finishing in about 45 hours a week the same thing that had been taking me 60 hours. I was able to grade papers in a more timely manner. I was able to collaborate with colleagues on assignments. It felt so amazingly good to go home at the end of the the end of a week without stacks of papers lurking in the corner waiting to be graded.This lasted a year.

In my second year in Brevard county, the half cent sales tax failed and we lost our second planning period. I went from having approximately 110 students to almost 190! I was the only teacher teaching honors chemistry so my classes exceeded class size limits. I did the math. If it took me 1 minute per student to grade one assignment, I would spend an hour and a half grading one assignment!! I had two choices in my opinion: go back to working 60 hours a week or change how I spent my time grading. I chose the second option. I went from grading for correctness to grading for completion. I have had many conversations with other teachers on this topic as it was a difficult choice for me to make. It shouldn't have been. I shouldn't have had to choose between doing a better job or family time. I am still grading for correctness. My students still do well, but my teaching practices had to change also so that I could check for understanding in a different manner.

The point of my story is that more planning time is more beneficial to the success of our students. My students do not get specific feedback on how they answer questions on an assignment until they take a test. This is not fair to them and I know it. If I spend extra time grading assignments it is not fair to my family and I know it.

Elementary teachers have difficulties preparing for so many subjects in one day, but have a maximum of 25 students to work with. I can have almost 200. I have only one subject, but my students don't spend all day with me to get feedback about how they are doing. I have 45 minutes with then to teach them and let them know that I believe in their capabilities to learn. I don't get to develop the same kind of relationship with my students as an elementary teacher. Planning time is valuable no matter what or who you teach. The only ones who lose are the students. I should not be asked to care more about my students than my family (60 hours of work vs 40). Also, I should not feel guilty that I choose to only work 40 hours or that if my job requires more time than that I want to be compensated for it.

I know that a solution about more planning time would include more money. Maybe there needs to be a signed agreement on a long term solution such as lower pay increases (less per year) but based on savings over the course of three to five years, the savings in salary result in an increase in paid planning time. Also, maybe the reference to "planning time" is invalid. It is non student work time. We do more than plan and we do more than grade papers during this time. Another option would be implementing a study hall or some other elective type of course where teachers a supervising students, but completing their own work.

Historical Perspective of the 5 period day

Concerning the matter of secondary scheduling, please solidify the restoration of teaching five classes. As an employee of Brevard Public Schools and a member of BFT for the past twenty-five years, I respectfully ask that we move toward teaching “5 of 6” with an optional period for our students as was successfully implemented previously. If we cannot restore the two planning periods, the very least, in all fairness, is to take away the burden of the additional sixth class.

Before the 2014-2015, our secondary teachers have always taught five classes (aside from the north area block scheduled schools) with a stipend if a sixth class was taught. This additional assignment was at the discretion of the teacher. Previously, only three years of my twenty-five years were in teaching the sixth class. While the extra money was extremely helpful, I (jokingly but honestly) referred to the stipend as “blood money” and was most thankful to have that choice. Each time it seemed like a good idea, I was quickly reminded of the great difficulty and sacrifice. A price beyond money.

Before 2014-2015, secondary teachers in Brevard Public School always had two planning periods – with the notable exception of a few years circa 1998-2003. During that time, secondary teachers did indeed lose a planning period but were not given an additional class to teach. Teachers taught five classes each day, and students were offered an optional period to take an additional elective. This saved many of our elective classes offering more flexibility to the students who wished to take seven classes. After a several years of this, we were able to successfully secure the additional planning period and go back to the “5 of 7” work day.

In the years since, we added the increased graduation requirements of Secondary Schools of National Prominence (for our school district only). After voters did not approve the ½ penny sales tax, secondary teachers not only lost a planning period but they gained an additional class of students. In the time since, the ½ penny sales tax has been approved by the people of Brevard County.

The number of teachers retiring earlier than planned or leaving the profession well before retirement seems to have increased greatly in the last few years. It would be most interesting to see if there is a marked difference between secondary and elementary teachers as well as if there has been a marked jump in overall teacher retirements and resignations. When it comes to this movement, I am most concerned for our teachers who have less than ten years in the profession. A number have shared with me that they are actively looking at leaving teaching for other professions. I fear that eventually teaching will become an entry level job with people teaching as a public service for a few years before going on to their real job. That thought makes me sad.

