# An English teacher looks at the new student writing expectations and shrieks in horror. I would, too.

Still waiting for DOE to respond to this note a high school English teacher sent me last week:

I was just given a copy of the GaDOE’s Curriculum Maps for ELA 9-12th grades. I need some help from you before I quit my job and lead the charge for every other high school English teacher to do the same. I have taught for many years, am am good at my job, am an asset to the school at which I teach, and love teaching.

I have rolled with the punches of increased class size, decreased paycheck size and all the other gripe-worthy problems in education. I am not a whiner, a crier (literally or figuratively) or a complainer, but after today, having seen a document that reduced me to tears, I am inspired to leave teaching in the state of Georgia.

Today I saw the CCGPS Curriculum Map. I have provided the link for the 9th Grade ELA CCGPS Map for you.

If I am reading this document correctly, I have four nine- week sections. Fair enough. In each nine-week section I have to tackle one major piece of literature and seven small pieces of literature, easily done, and honestly probably a low number.

Here is the rub. It suggests that my students are to write 4-6 analyses and 1-2 narratives every nine weeks. Let’s do some math. On the low end, I am looking at grading 20 and at the high end 32 process writings a year.

Here is a little Math for you and a little fact about the population I serve. First the fact: If Johnny writes it, his parents will want meaningful feedback written on it or on a rubric and will complain if they don’t get it.

Now for the Math: 20 x 35 (my class sizes this year) = 700 papers per year. 700 x 5 (the number of classes I will teach) =3500. Each paper takes me a minimum of 10 minutes to grade. I will spend 35,000 minute or 583.33 hours or 24.3 days or 72.872 8 hour work days a year grading only students’ written assignments. THIS IS THE LOW END!!!

I would do the Math for 32 papers, but I may have to jump out the window if I do. Also, I get a grand total of 9,900 minutes or 165 hours of planning time. During those times I plan and do everything else teachers are asked to do—I am going to spare you the list that I know you have seen too many times.

I send you this e-mail not in an effort to gripe to you about my woes, but to ask you to help me get to the bottom of this ridiculousness. I get that the more kids write the better writers they become. My kids write often, but not 20-32 full process papers a year. Please help me and every English teacher in the state by getting some clarification on this matter.

The DOE has passed the information to the county curriculum coordinators, and they are going to treat this document as final CCGPS ELA edict from on high. I guess what I am asking you to do is investigate the DOE’s intentions with its ELA curriculum mapping before I grab my pitchfork and torch and storm their great fortress (or at the very least get arrested for indecent exposure)!!!

P.S Ok, so I did the high end math without jumping out of a window: 32 papers a year requires, 933 hours or 116 (8 hour) work days of pro bono grading. What can I say; hyperbole makes me happy!

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

Colonel Jack

April 26th, 2012
9:41 am

Wow. Just … wow. If the DOE will do this to high school teachers – obviously without considering any consequences – what are they going to foist on us middle school teachers?

Howard Finkelstein

April 26th, 2012
9:41 am

Yeah yeah yeah. All you teachers are just breakin my heart. You chose teaching because you thought it was glorified babysitting, then you found out you may have to do some work and that really bummed you out.

Do your job, change careers or SHUT UP!!

Dunwoody Mom

April 26th, 2012
9:42 am

I reviewed the link above for the ELA CCCPS and I’m confused. It seems to very much reflect the type of activities students were assigned in English class back in my day (when there no class size requirements). I remember many, many reading assignments, writing either paragraphs or full papers almost on a daily basis, with full papers due at the end of a session. I don’t recall that our teachers struggled to read, critique or grade said papers.

Howard Finkelstein

April 26th, 2012
9:55 am

I recall my algebra teachers having to grade anywhere between 60 to 120 papers per night. Yes, we had homework everynight.

