A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Systemic Reform: Perspectives on Personalizing Education - September 1994

Time for Teachers in School Restructuring

Joseph Cambone

Time for Teachers in School Restructuring

"We need more time to do the work of restructuring our school." Repeatedly we hear this plea for more time in proposals, reports, and presentations on myriad efforts to alter the ways in which American schools structure their activities. Classroom teachers are finally faced with the exciting prospects of school revitalization, and many school staffs across the country have begun searching for ways to find time for teachers to do the important work of restructuring while they continue to teach. All kinds of methods are employed, from highly original released time schemes to buying more substitute time. However, even in those schools where time has been created, bought, borrowed, or stolen for restructuring work, among teachers there remains a feeling that it still isn't enough. Inevitably, the work quickly surpasses the time allotted. Time, adequate in quantity and rich in quality, is elusive. Yet, we continue to look for more ways to get it. Somehow, if we can find more time, we seem to say, we will be able to successfully meet the task of restructuring schools. Why, despite all the efforts to manage it, does time for teachers in school restructuring remain so elusive?

In this paper, I argue that without a fundamental change in the ways we conceptualize time, especially for teachers, our best efforts at teacher participation in school reform will probably wither. To date, reformers have focused their attention too tightly on ways to schedule or manage time that allow for school restructuring activities, and they have missed an important fact: Teacher time is not just time that is scheduled for them. Often externally imposed schedules actually work against teacher participation in school restructuring. Time is something that is constructed to a large extent by the individuals who live that time. Indeed, in their densely packed worklives, teachers construct their time both within and outside of the time scheduled for them, and they use that time in highly differentiated ways. There are different kinds of teacher time shaped around different kinds of teacher needs, and each kind of time is interrelated with another in much the same way as the gears of an old-fashioned clock. To understand time for teachers, we must investigate the systems and sub-systems of time that work together - or don't - as teachers manage their worklives. If we deepen our understanding of the multiple meanings of time for teachers, its construction and use, we may be better able to assist teachers in taking an activist role in school restructuring.

In what follows, I posit some different types of time that teachers construct, and demonstrate the way these time constructs mesh to form time for teachers. I begin by elaborating the most general theories about time in schools. Next, I explain the teacher constructs for time that appear in key studies on school restructuring, and the meanings of these types of time for teachers are explored individually. Using various scenarios found in restructuring cases, each of the meanings of time is tested using the metaphor of teacher time as a system of meshed gears. My aim is to connect theoretical notions about time with documented examples in the literature of school restructuring. Ultimately, I suggest that recognition of the multiple constructs of teacher time can enable us to adapt innovation initiatives to the rhythm, boundaries, and understanding of time for teachers, rather than working in conflict with them.

To accomplish these goals, the report draws upon four sources of information: theoretical writings on the topic of time in schools; key findings and case reports emanating from research into selected types of school restructuring efforts; heretofore unanalyzed data from several of those same studies; and anecdotal evidence and personal communication with principal investigators in key studies around the country. The studies used include those conducted by:


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