When I first started teaching, I spent hours after my students left preparing lessons, cleaning my classroom, and setting up for the next day of class. As I got older and had a family of my own, I had to find the balance in my life that would allow me to be an effective educator, mother, and wife. I learned strategies about time and classroom management and had many discussions with other teachers about balancing the demands of our teaching careers and home lives. For many educators, that balance continues to be elusive as are the ways to maintain our mental health, physical health, and our commitments to both our own families and our school families.
Teachers need time to collaborate, plan, learn, grow as educators, and take care of themselves so that we can be our best for our students and families. Without this dedicated time, we risk losing some of our best teachers due to the sheer exhaustion of trying to keep all the balls in the air as we juggle our responsibilities. The best experience I have ever had when given the gift of time was when I was a part of the LAUSD School Readiness Language Development Program (SRLDP). The program was designed for four-year-olds to attend the year before kindergarten. Its elements included a four-day school week for the children, parent participation, assistance of a paraprofessional, and a budget for materials and field trips. We used Fridays for parent education and professional development for teachers and paraprofessionals. The memory of this excellent program and the training I received while in it has kept me teaching for 42 years.
This year, we have an opportunity to support teachersâ€™ learning and growth through $1.5 billion in the Educator Effectiveness Funds (EFFs) that the state has allocated for professional development. Los Angeles Unified School District has been allocated $130 million of these funds for professional development in 2022. We should use this money wisely to support the coaching and mentoring of educators in order to attract and retain teachers in the profession. One way to accomplish this is to take some of the excellent ideas from SRLDP and other model programs. With mentoring and coaching organized around social-emotional learning, and supporting learning communities for educators, such as those I experienced in the SRLDP program, to engage in a meaningful classroom teaching experience, we could create a change in the current mindset. By acknowledging the kind of school culture we want to promote and the values we want to support, we can help teachers develop the ability to work efficiently, improving the quality of work while allowing for a work-life balance.
We can also utilize the EFFs to build out an expanded school year that would include professional development days sprinkled throughout the school year. These pupil-free professional learning opportunities for teachers could focus on areas that would support them and allow for personal growth. With districts, schools, and teachers working together to determine the needs of educators, a strong program could be developed to meet their needs by offering engaging, high-quality professional development. When we feel like we are respected for our professional knowledge and skills, we are more likely to get excited about learning and growing and staying in the profession.
By providing this gift of time for teachers to pause and self-reflect, develop new skills and learn ways to continue a meaningful career while having a rich, fulfilling personal life, we will attract and retain teachers in our profession.
While teaching in the SRLDP, I remember how excited I was to attend local district collaborations. I felt proud to conduct education classes for the parents in my class and appreciated having the time to plan my curriculum with my colleague and paraprofessional. Letâ€™s use the strategies we already have to reinvest in teachers by offering support, respect, and time.
Amy K. Weisberg teaches kindergarten at Topanga Elementary Charter School in Topanga, California. She is a 2021-2022 Teach Plus California Policy Fellow.
#LAUSD and #TeachPlus.