Teachers Don’t Have Enough Prep Time

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

While Ben Franklin wasn’t addressing teachers specifically, he might as well have been.

Ask any educator and they’ll tell you: Good preparation isn’t just helpful, it’s vital. Truly engaging lessons don’t magically appear out of thin air. Great lessons are created with painstaking devotion and iteration. And they take time.

Something most educators say they simply don’t have enough of—certainly not during the school day. While it’s tough to calculate exactly how much prep time is enough—there is no magic 10,000-hour rule—recent research from the National Council of Teacher Quality (NCTQ) shows us how much prep time districts give their teachers. And the results are alarming.

The main takeaway? Certain districts prioritize teacher prep time more than others. But, even in those districts, many teachers are dissatisfied with the amount of time allotted to prepare for lessons.

Prep time matters
From the outside, prep periods might be misconstrued as time for teachers to relax, recharge, or catch up on work.

That’s a mistake, says NCTQ President Kate Walsh. As she told the Washington Post, a dedicated prep period serves an important purpose: “It helps teachers rehearse and make sure the time is going to go well. They get feedback from other teachers about how they delivered similar content and what worked and didn’t work.”

Think of teacher prep time as practice for a big game or rehearsal for a play, Walsh says. Without it, teacher lessons suffer and, as a result, so does student engagement.

Prep times vary
The latest NCTQ study examines teacher contracts in 148 of the nation’s largest districts.

It reveals  that out of an average 7.5-hour workday, the most common amount of planning time provided to teachers is 45 minutes (that’s per day). Across the country, prep times vary, from just 15 minutes per day day to more than an hour in some districts.

The district with the most prep time? Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) in Maryland, in which elementary school teachers receive 84 minutes of prep time per school day, according to the study.

Prep time isn’t always prep time?
Despite high marks for MCPS, the local teacher’s union says NCTQ’s report is flawed. In a story in the Washington Post, union director Tom Israel says mandatory meetings and other requirements eat away at much of that allotment, thus reducing the amount of time teachers have to actually prepare.

“You talk to any elementary school teacher in Montgomery County,” Israel told the Post, “and they will say they have three hours and 45 minutes of planning time, and they will tell you it’s nowhere near enough to provide a good instructional program.”

It’s a common refrain for many teachers.

In a survey of more than 500 classroom educators, Frontline Technologies found that 55 percent want more prep time.

Writing for Edutopia, veteran teacher Maia Heyck-Merlin, describes a solid, individual prep period as a happening akin to a visit from Haley’s Comet—in that it’s both rare and fleeting. “If you are lucky enough to have one, you know how quickly it can become a dumping ground for last-minute meetings, interruptions (welcomed and unwelcomed!), and procrastination,” she says.  To prevent this, Heyck-Merlin outlines several ways for teachers to preserve their prep period.

So how much prep time is the right amount for teachers in your school or district?

Given the reality of different state laws, teacher contracts, and strategic goals, there is no blanket answer.

But the logical place to start is by asking teachers. Are they satisfied with the amount of prep time they receive? Are they frustrated with a lack of prep time? What would they change about the structure of prep periods?

How long are your teacher prep periods? Are your teachers satisfied with the time they have to prepare for class? Tell us in the comments.

Rethinking how your district approaches teacher prep time? A teacher survey is as good a way as any to start that conversation.

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