Teachers need time to prepare for students

A copy of this letter was sent to W-JCC school officials

About 20 years ago when block scheduling was introduced in Williamsburg-James City County as a more effective way to organize the high school day, supporters touted many pluses.

For instance, the 90-minute blocks allowed for better continuity when completing complex lessons, such as planning and writing an essay or conducting a science lab. In addition, students were able to take eight rather than six classes each year, thereby enhancing their high school experience with additional course options.

While these aspects of block scheduling are clearly beneficial, the mid-year change of semesters comes with a lengthy list of “must-do” tasks.

When block scheduling was first adopted, teachers were promised two work days following the first semester exam period. One work day would logically be devoted to finalizing the first semester by completing such tasks as returning collected textbooks, grading make-up work, grading exams and entering grades and comments on the final report cards for VUE. A second work day was needed to make the myriad preparations for the new semester, such as securing needed texts (for as many as three classes), posting content-related bulletin boards/visuals, writing up course expectations and syllabi to be used as first-day handouts and to post on class websites on VUE, planning lessons, units and pacing guides, making copies of needed handouts and signing up for technology to dovetail with lesson plans.

In the fall, teachers have between five and seven days for the above start-up activities, but at midyear that prep time is, by necessity, limited to a single day.

In recent years, the W-JCC administrators have often encroached upon these vital transition days by scheduling professional development activities and, at times (such as this year), using some of what should be teacher work days to make up for weather-related closings. It is important to note that under the current high school hours, W-JCC schools have about 13 days of banked time beyond the state-mandated seat time; using teacher work days to make up days lost to inclement weather is not a true necessity.

When mid-year teacher work days are cut short or eliminated, it is the students who are the losers because teachers have insufficient time to handle the first semester closing details as well as the start-up activities for second semester.

According to the adjusted schedule for this year, students will be off on Jan. 21 for the MLK holiday, attend for a half day of instruction on Tuesday, take exams on Wednesday and Thursday, and have a student holiday on Jan. 25. Second semester classes begin Jan. 28.

Since teachers are slated to participate in a half-day of professional development on Jan. 25, they will be left with just a half day before exams and a half day on that Friday to accomplish the transition from first to second semester.

To ameliorate this situation, it would be helpful if W-JCC leaders delayed this year’s planned professional development so that teachers will have at least one full work day. Also, it would be ideal if W-JCC administrators would reinstate two full teacher work days for future school calendars so that the block scheduling can be implemented with maximum effectiveness.

Judy Salzman

Williamsburg

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