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According to a recent AP story, Utah is considering dividing the school year into trimesters to alleviate the teacher shortage. Teachers would have to work year-round, but stand to gain as much as a 60 percent hike in salary. Students, however, would choose or follow different academic calendars, depending upon their age. State Sen. Howard Stephenson called the model a "no brainer;" however, others see problems, including scheduling student testing and uneven classroom numbers.

What's your take on the trimester model? Would a significant pay raise and possibly smaller classes be enough to entice you to teach the full year? What suggestions do you have for upending the growing teacher shortage?


18 Comments

Are we supposed to be teaching or testing? I'm all in favor of assessing children's progress, but not when it gets in the way of teaching them.
In my state, student promotion and school funding are, in part, dependent on results of testing. Most of the textbooks used have been geared to fit our state-wide testing program. If that's not "teaching to the test," I don't know what is.

Respectfully,
a K-12 teacher for seriously ill children

The idea of extending the school year from the traditional 10 month schedule to a 12 month schedule has always intrigued me. Most educators are, in the early stafges of the career, on a 12 month schedule. That is they teach for 10 and they either attend graduate school or they procure a second job in the off months to fill in the finacial gap between their teaching salary and the salaries earned by their non-teaching 12 month acquaintences.

The idea that the teaching shortage can be spread out over 12 months and at the same time provide for a weonderfully fulfilling job embedded professional development program in the district is certainly a step in the right direction. It has long been known and understood that the most important influence on student performance is the quality of the instructor in front of the class.

Moving from our traditional schedule to a new one and also bringing with it a compensation package that fairly remunerates the professional for the time spent in the pursuit of enhanced professional practice is the best way to address the impending shortage in the professional ranks and ensure standards based professional accountability. I would seek employment in such a forward thinking district.

The trimester would be a great model in a very stable student environment. It is very problematic in districts with high student mobility, as credit transfer becomes a difficult issue.

A significant pay raise is always an attractive incentive but, let's be honest, should the rationale for changing an entire broken system be "smaller classes" and "more money" or should it be "what is best for increasing student achievement?" If these two go hand in hand, then we should all be looking at trimesters. But, if I am reading the research correctly, those few schools who have gone to trimesters have a gained little or nothing (most actually have reported losing ground and have been forced to have to deal with a host of other "transfer" problems along with teacher and parent discontent).

The real question that no one seems to want to answer is your last one--and, though it is very complex it does, I believe, have an answer--when teachers are esteemed as true professionals, and paid accordingly, then and only then, will talented and gifted students find the profession attractive (which is not to say that 'some' talented and gifted students don't find their way into the profession now, but they are far too few, hence, the shortage). The United States has an unstated dilemma in its belief in "education for all." Simply privatizing education would be a very simple fix, as the competitive, results-driven capitalist model would find the "very best teachers" teaching in the very best schools. Students would need to "apply" to be taught and only the serious would be admitted. This would eliminate the need for many teachers, paras, etc., and because parents would be paying directly, expectations would be much clearer and dealt with in the same manner that successful businesses do. Academic freedoms, now one of the mainstays of education, would be irrelevant. A teacher would be rewarded based on his/her ability to motivate students to acquire information/skills and to perform. The best teachers would be paid according to their results. I could go on and on about this model--but you all know it. It is the one that medical doctors and lawyers operate under. And it works great--if you can afford it. It does not take into effect "education for all." If we as a nation truly want to educate all of our citizens as though they were all equally able (which we know them not to be), then we are going to have to be willing to pay for much more than we do now. The truth is . . . and I want to be clear on this . . . given the mandate of education for all--even with its faults, US education is the most efficacious, incredibly effective model on the planet. No one else does what we do! No one else does it as cheaply as we do. If we are to decide this issue, we simply need to, as a people, decide what it is we truly want. If it is education for all people, then we need to invest in education to at least the same proportion that we do military maintenance and defense.

I would never want to work under these conditions. I have often been told that if we do.......then class sizes will be smaller. Unfortunately the small class sizes seem to last a year if I am lucky - they ALWAYS go back up. I spend about 60-65 hours a week at my job when you count grading papers, setting up and cleaning labs and lesson planning. I could not keep up this pace year around. In the summer I am taking graduate classes, going to various trainings and making new lesson plans for the next year. I could never keep this pace up if I had to work year-round. Frankly, with the hours I work before and after school, the summer hours and the fact I have an advanced degree, I think I deserve the raise WITHOUT having to put even more hours in.

