In a few days, more than 9,000 teachers will greet our 125,000 students here in Prince George’s County. We will likely replace about 10 percent of the teaching force this year.
“Why so many?” you may ask, on the mistaken assumption that teaching is a coveted gig. Our turnover issues, though, are the result of having learned little from the most celebrated model for public education in the world, as outlined in the documentary, “The Finland Phenomenon.”
In Finland, teachers provide a little less than 700 hours of direct instruction to students annually. Here, the average time for direct teacher/student interface nearly doubles that figure at nearly 1,100 hours.
For Finnish teachers, the remainder of the work day is devoted to inter-collegial collaboration, observation and job-imbedded professional development. American teachers scarcely have time to visit the restroom, much less for productive collaboration with peers.
Every teacher knows the three behaviors of effective instruction: planning, planning and more planning. However, our contractual allotment of 45 minutes for planning remains wholly inadequate to prepare for our daily 250-plus minutes with children.
An overwhelming majority of our teachers devote both evenings and weekends to revising lesson plans, grading assignments and attempting home contacts. Before and after the contractual school day, they volunteer to tutor, sponsor activities and perform administrative chores.
The 37.5-hour week is an absolute myth that should be relegated to the dustbin of history; ample evidence suggests that teachers, on average, dedicate 55 hours weekly to their vocation.
Conservative ideologues would have you believe that collective bargaining and due process impede progress in education while ignoring the inconvenient truth that teachers are unionized in Finland.
Talking heads seek to blame teacher tenure for “low student achievement” in socio-economically challenged schools while remaining curiously silent on the gross disparities in facilities and resources that reign here in the United States.
Furthermore, according to Dr. Tony Wagner of Harvard, Finland makes no use of standardized testing. No, instead, the No. 1 country in education provides for the equitable distribution of adequate resources and, then, trusts teachers to meet the needs of children.
Kenneth B. Haines is the president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association.