Time Is (Sometimes) On My Side

Melissa Girmscheid Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development

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Old living room clock

No matter what I try, I can’t slow this down.

There’s a theory in physics about time, that as an object’s speed approaches the speed of light, the rate at which time progresses changes. The faster the object moves; the slower time progresses for it. As much as I tried, it doesn’t seem to apply to me. I can spend my days hustling and bustling around my classroom, campus and district and yet my clock runs just like everyone else’s.

For teachers, time is a precious commodity, a thing which allows us to plan, instruct, mentor, coach, grade, copy, call, clean, serve, and still spend time with our families. I sit down every morning with my calendar and my to-do list and meticulously plan my day so I can make every meeting, plan every lesson, grade every assessment, and appear to have it all together. I prioritize everything that I do to devote my valuable time to those things that matter most.

I am privileged to work in a high school with block scheduling, meaning that I teach three 90-minute classes a day, and have one 90-minute prep period. My elementary colleagues are lucky to get 45 minutes each day, provided that the specials are available that day. If the library is closed for testing or the music teacher is home sick, they may teach their entire day with just a twenty-minute lunch as a break. Try organizing and facilitating activities for 30-plus six-year-olds for seven hours and you’ll understand how exhausting this is.


What elementary teachers need after a day with no prep.

Several districts, mine included, have now structured their school weeks to include professional collaboration time. During this time, I meet with colleagues to reflect upon our instruction and determine ways in which we can improve or expand student learning. These days our students are released two hours early, but the positive impact on student learning as a result of this collaboration and development time far exceeds the loss of two hours of instruction.

Finland is often used as an example of an excelling educational system. They’ve experienced a large boost in math and reading scores in the last two decades, correlating with sweeping changes in education policy. One of these changes is in how time is regarded as an educational commodity. Frequent breaks for students, shorter instructional days, flexible scheduling and increased teacher planning time have all used time, not to increase the amount of instruction, but to increase the amount of learning.[1]

It can be often said that education mandates, while well-intentioned, rob us of our time. The movement to teacher accountability has been accompanied by mandated testing, paperwork and other hurdles meant to provide our children with rigorous instruction and the highest quality education possible. The reality, though, can often mean teachers are spending more time filling out paperwork than they do preparing to teach and reflecting on their instruction.[2]

One of my amazing colleagues in special education recently told me she spends anywhere from six to ten additional hours each week on paperwork and meetings for her student caseload. This time is in addition to her teaching, planning, and collaboration duties. It’s no secret that special education positions are a challenge for schools and districts to staff. Nationally, their numbers have decreased by 17% in the past decade.[3] When these everyday superheroes have a full workday of extra work each week, it’s no surprise to me that their numbers are dwindling.

The solution to this crisis of time isn’t a simple one; if it were, we might have discovered it by now. In the meantime, educators will continue to do all they can to ensure our students receive the highest quality education possible by devoting our time to the things that truly matter. We plan, we collaborate, we instruct, we console, we mentor, we coach, we assess, we refine, we grade, we call, and we advocate. We use our most precious commodity, our time, to do what we know is right.


Precious time, just draining away.

[1] Walker, Tim. “”How to Bring Finnish-Style Teaching and Learning to Your Classroom.” NEA Today, National Education Association, 18 April 2017, http://neatoday.org/2017/04/18/teach-like-finland/.

[2] Brundin, Jenny. “After 25 Years, This Teacher Says It’s All the Paperwork that Made Him Quit.” NPR Ed, National Public Radio, 4 September 2016, https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/09/04/485838588/after-25-years-this-teacher-says-its-all-the-paperwork-that-made-him-quit.

[3] Samuels, Christina A. and Alex Harwin. “Shortage of Special Educators Adds to Classroom Pressures.” Special Education: Practice and Pitfalls, Education Week, 5 December 2018, https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/12/05/shortage-of-special-educators-adds-to-classroom.html.

photo credit: verchmarco <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/160866001@N07/48596847892″>Alte Wohnzimmeruhr / Wanduhr</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

photo credit: VisitLakeland <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/59828946@N06/48415994472″>Hammock on the shore of a lake</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

photo credit: Phil W Shirley <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/41115707@N05/5364402664″>Long Day</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>


Melissa is a passionate advocate for physics education. She is currently in her twelfth year of teaching high school students about the world around them through the study of physics and carries this passion to her secondary job developing and leading Computational Modeling in Physics First with Bootstrap workshops. Melissa is a Master Teacher Policy Fellow with the American Institute of Physics and American Association of Physics Teachers, and in 2019 worked with a team of Arizona physics superstars to successfully lobby for ongoing education funding for STEM and CTE teachers. Her goal is to ensure every student in Arizona has access to a high quality physics education. She continues to advocate for students as an Ambassador with the American Physical Society’s STEP UP program and a coach in the Arizona Educational Foundation’s teachSTEM program. Melissa achieved National Board certification is 2017 and now serves candidates as a Candidate Support Provider. She believes in the power of Modeling Instruction, student-centered learning, and the Five Core Propositions.

Comments 6

  1. Elizabeth Schley

    Time is so precious, especially as a teacher! I often find that I never have enough to do the things that I want to, but this year, we have the ability to meet as a PLC and it’s been such a great use of my time. I’m also attempting to do everything in the span of my day and not take anything home…

    1. Post
      Melissa Girmscheid

      I feel really lucky that a large portion of what I used to do has been refined and streamlined this year. Filling out forms for collaboration is counterproductive, for example; it distracts from the collaboration and turns what should be a collective learning experience into a paperwork session.

    2. Donnie Dicus

      I think the form that I liked to feel out the least was the required template for lesson plans. One year, I was expected to have every lesson I did throughout the day scripted verbatim. This was in case, I ever had an emergency so a sub could pick up the plans and do it just like I did. This took hours to do each Sunday. And then I had to make two copies of each plan and have them by my door on a hook so my principal could find them if she ever came in. This wasted a lot of paper and a lot of time. I learned that a lesson plan template is not useful for teachers as every teacher plans a bit differently.

  2. Rachel Perugini

    My favorite schedule I ever taught with was a modified block for high school. 3 days we had all our classes for 55 minutes. 2 days we split and did block scheduling for half our classes. It was such a great time to do extended writing or have kids work on projects. With 55 minutes, they are just getting into the groove sometimes when I have to cut them off.

  3. Nicole Wolff

    With the end of the first quarter approaching and parent teacher conferences right around the corner, your writing really connects with me. Between instructional time spent in front of students and other mandated requirements, teachers have very little time left for planning and collaboration. American teachers spend far more time teaching and far less time planning than the global average. Thank you for this piece!

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