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Addressing the Teacher Shortage Series: Preserving teacher preparation time for teacher well-being, student success

By Janiel Slowly, Education Pioneer Fellow at Good Reason Houston

Learn more about Ed Pioneer fellowships and their work with education careers here

RECAP: The first installment of this blog series highlighted the benefits of teacher mentorship. The second installment of this blog series discussed the importance of school culture and teacher support beyond compensation. 

In this final part of the blog series on teacher retention strategies, we focus on the need to protect teacher preparation time for their well-being and for student success. 

Teacher preparation time, also known as the planning period, is the time allocated for teachers to complete various tasks, excluding classroom instruction. It includes preparing lesson plans and homework, and other responsibilities related to their role.

However, the reality is that teachers often have their non-instructional time taken up by completing paperwork, assisting with non-classroom duties, and having to locate instructional materials. Further, teachers report working an average of 54 hours per week, with up to 10 hours dedicated to locating instructional materials alone. This affects their ability to take a break and also has an impact on their mental health, which in turn affects student outcomes.

Teacher realities in Texas

The average district in our sample affords elementary teachers about one class period per day (47 minutes) for lesson preparation and planning, roughly 10% of their scheduled workday. (Levitan, 2023)

Preparation time:

Texas Education Code section 21.404 guarantees each classroom teacher a planning period. Specifically, each classroom teacher is entitled to at least 450 minutes within each two-week period for instructional preparation including parent-teacher conferences, evaluating students’ work, and planning.

Duty Free Lunch:

Texas Education Code (TEC) Section 21.405(a) entitles teachers and librarians to at least a 30-minute lunch period free from all duties and responsibilities connected with the instruction and supervision of students. 

How teacher planning time impacts students’ well-being

When teachers are given sufficient time to prepare for their lessons and prioritize their mental well-being, it has a positive impact on their students. Having sufficient time to prepare lessons is critical for high-quality instruction and allows teachers to focus instructional time on student learning. 

Research indicates that the mental health of teachers directly affects student outcomes, as stressed-out teachers contribute to higher stress levels among students. According to a (2016) study by Oberle and Schonert-Reichl, there is a correlation between higher levels of burnout in teachers and elevated cortisol levels in students. By safeguarding teachers’ planning time, we can effectively support the healthy development of children. This sentiment is shared among teachers from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, who believe that having more time for preparation would enhance their working conditions and encourage job retention. Surveys consistently demonstrate that increasing planning time is crucial for improving teacher retention rates and should be prioritized.

Teacher workday: planning, preparation, and responsibilities

Teachers often have a lot more on their plates than just teaching. They have to address student questions and concerns, work with colleagues, manage the school, communicate with parents, supervise students, attend professional development activities, and handle emergency drills, among other things. Additionally, a significant amount of work goes into preparing lessons and gathering feedback from students. In fact, in many countries, teachers spend more time on these non-teaching activities than actually teaching. 

According to the OECD, on average, only 43% of teachers’ working time is spent on teaching, with the proportion varying across countries from 35% or less to 63%.

Creative approaches in teacher prep time 

Efforts are being made in Texas to expand teacher preparation time and reduce other non-instructional obstacles to effective planning. 

In Houston ISD’s  New Education System (NES) Schools, teachers receive various forms of support to alleviate their workload. Administrators handle disciplinary matters, curriculum developers provide lesson plans and materials for grades 2-10, support personnel assist in creating differentiated assignments, and also help in grading papers. Additionally, teachers have four periods of duty in a month, with each duty period lasting 75 minutes. 

In Austin, there is a proposal to allocate 60-minute planning periods on a daily basis for essential teachers, resulting in a total of 300 minutes of preparation time each week. Houston teachers currently have 450 minutes of prep time within a two-week period divided into 45-minute blocks daily.

The Texas Legislature passed HB 1605 to increase access to high-quality instructional materials (HQIM), which reduce the amount of time teachers have to spend finding materials for their lessons. School districts like Houston ISD and Aldine ISD  have already moved to provide HQIM, allowing teachers to spend more of their planning time customizing lessons to meet their students’ needs. 

In addition to HQIM, the Texas Teacher Vacancy Task Force has recommended conducting a teacher time study to help examine all teacher duties to streamline tasks, demonstrate best practices,  and ultimately improve working conditions and student outcomes. Other time-based recommendations include providing technical assistance for master scheduling and strategic staffing.

Takeaway

In conclusion, addressing the national teacher shortage requires innovative solutions. While teacher salary is the most impactful factor in teacher retention, this blog series has explored alternative ways to improve working conditions. Protecting teacher preparation time is crucial for teacher well-being and student success. It is essential to acknowledge and take systemic action to support teachers’ need for rest, social learning opportunities, and involvement in shaping school culture. By doing so, we can create a profession that values and empowers teachers.

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Good Reason Houston is proud to partner with Education Pioneers. Education Pioneer Fellowships provide exceptional professionals opportunities in education leadership careers that solve problems outside the classroom so that teachers and students can succeed inside the classroom. This blog is written by Janiel Slowly, one of Good Reason Houston’s Education Pioneer Impact Fellows who supports Good Reason Houston’s talent initiatives. 

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