So this tweet was a little tongue in cheek.
Today is an asynchronous day at school. For those of you who don’t work in education that’s a technical term that means my daughters are meeting their friends for lunch at a restaurant.
— Andrew Rotherham (@arotherham) April 21, 2021
Yet there is a fiction about these “asynchronous” days that we ought to talk about more honestly. Most teachers I know work some, and they also do some life stuff. Parents are OK with it to varying degrees probably tied to their overall experience with school during the pandemic and the amount of learning they think their children missed. It’s obviously easier with older kids or child care solutions or for people who work from home. And, there is a global pandemic on, everyone is trying to do the best they can.
Here’s the thing. I actually think when this is over we should have more days like this for teachers and fewer for kids. Right now concurrent learning is not great, that’s another thing everyone knows. There is some technology that can make it better, but it’s expensive and most K-12 schools don’t have it. So we’re hearing a lot of complaints about how kids at home can’t hear classroom discussion and teachers are struggling to do a job they were not trained to. Everyone is frustrated. It’s a mess schools are just powering through with a few weeks left in the year (though it could remain an issue next fall and some better planning might create better experience for kids).
Longer term, however, why don’t we think differently about school scheduling for teachers? Kids should be in school – or in other supervised activities that are learning related – five days a week or more. There are a bunch of reasons for that educational, social, and logistical. Plus when it’s done well young people enjoy learning.
Teachers, however, don’t need to be there 7:30-3 or 8-4 or various scheduling norms five days a week. A lot of how we organize school days is just inertial more than it’s intentional. Someone must be with students, of course, especially young ones. We could, however, be a lot more creative about who that someone(s) is. Traditionally when we talk about this issue of giving teachers time the conversation defaults to, “and then teachers could have more time to collaborate” or “Japanese Lesson Study!” That’s all well and good. But teachers also want time during the week for just the general life maintenance we all have to do, doctors, dentists, getting the oil changed, or errands.* Or even just a cup of coffee with a friend. Or downtime if you’re an introvert. Time for a walk. Whatever.
Obviously classroom teachers are not going to have an on-demand or just-in-time kind of schedule. That’s the nature of the work. So flexibility is going to be planned flexibility. But there is no reason someone can’t have a morning or afternoon off during the week on a regular basis.
I’m also not saying that PD is unimportant and, yes, teachers should have time to collaborate on professional work. There are just other legitimate reasons someone might want some free time and professional workplaces are increasingly responding to that.**
The teaching schedule is really constraining, though, and increasingly teaching is an outlier among B.A. jobs in terms of the absolute lack of schedule flexibility – and was pre-pandemic. When you talk with people about aspects of teaching they didn’t like, or don’t like now, this comes up, but there is a sheepishness as well. It almost sounds selfish to say you want time off for yourself. And good teachers definitely don’t want that to come at the cost of their students wasting precious time. So people are reticent to raise it but when you ask if they’d like some extra time for life maintenance, it’s a popular idea.
More generally, the pandemic has not lessened the human desire to be with other humans but it has certainly whet a lot of appetites around more work-life flexibility and life flexibility in general. Thinking about a workforce of the future (I know!), schools would do well to respond creatively and think about ways to give teachers more time off while giving students more time on. Just a morning or afternoon a week would mean teachers don’t have to spend Saturday mornings doing things other professionals fit in during the week. We know there are better ways to do scheduling, this is one component.
Anyway, I’ve been working on something on this for a while, it keeps falling off for other more pressing things (if you’re a philanthropist with an interest in this hit me up!), but that’s the kernel of the idea right there: Give teachers some time off during the week for themselves but in a way that also supports student learning.
*I don’t remember all the details now, but a while ago there was a charter school that decided to hire a concierge for its teachers, to do errands and such that could be outsourced. The idea was to free teachers up to focus on work a bit more because someone would grab their cleaning or take their car to the shop. Rather than the idea catching on they got loads of crap about it from other schools about how unfair or corporate it was. That’s, you know, an unhealthy culture.
**At Bellwether flexibility is a core value and we encourage people to, within reason, set up their days, weeks, and lives in ways that work for them and make them effective. We have more flexibility than a school, obviously, but schools can do more. It’s a great recruiting tool.