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Workload study well worth the extra time

October 7, 2014 Laura Harris, ATA News Staff

On a daily basis, many Alberta teachers are struggling. They face issues like class size, complex classroom composition and finding time for the professional development needed to keep pace with continually evolving factors like technology and inclusion. They are overwhelmed, overworked and simply trying to keep their heads above water. Ironically, that is why thousands of them have volunteered to take on an additional task this school year.

Approximately 3,700 teachers and school administrators are participating in a year-long teacher workload study conducted by an independent research firm on behalf of the Alberta Ministry of Education, the Alberta Teachers’ Association and the Alberta School Boards Association.

ATA President Mark Ramsankar says teacher participation in the workload study is critical, in order to clearly ­illustrate that Alberta’s education system has a real need for appropriate and stable funding from the provincial government.

“Just as we believe teachers are in the best position to assess student learning, we believe they are in the best position to assess teacher workload,” said Ramsankar. “Every day teachers are the ones who see first-hand how factors like staffing levels, population growth, immigration and technology are affecting schools, classrooms, students and, most importantly, their ability to perform the job of teaching. Their voice is the most credible on the issue of teachers’ work.”

The first of its type and scope conducted in Canada, the study will capture detailed data on the workloads of teachers and school administrators from across the province, grade levels and different types of schools. With the input of teachers, it will provide information about instructional time, work completed during the school day and work completed outside the school day, including assignment grading, staff meetings and extracurricular activities.

Joe Bower teaches language arts and social studies in Red Deer. All of his Grade 6 and Grade 8 classes have 30-plus students, not all with English language skills. Entering his 15th year of teaching, Bower has seen incremental growth in the expectations placed on teachers, including a number of tasks that take away from invaluable face-to-face time with his students. He is well aware of many workload issues facing teachers, so he is carving out time to participate in the workload study for one simple reason.

“I feel if I’m going to draw attention to problems, I had better be a part of the solution,” Bower said.

As a study participant, he’s required to record his daily work activities for one week each month. He said his first week went well and expects the same for the rest of the year. He just hopes his efforts make a difference.

“Professionalism is becoming code for ‘just add to your plate, never take anything off,’” Bower said. “Everybody’s got a to-do list and nobody’s making a to-stop list. I hope the workload study encourages teachers to maybe create a to-stop list so that they have more time to do things that really matter.”

There is no doubt the results of the study will be valuable, Ramsankar said.

“It’s a big ask for teachers to take on more work when they have so much on their plates already,” said Ramsankar, “I have nothing but gratitude to express to those who are taking the time to participate in this study because the information gathered will contribute to the well-being of our profession, which in turn will help us meet the needs of all our students.” ❚

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