How Many Days Out Of The Classroom Is Too Many?

In my teacher life, I spent a considerable amount of time out of the classroom. Well, classrooms, actually. I didn’t have my own classroom. I shared two classrooms with two other teachers. But it wasn’t all sad face, I did have a closet of an office for when I was wearing my IT hat. Got to love the small school districts.

I was out of the classroom at least once a month for County Office edtech meetings. I also attended CUE and CETPA conferences as well as had to put out the odd IT fire during class time every once in a while. All in all, I’d say I averaged around 20 days a year out of the classroom (including sick days and Jury duty). Now, this was high school, I had the luxury of being in computer labs for all my classes so I taught 100% blended online with very little paper. Often I would be online checking in on my students even if I was out sick or at a conference. Thanks to Moodle and Google Docs for that.

While a part of me missed being at school (and not because I didn’t want to make lesson plans for subs, I didn’t need to with Moodle!), getting out allowed me the opportunity to connect with other educators, be inspired by innovative schools and grow as a professional. All of my out of classroom experiences helped to make me a better teacher in the classroom when I got back. My experiences out of the classroom are probably why I’m such a big believer in getting teachers, administrators and my tech staff out to conferences and visiting other districts and classrooms now.

A Balancing Act

Lately I’ve been reflecting on the question of how much time out of the classroom is too much. The topic has come up a few times in discussions. I’m in a position now where developing a high quality continuous professional development program is becoming a balancing act between the need for teacher release days and a state wide sub shortage. Trying to minimize pulling large groups of teachers out on the same day while still being able to bring in outside presenters in an economical manner and allow time for teacher collaboration is getting harder and harder as the qualified sub pool shrinks. However, I strongly believe in giving teachers time to learn and collaborate. With Common Core and ubiquitous student mobile device access, we are asking teachers to transform their pedagogy, to explore and adapt to new possibilities for teaching and learning. That takes time and support and requires a balance between meeting the needs of students in the classroom today and preparing for the future needs of tomorrow’s students. We are literally rebuilding the airplane while flying at 30,000 feet. Exactly what the appropriate balance should be is still up for debate.

Another scenario I’ve been thinking about is a core group of Technology Teacher Leaders, many of whom have expressed an interest in coaching part time, who could leave their classrooms for several days to work with teachers at their schools. The demand for edTech PD is there. The concept of coaching part time and maintaining the connection to the classroom is a compelling one. I’m several years out of the classroom now and even though I was fairy cutting edge in my day, I’ve definitely lost the connection to students that you get from working with them day in and day out. Nothing can replace the feedback from introducing technology into a classroom quite the way a room full of students and trial and error can. I do miss the interaction with kids.

Regardless of the situation, the question remains, especially for elementary classrooms, how many days should a teacher be out of the classroom? At what point does a teacher’s absence jeopardize the learning experience for students? How many days is too many probably is more dependent on the teacher and the students than we’d like to think. Class dynamics change from year to year and some teachers are better able to prepare their classes to function without them than others. At some point, there has to be a diminishing return. What that point is and how to measure it, I’d love to hear people’s thoughts and ideas.