I still vividly remember much of my first official week as a teacher, in August 2000. Despite not being formally required at school until Thursday, I spent each day of that week working —preparing my classroom, photocopying learning materials and developing unit and lesson plans for the year ahead.
By the end of Thursday, I was pretty close, although not completely ready for the first day of classes. On Friday, all staff from across the school division drove in to the division office (a one-hour drive one-way for us) for the school board opening day — dubbed rally day.
As I embarked on my new career, I was full of excitement, anticipation and introspection. And so, as a beginning teacher, I appreciated the inspirational speaker brought in to “rally the troops,” but I can’t deny that I was more than a little bit distracted by the important and urgent work that would await my return to school late that afternoon. My more experienced colleagues were less impressed.
I understand the challenge here for school boards. They have a legitimate interest in bringing staff together and boosting morale and cohesion at the start of the year. At the same time, divisionwide staff days bring together kindergarten teachers and high school physics teachers, small rural school teachers and large composite high school teachers, first-year teachers and those who are preparing to retire. Given the vast diversity of the full set of teachers for any school division, it must be incredibly difficult to find a program that will be valuable to everyone at the same time.
As the years progressed, rally day became less and less valuable to me and more and more frustrating as I thought about all the stuff that needed to be done at the school. Unfortunately, at the same time, our division started introducing more divisionwide staff days in the pre-class week and throughout the year. Over the seven years I was there, rally day turned into rally week.
I should note at this point that I don’t call these professional development days, despite what a school board may call them. Many of them are training, inservicing or simply meeting days, not professional development.
The 2013 Assurance for Students Act called for a ministerial order that would restrict the number of hours teachers were assigned to instruction to 907 hours per year, beginning in September 2014. While allowing for school board flexibility, the provision was intended to reduce the amount of instruction required by individual teachers in order to provide them with more self-directed professional time to take care of all the other responsibilities they have (with the exception of Chile, teaching time is higher in Alberta than every other country in the world).
Unfortunately, instead of shortening the length of each school day, a number of school boards achieved the directive by reducing the total number of student days. They kept teaching days long and then added a significant number of staff-only days to their calendar. Furthermore, these non-instructional days were often filled with school division-directed activity, including more jurisdictionwide so-called professional development.
Not only did this fail to fix the issue that teachers were concerned about, it often made the problem worse.
From our recent bargaining needs surveys, we know that 72 per cent of teachers feel they rarely or virtually never have an appropriate amount of time to perform nonteaching professional activities; 75 per cent of teachers feel they do not have enough time for lesson prep and assessment without affecting their personal time; and 32 per cent feel that there has been an increase in school district inservicing since 2013 (with 50 per cent saying no change).
These are issues that need to be addressed. Doing so will have a positive impact on teaching and learning. I’m looking forward to seeing these issues discussed in the current round of bargaining, and I hope that meaningful solutions can be found. ❚
I welcome your comments—contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.