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Virginia Journal of Education


On Point

Planning Time Rescued


by Jeff Walker

 “My planning time is essential.”

“Without it we would get little done during the day.”

“I utilize my planning time and I still have work to take home. I can't imagine how I would be able to balance teaching and life without it.”

As educators, we get it. Planning time is essential to our success in the classroom and as professionals. The time to reflect, look ahead, grade papers, enter grades into the computer – all of these are ideal uses of this valuable time. Those of us with block schedules may get a 90-minute planning period. Others who teach in a more traditional six- or seven-period day may get two different periods.

Of course, those are the ideal scenarios: when our planning is really “ours” and we can use the time as we see fit. We already have to work with administrators who ask us to attend meetings or training during our allotted planning block. Our elementary brothers and sisters struggle with the same skirmishes over planning time.

So, it was with great interest that many of us watched the General Assembly session this winter and heard that the funding for secondary planning time was one of the many vital aspects of public education on the chopping block. Already we have to remind our principals why we need it. This year, the legislators needed more than reminding. Just like a few years ago when elementary planning time was being targeted, once again bureaucrats who do not understand the importance of teacher planning time were looking for ways to cut it out.

Point of order, legislators, said the VEA. Not on our watch.

Our lobby team, led by President Dr. Kitty Boitnott and the VEA Government Relations staff, led by Robley Jones, went on the defensive about secondary planning time. By now, I hope every member of the VEA is aware that the funding for secondary planning time was restored and preserved in the biennial budget.

The legislators and, quite likely, many non-educators, just do not get the idea of planning time. In this time of high-stakes testing, fewer funds for substitute teachers, required paperwork for special education students, and the need for remediation, planning time for teachers on any level is even more vital to our success as professionals.

Do you want to imagine your job without planning time? I don’t. Other professions have “tele-working,” “flex-time” and “overtime.” That doesn’t really work for us. Other jobs clock in and out at a certain time and go home without thinking about their day. Our responsibilities as educators branch way out from just the time we spend in a classroom with our students. It might extend to a single advisory period or even a tote bag filled with work to grade at home. But, planning time, if used wisely and not compromised by others, is time well spent. On any level of education, the time to prepare and evaluate is something we can all agree on.

I conducted an informal survey of high school and middle school teachers in my school division using a free survey program. More than 100 teachers took the time to respond to the quick survey and shared their feelings on what secondary planning meant to them.

“Not only do I need my planning time to grade papers, and write tests,” wrote one English department chair, “but I also frequently have students who come in for help, the equivalent of office hours on a college campus.”

The additional responsibility of working with special education students is also a critical part of planning time. “As a teacher with collaborative classes, planning time is crucial to meet the varying needs of our children,” shared another teacher.

“Also, with the additional factors that accompany collaborative study such as IEP meetings, 504 meetings, eligibility sessions, and counseling meetings, our time is often double-booked. Without planning we are stripping the students - especially those with the deepest need of a vital resource – of educator collaboration!”

Among secondary teachers, not all approach their planning the same way. High school band director Adam Roach explained, “An English teacher’s planning looks very different than a band or choir director’s planning. Planning at the secondary level is critical since secondary education is so varied.”
No matter how elementary or secondary educators use their planning time, this time is a key ingredient to the goals of preparing valuable lesson content to reach our diverse learners.

And, all of us who appreciate planning time and the funding for it, owe a debt of gratitude to the Virginia Education Association for helping to preserve it for this time. And be prepared for the battle to begin another day.

Walker, president of the Culpeper County Education Association, teacher theater arts at Eastern View High School.

 


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