Education Teacher Leaders Network

The Right to Planning Time

By John Norton & TLN Moderator — February 04, 2009 4 min read
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Why don’t we have a grading period, as well as a planning period, built into our teaching schedules? Isn’t assessing student work an essential part of our job?

When a young teacher posted this question to the Teachers Leaders Network discussion group what surfaced was the difference in working conditions for teachers in collective bargaining versus right-to-work states.

Mary, a high school English and writing teacher, replied:

I only have a planning period—to be used as I see fit, I guess, whether that includes planning for or evaluating student work. In my previous high school, half our daily planning periods were co-opted by the administration as “duty periods,” where we were required to do such things as help in the attendance office, monitor halls and bathrooms (for an hour and a half block), and—my most resented duty—monitor and sign in visitors at the main entrance. This was for safety reasons, we were told, even though we had no way of calling for additional help or any means of stopping violent intruders who, I imagine, would be carrying weapons?

We were told by administrators that they didn’t want to see us doing stuff like “grading papers"—apparently a waste of good, working time. I live in a southern right-to-work state.

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Jane also lives in a southern state where teachers cannot bargain collectively:

At our high school, planning periods are used in a variety of ways, depending on the teacher. Frequently there is a task assigned by the administration.

As a science teacher who believes in the value of hands-on inquiry labs and demonstrations, I find that most of the time that is “mine” during planning is needed for lab or demo preparation, take-down, or both. Many teachers use this time for planning and preparing lessons, entering grades in the computer, or posting lesson plans and assignments to their Web sites. All of us also do some of these tasks, as well as the bulk of grading, at home in the evenings and on the weekends.

It is very common for our district and school administrators to assign collaborative tasks right at the end of grading periods as final grades are due, often during our planning periods. They also assign an entire in-service day to meetings, where once it was not unusual to allow a half-day for finalizing grades and making plans targeted to individual students for the upcoming quarter.

Many teachers in my school district now take personal leave on in-service days, then often spend the day in their rooms doing what they see as the responsible thing—checking and double-checking to be sure grades are accurate, contacting parents when needed, and spending time thinking about changes in our teaching based on patterns we see in student performance.

The district administrators see this decision by teachers to take personal leave on in-service days as a problem. I see it as very sad that teachers are forced to make this choice in order to do their jobs in the way that best serves their students. At the same time, I agree that it reduces the district-wide collaborative activities that could also be of great service to our kids.

Kim, a high school teacher in a collective bargaining state, commented:

Wow, Jane, my heart goes out to you and your colleagues! Our local union has negotiated “duty-free” lunch and planning periods. Even with the bulk of my planning period time to myself, I still do the majority of grades, planning, etc. on my own time. After reading about your situation, I promise that I will never gripe again!

A middle school teacher in New York replied:

I have so many complaints about my union and the way our job is configured, etc. But when I hear Jane’s story, I really thank my lucky stars for the way they back us up. I generally feel the union is too defensive and not creative, progressive, and compelling enough to make real change, but they sure do defend our current rights and are very consistent and organized about it. I get my duty free lunch and one planning period a day no matter what. Jane, I ‘m really sorry that you and all the teachers in your state have to go through that. What’s the definition of “right-to-work”? How did that term come about?

Renee explained:

Right-to-work refers to an optional provision in the federal Taft-Hartley Act. In the 22 states that have selected this option, workers cannot be “compelled” to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. The Deep South states (and some western ones) have used these laws effectively to block public employees of all types, but especially teachers, from bargaining collectively.

Jane replied:

I don’t feel in need of sympathy, though I do appreciate it. We do sometimes feel as if we are constantly being asked to “drop everything and do this quickly.” However, we get the majority of our planning periods to use as we need.

There was a budget crisis a few years back when money for subs was in short supply and we were asked to cover classes for absent teachers during part of our planning periods. That only happened for a short period of a few months. However, money is getting tight again, here as everywhere, and we can only speculate as to what may come to us.

This discussion reminds me of the disorienting feelings I used to experience when talking to my husband’s aunt, a teacher in a union state. She would express amazement at various things I’d say, generally remarking that her union had negotiated with the district over this and that. It was and is hard for me to relate, having never experienced it.

One of the values of a national forum like the Teacher Leaders Network is that we can discover and talk about our sometimes very different working situations. It is so easy to assume that as teachers we all have similar school situations and experiences. We don’t.

Are your planning periods “protected time,” either as a result of collective bargaining or administrative policy? Do you have sufficient time during the work day to examine and reflect upon student work? Tell us your story . . .


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