Teacher goes public to private, exits the paper trail

I am still getting a lot of response to my piece on the overwhelming amounts of paperwork and documentation now required of teachers. The demands have grown so much that teachers have little time left for teaching.

The piece also ran in the print edition of the AJC, so a lot of my responses are coming via e-mails. What I find most distressing are the notes from teachers about how the required paperwork often goes in a file unread by anyone. They told me about long reports are never discussed and detailed lesson plans are never reviewed.

This is idiotic. If it doesn’t matter, then stop requiring teachers to do it.

I have a higher-than-average abhorrence of busy work in my own job, and think it would be untenable in the teaching profession, which is now teetering under massive accountability measures. There is no time for paper charades.

May I suggest that PAGE, GAE and MACE consider asking their members for examples of mindless paperwork and consider a joint presentation to the state Board of Education? I don’t think anyone can fix this except teachers themselves.

I thought I would share this response, which came to me via e-mail:

I really enjoyed your column about teachers and paperwork.  In my last two years of my public school career (I spent 30 years teaching math) often times I’d be late with paperwork, so I’d drop it off at the administrator’s office.  On one occasion I handed it to the administrator and they had a check off sheet on the front of an enormous folder.  She checked my name and said, “thank you.”  I said, “aren’t you going to even look at it.”  She said, “No, but now its on record in case someone from the county comes in to check on us.”

I felt pretty beaten down after 30 years, but I was fairy young and still loved the math.  I’ve taken a job at an extremely nice private school teaching high school math and am in my fourth year here.

After my first two weeks on the job, I saw the principal in the lounge and sheepishly asked, “You know I must be missing something because you guys haven’t asked for a single list and its the beginning of the year.  Have I been missing something?”  He replied, “No there is nothing you need to do.  I hear you’re doing a great job teaching math to the kids though.”  Wow, I was blown away.  It is a testament to how beaten down I was and how bad the public schools had gotten.

89 comments Add your comment

20 in 10 to go

December 2nd, 2010
9:03 am

I often spend hours after school doing paperwork which includes calling parents, filling out request, responding to emails, etc, etc, etc. And this is on top of doing paperwork all day long. Just yesterday, while my classes were working on group and individual projects, I did paperwork and still stayed at school until after 6 finishing up. The paperwork at the beginning of the school year, during the school year and at the end of the school year is overwhelming to say the least. Sometimes I think someone at the county office and the state DOE just comes up w/ paper work to justify keeping their own job. Let me teach, that is why I got into this to start with.

V for Vendetta

December 2nd, 2010
9:03 am

Can we just privatize education already? Give us back our tax money that is deducted for education and let us use it to buy the education we want for our children.

Oh, that’s right, some people don’t pay a lot of that tax money.

Sheesh.

An American Patriot

December 2nd, 2010
9:17 am

It’s called “CYA” and government employees of all kinds are experts at this kind of nonsense. Folks, we need to get the federal bureaucrats out of our schools……..they, and Political Correctness are absolutely killing us in this area……”States Rights” anyone? :)

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Zeal and TheParentsEducator, Maureen Downey. Maureen Downey said: Teacher goes public to private, exits the paper trail http://bit.ly/haH544 [...]

Below the City

December 2nd, 2010
9:53 am

Maureen, please see if you can get a copy of the School Keys/Class Keys. You will be amazed at the paperwork!

Dr. Tim

December 2nd, 2010
9:57 am

I entered the private school world 12 years ago after a twenty year career in publc high schools, where I had “enough.” Probably the single biggest difference in the private school versus the poublic school is the sense of collegiality and purpose I have found here. The goal here really is to serve kids learning needs, and not meet silly or arbitrary “standards” set by some governmental body that has no idea how kids learn. Here the administrators and the teachers work together in determining and carrying out sound educational objectives. The government does nothing well except to protect us in time of war and to police our streets. I agree with the writer above: it is well past the time when a discussion of vouchers for education needs to be seriously considered.

