Of all the problems facing Maine schools, finding time for the work teachers do outside the classroom is one of the most intractable, because time is a win/lose proposition, and the amount of time needed is far more than what is achievable under the current strategies.

Early release and late start days are tempting because they get additional teacher time without adding to the budget. The professionals win time, but students and families lose it.

One solution has been a series of Monday afternoons where teachers stay beyond school hours on paid time. This does not impact parents as much, but it requires either adding to the budget, or reducing whole staff days. Placing staff days on Fridays and Mondays works better for parents, but not for electives that meet on those days.

For decades, we’ve been nickel and diming this contentious issue, looking for amounts of time that are not sufficient for the work challenges schools face.

Teachers need time, including time without students. Today’s education environment demands dynamic improvements, not only for individual teachers, but for schools, in how they work, and in the professional culture.

Leadership is critical, but time is the currency. A climate of high expectations, personalized programs and coordinated supports and interventions doesn’t just happen. It takes years of work, much of it in teacher teams, on staff days and in the summer. Ask any teacher or principal, and they’ll tell you: “There’s not enough time.”

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Early release Wednesdays once a month do not change this enough to justify the cost and inconvenience to the community, despite the fact that they are desperately appreciated by those who have to do the work. Neither is it an option, as some teachers have asked, to throw out the changes and “just let us teach.” We need to think bigger.

One obvious and long overdue strategy is to increase work during the summer months. This happens today, at extra cost, but rarely enough to meet the need. Even when paid, summer work is usually voluntary. Many teachers aren’t available. I used to chef summer camps, and a lot of my colleagues did something similar. Summers off are not just contractual; they’re cultural.

Renewed efforts in the Legislature to get teachers on a statewide contract could address this issue directly. A statewide contract that raised pay sufficiently could increase the work year by five or 10 days, or build in a few parent conference evenings. It could reduce or eliminate the need for early release and late start, possibly reduce the need for staff days during the school year, and help to regularize a schedule of paid faculty activity in June, August or both.

It wouldn’t come cheap, and teachers are unlikely to sign on in this era of broken trust. But here’s the thing: it could lead to a major fix to one of our toughest problems. So we should keep talking about it.

The MEA leadership understandably prefers another bump in base pay, with no statewide contract. Even this proposal could and should address the time issue described above. Any major initiative to increase teacher pay should include reference to additional professional time.

If, as a state, we are going to open the can of teacher compensation and contracts, and if a substantial pay increase is in the offing, the discussion should include the idea of more pay for more time. It’s time.

Joe Makley served in Maine schools as a teacher and administrator for 29 years, including curriculum director at SAD 36 and 39, Jay School Department and, most recently, at RSU 5 (Durham, Freeport and Pownal). He lives in West Paris.

Joseph Makley


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