Utah's teacher salary is one of the lowest in the country - second or third from the bottom. The state is not willing to invest in teacher salaries or teachers in general. I just left a district in Utah where the union "negotiated" an agreement last year where first year teachers had a 90 day waiting period to get health benefits, which actually ended up being longer because the waiting period started September 1st and teachers began in their buildings in mid August. That sends a message to new teachers that we (the district) don't think you're going to last three months, so we're not going to invest in your insurance. The condition of education in my particular district may not be indicative of the state in general; but,it is a bad situation. I never understood the purpose of NCLB because I could't imagine that teachers would need to "prove" that they taught something during the year by doing testing - until I taught in Utah. There are actually teachers who put words on the board for students to define and then students are directed to read the book - EVERY DAY. The special education system is non-existent.

Treating and paying teachers like professionals would be a good start for Utah. Following federal laws would also be a big step. To attract and keep good teachers the school districts and state should offer a higher salary and good benefits. They should also develop curriculum that consists of more than a list of vocabulary words and a topics list taken exactly from the state. They should stop looking for a quick-fix band-aid and they should stop chasing grants. Utah, in general, settles for mediocre and they will keep getting mediocre until they raise the bar for both teachers and students.

No. You cannot trust the compensatory pay to continue aand the raises to be approriated so the teachers might end up making as little as they do now.

Families would be fractured. They might always have a child in school so they could never take a vacation. Already parents are pulling their children out of the KIPP schools in Atlanta because they don't like the extended day, Saturday classes and extended year. Older students who do sibling care would end up dropping out because there was no one to take care of the preschoolers if they went to school. Sibling care starts as early as 4th grade in the inner city. However, it recently came out that a noticeable number of high school students in New Orleans did not start school until the preK and Kindergarten classes started---a few weeks after the older children. These children did not want to say it, but they were doing sibling care and could not go to school until the little ones started. If mom stayed home they would soon be homeless because her dead end jobs (often 2) are what pays the rent and buys the groceries. It is reality people!

A schedule change would also disrupt our society which depends on students who work summer jobs at places like 6 Flags and the water parks that are only open in the summer. Plus it would virtually eliminate non school educational activities---and just because they don't involve sitting in a desk filling in a worksheet does not make an activity non-educational---like camp, day camp and Vacation Bible School as well as the volunteer work that teenagers do in the summer such as gutting houses damaged by Katrina.

For teachers it would prevent them from ever getting the kind of rest we need after 9 months of school. We could not travel. We could not take summer classes. We could not take a summer job. We would be reduced to the level of other types of workers. The incentive to be a teacher would be greatly reduced if it did not include the opportunity to play "rich housewife" or "stay at home mom" for a few months out of the year.

And pity the poor children who get their break in the the dead of winter in cold climates. What could be more miserable than being stuck in the house during your school vacation or having to go to school in the summer when everyone else was swimming and at camp? Summer school generally is perceived as punishment. Even though some kids get bored in the summer, I doubt if most would exchange freedom for a drill-and-kill classroom where all the school cares about is test scores. Then too, in places where kids are forced to wear uniforms they are too hot as well as totally inappropriate for temperatures of 80-100 degrees. And school buses in some districts scrimped so even the special ed buses don't always have air conditioning.

All a change will lead to is year around school and a longer school year. This has not been shown to be an effective way of providing an education.

School would be better done in quarters rather than semesters anyway---3 quarters, fall, winter and spring and, where possible, set up so a student could repeat courses in the next quarter that he could not pass previously.

How to end the teacher shortage

1. National teacher wage equal to what the states that pay the highest give their teachers. Federal government rewards school systems that pay substantial supplements.

2. Full ride scholarships for declared education majors who also show interest in high school by being members of FTA, tutoring or other teacher related pursuits. Scholarships could be competitive and over special perks just like athletes get.

3. Grants, not loans, to get graduate degrees in eduation.

4. Eliminate liberal arts graduates and other not teachers from the teaching pool. The idea that any reasonably intelligent college grad can teach demotivates real teachers. If a non education graduate wants to teach he or she should be placed as a co-teacher for at least two years and not be in full charge of a class. They should be paired only with experienced educators. An ideal model would be in an inclusive class with the experienced special ed teacher in charge and an inexperienced co-teacher assisting.

