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The Whiteboard Jungle: Showing teachers they matter is vital in education field

Ring the bells. The Glendale Unified School District no longer requires elementary school teachers to do yard duty.

It has only taken, what, 50, 70 years for this condescending practice to end.

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Glendale Unified had to stop the yard duty requirement since it does not match the latest education trend that has taken over schools these days, Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs.

Having educators supervise recess is not professional, a waste of their talents and their stature. That's like having lawyers station the security checkpoints in courthouses.

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The idea behind PLCs is for teachers to learn how to collaborate with one another since most of them work in isolation.

Of course, the $64,000 question is: Where is the time for such collaboration? Since you can't expect teachers to volunteer during their planning period or after work, the time needs to be embedded in the school day, meaning students can't be at school so that teachers can meet.

The simplest solution is to extend the school day slightly to "bank" enough minutes for a weekly 45-minute time slot for such collaboration. While that is a good first step, that is not sufficient time for a major overhaul that a PLC requires, for just when the conversation gets down to business, teachers have to leave, dashing to open the door for students, interrupting the intellectual stimulation of the collegial conversation, shelving it for another week.

Another option would be to have a daily period of teacher collaboration.

This would be more effective in terms of taking a pulse of students that teachers have in common. "Did you notice Jason was lethargic yesterday?" "How can we get Erika to do homework?"

Such concerns could be shared among the students' instructors in order to devise a "prescription" on how best to aid them.

One idea I proposed years ago in my first book, "The $100,000 Teacher," was to have instructors teach four days a week, each day an hour and a half longer, and collaborate the other day.

And what would happen with the students on that fifth day? Field trips, guest speakers, tutoring, job shadowing, art days, sports days.

This would require organization, parent involvement and funding.

However, change is often preceded with the adjective "difficult" and, if school districts truly wish to invest in revolutionary changes, money is going to have to play a pivotal role.

But before any discussion can begin about changing the work schedule to foster a professional learning community, teachers' working conditions must meet a professional standard.

Recently, my school ran out of copy paper. That's like a hospital running out of syringes. It should never happen.

Over the three decades I have been in teaching, the No. 1 complaint from principals about teachers is the amount of paper used. But paper is a necessity not a luxury when working with students.

The teacher walkouts that have occurred recently in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona offer a glimpse into how powerful three million teachers as a workforce could become in demanding improved conditions for themselves and for their students, an equal footing in the education hierarchy.

It is not something that the powers that be would want unleashed, nor could manage.

This year, Glendale Unified mandated two days of training for all English teachers. Not one teacher was consulted about this. It was a completely top-down decision. Was this a model of a professional-learning community?

PLC is a nicely contained idea that allows teachers just enough independence and decision-making to give them the feeling of empowerment. But it barely moves the needle.

Show teachers they matter; saying it on a pen or key chain (Teacher Appreciation Day is May 8) doesn't make it so.

Have teachers play a leadership role at the district level. Has a teacher ever facilitated a principals meeting?

Teachers are not the districts' students, being assigned pre-determined work. They are the experts on how best to teach kids.

Not until that tectonic shift occurs can there be a professional learning community.

But first, supply the paper.

BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of "Smart Kids, Bad Schools" and "The $100,000 Teacher." He can be reached at www.brian-crosby.com.

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