meetings, meetings everywhere

This school year feels different than previous years. Really, every year is different, because the students are different, I’m a little different, I’m trying different things in the classroom. But this is now my 5th year teaching, and I don’t feel like I’m reinventing the wheel anymore, which is kind of nice. This is also the first time since I started teaching that I haven’t had new colleagues join the teacher teams I work with (even though I’ve been at the same school the whole time). However, I find myself spending a lot of time in meetings.

A few weeks ago, I counted up the meetings that I had that week – it was particularly bad. In that one week, I was in 9 different meetings plus my normal teaching schedule. On Thursday, I had three meetings – before school, during lunch, and after school. In a more “typical” week, I have 3 meetings either before/after school, plus all the informal conversations that we have with colleagues during prep/lunch/before or after school.

I think a hatred of meetings is somewhat universal, no matter what profession you’re involved in. I’m sure everyone has been involved in an ineffectual meeting – whether it was people just complaining, the organizer(s) didn’t have a plan, it was a meeting that could have been an email, or just nothing was accomplished. (Incidentally, when I was watching this TED talk about givers vs. takers, I came across this article about how to get a sense of the culture of an organization when job searching, and at the very end the author suggests asking about meetings – if people enjoy the meetings they’re in, that’s a good sign. Something to keep in mind if I find myself on the job market again.)

Teachers in particular seem to dislike meetings. The culture of schools doesn’t seem to foster collegiality (different from congeniality, as outlined by Robert Evans in the article “Getting to No”). As Evans states,

Ask any classroom veterans why they teach. You’ll never hear, “I love to work with other adults and go to meetings.” Teachers have chosen a career that involves spending their days in the company of children or adolescents. They thrive and feel most confident and fulfilled when doing so. (Would we want our youth taught by people who felt otherwise?) They often see dealings with other adults — whether colleagues, administrators, or parents — as intrusions upon their primary source of work satisfaction.

And it’s true. Going to meetings is definitely not the best part of my day. I would love to have more time for my students. This year in particular, I feel like I am not available for students as I have been in the past. I used to give a blanket statement that students could see me in the mornings, but that’s no longer true because these days I often have morning meetings. And teaching two preps in two buildings, I can’t tell students that I will definitely been in room ____ before school. So now it’s “please email me if you’d like to see me outside of the school day” and I just feel less accessible to my students this year.

And yet I find myself voluntarily involved in more meetings with my colleagues this year than ever before. I’m on two subject teams that basically teach lock-step. I’m the “course team liaison” for the chemistry team. And I find myself stepping up and occasionally helping organize some school-wide PD. All of these things take time and require face-to-face interactions.  Most of these meetings take place outside the “normal” school day because I don’t have the same prep periods as the colleagues I need to meet with.

I engage in all these meetings because I feel like the work that’s being done is important. It’s important to me to work with colleagues to develop curriculum, because it makes it better than whatever I could come up with on my own. (It’s also important to me that students enrolled in the same class get a comparable experience regardless of teacher.) It’s important to me to be involved with my department as we are working through what it means for students to construct scientific arguments (we’re having a lot of good discussions about the “claim, evidence, reasoning” framework – what is evidence, exactly, and how is it different from reasoning?). And I feel like I have ideas and resources to help our school-wide meetings be more productive (particularly after the NSRF Critical Friends training I attended this past summer).

But some days, I feel conflicted. Am I doing my students a disservice by being so busy when I could be available to help them? Or am I doing worthwhile work by being involved in these groups in my school? I don’t think that I am yet doing work with colleagues at the expense of my students, but it’s a tension that I keep in the back of my mind. And then, just the sheer number of meetings is exhausting sometimes. Sometimes I find myself wishing for a Time Turner, although Hermione’s experience might suggest that a Time Turner would not actually help my sanity.

I do wish that the school day was structured differently, where there was more time built into the school day for collaboration with colleagues (although then that begs the question when would I get the grading done?). But we must make the best of what we have, and for right now I guess that means continual meetings. And I guess all I can do is continue to reflect and be honest about when I need to step back so that I can make sure I’m also able to meet the needs of my students (and keep my sanity).

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