Adjusting back to school

Michael Alcorn
Posted

Let me give you a little glimpse inside my week before school. I teach at nine schools, so, the bulk of my time at start-up is devoted to trying to figure out when I am going to spend time at each school during the week. This is an interesting prospect, as I have a finite amount of time to work with and a myriad of problems to work around. Often, I teach in a lunch room, and so I can’t meet during lunch. Every school gets additional staff support for literacy — can’t meet during those times, either. And everybody has their “want” lists, just to make things more fun.

And so we spend hours poring over schedules, trying to find those tiny slots that let us get our job done. But, inevitably, something changes — this year, it’s been all about staffing levels and the number of teachers in buildings. For example, one of my schools didn’t even get its final staffing levels until Thursday.

That’s frustrating because the entire chain of schedules — including mine — gets effectively delayed, which means the teachers aren’t even sure what their instructional day looks like until two days before school starts.

What was the issue with staffing, you might ask? The issue was that the sixth-grade classes each had 36 kids in them (in rooms designed for 28), and they were thinking it might be good to get an additional teacher to alleviate that crowd. You would think that would be a “no-brainer,” right? Especially since Jeffco just passed a significant mill increase a couple years ago, in part, to keep class sizes under control.

But, apparently, hiring teachers isn’t quite the no-brainer you’d like it to be. It’s hard to get your head around this if you haven’t been immersed in the system, but even when one school is bursting at the seams, if the other hundred-and-some-odd schools in the district aren’t also bursting at the seams, then there just isn’t the money to hire a lot of teachers to distribute where they are needed. So, as obvious as it is that this one school needs another teacher, if there isn’t another teacher in the system, then what are you going to do?

It’s not really anybody’s fault — it’s all based on formulae that get calculated at a macro level, and are subject to variables of a macro nature. But, in the micro, sometimes it translates into a very chaotic-looking situation.

Of course, in between micro and macro are actual people and bodies that have some control over what happens with those formulae. That’s where fiscal governance comes in to play. There isn’t free-wheeling discretion to correct every little problem, but there are levels of intervention that could be taken to mitigate some issues. In fact, built into the system is a window of time in early October where schools make adjustments based on their official enrollment, which gets measured at about that time.

But even that, when it works as it should, creates issues: a big school gets an additional teacher six weeks into the school year, classes get shuffled, rotations get altered, time is spent adjusting.

And, you know what? Those of you with kids in the schools will probably not know any different because, for all the stress that happens behind the scenes, the people I work with who have to make this operational on a daily basis are amazing at focusing on their jobs.

But, if you’re wondering why teachers don’t always have all the answers on the tips of their tongues, and it occasionally seems like we’re scrambling, just know that, sometimes,the questions are a lot more complicated than you think.