5. Salary bumps at 3, 5, 10, 15 and 20 years and no cap on the scale.

6. Expectation that all teachers will gain a graduate degree and/or national certification. This will help the profession gain respect.

7. Groups such as Teach for America require their members to make 5 year, not 2 year committments so that the school gets 2-3 years of work from a teacher who knows what she is doing.

8. Pay up front for graduate degrees.

9. NO duty

10. Required planning periods daily during school hours for all teachers including self contained special education and elementary.

11. Significant evaluative input over principal

12. Strong unions and collective bargaining

13 Termination of non-tenured teachers only with high quality, proven reasons

14. Automatic tenure that follows the teacher from one system to another

15. No dress codes for students or teachers

16. Lounge, teachers cafeteria, telephon in each room and private restrooms.

17. Local control of schools

18. Job ladder for teachers

19. Large incentives for advanced degrees

20 All classrooms well equipped and credit cards with substantial supply budgets (at least $500 for each teacher plus another $500 from special ed for special needs teachers with no restrictions on what they purchase.)

21 Equipment ordered arrives within a month

22 10 professional leave days per year with number going up to 20 for teachers who remain in the system.

23. Substantial stipend ($5000 per year) for teachers in high need areas or subjects with the stipend for each need the teacher fills---ie $5000 for teaching chemistry or special ed + $5000 for teaching in an inner city school.

24. Eliminate state and/or federal income tax for teachers.

25. Automatic eligbibility for housing subsidies or mortgage assistance. MOrtgages underwritten by school system or state which lowers interest rate to the best rate---not based on teacher's credit rating but the fact that she is a certified teacher.

26 Computer with printer and unlimited supply of printer cartridges for teacher and students. No restriction on paper or cartridge use.

27. Regular classes with 15 or fewer students. Special ed with 5-10 depending on disability.

Make the job respectable. Give perks. Kick out politicians who don't support us. And ask yourself this question: If you would not let a plumber who wanted to be a doctor do your heart bypass, why would you let and English major who wanted to be a teacher educate your children?

The solution is NOT privatization and the best teachers would not be teaching at the best schools because the "best" schools do not take special needs students.

Even mediocre private schools don't take them. Special kids have no choice and their lack of achievement is not their fault or their parents' fault. A child cannot help it if he is retarded or autistic or has cerebral palsy. It is also not his fault if he is poor or homeless or his mama is on drugs or he has to take care of younger children or if he is having trouble learning to read because no one ever read to him.

"Best" always gets tied to high test scores and high achievement. The best schools are the ones that meet the needs of ALL their students and do not discriminate against the poor or the disabled!

Conservatives always blame the victims for their problems just like we were blamed for the hurricanes and called diseased, criminals, sex offenders and stupid and accused of everything from tearing up the roads to raising rents in the redneck towns where we were placed.

It is never the fault of the child if he does not do well in school. It is only partially their fault, sometimes, when they get old enough for middle school and they still need adult guidance because they don't have good judgment and rarely see beyond today. Then it is still the parent's and the school's reaponsibility to make sure they learn.

I feel that it is important to deliver quality education systems and if it means year round schools so be it. Teachers work year round anyway resulting from taking courses, planning, etc. The only difference is that they would be with the students which is their favorite part of teaching. The pay rate hike would be appropriate to give them for their time and planning.

I feel Rhonda speacial educator in this blog has provided many wonderful ideas. Why is the government not seeing how this can be done. Perhaps Teacher Magazine can send this blog column to the NCLB people and to the governors of each state in this magnificent country.

Privatization of our public schools will be a great detriment to students. Any time privatization takes place the public looses, because a profit bottom line enters the picture.
Students must not be sold for profit. Education must not become a business. It must remain a nonprofit organization. Most teachers would accept year round school, but if it is an increase in pressure for higher test scores, then I doubt if it will have value to them and increase the desire for teaching careers. The pressure is so great now under the NCLB Act that a teacher is doing good to last five years. Nobody can work under the present conditions for very long. Students do not beneft from seeing stressed out teachers. Many young students pick up the stress themselves and become anxious. We need to get the fear tactics out of education.

