Wednesday, November 16, 2011

PLC provides warm fuzzies, free therapy, and happier spouses

It's been a rough few weeks. Between the sugar fade-out from Halloween, adjusting to daylight savings time, and grinding through two straight weeks of proportions in plane figures, we are finally approaching the long awaited Thanksgiving break. A few short days later, the first trimester of school will end. Budgets are crunching, our referendum didn't pass, and our contract hasn't been settled. Oh yeah, and taxes went up too. Really!?!?

With all the stress going on around us, you'd think us teachers would curl up into a ball and give up. Far from it! My team of teachers was just commenting today how much smoother this year is going, now that we've switched to mini-teams, in which we have common students, common prep, and professional learning committee (PLC) time built into our school day. Meeting time is more productive than ever. We have a spreadsheet to-do list, we talk within our team, we talk between our teams, and we are even starting to send collaborative emails to parents "from the team" (thus eliminating two completely redundant emails from the other teachers). 

Another important function of PLC's? Venting. AHHHHH my smile has been plastered on my face for the last 3 hours and I need to bang my head on something. Did you have a discipline issue with so-and-so? How are this other kid's grades in your class? Is it just me, or are boy X and girl Y flirting more than usual? And on and on... while we don't often document much of our complaining, it is very therapeutic. I often find that I am doing less venting at home because my coworkers have been gracious enough to listen to it at work. We are all in the same boat, we can relate, and occasionally offer advice that the others may or may not listen to ;)

The bigger question, of how much "prep time" teachers should get, is listed contractually at 250 minutes. Really, union!?!? You think teachers can get prepared for class, contact parents, correct papers, make copies, assist students, update the grading system and teacher website, in 50 minutes a day!?!?!? Really!?!? (the "Really" bit from SNL is going through my head now, even without Seth Myers present) Luckily at the middle school level, we are given a second 50 minutes for prep/PLC time. This usually equates to 2 days of mini-team meeting, 1 day of curricular team meeting, one day to update the grade system, and one day to contact parents. (in random order, for the most part)

That seems like a lot of meeting time; but if you think about it, each parent email takes roughly 5 minutes, and if each teacher contacts 10-20 parents per week, and then spends an average of 5 minutes per email dealing with whatever was needed and following up, that's pretty close to 100 minutes per week of communication time. Say you bundle that up with mini-team meetings and send one email "from the team", you've just saved nearly 200 minutes of duplicate work. Ah, the papers I could be grading!!! 

Now you're getting to the good part... teachers who truly communicate and collaborate, save time on combined efforts, make learning more meaningful (which means less re-teaching later), have better emotional states after venting, bring less work home to correct and plan, which leaves more time for spouses and family! And blogging!

For example, my math mini-team is able to finally work together one day per week, for the first time in my four years in the building. We'd previously been swapping a billion emails per week, walking documents back and forth, and often not had time to compare student grades. We would love a chance to watch the other two members teach a lesson, but we all teach at the same time, so that's a no-go. This year, this month, we were finally able to sit down and edit a test together, DURING school, and then reorder / tailor materials to suit our needs so that the entire grade would maintain common assessments. As often as the standards are changing lately, it feels like we're doing this every year. Hopefully this will be the last. PLEASE!!!!

Anyhoo, this blog entry has been kind of random, but I just wanted to send out a few more warm fuzzies to my wonderful coworkers for making my job (and my life) easier, and for making me a better teacher through all the sharing. The kids we serve benefit daily from our joint efforts, and even on our worst days, (like when teeth literally get pulled out and our children have kept us up all night) we are better together. Sell it as a model to students... if TEACHERS can successfully do group work, SO CAN STUDENTS.

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