Mourning the Loss of Teacher Face Time

You know that feeling when you see an old friend or family member who lives far away? It’s a happy thing, to reconnect with loved ones, but then you feel a certain sadness when your visit is over. You know that feeling? That’s how I’m feeling today.

Moon Tree 1 by Amanda Wright, art teacher
Moon Tree 1 by Amanda Wright, art teacher

My personal feelings may not be directly applicable to the usual content and audience I try to address here. I try to post content that is meaningful to art teachers, educators in general, and administrators who would like to have a better understanding of the role of art in schools. Despite this being spurred by my own personal feelings, this is about teacher face time, so it applies, and I will make an effort to make that connection for you.

I had the great pleasure of working with a small group of teachers yesterday. We had a task – to begin preparations for judging student art entries to our regional Scholastic Art Awards (See here and here for a couple of other posts related to the awards). For this program, I am fortunate to have a little bit of money to pay for substitute teachers so a few art teachers can spend the day with me to do this work. The work is rather tedious and frustrating at times, but each year many teachers are more than willing to help.

So I got a tiny bit of teacher face time yesterday, but why the “distant loved ones” comparison?

I feel like I am slowly losing the ability to spend time directly with my teachers. Not too many years ago, curriculum specialists in my school district had a lot of flexibility to meet with teachers, even during the contract day, to provide professional development and training. This was encouraged, even, and it seemed there was an underlying philosophy that the curriculum offices in instructional services were responsible to some degree for ensuring that their teachers received appropriate training and that the instructional programs in the schools met district standards.

This philosophy is changing however, with pressures from at least two directions, money and teacher workload.

It is unfortunate that teachers are so burdened with responsibilities that it seems “too much to ask” to have them take a day to receive valuable training, but that is the essence of the teacher workload issue (See here for more on this). And it does cost money to provide professional development. If you offer training during the contract day, you have to pay for coverage. If you do it after school or on weekends, you can either compensate teachers and instructors or depend on volunteerism to get training to those who need it. Let’s face it though, after the long, hard hours of teaching (I don’t need to convince you, do I, that most teachers work more hours than they are required by contract?) it is hard for many teachers to feel like they have the energy to go to another class. Volunteer participation in an after school PD model will not reach all teachers. Besides, this time in addition to the teachers’ work hours is another kind of teacher workload concern.

Because of these factors, I now how fewer opportunities to work directly with teachers. With this change, I am working to find new and different ways of providing professional development to teachers. And that’s OK. It’s good even. I appreciate the challenge of coming up with new solutions, but there is one thing I am losing – the face time. We have many great technologies that allow us to communicate and share content, but most of these lack the face-to-face interaction that I value so much.

Face time is about relationships. And just as relationships are of paramount importance in the classroom, they have a huge impact on the ability of a curriculum office to have any influence on teachers and the delivery of instruction in schools.

It has been suggested that part of the shift in practice and philosophy includes taking this responsibility off of the curriculum specialists and placing the responsibility on the teachers to get needed training. I can appreciate that, but relationships and personal connections to the people who are in the schools delivering the curriculum I work so closely with is still something I value.

Spending time with just a few of these great people yesterday made me mourn the lose of teacher face time. It’s not dead. It’s just like a family member that lives far away. I want to be able to maintain relationships with these people who are so important to the work that I do. I am very grateful for the time I got to spend with a few of you yesterday, and I look forward to every opportunity I have to meet with you!

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