I thank BFT for conducting the survey as to how much time outside the school day is being used. I know that I reported actual time served outside the school day versus what I could be doing just to keep up with the pacing and assignments. What I would be doing when I had the two planning periods. For example, I have six class sets of essays waiting for me. If I take only ten minutes per essay, which provides only cursory feedback, I have twenty hours of grading ahead of me. Very often, after a day at school, exhaustion prevents additional grading at home. While I could be grading at this very moment, sometimes I need some time outside of school to connect with family and friends as well as attend to other obligations and meaningful activities. An additional twenty-five students is a great quantity when it comes to grading, parent contact, and all the other duties and responsibilities that come with so many individual needs.

I understand why so many are leaving the profession but it is disheartening. This is a profession in which I have contributed so much and have done so much good – mentoring both students and new teachers. Unfortunately, since we’ve been teaching “6 of 7,” I have not mentored students or new teachers as I once had due to lack of time. This has hurt my practice as well as informal sharing and connection with my peers has helped make me a better teacher. Also noticed is the increased difficulty in securing teachers to act as sponsors and coaches. Teachers are trying to balance anyway they can and most are choosing to do so in a manner that does not hurt the students. However, this has taken a personal toll. In the end, it is frustrating to realize how this personal toll has negatively hurt students despite our great efforts and positive attitudes.

Teaching for both elementary and secondary educators has become increasingly more difficult, especially so in more recent year. Reaching consensus in such a divisive issue is not entirely fair. It is easy to understand how a colleague teaching elementary school may look at two planning periods as not equal and not care about this issue beyond that. We cannot go tit for tat in this instance because both have unique challenges and difficulties. Can we not fairly differentiate these unique challenges and difficulties to come up with an equitable solution? I do not dare know the nature of teaching elementary school students well enough to offer these possibilities, but I do know many incredible elementary school teachers who would do an excellent job in brainstorming helpful solutions. I often tell my secondary students that fair is not always equal. Whatever we do, we must hear each other and act with respect and care.

The extra planning period when we had it was greatly appreciated to simply meet the minimum standard of our employment. Nirvana it was not. No one was eating bon bons in the workroom. Even then, it was a difficult job. Roughly 80% of the new teachers I mentored with the two planning periods are no longer in the profession. One did go back to bartending instead of middle school science because bartending was much easier and she made more money. Even with the two planning periods, taking care of basic needs was difficult. Now it is near impossible – to dash to the restroom with a four minute window after locking students out of the classroom. Very stressful.

It all adds up.

So I respectfully ask . . .

Can we look at data from the past decade -

Concerning teacher retirement and resignations?

Showing teacher use of sick days and overall health?

Providing how student achievement has been impacted? (which may be difficult to compare as testing has changed dramatically in the past decade)

Perhaps we can add a survey specifically for secondary teachers about personal and professional impact since the change to six classes. This could then be shared with all teachers for review.

Perhaps we can have a survey specifically for elementary teachers to generate ideas for a real solution to the planning difficulty in their schools to share with all teachers for review. After we’ve listened with greater understanding and have all of the data, we can surely come up with a way to proceed that honors all of our colleagues.

Thank you for allowing this forum to share ideas and to move forward in a manner that will be positive for all of our teachers.

It will not matter if the students have additional choices if there is no one left with expertise and care to teach them.

By taking care of our teachers, we are taking care of our students.

Offering more history -- please not a return to the 6 period day

I started teaching at Kennedy Middle School in 1994. We taught five out of seven. Some of us taught six of seven, voluntarily, and were compensated. So, the "history" posted on the BFT website is not accurate.

I taught at Fairglen prior to KMS, and my memory of sitting at my desk at Fairglen , envying the secondary music teachers' schedules is vivid. Fairglen was over 1,000 students at that time, and some grade levels were on a seven-day rotation. I saw some students only twice a month at Fairglen. Not good. I saw the five classes and two planning periods in the secondary teachers' schedules (we had all music teachers' schedules in "hard copy"), and was motivated to pursue secondary teaching so I could make some progress with students. I transferred to KMS.