What's really going on

December 2nd, 2010
10:07 am

Maureen, If public schools converted to charters, would all of the same amount of paperwork still be required? I read many of the blogs on the AJC and there are a good number that talk about silly things that public schools are made to do, or the fact that the educators are powerless to change certain things. Perhaps I am missing something, but can’t schools alleviate some of these items by converting to charters? I know that in doing so that the schools can not completely excuse themslves from all the mandates, but surely some of the mandates can be eliminated. If converting to charters would help, why aren’t more principals trying to rally support for it amongst their teacher and parents? Is there anyone reading this that works in a conversion charter school? If so, has it resulted in any benefits such as reduced paperwork, or not feeling compelled or even forced by central offices in some cases to share the monies that are raised by your parents with other schools that may be less fortunate. This topic is discussed in the “Affluence” blog. Not that I am against a school’s parents spreading the wealth if they choose to do so, but being forced to do so, as what seems to have occurred or at least it is something that is being discussed in some districts, seems extreme to me.

TinaTeach

December 2nd, 2010
10:30 am

Yes, get a copy of Class Keys if you can. They have to send people from the county office to each school to help teachers “unpack” each standard and establish “artifact folders”! I’ve only been teaching for five years and I love my job but I feel like I am being buried in paperwork, surveys, and red tape!

Hey Teacher

December 2nd, 2010
10:32 am

In my experience, the charter just increases the paper chase because in order to justify the charter, you have to leave a paper trail.

My biggest headache is having to write lesson plans in a format that are not one bit useful to me. I spend HOURS on these plans, which serve no useful purpose to me. Then I turn around and make a weekly lesson plan that I can actually follow. Duplication in this kind of work happens frequently.

Posterchild

December 2nd, 2010
10:39 am

To echo what some have already said, yes, charter schools bring just as much (if not more) paperwork than public schools.

mystery poster

December 2nd, 2010
10:57 am

Just curious, what is the pay disparity between public and private schools? I was under the impression that private schools pay MUCH less.

Bruce Kendall

December 2nd, 2010
11:00 am

@ Dr. Tim Thank you for mentioning Purpose!

CLASS Keys File Format: PDF
Georgia Department of Education CLASSKeys SM Process Guide

Chris

December 2nd, 2010
11:17 am

@mystery poster. It depends on the school and you’re experience/degree.

If you’re at one of the big shot private schools that legitimately exist to better their students/clients, they pay pretty well. I’m thinking of the schools that routinely send kids to the big state universities, Ivy Leagues, and service academies (Marist, Woodward, etc…)

If you’re at a small town rural private school that was started in the 60s to avoid desegregation then you don’t make much. I know teachers in the local private school where I’m at who’ve got 8-10 years experience and make around 30k, no health insurance/benefits, or retirement plan.

So it all depends on where you’re at. If I’m a good enough teacher and I’m near one of the private schools then I can make a good living, maybe better than at the local public school.

Dr. Craig Spinks /Augusta

December 2nd, 2010
11:26 am

Maureen, so long as many GA teachers and parents acquiesce in the existence of poor working conditions and unsuitable learning environments in their schools, many of our teachers will have poor working conditions and many of our students will have unsuitable learning environments. Unfortunately, many of our teachers and parents don’t appreciate that their widespread cooperation might have dramatic, positive impacts upon how our teachers work and how our students learn. For example, if teachers made their continued membership in professional organizations (like PAGE and GAE) and support organizations (like PTA’s and PTO’s)contingent upon these organizations’ forcing improvements in working conditions, there wouldn’t be so much unnecessary paperwork. Similarly, parents’ refusals to join PTA’s and PTO’s unless these groups obtained improvements in learning environments would improve school climate. But, so long as GA teachers and parents finance organizations which do not work effectively for better working and learning conditions, we shouldn’t expect things to get better.

Randy

December 2nd, 2010
11:29 am

What a freaking shame imagine that having to actually work for a paycheck. Work 6 months out of the year and all you do is find reasons to gripe about having to work. Go find a real job for a year and see how glad you will go back to teaching. (In the teachers lounges)

An American Patriot

December 2nd, 2010
11:34 am

The only way you can really appreciate Private Schools (Woodward, Marist, Westminister, GAC, Lovett, etc) is to actually have a child or relative attend one of these schools and see first hand the learning experience received and then compare it to the learning experience with that offered by a public school system. It’s like the difference in night and day. You’ve stated before, Maureen that you had a child who attended a $33,000 a year private school and you couldn’t tell the difference in the learning experience received there and public schools……I think you got taken to the cleaners :) Me thinks you’re trying to strike a balance with your columns because you write for an extremely liberal newspaper (Are you, oh my goodness…..a closet conservative?)

