Elementary Teachers Need Planning Time, Too!
November 15, 2023
November 15, 2023
By Joshua and Belinda Folb
At last year’s VEA convention in Roanoke, a new business item about increasing planning time for elementary school teachers generated a lot of discussion: Educators from all over the state argued the need for adequate time to prepare for lessons while also expressing concern that school divisions might not be able to afford it. Eventually, the NBI was referred to VEA’s Legislative Committee to consider a statutory solution.
Elementary planning time is a key issue for teachers across Virginia, and to properly advocate for it, it’s helpful to know how it’s defined and what the law currently requires.
As a starting point, here’s what Virginia law says about high school planning time, which is more clearly, but not perfectly defined. The Code of Virginia says, “the secondary classroom teacher’s standard load shall be based on teaching no more than the instructional day minus one planning period per day or the equivalent with no more than 150 students or 25 class periods per week. If a secondary school classroom teacher teaches more than 150 students or 25 class periods per week, an appropriate contractual arrangement and compensation shall be provided.” So, what’s a planning period? Again, from the Code of Virginia: “’Planning period’ means a segment of time in middle and secondary schools during the instructional day that is unencumbered of any teaching or supervisory duties…not less than 45 minutes or the equivalent of a class period, whichever is greater.” That includes passing time for class changes. Sometimes this state law gets forgotten in the pressure to administer Standard of Learning tests.
For elementary school teachers, Virginia law says, “Each school board shall ensure that all elementary school teachers in its employment are provided at least an average of 30 minutes per day during the students’ school week as planning time.” Now we need to see the definition of planning time. Back to the code of Virginia 8VAC20-131-5 we go: “Planning time means a segment of time for elementary teachers that provides at least an average of 30 minutes per day for planning during the student’s school week as provided in the Code of Virginia.” Sounds pretty cut-and-dried, doesn’t it? Elementary teachers get planning time. We’re good, right?
Let’s look at the definitions of a planning period and planning time again, starting with the most basic part–secondary teachers get more time, and it must be provided daily. We’re not here to suggest that 45 minutes is a sufficient amount of planning time for anyone, we’re only pointing out a basic mathematical fact: 45 > 30. Further, at the secondary level planning has to be unencumbered and during the instructional day; “bell to bell,” in colloquial terms. Worse still, the 30 minutes at the elementary level only has to be an average during the week, leading one to conclude that some of the unspoken activities accomplished during planning, like going to the bathroom, do not necessarily need to occur every day.
An average of 30 minutes a day is not enough planning time for elementary school teachers. When advocating for more, it is crucial to explain the many benefits of planning time. Teachers need time to review completed assignments and adapt lessons to student’s needs. Additional planning time allows for more opportunities to increase school-home communication, such as sharing progress on assessments and meeting with parents and guardians. The increased time allows teachers to collaborate, and to have a quiet moment to center themselves so they have more energy to give to our students.
This problem has not gone unnoticed by our legislators in Richmond. A 2019 House Bill (2612) sought to make elementary planning time in line with high school, at 45 minutes per day. The bill died in committee. As you begin the collective bargaining process with your school system, remember to protect planning time and advocate for more. It is also important to share personal stories about why planning time is important with state representatives. Encourage lawmakers to reintroduce House Bill 2612 so that teachers have enough time to prepare for students. If the goal is to provide a high-quality education for every single student, every single day, time must be found for educators to do the job right.
Joshua Folb, a high school math teacher, and Belinda Folb, a first grade teacher, are members of the Arlington Education Association.
From House Bill 2612, proposed in 2019 only to die in committee: Requires each school board to ensure that each elementary school, middle school, and high school teacher in its employment is provided at least one 45-minute period per school day as planning time that is unencumbered and otherwise uninterrupted, except in the case of the emergency need for classroom support or another emergency situation.
Urge your elected representatives to bring this bill, or a similar one, back to the floor of the General Assembly.