April 1st, 2017 by jacqueline
As the Board of Education and the Chicago Teacher’s Union lock horns over impending budget cuts, Chicago’s teachers spent the past week in the trenches participating in a radical citywide ‘work-action’ experiment. In the Northside High School teacher’s lounge (where folks do anything but lounge), jaws dropped as CTU delegates explained the new world order: for the following week, teachers would only work their contractual obligations. To the letter, Governor Rauner. Click. Clack. Moo.
“How will we teach effectively without arriving an hour early and staying an hour or two late, and working evenings and weekends?” 19-year veteran English teacher, Nora Flanagan asked in disbelief. Teachers, already struggling against budget constraints and workflow logistics, have been working double and triple overtime to fill in the gaps. True to their calling, several teachers decided to turn the challenging ‘work to rule’ experiment into a teachable moment.
Before the week began, the very idea of stopping work at 3 o’clock sharp seemed unimaginable. A daily commute without responding to parent’s phone calls on the fly? Cooking dinner without simultaneously grading papers, preparing in-class and observation materials, and responding to emails from every possible school community stakeholder? Surely classrooms would implode if teachers had time to be, well, normal?
Twelve-year veteran math teacher, Jill Sullivan, left an eleven-year career at Accenture where time-tracking for billable hours was the rule. Since 2008, she’s been conducting her own ad hoc ‘work-to-rule’ experiment at Northside, collecting data on her colleagues’ productivity and analyzing the results (*see below). By her calculations, CPS teachers require at least twelve additional hours per week to perform their school duties to maintain even adequate levels. This total does not even include the extra unpaid time allocated for mandatory after-school tutoring, coaching, or extracurriculars that help Northside consistently rank as one of Newsweek’s top ten high schools in the nation.
Ms. Sullivan believes that her informal data plus this week’s feedback highlight a fundamental flaw in how the contract sets the ratio of planning to instructional time. Currently, teacher planning may not exceed more than half the instructional time. “Can you imagine any professional being asked to solely plan and deliver a one-hour presentation with less than thirty minutes of preparation?” Ms. Sullivan asks. “This is what we ask our teachers to do week in and week out for an entire year. Pile on differentiated instruction and 140 personalized reports? No wonder why teacher burnout has become an epidemic.”
How did the Northside teachers manage to compress their already overburdened workload into just seven hours? The most successful learned to say ‘no’ (or at least ‘not yet’) more often and cherry-pick from a highly curated To-Do list rather than bounce from one fire to another. Technophiles turned to Chicago’s productivity-guru Saya Hillman for her favorite digital life hacks and time management platforms. Here’s what worked:
OneTab: If you have a gazillion tabs open all the time, you’re hogging your computer’s memory. Converts all your tabs into one list that you can pop open as needed.
Boomerang: Write emails now but send them later and remind yourself if someone hasn’t gotten back to you.
Goo.gl url shortener: An extension which allows you to shorten the current website with two clicks (no more tiny.url’ing).
HelloSign: Makes signing documents super easy. No more download, print, sign, scan, upload, send.
Evernote: The ultimate digital filing cabinet. Great for keeping articles, brainstorms, receipts, notes, screenshots of everything. “Your brain is for generating ideas, not storing them.”