The always-thoughtful Clete Bulach has written an interesting response to the AJC investigation into teacher absences. (As I noted in my original post, this investigation was subscriber only so I cannot link to it. It appeared in the Thursday AJC.)
Dr. Bulach worked as a school superintendent from 1979 to 1990 at which point he retired. He is now an associate professor emeritus from the University of West Georgia. He has numerous publications in educational journals and is co-author of “Creating a Culture for A High Performing School: A Comprehensive Approach to School Reform, Dropout Prevention, and Bullying Behavior.”
Dr. Bulach says his purpose in life “is to change the way students and teachers are treated in their school… to help create caring learning environments in schools where teachers and school administrators give control to others without giving it up.”
Here is his response:
By Clete Bulach
The article on teacher absenteeism brought back some memories. As a school superintendent in Ohio, I tried to get it in the negotiated contract that teacher absenteeism on Mondays and Fridays would not be greater than for the other days of the week. There were days when there were so many teachers absent on a Monday or a Friday that you could not get a substitute because they had all been already hired.
The interesting part about their article is that there was a lot written about the problems caused by teacher absenteeism, but not much about the causes for it, and why it is higher on Monday and Friday. The answer is stress. The more stress teachers experience the higher the absenteeism rate. What causes stress?
There are many factors: demands from the administration, declining test scores, disagreements with other faculty members, etc. However, one of the leading causes of stress is the need to control the students. It is not uncommon for a teacher to have to correct students 150 times a day. That means that a teacher has to stop teaching and correct a student every 2-3 minutes.
Having to stop teaching, correct a student, and restart teaching is a lot of stress. This constant interruption of the learning process, whether caused by students’ misbehavior or other interruptions also reduces test scores leading to even greater stress and teacher absenteeism.
By the time Friday roles around, some teachers have had all they can take, so they are absent. Come Monday, some teachers don’t want to go back to work because they are mentally just not able so they stay home another day.
Compare that with a teacher who does not have to stop teaching to control the students because the students correct each other. Can that be done? Can you get students to control each other? Yes, you can, but not without changing the existing control culture.
Under the existing control culture, it is not okay for students to control each other. That is the responsibility of the teachers and the administrators. When a student is misbehaving, the other students often encourage the misbehavior in order to find out what the teachers and the administrators will do to correct the misbehavior.
If the existing control culture is to be changed to encourage students to control each other, a system has to be put in place where students get a reward for controlling each others’ behavior.
We have written a book on how to change this existing culture of control. One phase of the reform is to count the number of times teachers have to stop teaching to correct or redirect students’ behavior. This varies greatly from teacher to teacher. In our database, we had one teacher who had to stop teaching more that 100 times each day and others were in the 5-10 range.
Once a baseline of redirects is established, we asked the students to help with student off-task and discipline related behavior. We explained that if we could reduce the number of times teachers had to stop teaching to correct student behavior, we would give them a reward.
In research conducted on changing the existing control culture in four schools in Indiana and with 30 graduate students attending leadership courses at the University of West Georgia student discipline problems and off task behavior were reduced by as much as 86 percent
A description of how the high performing classroom concept worked in selected classrooms across the K-12 spectrum is the following:
• In a kindergarten class, there was an average of 51 redirects per day on average (pre-experiment). After implementation of the reform there was an average of 13 redirects per day. In order to make the class aware of their progress regarding the number of redirects, cubes were added to a jar for good behavior, and cubes were removed for redirects.
• In a third grade class, there was an average of 20 redirects per week (pre-experiment), and there was an average of less than 10 redirects per week (post experiment).
• At a middle school with four classes there was an average of 31 redirects per class per day and 585 per week (pre-experiment) to 13 redirects per day per class and 244 per week (post-experiment).
• In a middle school emotional disorder class, there was an average of 50-83 redirects per week (pre-experiment) to an average of 12per week (post-experiment). In commenting about what happened, the teacher wrote the following: “They were strongly motivated not to let each other down; I could not believe the improvement in their behavior.”
• In a middle school physical education class, the redirects ranged from an average of 63 per week (pre-experiment) to 25 to 10 per week (post-experiment).
• In a 10th grade English class, the average number of redirects was 35 per week and seven per day (pre-experiment and less than one per day (post-experiment).
• A science teacher teaching biology and chemistry reported an average number of redirects for science of 60 per week for chemistry and 55 per week in biology (pre-experiment) and 25 per week in chemistry and 15 per week in biology (post- experiment). This teacher commented that the students improved each week of the experiment, and by the last week, the chemistry class only had 10 redirects per week (84 percent reduction) and the biology class only had eight redirects (86 percent reduction) for the week. In summarizing the results of the experiment, the teacher wrote the following: “My students have really taken charge of their behavior; I have seen outstanding results, and many teachers have commented on the change in my class.”
In each of the above instances the students received a reward when the goal was reached. The selection of the reward is critical. It has to be something they really want. Let them choose it, but give them some examples: e.g., free time on Friday, a pizza party, get rid of a low grade, able to chew gum, recess, open book test, homework passes, etc.
If the high performing concept is implemented at the classroom level, a weekly reward works best. If it is implemented at the school level, a daily or a weekly reward can be used.
The best motivator is five extra minutes of locker time in the morning or five extra minutes prior to getting on the bus at the end of the day. Keep in mind that students can earn redirects during these extra minutes to socialize. At the elementary level, an extra five minutes for recess is a great motivator.
There are two basic reasons why this works: (1) students love the opportunity to socialize: and (2) having some control over what happens to you is a basic human need. All humans, whether students or grownups love the feeling of being in control. The opposite feeling of not being in control is an awful feeling. Imagine a time in the past when you had lost control and a time in the past when you were in complete control.
The difference in feeling is like night and day. By encouraging students to control each others’ behavior, the existing control culture has been shifted. Previously, it was not okay for students to control each other because that was the responsibility of the faculty and the administration.
In fact, if a student were to control another student, they would probably be accused of being the teachers pet of told “Who do you think you are?” or “What’s your problem jerk?” By shifting control to the students it is now okay for students to control each other. In fact, they are encouraged to do so. Teachers have more time to teach and the learning process is less interrupted leading to better test scores, less teacher stress, and less teacher absenteeism.
There is one other factor leading to teacher absenteeism and that is “caring behaviors.” How would you like to report for work believing that nobody cares about you and you are unable to control your students? The feeling is totally demoralizing, and that is why teacher absenteeism is so high. Strangely enough, students also feel this way. They are in a highly controlled environment and also believe nobody cares about them. This leads to a lack of motivation and high student absenteeism.
In my research, more than 50 percent of students and faculty report that nobody cares about them. Changing the existing control culture gives teachers more control and also creates a more caring learning environment.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog