Paper work is what keeps the school functioning. We have forms to fill out when someone enters the school, and when they leave. We have at least 12 sheets of paper to fill out for the students that are in special education. In addition to those there are more papers if you are on non-diploma, alternate portfolio, and receive any services in which school could bill medicaid for reimbursement. Regular education teachers have to fill out lesson plans for each week, and for each lesson they must include what state objectives are being met. They have to document that all the objectives for the class that they teach has being met during the school year.
They have to keep a written record of every grade that is given to a student, and in some cases they have to hold on to the completed assignments for a while. They have to grade all of the assignments and create new assignments to target areas of need. They have to keep records of behavioral interventions and strategies they have tried to alleviate the inappropriate behavior. It seems like every year the paper work increases and the time to complete these requirements are cut shorter. There are many teachers who have no planning time at school. This is especially true of our elementary and special education teachers. That means their paper work goes home with them every night. Teachers have an exorbitant amount of paper work to deal with on a daily basis. It is not difficult to see how they fall behind and become apathetic about getting it all done.
This certainly leads to low teacher morale!! They begin to feel like they will never get caught up. What can be done to alleviate some of the paper work and to make the load easier to bear? That is a very good question and it deserves a very good answer. There are many new techniques and programs available that can help to ease the load of paper work. This spring our school has implemented the use of one of these programs and is going to implement the other this fall. We have already seen some impact on the morale of special education teacher. I expect to see an increase in all teachers during the next school year.
The use of computerized programs is one way to cut down on paper work. As we mentioned above, the amount of paper work expected of teachers has increased significantly especially for the special education department. One such program idea is the use of computerized IEP’s and lesson plans. It is an issue of time. Ryan(1986), as stated in Hummel, and Degnan (1986), “found that teachers using computers spent significantly less time than teachers who did not use computers (64 versus 117 minutes), and that teachers who used computers had more favorable attitudes toward the value of the IEP.” Another use of technology that has become available for use in the schools is computerized lesson plans. Teachers can access lesson plans on the internet developed by individuals in the educational community.
“Thirteen/WNET provides an excellent starting point for educators interested in pursuing model lessons and exploring their applications in the classroom.” (Donely, 2000). Teachers can access these ready made lesson plans on the internet. There are also computerized programs that can be installed for use in individual schools. Our school is implementing such a program at the beginning of the next school year. This lesson plan system is attached to the state standards and objectives and so when you type in the lesson plan the system automatically attaches the objective to the plan. The plans can be saved in the system so they can be used from year to year, and updated as needed. This same system is also how our school takes attendance, cutting down on the need for writing everything down. You just point and click and you are done. The computerized lesson plans are being met with caution, but I personally am looking forward to this new use of technology.
Teaching assistants are a good way to help to alleviate the burden of paper work. Research “…indicates that assistants are expected to work under the direction of teachers in a variety of roles to reduce administrative workloads and, after appropriate training to provide support to learning.”(Education Journal, 2002). Having an assistant assigned to help with grading and running off papers, filing information, and assisting students in the classroom can help to cut down on the teachers feelings of frustration. We need to know that we can depend on someone else for help when we have more jobs to do than time to complete them. I am training my assistants to help fill out the paper work associated with the alternate portfolio. They have never had to any paperwork before, they mainly ran off papers and cleaned out student folders when the folders got too full. Learning to do more of the paperwork gives them a stronger tie to the classroom and an understanding of what needs to be accomplished by the students on a daily basis in order to have a complete portfolio.
Another area of concern that causes low teacher morale is teacher/administrative bias. You would think that professional people would be able to understand the need to follow certain procedures with all students, but that has not proven to be true. Teachers who try to follow the rules become frustrated when others don’t. They begin to have the attitude of what’s the use, and with that thought in mind their spirits begin to slip. How do we combat this problem? This is a very sensitive area in our school because if you come from a certain family then your consequences are not as hard as for other students. On a daily basis students complain to me about how two people who committed the same offense got different punishments. What is the solution for this problem?
First I think it is important for everyone to be on the same page when it comes to discipline. This can be achieved by developing a discipline code. When the discipline code is developed it is important for “…school boards to define zero tolerance; make sure students get fair disciplinary hearings; offer alternative education; and require that teachers and school board members get better training on minorities needs.”(School Law News, 1999). This quote gives us a lot of information on how to make an applicable discipline code that leaves no room for teacher/administrative bias. The school has to define what they mean by zero tolerance. It cannot mean one thing for one group of students and something different for another group. It has to be the same for all and be enforced that way.
Next, teachers and administrators don’t need to assume because a student did a bad thing that this makes them a bad person. They need to provide some way to let this student make a come back. Alternate education is one such option that is available in our school system. The classes are small, the students work to catch up in classes and they still get to graduate with their peers. This program is a fair way to see that any student with a problem in the regular school setting is able to continue their education. The last point in this quote is to train teachers and administrators. All people are influenced by others around them so teachers learn which students to be nice too, and which students it doesn’t matter about. I think we need some training in the area of psychology, conflict resolution, and how to make sure you are being fair to all concerned.
The second idea our school has entertained is the use of school uniforms. One thing that students in school today lack is uniformity. Students are judged, consciously or unconsciously, by what they wear. You can always tell whose parents have more money by the brand name on the clothes they are wearing. “Uniforms are an effective method of reducing unwanted behavior….because the more formal clothing puts students in the right mindset to learn.” (Portner, 1996). Students no longer have to be concerned about whether their new outfit is more in style, more expensive, or shows more skin than the other students in school. “One added benefit of uniforms is that it brings uniformity, making it easier to spot people who don’t belong on campus.” (Portner, 1996). This is an issue that many schools are dealing with in this age when who you are is determined by what you own. We need to direct our students away from this materialistic concept and back to the understanding that who you will be is determined by what you learn now.
One of the largest problems that teachers face today is the lack of unity among those in education. As we all know, being a teacher is a very difficult job to say the least. It’s always nice to have fellow teachers to commiserate with about the job and all of its ups and downs. Without this type of support structure in place, many teachers feel as though they have no one to share their feelings and experiences with. A school should have a built-in support system with teachers willing to talk to, listen, and learn from one another. Instead, many schools lack the necessary unity to forge these valuable relationships. Not only are teachers deprived of that empathetic support system, but the discomfort they feel as a result of it shows in their teaching. Students can tell when their teachers are unhappy, just like teachers know when something is amiss with their students. A good way to boost teacher unity is by forming a support club or committee. By formulating a solid network of common educators, support is as easy as a phone call, e-mail, or walk across the hall away.