I would like to take a moment and respond to Rhonda's comment. I would like to first state that some of your ideas are wonderful and some should be done. I take offense at your statement though "If you would not let a plumber who wanted to be a doctor do your heart bypass, why would you let and English major who wanted to be a teacher educate your children?" I am in a Master of Arts in Teaching program. My original degree was in Communication and I spent an intensive year taking all of the content area requirements in English. Right now I am student teaching and working just as hard as those who started as education majors. If anything, I may even be working harder because I feel that I have more to prove because I did not start out as an education major. Here is my question: If there is someone who has a genuine desire to educate students and they have a degree in an area other than education, why wouldn't you want them to educate students? I'm not saying they should automatically get a license because of their degree, but there is nothing wrong with someone who goes back to get a Master's in order to become a teacher. I'm hoping you did not intend the message that I got from your post because it seems like a very narrow view of who can be a teacher. We are all, regardless of our degrees, working for the benefit of the children.

The 12-month trimester idea is not acceptable to parents. They cannot take their vacations, nor take the children with them. In addition, summer camps, which teach their charges much that cannot be learned in classrooms, would not be possible.

If you want better instruction, give teachers back some of the classroom authority they used to have, and give the administration the power to promptly remove dysfunctional, disruptive students to a more appropriate venue. You might also want to eliminate the "feel-good" approach to education in favor of the 3 Rs. Try it; you'll like it.

In response to Baker's comment, yes, Utah's teachers' salaries are far below the national average, usually at the bottom of the list. But Utah's educators are from from mediocre, and our students' performance on national tests prove it. Look at average ACT scores. Look at AP tests. Look at performance on other standardized tests. Utah's students' performances are always in the upper quadrants.

Baker may have seen some mediocre teachers, but from what I have seen as a teacher and as one who visits many classrooms on a regular basis, I doubt any state has more dedicated and proficient teachers than Utah. I am seeing wonderful teaching at every grade level. Yes, a few mediocre teachers are still hanging on, but a great percentage of Utah teachers -- as with teachers everywhere -- are working hard and doing a great job! What Utah teachers are able to accomplish with minimal resources is quite amazing.

As far as teaching year-round, most teachers that I know already work year-round, taking extra classes, preparing units, participating in inservice opportunities during those summer months. Getting "extra" pay for the work we already do would be great. But I'm not sure good teachers can survive the pressure of working in the classroom year round. A two-month break in the summer is rejuvenating.

In a small/midsize town in my home state they practice the trimester method. It has been in place for as long as I can remember and it works really well. The teachers work for 12 months, then again I don't see a problem with this. I work as a training and curriculum specialist stationed overseas and I work 12 months a year. I have been a classroom teacher as well and although the summer break is nice, I found that it wasn't really a break. I was always trying to work on lessons for the following year or make sure I worked on something to maintain my teaching certification as required by my state. I also saw too many of the kids lost not knowing what to do with themselves and often found myself volunteering to do summer classes. In the schools over here where I am stationed the teachers get many opportunities to participate in workshops, attend conferences, etc. Many leave the island for the 2 month summer break. Being stationed with the military there are a lot of children coming and going as their parents change stations. This can be very nerve racking, but you soon get used to it. I read where it was mentioned there is a teaching shortage. I left my home state and went overseas to teach because there were 500 applicants for every teaching position throughout my state.

The only model I've seen that would be enticing to me would be a model where the year is divided into 6 week periods with one week off at the end of every 6 weeks. A 9-week accomodation might also be possible. The largest problem for me is the number of hours I must work to plan, teach, grade and record grades, write tests and quizzes, help students organize, answer e-mails, communicate with parents, prepare progress reportsattend meetings, attend CPE, mentor, do after-school tutoring, be a club sponsor, be a UIL sponsor (both have weekly meetings) plus UIL events, keep up with modified work for students, keep track of all requirements for 504 and special ed. students, keep my own logs and curriculum binders, and do other and assorted paperwork. Class size reductions never last and the workload would not reduce; if anything, it would stay the same or grow, but be extended over the entire year. Frankly, I need the summer to rest up and rejuvinate as well as continue my education. I see more burnout if this model becomes the norm.

In Las Vegas (Clark County School District) We already have year-round schools. However its not based on trimester.