As a chorus/orchestra teacher, my program took a huge hit (decreased enrollment) when we went from seven periods a day to six periods a day. Students' educations were adversely effected with only one elective. (PE waivers did not exist.) Jefferson MS wrote a waiver to return to seven periods; it was granted. Kennedy followed suit; it was granted. I remember three years of faculty votes pertaining to having six or seven periods - every vote was unanimous to have seven periods so the students could have a "well-rounded" education. Eventually the district went to seven periods and we did not need to write any more waivers.

Since then, more courses are required. The middle school career course, the high school hope course - not sure what they all are quite frankly. I just know they keep students from taking other "electives." AVID has become a huge support system. I understand it; I was part of the first Brevard team to teach AVID. It takes an elective spot in the schedule.

I do not support a six-period day for many reasons; I hope we can avoid it.

42 years of perspective -- Let us teach!

I have been teaching for 42 years and have seen plenty of changes throughout my career. I attended 8th -12th grades in Brevard County. I have been teaching in Brevard since the 1988-89 school year in both elementary and high school. I have a very realistic view of both as far as scheduling. Yes, it is difficult for high school teachers to complete everything asked of us and to give the students what they need in the time allotted, and I can say the same about my days in elementary. I also am certified ESE and write IEP's with no additional time or monetary compensation so add that to the already short(ened) time to plan lessons, grade papers, collaborate with colleagues, spend time writing ridiculous, unnecessary papers such as the PGP, and run to the bathroom every-so-often. High school teachers have fewer subjects to plan for than elementary teachers, but really no less paperwork and that includes grading. Remember - they may only have 25 students (and that can be TOO many), but they teach 6 subjects so multiply those papers x's 25. Elementary teachers spend much more time with their students which can be a great thing and not so great at the same time. Most elementary teachers spend way more than the "lead money" provided to supplement lessons/activities because the budget doesn't cover certain materials for science labs (as one example). Some schools teach in teams of teachers that only teach 1 or 2 subjects, but have multiple classes. I hate to hear people squabble about one being more difficult - they both have their ups and downs. Please respect that most teachers put in more time and money than could ever be compensated. (Most other jobs pay overtime when workers are required to work past their regularly paid working hours.) I want to see ALL teachers get the recognition, respect, and understanding of what they do every day, that they would not be in this profession if not for the students and a love of engaging with them.

Some other things to consider:

Let us get back to good old-fashion teaching where we teach our standards through subjects a mile deep and an inch wide instead of the other way around - especially in elementary school where the foundation for learning is forming.

Let us get away from all the computer testing - too many headaches and eye strain for the students (not to mention ulcers from stress) and self esteem issues from students that think they're being set up to fail.

Let us be realistic with our students that are not going to college (college is not for everyone and at today's costs may not be practical for a family's finances).

Let us prepare our students for the work world with critical/practical skills.

Brevard County Schools has done a good job with technical programs such as auto mechanics, marine mechanics, culinary arts, BUT not nearly good enough. We need more "training" type programs for those not college bound.

I could go on, but I hope my point has been made...ALL teachers need more time if the goal is to give our students the very best we have to offer!

Will we ever get 2 plannings back?

To be honest I am at the point that I have given up on ever having two planning periods. When they took them from us, we lost many young teachers who were teaching an extra class to supplement their income. Some stayed but are now working a second job. You expect to work two jobs to make ends meet if you never did the college route but with a college degree? Then us older teachers who are married, well we have the second income but what it has done to our health is unreal. I almost quit because I had no spare time but my husband got me a house keeper twice a month. I guess he got tired of me grading papers every evening & Saturday & then cleaning the house on Sunday. I know many teachers stop their extra clubs & sponsorships but I just couldn't because I felt the kids needed it. I became a teacher so I could make a difference in their life. Now lesson plans; I work on them during the summer because otherwise they would never get done. This year we are adopting new books; so another July will be used for revamping again ; especially since I have three preps. I know elementary has 6 or more ; I used to teach 6 grade but I also know grading high school papers are way more time consuming than in elementary.

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