Dr. John Trotter

April 26th, 2012
9:57 am

It’s all insane. What happened to the days when the teachers were empowered to do their jobs…in their own discretion…without all of the interference and kibitzing from State Educrats? What happened to the days when the teachers were empowered both in laying down their rules relative to academics and student comportment? I remember sitting in Mrs. Hayes’s Sophomore English class — in the afternoon, after lunch, upstairs, with no air condition — and learning and re-learning the rules of grammar. We learned how to write cogent sentences and paragraphs — and with no foolishness allowed in the classroom. The mere idea that one of us students would “bow up” to Mrs. Hayes is fanciful. Our Assistant Principal at the time (he later spent about 30 years there as principal), Mr. Williams Screws, would have thrown the proverbial book [or, perhaps a literal book! Ha!] at us. Mr. Screws was revered by us students, but we knew that he did not play when it came to supporting the teachers!

Yes, at Jordan High, we learned to diagram sentences by obediently going to the chalk board and doing it in front of the entire class. If we couldn’t correctly diagram the sentences, then we were properly embarrassed. Yes, properly embarrassed. Embarrassment is a great, healthy way of motivating students. It works. Now, as a teacher, you know which students are doing their best and when to tread very lightly on this embarrassment tool. But, for those scoundrels who just did not do their work and apply themselves — yes, you were embarrassed! Mrs. Hayes would properly embarrass us. It’s funny, but I learned that the embarrassment tool is used plentifully in law school as well…with the dreaded Socratic Method. If you brought your butt to class without preparing (having read many cases the night before) and you were called on in class and could not answer the professor’s queries, you were embarrassed!

But, today… Ah, today… All of the onus for the child to learn is put on the back of his teacher. The teacher MUST do this. The teacher MUST do that. What MUST Johnny do? What MUST Johnny’s parents do? Nothing. It’s all about putting the onus and pressure on Johnny’s teachers, and this doesn’t work. Johnny’s teacher can only teach Johnny; she can’t learn Johnny. That’s not even proper English. © JRAT, April 26, 2012.

Ron F.

April 26th, 2012
9:58 am

Howard: volunteering for a job, perhaps? You’d think differently if you were to try it for a while. Sounds like there might be some openings.

As to the writing requirement, we’re still figuring that one out at my school. There’s not a length specified, and we’re finding that analyses can be something as simple as analyzing a character or an argument in a reading selection. Those can be fairly short writings. The narratives, we’re hoping, can be a combination of one fairly short piece followed by a bigger piece as a summative writing. The summative writings would require the in-depth grading that the e-mail author mentions.

We’re hopefully going to get more detail on the requirements in the next couple of months. I’m just not going to panic until I see exactly what the state DOE folks consider an analysis and a narrative.

Dunwoody Mom

April 26th, 2012
10:01 am

Yes, at Jordan High, we learned to diagram sentences by obediently going to the chalk board and doing it in front of the entire class

You didn’t learn how to diagram a sentence until high school? Wow, that’s kind of late in the game, Try Mrs. Jacobson’s 4th grade class at Huntley Hills Elementary back in my day – now that was a teacher that knew how to teach students how to diagram a sentence. She did not let up until we “got it”.

carlosgvv

April 26th, 2012
10:02 am

At the last two companies I worked for, layoffs occured, my overtime was done away with, my salary was cut and my work load was increased considerably. I just had to accept it as I could not afford to quit and risk months or years of unemployment.
I am not unsympathetic to this teacher. I just hope, if she quits, she can find another job and not face months and months(years?) of unemployment.

Ron F.

April 26th, 2012
10:04 am

Dunwood Mom: I thought the same thing, but then realized how much more paperwork I do now as a teacher compared to when I started back in the old days. We also have many more meetings, trainings, etc. We seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time planning and writing down what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it, then analyzing data on top of data to judge how we did it that we don’t have a lot of time to actually do it. We’re going to have to push to make sure we’re given a balance of time to grade the writings and provide meaningful feedback.

Scott

April 26th, 2012
10:06 am

Hey Howard, I actually think the article is a little hyperbolic. There are some ways around the extremes of grading each full essay, but the underlying trend is valid. Teachers are being asked to do more work with less time.

It might seem to you that we, I’m a high school English teacher as well, are saying that we don’t want to teach our kids, but in reality, that’s what we want to do. As the politicians and departments of education pile on more work that only appears to be teaching, we have less time to actually teach or prepare meaningful lessons. If we have a finite amount of time and are asked to do more and more superficial tasks, that’s less time for instruction.