Dr. John Trotter

December 2nd, 2010
11:34 am

Maureen: The paperwork is inane, useless, and mindless indeed. It keeps the snoopervisors in their jobs, I suppose. I did research in Georgia (a open-ended, content analysis study) nearly thirty years ago (1983), and Paperwork and Discipline were the top two complaints from teachers in Georgia — both on a frequency and intensity scale. Of course, the teachers also railed against incompetent administrators, administrators who refuse to assist them in disciplinary matters, and “stupid” administrators. Just imagine what the teachers are thinking today, especially since passing and implementation of Georgia’s Quality Basic Education (QBE) Act and the Federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act!

Based upon the empirical data that I derived from the above-mentioned open-ended study, I developed the Teacher Perception Survey (a Lickert type survey) which from time-to-time we send out to MACE’s members. We haven’t sent it out in the last year or so. A copy of this survey can be found in the Archive Section of MACE’s website…www.theteachersadvocate.com. You have motivated me to get ready to send it out to the members again soon. Throughout the years, Paperwork, Discipline (the lack thereof), and Bad Administratosr (for lack of a more sophisticated term) are consistently the top three concerns of teachers in Georgia. It never changes. These are the consistent concerns and complaints. It seems as though someone should finally take note at what the teachers are saying. Perhaps you are that someone. Thanks! (c) MACE, December 2, 2010.

Dr. John Trotter

December 2nd, 2010
11:38 am

Forgive the typo…that should be “an” open-ended, content-analysis study, not “a.” I write these posts right off the top of my head, and at the time, I was actually talking to an attorney-friend on the phone. Sorry for my carelessness! Earl of Ft. Liqourdale also says “hello.”

come on son

December 2nd, 2010
11:39 am

If private schools could pay comparative salaries and benefits they would have even better teachers available. Most teachers make the “switch” after becoming vested in the public school retirement system.

Donna

December 2nd, 2010
11:43 am

When I taught in a high school we were required to keep lesson plans on file with the principal. He kept a file folder for everyone on the faculty and would go through them periodically. If yours was empty he called you in. One of my friends was in his office at one time and pulled out his own folder and threw it away. End of lesson plans.

wanttohaveinput

December 2nd, 2010
11:43 am

We have too many people telling us what to do. State board says this, PSC says that, board of education says another, superintendent requires this, principal says to do that. By the time we question, “which leader do we follow?” the answer is “ALL OF THEM!!!!”. We have too many people making too many decisions. One poster is right, all of this mess is to justify their jobs when in actuality…we do not need them. I wonder how a school would run if there was no principal…I bet in most cases, a teacher leader(one that is in the classroom daily) would step up and a natural chain of command would evolve. It would probably be one of common sense and success.

Greg S.

December 2nd, 2010
11:47 am

As for all the paperwork….just don’t do it! School is about school. As Doug Adams said, author of Dilbert, “Don’t do anything which is not directly your job.” People will have you run around and do their job if they can and I know this first hand. You think there is not a need for teacher unions, think again.

BehindEnemyLines

December 2nd, 2010
11:50 am

re: “I don’t think anyone can fix this except teachers themselves.” And I can’t imagine a less credible quarter to find a solution from. The employer establishes the conditions of employment, not the employee. Don’t like justifying your existence or being held accountable? Not a problem, just find another sucker to write your paycheck, many actual taxpayers would welcome the relief.

Dr. John Trotter

December 2nd, 2010
11:50 am

Private schools also do not allow students who cut the fool to remain students at their institutions. This alone makes all the difference in the world.

Dr. John Trotter

December 2nd, 2010
11:53 am

Greggie: If the teachers adopted your philosophy and just refused to do the paperwork, they would be bounced out of their jobs so quick that it would make your head swim. They tend to like staying employed, especially in today’s economy.

TeacherToo

December 2nd, 2010
11:56 am

The reality is that some of the paperwork is necessary due to possible litigation. Public schools are continuously having to prove themselves. Private schools not so much. @An American, there are some public schools in North Fulton that I would pit against any large private school. You’d be amazed at some of what you see.

ss

December 2nd, 2010
12:15 pm

Love it that no one took “Randy’s” bait!

Dr NO

December 2nd, 2010
12:24 pm

If the teachers have a problem with doing their jobs as instructed they can always find another career. In fact most teachers are so dumb they should seek employment elsewhere but they know even the QuikTrip wouldnt have them.