There are five different tracks, depending on which track you're on you could work three months and then be off for about 3 weeks,you work most of the summer, but you only work for a total of 180 days.

For example, I am on track 5, my schedule is as follows: \
I work from August to November, I am off from 11/22 to 1/4, I work from January to March, and off from 3/17 - 3/21 and off again from 4/1 -4/14, work From May to July 17 (last day of school.

We do not get a pay increase since most of our schools are year-round out here. The District decide when a school will go year-round or stay nine-month depending on the number of student enrollment and overcrowding for a particular school.

Most improvements require change. My biggest pet-peeve is with those who are stuck with the common schedule of 10 months on - two months off for teachers.

On the trimester system, teachers could still teach 180 days. Just spread out the "vacation" time between trimesters. I like the year-round quarter system best: Nine weeks of class followed by 3 weeks off; still 180 days of instruction.

Students who NEED extra time could use part of the "intersession" for remedial instruction, thus having an opportunity to "catch up" without falling farther and farther behind and increasing the risk of failure. THIS WOULD ALSO GIVE TEACHERS TIME TO DECOMPRESS.

Teachers could volunteer to work the intersessions, or the responsibility could rotate.

We should also consider the efficacy of shorter holidays for students. Shorter holiday -- less forgetfulness. A three month summer vacation is followed by an extended review (of previously learned material)at the beginning of the new year.

Let's all grow up and deal with reality.

If you want better instruction, give teachers back some of the classroom authority they used to have, and give the administration the power to promptly remove dysfunctional, disruptive students to a more appropriate venue. You might also want to eliminate the "feel-good" approach to education in favor of the 3 Rs. Try it; you'll like it.

THANK YOU! (Especially the comment about the "feel good" curriculum! Let's also put some administors in the building who don't buy into the "feel good" curriculum! That would be a giant step forward to solving a great many problems in the school/classroom.

I also appreciated Rhonda's comments. HOW TRUE YOUR COMMENTS ARE, RHONDA! The only problem is, those empowered to make such changes won't. It is easier to blame teachers, as a group, for society's problems that it is to tell parents they must spend time reading/working with their children should they choose to have them.

Over the years I have taught, I have seen many changes in the role of the teacher. It seems more and more that we are held accountable for both teaching and raising the children in our classrooms.


As for having year round schooling, I was "attacked" many years ago in the grocery store by a mother who demanded to know when we were going to a year round school. She was upset that it was summer and the kids were without supervision while she went to work. Her comment was, "I just don't know what to do with them!" While those of us in the classroom see year around schooling as an opportunity for continuing education, the other side of the coin sees a babysitting service.

Having said that, I would ask who says that education stops during the summer? Education may not be formal-in-the-classroom learning, but there is time during the summer, should parents choose, to learn/experience which is just as important as textbook learning. Many of the children in my district do a great deal of traveling during the summer. I was amazed with the price of gas how many students last spring had summer travel plans-Canada, Mexico, Europe,and many destinations within the US. I know that there are many students who can't afford such trips, but many others get job experience (real world),attend camps which teach various skills, and reconnect with family which is the support group/cheering section.

If there was a sincere interest on the parent's and political leaders' part for education, then I might feel differently about year round formal schooling. (Of course, if there was a sincere interest in the child's education, we-the state as well as parents, administrators, and teachers- would hold them responsible for remembering what they were taught and not have to spend time reviewing!)However, I reject the notion that only we, as formal educators, are the only ones who can educate. I have been told that by the time a child is four years old, the "twig is bent" as far as developing a sense of right and wrong, values, judgement,etc. All of this is from his/her first teacher(s)...the parents. It is time we stepped back and let the parents have time to begin doing parenting/teaching again.

While I don't like the fact that I am not appreciated enough to be given (earn!) enough money to last through my summer, I look at summer as a time to recharge my batteries for the next session. I also spend my summer working on my own education, working a part time retail job which gives me a different perspective with which to walk back into the classroom, teaching several classes for the local community college, and reconnecting and working with my grandchildren on reading/writing and field trips to museums,etc. That way, they go back to school having had material from the previous year re-enforced (hopefully!) by summer activities and enriched and ready to learn for another 180 days.

So, in reality, I don't stop teaching during the summer. It's just a change in venue, student age, and classroom setting!


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