The increased number of essays each semester is a perfect example. Students learn from exposure to the writing process. With an increased number of essays, teachers can’t spend as much time revising, editing, and reworking the essays the students are writing. If I assigned twenty papers a semester for my students, and did little to work on them, my students would learn less than they would if I assigned one essay that we labored over all semester.

There is a trend in educational leadership that is detached from the realities of the classroom and quality instruction. What we want is for our leaders to realize the implication their decisions have on classroom instruction.

Howard Finkelstein

April 26th, 2012
10:15 am

“Teachers are being asked to do more work with less time.”

As is everyone else who is currently employed. This hash that has already been hashed and rehashed. Bottomline is “The Universe is indifferent.’

That being said, do your job or get out.

Towncrier

April 26th, 2012
10:20 am

Wow. Thanks for the informative column. I think this a PERFECT example of government at work. It fails at almost anything it tries to manage, supervise or accomplish. I used to teach writing at a community college and, because I was conscientious and wanted to provide constructive criticism, saw how much extra time was spent grading and marking up compositions. That is why I eventually got out of teaching, though I loved it. I would envy math teachers who only had to mark whether an answer was right or wrong. The educational system in America is broken for a number of reasons, but the DOE is certainly not going to be able to fix it.

Dr. John Trotter

April 26th, 2012
10:20 am

@ Dunwood Mom: No, I didn’t mean to imply that this was the first experience that we had diagramming sentences. Sorry. But, this emphasis on the rules of grammar was what I was hoping came across. It was a constant thing in our schooling process. Today, most of the kids can’t write a lick. Not a lick. Just non-sensical verbiage. Perhaps I exaggerate because I am shocked at their apparent lack of exposure to the rules of grammar.

Scott

April 26th, 2012
10:20 am

Hi Dunwoody Mom,

We are actually being asked to be much more diligent about our responses to students than teachers used to be. One of our main problems is that nothing is ever taken off of our plates, so we are asked to write these papers in which we explore the entire writing process, from conception to revisions and beyond.

While we can do some of the work in smaller chunks, we are faced with too little time to provide useful feedback to our students. To give you an idea of the feedback expected of us, here is a quote about Marzano’s view of feedback – he is THE name in educational reform to many current administrators.

Marzano refers to another meta-analysis, of nearly 8000 studies (!): “the most powerful single modification that enhances achievement is feedback. The simples prescription for improving education must be ‘dollops of feedback.’” Marzano makes these points: “Feedback should be corrective; timely, specific and criterion referenced; and students can effectively provide some of their own feedback.” Rubrics, Marzano goes on to point out, can be a valuable tool for feedback.

While I agree with the idea of providing better feedback, the requirements to do so many essays each semester prohibits this for many of the essays students write.

Principal Teacher

April 26th, 2012
10:21 am

The main problem I see is that differentiation is seemingly ignored or disallowed. Why force a student who already writes well to go through the same number of assignments meant to improve those skills as a student who needs more development in those areas? It is this type of top-down mandated, scripted and inflexible curricular ‘innovations’ that have seriously run down the quality of our schools over the past years under NCLB. This new stuff is shaping up to be NCLB on steroids – not a good thing. Teachers need the flexibility to adapt on the fly for their students’ needs and strengths in order to provide the best educational experiences. This on size fits all, you will all be the same and standardized is killing us.

Principal Teacher

April 26th, 2012
10:21 am

“one size” –

It's ok Howard

April 26th, 2012
10:23 am

We understand that you are unemployed and bitter about not being able to find a job. I’m sure something will turn up eventually.

ByteMe

April 26th, 2012
10:29 am

By my math, that’s less than one paper to grade per student per week.

Let’s re-do the math and help this poor English teacher keep from jumping out the window:

5 classes, max 1 hour each, so that’s 5 hours of teaching per day, 180 school days per year… total teaching time is 900 hours. Add 165 hours of planning time (using her number). 600 hours of grading time (rounding up the low number). We’re at 1600 hours so far, for full-time pay and benefits. Most people work 2000 hours per year for full-time pay and benefits at less personally rewarding jobs.

