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It’s Time to Lessen Teacher Caseloads
posted by: Tamia | December 03, 2019, 08:38 PM   


Today’s guest post is by John Unger, one of AAE’s Advocacy Fellows. In this blog post, he shares his views about the workload that many teachers are confronted with.


The quote, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance” really hits home as a public educator. There are often times when decisions about student learning come second to financial decisions or political decisions. When the general public thinks of education, they assume it is kids sitting in a classroom learning all the knowledge the teacher can throw at them, but this is not what our public schools look like at all. Teachers must deal with behaviors, mandates, budget cuts, build lesson plans, teach 100 different kids a day, manage lunch duty, and handle many other requirements. Lost in all of this is the need to educate each kid, and what makes that primary task a greater challenge, is that our students are all different and unique learners in their own way. In today’s education system, teachers are having a hard time meeting the needs of all kids and one reason is our schools don’t meet the needs of today’s learner. The general public doesn’t see the day-to-day needs of all of our students and teachers are often left to fill the multiple roles that non-educators think they should fill. 



A famous education reformer, Willaim Spady, the founder of Outcome-based Education, says, “all students can learn and succeed, but not in the same way and not on the same day.” His research focuses on the unique challenges in our schools to reach each learner and his reforms are geared toward getting away from the educentric system of education that has been around since the 1920s. I’m not saying that all traditional methods should be thrown out, there is still value in many educational theories from the past, but we must look at how our society operates and begin to incorporate new ideas into our school. This includes classroom teaching, financial operations, and programs offered in our schools.


One of the ways we can help all students succeed is to provide more individual attention, but with current laws in place that allow 30 students to be under the direction of one teacher every 45 minutes, it is hard to provide the learning environment necessary for children to have the individual attention needed for academic and behavioral success. It also creates a burden on teachers who have to teach multiple classes with 30 students. Teachers could have up to 125 students on their “caseload.” So every day, dedicated teachers are trying their best to educate 150 students and meet each of their needs. This is an impossible task and frequently leads to burnout for professional educators and underperformance for students.


Recently, the Arkansas Department of Secondary and Elementary Education began looking at ways to improve learning for all students. They have put some resources into a process called Response to Intervention or RTI. This process was developed to help the needs of students who struggle academically in a large classroom setting, and are in need of more individualized attention. In the RTI process, the number of students per teacher drops to anywhere from 1 to 10 students per adult teacher. This is a research-based process that has proved to help learners who need more time and more individualized attention. As Spady suggests, students don’t all learn in the same way and on the same day, so this RTI process plays a very important role in the learning process for thousands of our students in Arkansas. The problem with the RTI process is that it is expensive to hire staff and it has been hard for district administrators to balance spending money for someone to teach five to ten students per class period. If we want to see all students have equal success, we must stop giving lip service to, “All Means All” and instead, begin to look at ways we can provide our students with more individual support.


Just this week the Arkansas Department of Secondary and Elementary Education received a $38 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support the reading initiative that has been rolled out through the state. I’m glad we have received that money, but as an educator who works in this system, I have yet to see the benefits of the millions of dollars spent on the RISE initiative. What if we steered some of that money toward hiring new teachers so that our students would get the one-on-one instruction they need to be successful? Instead of looking at new programs first, let's focus on providing more teachers to our school. One teacher can make a lasting impact on our students' lives, whereas education initiatives and education programs come and go. It is time to look at lowering our teacher caseloads.


John Unger is the West Fork Middle School principal for grades 5-8. He has served in several leadership roles as an administrator in his career, including Dean of Students, Athletic Director, and Head Boys basketball coach. He holds an Education Specialist degree from Arkansas State University, a Masters in Education degree from LSU-Shreveport, and a Bachelors’s degree in History from the University of Arkansas. He is also a professional member of the Association of American Educators and an AAE Fellow. John Unger resides in Fayetteville, Arkansas.


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