Pluto

December 2nd, 2010
12:29 pm

Fortunately I coming really close to mastering the art of deceptive compliance with the paperbusywork. Other than the fact that admin changes the required format for various busywork I just keep all of this stuff and modify slightly each year. It seems to satisfy the need. I find the other stuff much more annoying such as required morning/afternoon duty, various unproductive meetings, disgusting school dances and prom, etc.
Hey Randy KMA. I spent 20 years in the private arena before entering education and I can tell you this. I work just as hard in the classroom as I did in labs and manufacturing facilities.

JC

December 2nd, 2010
12:37 pm

I find it ironic the first comment came from a teacher during the school day. Was it during instruction time?

Sincerely,

Former Teacher

JB

December 2nd, 2010
12:39 pm

I also have gone to teach in a private school after 14 years in public schools. And I have to agree that the amount of wasted time is significantly reduced. I don’t even have to turn in lesson plans. The school is small enough that the administrator knows who is teaching effectively and who is not.

When I taught in public schools, an enormous amount of paper was wasted printing out reams and reams of lesson plans that were turned in and never looked at (by admin’s own admission), on a mandated form that was unusable to me. However, I saved all those lesson plans in a Word document and simply printed out copies in succeeding years, just changing the dates at the top. That saved a lot of time. I had my own format for lesson plans which were the ones I actually referred to.

grifter

December 2nd, 2010
12:42 pm

american patriot, you are right on the “money”. We definitely need the feds out of our schools. That way we can go ahead and scrap evolution and the teaching of science and “math” (I mean, there ain’t no math in the bible people!). We don’t need no fed money or standards here in Georgia, we can dropout half our students without any help at all. If jesus wanted us to be all learned and stuff, then he woulda put it in tha good book folks.

grifter

December 2nd, 2010
12:44 pm

“cut the fool”. this blog is priceless

Harry Callahan

December 2nd, 2010
12:47 pm

JC

December 2nd, 2010
12:37 pm

“I find it ironic the first comment came from a teacher during the school day. Was it during instruction time?”

…and please notice his/her screen name…seems he/she is just counting the days until cashing in on that gravy teacher’s pension plan that is about 10 times better than the Social Security joke the rest of us are saddled with.

What's best for kids?

December 2nd, 2010
12:51 pm

JC:
Ever heard of lunch? Planning? A test? I find it interesting that those who call out teachers are people who probably also have a job. Hypocritical much?

Ed

December 2nd, 2010
12:51 pm

Nice try Randy. Loving that no one jumped onto the troll…

What's best for kids?

December 2nd, 2010
12:52 pm

“Who also have jobs”.

Harry Callahan

December 2nd, 2010
12:52 pm

What’s best for kids?

December 2nd, 2010
12:51 pm
JC:

“Ever heard of lunch? Planning? A test? I find it interesting that those who call out teachers are people who probably also have a job. Hypocritical much?”

Maybe instead of whining about paperwork on an internet blog, the teacher in question should be working on said paperwork. Make sense?

What's best for kids?

December 2nd, 2010
12:53 pm

Harry,
You, too, can become a teacher. TRS will become part of your retirement plan. Come on in and join them in the classroom! Teachers will be at a premium soon, what with all of those who throw them under the bus at every turn and then wonder why they are bitter.

20 in 10 to go

December 2nd, 2010
12:59 pm

Dear JC …. planning time (PS … I have all my paper done so yes I can respond). PPS … this is lunch time.

ATF

December 2nd, 2010
1:07 pm

I am not a supporter of the idea of vouchers. Public education is necessary for an educated society. I don’t live in isolation; I live in a community. I am better off when most members of that community – neighborhood, town, state – can read, write, speak, think, and interact with one another with at least a modicum of civility. That won’t happen without good public schools.

been around

December 2nd, 2010
1:10 pm

I’ve been teaching a long time. Other than SPED, ESOL, and poor folks like that the paperwork issue is not usually overwhelming. But in our school at the end of the year teachers are required to file an unbelievable amount of paper. Most of the stuff goes on to the high school where it either sits in the same boxes or is put into other file cabinets never again to be looked at. I always wonder how much money is spent on filing each year. I’ll bet clerks (who are usually sitting around doing nothing while we file) could do it a lot cheaper.

ridiculous

December 2nd, 2010
1:10 pm

That is just about right.

