Teacher's day ends long after bell
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By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
By Catherine E. Toth
Few would argue the dedication of Hawai'i's public school teachers.
Yet even many teachers were shocked by a report released last week indicating their average work day consumes nearly all their waking hours.
Dawn Kodama-Nii, a third-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary, called the study "pretty accurate," at least in describing the amount of extra time she and her colleagues work.
She arrives at school by 7 a.m. to prepare lesson plans and get her classroom ready. She leaves at around 5 p.m., taking work home. Nearly every Sunday she puts in another seven-hour day.
"We put in so many hours," said Kodama-Nii, who is married with a 2-year-old daughter. "As a teacher, your job is never done."
But Sylvia Koo, a veteran math teacher at Farrington High who works an average of 10 hours a day, said it's not the quantity but the quality of hours that should matter more.
"We do work more than our seven-hour day, but I don't work 15 1/2 hours every day," said Koo, who also advises the school's math team and teaches math in an adult education class twice a week. "The fact that some teachers go home at 3 p.m., though, doesn't make them bad teachers."
Besides generating widespread controversy in the education community, the preliminary report released Wednesday could figure prominently in upcoming negotiations between the Hawai'i State Teachers Association and the state. The union has identified the extra hours teachers work as a primary contract issue.
Under the current contract, teachers are required to work seven hours a day.
The report released last week concluded that Hawai'i public school teachers work an average 1,780 hours per year over their normal work schedule.
That averages to more than 15 1/2 hours a day over a 38-week work schedule. (These hours are spread over weekends, holidays, seasonal breaks and before and after school hours.)
However, some educators feel the number of extra hours reported in the study may be exaggerated.
"That's more the exception, not the rule," said Catherine Payne, principal at Farrington High School, which employs 170 teachers and counselors. "I certainly don't want to diminish the hard work of teachers, but I think we have to be realistic about what the job entails."
UNION, STATE REPORT
The report was compiled by a committee comprised of members of the HSTA and the state Department of Education.
The group, known as the Time Committee, was created in 2005 during contract negotiations to quantify the extra time teachers work, particularly to meet the new requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and standards-based education.
While the report is not based on scientific methodology, it represents the best formal indication to date of how much extra time teachers devote to their jobs.
In reaching its conclusions, the committee relied on surveys, small group meetings and discussions with teachers.
Asked whether the report is a fair representation of teacher hours, committee member and Big Island eighth-grade teacher Edwin Kagawa said it is "to an extent."
"We tried to get as comprehensive a report as possible."
He said he, too, was surprised at the number of extra hours teachers work on average.
"You don't realize how much you're actually doing outside work hours," he said. "You do it because it has to get done."
As for the debate the report has spawned, Kagawa said: "It's been a reality check. Teachers see what they see at their school, but this makes them take a step back to see what's happening across the state. ... I hope it's unifying."
The committee presented its findings at a Board of Education meeting Wednesday, adding that teachers would make an additional $63,000 a year if they were paid for their extra hours.
"There's so much more that a teacher does than teach," said Roger Takabayashi, HSTA president. "Their workday doesn't end when the child goes home."
Takabayashi said teachers need to be compensated for their extra work and should be given clerical assistance for noninstructional duties.
"You cannot pay a teacher enough to do what they're doing, no question," he said. "Compensation will help, but they need help taking the load off. They need to stop this rain of paper coming down on them."
SKEPTICAL ON FINDINGS
Alan R. Shoho, 48, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies and former Hawai'i teacher, said he's skeptical about the findings and questions the study's methodology.
"In general, most teachers work more than just the time they are at school or paid," said Shoho, who now lives in San Antonio, Texas. "My bone of contention is the amount of hours reported in the report. ... To claim teachers work an additional 8.5 hours each day is ridiculous."
Madeline Yee, a second-grade teacher at Liholiho Elementary, said most of her colleagues do work those extra 8 1/2 hours a day during the 38-week work schedule. She said many of those extra hours are dedicated to meeting federal and state standards.
"Everyone is putting more hours in," said Yee, who said she works an average of 12 hours a day, not including weekends. "We're not the minority."
Candy Suiso, media teacher at Wai'anae High, considers Saturday part of her regular work week. She agrees that most teachers work beyond their 7-hour workday, though not twice the hours.
"I personally feel it's not the enormous amount of paperwork or continuous meetings and workshops we're expected to attend," said Suiso, who's been teaching for 22 years. "We just do it because it's expected of us as educators. We have no choice. It's part of the job."
Suiso said her job has become part-teacher, part-counselor, part-social worker.
"You combine that with meetings, workshops, paperwork — it gets a bit overwhelming," she said.
It's not uncommon to see cars in the parking lot of Wilson Elementary by 6:30 a.m.
In fact, 10-year-old Patrick Toyama, who arrived at the school around 6:45 a.m. Friday, knows what car physical education teacher Shawn Coleman drives. The fourth-grader sometimes waits for him outside the storage room.
"He's always here early," Patrick said, eating a cinnamon roll. "When I see (his car), I come here. Only once I beat him (to school)."
Coffee in hand, Coleman is one of the first teachers to arrive at the school. Along with some students who are dropped off before 7 a.m., he sets up the tether balls, fills a cooler with ice-cold water for the kids and drags out fitness equipment for the kids to play with before school starts.
He does all this voluntarily.
"I could come in 10 minutes before 8 a.m. if I wanted to," said Coleman, 45, who also runs the school's A-Plus program. "But it's all these little things I like to do for these kids."
While Coleman was taking out medicine balls and jump ropes Friday morning, Kodama-Nii was busy in her classroom preparing for career day at the school. She had created her own 91-question career survey for her students and was tallying the results.
She feels bad about leaving her 2-year-old daughter in the care of her husband most nights, but she harbors a deep responsibility to her students and her profession.
This was never going to be a 9-to-5 job for her.
"I love my job," she said, smiling. "It's a lot of work, but I enjoy it. To know when the students get it, when they're proud of what they've done, that's a rush in itself. That's exciting."
Koo doesn't get to her classroom until 7:45 a.m. and she leaves at around 4 p.m. She prefers to grade papers at home.
But she keeps her classroom open during breaks, including lunch, for students seeking extra help.
Much of her daily prep period is spent creating weekly tests and filling out mandatory grade checks for the roughly 90 students she teaches.
There's no question that Koo, who's been teaching math for more than 30 years, is dedicated to her job. But she doesn't think the number of hours matters more than the impact teachers have on their students.
"I think people know teachers work really, really hard," Koo said. "But you can't say teachers who don't work (15.5 hours a day) are bad. That's not fair."
Added Payne: "If anyone is really working those hours, it's a choice they're making. The school doesn't require it."
Reach Catherine E. Toth at firstname.lastname@example.org.