Teachers need to be paid more, no doubt, because we need to value it more than we do. Same as police and firefighters.

But this teacher’s argument isn’t going to sway people that she’s overworked once they do the math.

ByteMe

April 26th, 2012
10:30 am

Ok, 1665, I lost a number in there. Still not up to 2000 hours.

Howard Finkelstein

April 26th, 2012
10:32 am

Im gainfully employed my friend and have been for quite sometime. I expect “extra duties as assigned” and ALWAYS rise to the occassioin. These public employees are a pitiful lot. Most live a miserable, self-imposed lifestyle and Im happy for them. ; )

YOU LOSE!!

T-Square

April 26th, 2012
10:33 am

Man, I wish I had of gone to school, gotten an easy degree, and then went into a job where I had built-in 3 months off in the summers, plus Christmas break, spring break, a lot of times fall break, and all the other holidays that schools get. Then, I know I could feel sorry for this teacher that is still being asked to work much less than me, for roughly the same money, and she gets benefits.

justjanny

April 26th, 2012
10:33 am

Your child will be so happy when he or she goes to college and can write! Let’s maintain high standards and hire teachers who can meet and exceed those standards. After all, we are working for the kids, not for the teachers. Thank you Mr. Trotter!

Howard Finkelstein

April 26th, 2012
10:33 am

justjanny

April 26th, 2012
10:34 am

Oops! Thank you, Mr. Trotter!

T-Square

April 26th, 2012
10:34 am

Okay, I realized as I was posting that I should have said that I wish I had of gone to school and gotten an easy degree. I did go to school, I just chose to do something that didn’t involve babysitting children.

Anonmom

April 26th, 2012
10:35 am

GwinnettParentz

April 26th, 2012
10:47 am

Seems as though the teacher in question should do as the rest of us do when we’re dissatisfied at work — seek another job. Why all the drama?

And who is ‘Ron F” and why does he have so much free time (and column inches)?

Tonya C.

April 26th, 2012
10:51 am

For those who are so quick to calculate, please include before and after school meetings, mandated trainings, parent-teacher conferences, open houses and back to school nights, IEP meetings you may need to sit in on, and PTA meetings you are mandated to attend. In addition, if this teacher sponsors a club or sport make sure to add that too.

He/She only referenced the curriculum coverage, A teacher’s job goes beyond that.

It's ok T-Square

April 26th, 2012
10:53 am

Your “real” degree now allows you to be unemployed and sit at home responding to blogs.

ByteMe

April 26th, 2012
10:54 am

please include before and after school meetings, mandated trainings, parent-teacher conferences, open houses and back to school nights, IEP meetings you may need to sit in on, and PTA meetings you are mandated to attend. In addition, if this teacher sponsors a club or sport make sure to add that too.

Does that really total 300 more hours? That would just get them up to the number of hours the average full-time worker is supposed to work, and we all know about working overtime and weekends when the boss says to….

T-Square

April 26th, 2012
10:55 am

Still though, they’re being asked to work far less than most people do for, yet they get paid for full time work, and have awesome benefits. I work more than full time, barely get paid for it, and have never worked anywhere with benefits. You can try and rationalize it anyway you want, but no matter how much I respect teachers for what they do, I lose that respect very quickly when they start complaining because they’re asked to actually do their jobs.

teacher&mom

April 26th, 2012
11:04 am

@Anonmom: Interestingly enough, my 9th grader has read most the books you mentioned in his public school. In addition, he’s also read the “Hunger Games”,”To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Speak”, “Anthem”, “Fahrenheit 451″, along with lots of note cards and writing assignments in his Lit class and Civics class. He will also come home with a summer reading list and assignments to complete before school starts.

I’m pleased with his progress. However, his teacher is frustrated because she has 30+ students in her classes (6 total classes, some as large as 36) and feels the quality of her written feedback has dropped this year due to the large class size. She’s actually taken a couple of personal leave days this year to “catch up” on her grading.

Ron F.

April 26th, 2012
11:04 am

T-square: if it’s so easy, come do it and let me know what you think. Critics love to throw out your argument, and it’s irrelevant. Judge it when you’ve done it. The benefits were offered, once upon a time, as a means to attract better folks to the profession. Trust me, until you’ve done it, you have no idea what the job involves. It looks rosy from the outside. Come try it and you might see things differently.