Once and Future Springdale Park Elementary Parent

December 2nd, 2010
1:14 pm

Parents, this is how the paperwork scourge hurts your child:

I served on a committee at SPARK and we wanted to provide free, PTO-funded training to teachers on how to start a classroom blog, upload photos, take videos, etc., and how to preserve student privacy while informing parents of classroom activities. This is what best-in-class elementary schools do nowadays, and we were still naive enough to believe APS wanted SPARK to be a real jewel.

We asked the two teachers on our committee to tell us when we could schedule some training, and they pulled out their day planners. “How about late next summer?” they offered. It turns out, their schedules are so jam-packed with stupid waste-of-time busywork that they don’t have any time–and I mean ANY time–to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.

Why any talented person with other career options would want to put up with this Orwellian garbage is beyond me.

Here’s the kicker: all this extra crap they were making the teachers do had only one purpose–to send “data” to APS Central Office, so Bev Hall & Co. could continue to spin this fantasy about our “data driven district.” It was and is a cynical strategy whose only purpose is to create the illusion of a well-run, forward-thinking, efficient school district without actually having one.

I used to sit in that lovely conference room in that old restored mansion and calculate, in my head, the cost per minute of having 4-5 paper-pushers from the district in the room with us–people who never contributed anything of value to us or our children.

The irony is that even after all the emphasis on data, APS’s data cannot be trusted. The CRCT scores. The phantom graduation rates. The manipulation of the NAEP test cohort.

Teachers, I feel your pain. Many of you are much, MUCH more talented than your bosses. But that is true in many other businesses.

Jim Williams

December 2nd, 2010
1:22 pm

My district has just employed distirct-wide benchmark tests. I have been told that I (and every teacher) must analyze each question on the test to determine the level of higher-thinking required to answer it. I was also told that the district-selected authors of the tests have already done this, but they want to ensure the teachers do it too. I am so excited about duplicating the work that has already been done – just so the district can say all teachers can do it.

This on top of doing an individual remediation plan for each student who does not achieve all the benchmark ojectives, finding time in class to remediate and teach all the standards (our pacing guide already is short of time), and taking diminished planning time to teach a separate remedial class once a week. All while administrators and other teachers not assigned to classes walk around with clipboards and legal pads to check on me to see if I am working.

Not to mention that the state has taken 6 days of my pay and has defaulted on the provision of the law that says I “shall be paid ten percent of my salary” for achieving National Certification. At the end of this school year I will be short over $10,000 of salary that I was told I would be paid.

I have a great attitude . . .

HS Public Teacher

December 2nd, 2010
1:50 pm

PAGE, GAE, and MACE would never do this. They are more concerned with collecting dues and doing PR things that’ll get their name in the paper.

They are only organizations with no real authority.

In my 10+ years I have never seen any of these organizations that really do anything that truely helps teachers or education in GA.

I made the mistake of joining PAGE once. I called for some legal help and their response was that they only help teachers that have been wrongfully terminated. What a joke…

Obvious

December 2nd, 2010
1:53 pm

As a younger man, I attended both a Dunwoody public school (1-6) as well as one of the aforementioned private schools (7-12). The difference is extraordinary starting with the basest of concepts in that the private school educators were educators first, not disciplinarians, which cannot be said about the public sector.

HS Public Teacher

December 2nd, 2010
1:55 pm

@Jim Williams -

Be careful. What they are really doing is shifting blame and responsibility onto you (the teachers). That way, no one can complain in the future. Their response will be – “But the teachers approved these question!”

HS Public Teacher

December 2nd, 2010
1:57 pm

@Obvious -

Maybe, just maybe, what you saw in the teachers was a result of the students in front of them? In other words, the students at Dunwoody did not know HOW to behave compared to your private school classmates.

Think about it.

Nicole

December 2nd, 2010
2:05 pm

@ Randy are you an educator? I have the feeling that you are not. The public school system teaher in Georgia earns every dime and vacation that we have. Teachers are responsible for molding abd shaping young minds. We create the doctors, teachers, and lawyers that are society needs. But when we are forced too deal with an escessive amount of paperwork, unruly students, and stress it takes away from the students. A lot of people have a mind set that all work and jobs are supposed to be hard, but I beg to differ what is wrong with wanted to work in a stress- free work environment?