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Time and autonomy revealed as major issues for teachers

May 10, 2016 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor

Survey results to guide Association’s bargaining efforts

Teachers are losing time and control and the Alberta Teachers’ Association is hoping to get them back.

A recent survey revealed that a majority of teachers have experienced either no change or an increase in the amount of unnecessary tasks they’ve been assigned. The survey also showed that teachers feel they have inadequate time for lesson preparation and student assessment, as well as less control over their professional development and teaching activities.

“The themes that run through the entire thing, we identified two of them and they are time and autonomy,” said Greg Jeffery, Association vice-president and chair of its Central Table Bargaining Committee.

“Time has not been improved but employers are being much more prescriptive in what they’re asking teachers to do.”

The survey results come from common questions that were included in surveys conducted by the Economic Policy Committees in each bargaining unit. The surveys were conducted to gauge teacher concerns as the Association enters a bargaining phase.

Among the common questions was one asking teachers whether they have experienced a reduction in tasks that are unnecessary for student learning. Of the 15,843 teachers who responded, 46 per cent answered that they’d experienced either a minor or a significant increase (24 and 22 per cent, respectively). Forty-two per cent responded that they’d experienced no change and 12 per cent said these tasks had decreased.

“Teachers are concerned that their working time is being taken away from their core purpose, which is working with students,” Jeffery said.

The legislated framework that the province imposed in 2013 included provisions for school jurisdictions and teachers to work together to identify and reduce unnecessary tasks. The Association has known for some time that teachers have been unhappy with progress on this front, and this survey supports that evidence with quantitative data, Jeffery said.

“The results show across the board that all teachers are unhappy with the [lack of] reduction in teacher workload,” he said. “That’s clearly something that requires addressing.”

Work–life imbalance

Through another survey question, many teachers reported that their personal lives are being impacted by the time crunch they’re facing. When answering a question about the amount of time they are provided for lesson preparation and effective assessment, 59 per cent of teachers said they accomplish these tasks at the expense of their personal lives while 16 per cent reported simply that they don’t have enough time. Meanwhile, 17 per cent reported that they had sufficient time “most days” and a further seven per cent responded that they had sufficient time.

ATA president Mark Ramsankar said the results show that there’s a cost to workload intensification.

“Unnecessary tasks being imposed on teachers distract them from the core work that is needed to support teaching and learning. When that core work doesn’t get done, classrooms suffer. When it does, it’s often done at the expense of teacher wellness or work–life balance.”

The survey also revealed little to no improvement in teachers’ pursuit of increased collaborative and individual professional development. A survey question about collaborative PD revealed that 31 per cent of teachers experienced a minor increase, 10 per cent a significant increase, 33 per cent no change, and 26 per cent a decrease (both significant and minor).

Regarding time for their personal professional growth plans, 53 per cent of teachers reported no change, while 24 per cent reported a decrease and 23 per cent reported an increase.

The legislated framework was supposed to bring about a reallocation of professional development time so teachers had more for their individual plans and collaborative efforts, Jeffery said. However, the survey numbers show that didn’t happen as well as it should have.

“It’s like it was essentially ignored. Jurisdictions just went on with business as usual,” he said.

The survey also allowed respondents to write their own comments. Among the many concerns listed in this section are repeated complaints about the amount of time spent on student assessment.

“Assessment seems to be driving what’s happening in the classroom instead of teaching and learning,” Jeffery said.

Teachers’ collective agreements expire at the end of August. Under a new bi-level bargaining structure established by the Notley government, the Association’s Central Table Bargaining Committee and the Teachers’ Employer Bargaining Association are currently negotiating which matters will be handled at central and local tables.

The Association is using these survey results to guide its bargaining, Jeffery said. Once the lists of central and local matters are settled and bargaining begins on the actual issues, he expects that teacher time and autonomy will be front and centre.

“Those things are interwoven through so many areas of the list of all matters that they could be dealt with in different pieces both at the central table and the local table,” he said. ❚

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