Richard

April 26th, 2012
11:08 am

Do what my high school teacher did. When he assigned a report he stood in front of the class and said: “You have (some amount of time) for this report so there’s no excuse for grammatical or spelling errors. If I find one error of this type, you will fail the assignment, and I won’t bother reading the rest.”

I imagine he found this to be a time saver.

Another Teacher

April 26th, 2012
11:09 am

@ByteMe – That gets them to the average full-time worker rate in 190 or less days (due to unpaid furloughs). The average full-time worker has 251 days (365 – weekends & 10 vacation days)….Sounds like more than 8 hour days to me!

jnes

April 26th, 2012
11:12 am

I moved on from a high school English position last year, and the grading load and class sizes were two reasons why. I couldn’t imagine having to keep up with these new requirements. The intent of the DOE is admirable, just not pragmatic, and it will have a detrimental effect on student performance as teachers will not be able to provide the kind of feedback and revision opportunities that lead to better writing skills.

The choice for frustrated English teachers is now between providing inferior instruction and leaving the profession. Sucks for Georgia.

T-Square

April 26th, 2012
11:15 am

Ron – I’m sorry, where exactly did I say anything about it being easy? I said the degree was easy. There is a difference. Everyone I went to high school with that went to college and couldn’t handle it, either dropped out or transferred into an education major. I don’t know anyone who could successfully make the argument that a teaching degree is anywhere near as difficult as an engineering, architecture, psychology or most other degrees. But hey, you keep acting like you’re being persecuted by being expected to do your job, and I’ll continue looking at you and laughing because you sound like a fool.

Forced to be Anon >:(

April 26th, 2012
11:19 am

I love arguments that essentially say, “My job is just as bad so you should suffer too.” So– if you are hitting yourself in the face with a cinder block, and I am only hitting myself in the face with a baseball bat, I should be grateful for the baseball bat?

Or– I could just stop hitting myself in the face.

That’s the real crux of that argument. Make all the arguments you like about how teachers should just suffer, because everyone suffers. In the end though, you need to ask for how long teachers will suffer. Quality education requires quality educators. How long do you think quality educators will put up with this? Especially considering how much venom Georgians spew at teachers on blogs like these.

Also- many of these calculations about “full time working hours” are comparing 12 months of work to 9 months of work.

So, you are saying on top of the great responsibility of molding the future, teachers should cram 12 months of work into 9 months of time, allow their profession to be continuously bashed by most people, have the weight of every single of 162 students’ emotional, physical, and academic well-being on their shoulders while completing all the paperwork, meetings, and CYA required by the state?

If they speak out against it, you call them whiners. You tell them–stop whining and just do it.

They may stop whining and do it…but they will only do it until they find something better in the job market. Then they will speak with their feet.

Yeah. That will make education way better.

T-Square

April 26th, 2012
11:19 am

Another Teacher – How many people do you think actually work only 8 hours per day, and actually take their 10 vacation days? What about weekends, do you honestly believe that no one works on the weekends either? Maybe try looking at the real world, and you’ll see that your idea that there are only 251 work days in the year is a tad bit ridiculous.

Poor Baby

April 26th, 2012
11:19 am

@T-Square; sounds like you picked the wrong profession. You should have become a teacher, poor baby.

Jefferson

April 26th, 2012
11:21 am

If school was a 50 week a year deal, there would be enough time.

tchr

April 26th, 2012
11:24 am

1. The new writing and reading requirements under common core are spread across all subject areas. For example, a Lab Report for Chemistry would count as an informative/explanatory text for that student for that year. The ones who should be complaining are the History and Science teachers who are now responsible for all 32 (in HS) CC ELA standards in addition to their own content standards.

2. Where does it say that every assignment has to be a traditional multi-page essay? Have them make a wiki, Facebook page, or some kind of other project what displays the same kinds of learning and curriculum mastery. Be creative, there are other ways to build good critical thinking and writing skills without the 5+ page essay.

