What Do You Do in Your “Free” Periods?

This week felt like my job got in the way of my work because of required extra meetings, a growing trend in my school. On Tuesday, we had a 40-minute department meeting and a 75-minute PLC meeting. This started before school, followed by shortened periods. On Wednesday, I was assigned to a 45-minute technology training session. This was during one of my non-class periods. My Thursday schedule included a 10-minute meeting with our department chair about my goals for the year, also scheduled during one of my non-class periods.

This was not an atypical week. All of these extra meetings are allowed by our contract. Although the importance of some of these meetings is debatable, for the sake of argument, let’s say all of them have some value. The problem for me arose when I found it difficult to get my work done: responding to student work, contacting parents and counselors regarding students, preparing materials for upcoming units, etc.

I’m interested in how other teachers and school cultures think about the time of the school day when we’re not in class. Are these “free” periods? How do you spend that time? How frequently is your non-class time scheduled for you by your employer? Does your employer have expectations for how you spend that time? Do you change your expectations of what you can accomplish when your non-class time is filled by things you can’t control? In your opinion, what is the ideal way for a school culture to consider a teacher’s non-class time during a school day?

Thanks for your input.

Cross-posted in slightly different form on English Companion Ning.

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4 Responses to What Do You Do in Your “Free” Periods?

  1. My Thursday consisted of a 25-minute meeting prior to my 1st hour class. My 3rd hour prep period was devoted to a 45-minute technology training, and my 6th hour was set aside for a meeting with the other teachers and counselors who work with me in a targeted freshman program. Somewhere around 7th hour I realized I was starving, hadn’t had a chance to use the restroom, and hadn’t a moment to check email, let alone plan or grade. Two essential components of my job have been 100% relegated to home.

  2. Mindi Rench says:

    Gary,
    I work in a non-union district, therefore my admin can schedule meetings whenever. I am also the Language Arts Department Chair (a non-paid position in my school) and teach an extra reading intervention class three days a week instead of having a homeroom. Often my “planning periods” are taken up with extra meetings with principals, my teaching colleagues, and various and sundry other people in our district. Rarely do I get time during the school day to do the work I need to do. That is why I’m sitting at my desk in my basment at 8:51 on a Sunday night grading papers. My husband will put my kids to bed, and tomorrow on my day off, I’ll go into school to finish my copying and write the sub plans for Tuesday, since I am going to the high school to observe classes and attend meetings. Like you, I often feel my “job” gets in the way of my “work”.

  3. At my school we have tried to protect teachers NI (non-instructional) time during the day. Our staff meetings are now scheduled after school with precise starting and ending times, and admin has been good about keeping to our hour limit. We have early dismissal Fridays and so PLC’s and grade level meetings happen during that time. So far, I feel this year has been more meeting free than any other and teachers are able to use their prep periods for meetings with other teachers, working in the classroom, or whatever they need to do on that particular day. The topic of meetings has been a sensitive one in our school in the past. From what you describe above though it sounds like some meetings that you are attending are mandatory and so not of your own making. This can be a recipe for resentment as you start to feel that your time is not for you to control. I think that is the biggest issue: how much of our time do we control during the day and how much of it is treated as so much “free” time during which admin can control and schedule it for us? Dangerous, if you ask me.

  4. tony romano says:

    I just want to do what I’m paid for: to teach. My philosophy has always been simple. Hire good people, check on them once in a while, then get out of the way. We are professionals, and about 99% of the things we’re asked to do in these meetings, we already do. I’m talking about the important things: like collaborating and discussing ideas with fellow teachers and thinking about the purpose of a lesson and taking a student’s needs into account when we plan and teach. I don’t need special names for these so-called “critical” processes. To do them, with care and passion, is enough. And for those in charge to trust that we’re professionals should be enough. (We’re also asked to do some stupid things at these meetings, but that’s another kind of hell.) There are some, of course, who are not professionals, who rarely discuss or think about how to improve their teaching, who were hired to coach perhaps. Help the ones who can be helped. Get rid of the lackluster ones who don’t care. And the coaches? The coaches are trickier. A good coach can change lives. I don’t want to underestimate that. But come on. The classroom is important too. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to do both well.

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