||Volume 22, Number 5, March 2010
Teaching four-on-four is nuts
By George Richard and Robert Whiteley
One of the most important factors in the BC education system is the independence of boards of education and the diversity in policy and programs allowed. Differences in district policy such as school schedules and timetable structure are examples of this diversity.
This article reports on a study investigating if and how semester timetables affect teacher volunteerism. It was completed as partial requirement for an MA in Teaching and Learning at UBC Okanagan. Fifty percent of the 160 part- and ful-time secondary teachers in the North Okanagan Shuswap school district responded to the survey. The central questions in the study were designed to determine whether or not teachers approved of the current allocations of preparation time in the school’s timetable and, if there was an evenly distributed allocation of preparation time during the year, would that encourage more teachers to get involved in school volunteerism.
There are numerous secondary timetable structures in BC with both authors having taught in various configurations including semester, year-long, and hybrid settings. Preparation time is used for teach-ing duties such as marking, lesson planning, administrivia, and col-league collaboration. Both authors have worked in schools that had preparation time allocated in one semester or “balanced,” i.e., evenly distributed throughout the year. All four secondary schools in the North Okanagan-Shuswap follow a semester timetable that provides 25% or one block of preparation time in one semester only—four-by-four teaching. On the other hand SD 60 (Peace River North), offers a hybrid timetable structure that enabled secondary teachers to have a 12.5% preparation time or one prep block every other day during the school year.
When compared to a linear or full-year timetable system, the research shows that there are definite benefits to a semester system. These benefits include improved school culture, more positive relationships between teachers and students, fewer discipline issues and higher graduation rates. However, there is no conclusive evidence from the literature that show students learn or achieve more in a semester system compared to a linear system. Conversely, there’s no evidence to suggest timetabling structure negatively impacts learning or achievement among students on either system. Some of the literature strongly suggests that teachers face more workload challenges when they don’t have preparation time in one semester compared to a semester when they do have preparation time.
Teachers, administrators, and academics report challenges in meeting societal, government, and student learning needs as classrooms have become more diverse racially, socially, behaviourally, and in the learning needs of the students. Ill-conceived, top-down accountability measures and significant structural, policy, and curricular reform challenge a teacher’s capacity to do her or his job effectively. As noted, almost a decade ago, the frustration level of BC teachers has increased as administrative duties and standardized tests multiply (Naylor & Field, 2001). We have evidence that suggests teacher frustration level continues to rise.
Events in Ontario under the neo-conservative Harris government offer an example of frustrated teachers responding to workload increases—Ontario teachers refused to participate in school-based extra-curricular activities. Change occurred in the Ontario education system as teachers were offered 25% preparation time if they sponsored an extra-curricular activity. Many view this as payment for sponsoring extra-curricular activities, a position the BCTF strongly opposes.
Most research suggests such extra-curricular activities offer positive outcomes for students. Many studies point to the physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and self-identity benefits for young people. Virtually, every school board in BC supports extra-curricular activities from ensuring extra-curricular programs receive first priority for facility usage to funding that supports teachers, equipment, and students in extra-curricular activities.
The survey results confirm that most teachers value school-based extra-curricular activities and that a majority of teachers working in North Okanagan-Shuswap school district participate in extra-curricular activities either as a sponsor, supervisor, or coach. However, many teachers abstain from volunteering for extra-curricular activities when there is no preparation time in a given semester.
The data also tells us that most full- and part-time teachers face incredibly challenging workloads when they have no preparation block in a semester. This is particularly true of teachers with less than five years’ experience and all teachers who teach core humanities and science and math courses.
Some part-time teachers who buy a prep in one semester would work full time if they could work in a balanced preparation schedule, i.e., if they had preparation time during both semesters. Indeed, teachers overwhelmingly reported that they would like to change the semester timetable to provide preparation time during both semesters in the school year. Most telling is that not one of the teachers who responded to the survey wanted the one block in one semester preparation time allocation system to remain in place.
Teachers are clearly professional—this is demonstrated by the strong majority of teachers who indicated that they would not be willing to teach outside their subject specialty even if it meant a balanced preparation over both semesters.
Teachers in North Okanagan-Shuswap are very frustrated with Liberal government legislation, regulation, and policy, reporting that government initiatives are increasing teacher workload and requiring more of a personal commitment to teaching.
Finally, there was a strong perception on behalf of a majority of teachers that school-based administration and senior school district personnel were not supportive of teachers who volunteered to sponsor extra-curricular activities.
In 2007, the BCTF AGM passed the following motion, “That the BCTF request school boards to work with union locals to find solutions to the problems of schools on the semester system where teachers have no scheduled regular preparation time for an entire semester.” The results from the timetabling study clearly provide data that supports this motion.
Extra-curricular activities provide schools with an identity, offer students purpose, and provide opportunities for teachers to share their many and varied talents. It is in everyone’s best interest to work collaboratively to ensure extra-curricular activities are not just maintained but thrive in BC’s public schools. However, schools cannot be expected to provide for all the intellectual, socio-emotional, and physical needs of young people. The community also has a responsibility to ensure young people’s needs are being met.
Teachers have always worked collaboratively with others in the best interests of student learning. We recommend that local associations embrace the spirit of the 2007 AGM motion and work with boards of education, senior board personnel, and principals and vice-principals to develop balanced preparation schedules in semester timetabled schools.
George Richard teaches in Salmon Arm and Robert Whiteley is a professor, UBC/Okanagan.