3. When have new standards ever changed anything? We will have a completely new set of standards five years form now and another new set five years after that. Do what every teacher does. Look at the standards and determine what the real learning goals are. When you see “W.9-10.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence”, what does the standard ask for? Not necessarily an essay. It wants kids that can smell out the BS and explain why it’s wrong. I may be mistaken but that’s always been an educational goal for teachers everywhere. The standards are there because we should have a broadly similar educational experience no matter where we go to school. Well, and because the politicians and educational industrial complex assume that their standards are something new and different and impactful.

If you’re looking at the standards or the curriculum guides and assuming that you now have to follow it verbatim, you’re doing it wrong. Innovate, apply best practices, and respond to your students’ needs.

jnes

April 26th, 2012
11:24 am

T-square,

The relative difficulty of college degrees is too subjective for you to even begin to develop a supported opinion on. However, there is evidence to support that higher paying fields attract the best students. So the solution is simple: pay teachers more and get better teachers. But from your previous ill-informed comments, I highly doubt you support that kind of logical reasoning.

April 26th, 2012
11:31 am

Byte me–then there is “duty” directing traffic, monitoring the lunchroom, putting kids on and off buses, etc.

T-Square

April 26th, 2012
11:31 am

Poor Baby – Say what you want, but one day, my profession will actually pay off with the time I’m putting in now. And I won’t be taking money from taxpayers to do it.

Forced to be Anon – You make good points, but I think you miss some of our points. For me, it isn’t whether the teachers are going to eventually leave or not, and I’m not saying you should suffer because I do. I’m saying, everyone has unrealistic demands placed on them by their bosses, and the rest of us have to find ways to deal with them or get fired. Very few people have the security that most teachers enjoy and expect in their jobs. It just doesn’t happen, yet they get upset when they’re asked to do more. I don’t understand it.

Forced to be Anon >:(

April 26th, 2012
11:32 am

“When have new standards ever changed anything? We will have a completely new set of standards five years form now and another new set five years after that. ”

Isn’t that a sad commentary? Teachers have so little trust in the staying power of education fads, they are advised to just wait five years–it will change.

Forced to be Anon >:(

April 26th, 2012
11:34 am

“Say what you want, but one day, my profession will actually pay off with the time I’m putting in now.”

Teaching won’t? For whom? Society in general or just teachers?

Forced to be Anon >:(

April 26th, 2012
11:35 am

“I’m saying, everyone has unrealistic demands placed on them by their bosses, and the rest of us have to find ways to deal with them or get fired.”

Or leave. Again proving my point that teachers will just quit. Is that your solution? Just let them all quit and see what the cat drags in to teach kids?

Again- that will definitely make the profession better. Excellent solution.

T-Square

April 26th, 2012
11:37 am

jnes – You’re right, I would rather that teachers were volunteer only. Did I ever say anything supporting the position you put out there proclaiming it to be mine? I would, in fact, support paying teachers more, but only if they actually earned it. By which I mean, performance based reviews that determined who was actually teaching, and who was merely babysitting. To your first point, you really think that you couldn’t gauge the relative difficulty of an education degree vs an engineering degree? Wow. Just wow.

Scott

April 26th, 2012
11:39 am

Hey T-Square,

I hope you are being contrary now to prove a point, but you must know that teachers don’t just work their contracted hours. I certainly work much more than that, and I’m sure you do as well. I have no doubt you work hard and in the current economy many people who work hard aren’t receiving just compensation.

The argument you are making paints a caricature of what teachers do. No one is trying to imply we should just work our contracted hours. Every English teacher I know works many extra hours with no more than a passing complaint. Most of my contracted hours are spent working with students, teaching classes, planning lessons, doing menial tasks like duty and running copies for those assignments. Most of my grading happens outside of school already. I spend at least ten hours a week grading, and many more trying to innovate or stay up to date on my subject area. What we are worried about is literally not having enough time to actually instruct the kids. Tchr brings up some good points, but the trend from the DOE is to continue piling on things that don’t really impact a student’s learning. We need to streamline the process and give teachers the time to teach effectively. Wouldn’t you agree that focusing on student learning is paramount?

I’m interested in your response, but please try not to pull out a few words for your response, but reply to my overall comment.