The one consistent complaint almost every teacher will share is the lack of time. Time is the most elusive and precious resource for teachers. They complain bitterly that they lack the time needed to do what is asked of them on a daily basis. The documentation, reporting, and paperwork has grown exponentially with no end in sight as the appetite for increased accountability grows.
I heard this often from veteran teachers who sincerely told me that the new demands we are placing on teachers is overwhelming. I can remember being a teacher and spending a better part of my evenings, Saturdays and Sundays grading papers and preparing lessons. —- I was not — however expected to have a data sheet on each student, keep track of behaviors with special education students, do federal reporting, write student learning objectives, analyze data charts, sit on 4-5 committees, reflect –in writing –on each lesson, keep track of my goals for evaluation purposes, grade daily or weekly assessments in preparation for “the battery of test,” etc.…and that is a huge ETC…..the list is enormous and growing. I will sheepishly admit, I thought my paperwork load in 1993 was heavy but compared to today…..I had it easy.
We have engulfed and weighed down the profession with a mountain of reporting. The amount of forms and reports is mind-blowing for those outside the profession. Teachers are very efficient at shuffling paper but at what cost? What suffers? All of this takes away from a teachers central focus….the kids in front of them daily. Tangentially this paperwork is needed according to the federal government, the state, or central office to help kids — but if it devours teachers time — it takes away from a teachers ability to create and deliver the lessons with high quality that all kids need to succeed.
If we don’t take a step back and truly look at how much time is spent essentially filling out forms for accountability we will never be able to give teachers the time needed to effective in the classroom. Why should we care that teachers are overwhelmed with reporting, accountability, testing and documentation? Don’t other professions have paperwork to deal with? I would argue yes…but handled very very differently.
Let’s take a trip to the Doctor’s office. We know they handle lots and lots of paperwork. In some ways they are like schools — records, data, accountability, and reporting is vital. But think about the teacher in comparison to the doctor who has many many people assisting them in collecting, analyzing, and reporting that data. At least in my doctors office, when I arrive the three receptionists are responsible for some of that reporting, then once in the room I am often visited by a nurse who gets a preliminary discussion of my issues, takes my blood pressure, temperature etc….and logs all that data for the doctor who is the last person I see. When they come into the room, they have all the data in front of them in my chart and he has time to process that data and focuses his attention on me. Once I leave, that data is once again logged by others as the doctor moves on to the next patient.
Schools are not afforded this luxury. Teachers do not have an army of people assisting them with reporting and data collection. They don’t get to simply focus on one student at a time nor do they have staff that can organize and keep track of all that data. They are expected to do this all themselves. I have heard more than once from people who have gone into education after spending some time in another profession complain at the amount of paperwork they do in comparison to their previous professional jobs.
We keep talking about reform in education. Maybe we need to reform this simple yet unnoticed reality for classroom teachers — reduce the amount of paperwork to allow teachers to focus on teaching. Simple, apolitical, and something everyone could actually agree upon…..a concerted and real effort to reduce the paperwork of a classroom teacher. Kids deserve teachers who have time to focus on the art and craft of teaching.