Teacher timetables: the tyranny of time

I was preparing a lecture for a group of pre-service teachers earlier today (Bachelor of Education, fourth year). The module is related to professional studies. This module is supposed to prepare students for becoming professional teachers. Sections in the module include discussions about the context of the education system, looking at SACE policy (South Africa Council of Educators), time management and offering case studies from schools.

While preparing the section on time management I decided to include a section on the timetable. Each school operates based on the effectiveness of the timetable. Most 'good' schools aim to have the timetable ready by the end of each year so that teachers know at the onset of the new year which classes they'll be teaching; this is called deployment. There are also schools which only have their timetable ready at the beginning of the year once there's a sense of how many teachers are available or whatever other admin that needs to be decided. The readiness of the timetable is a value judgement in what it means to be a good school.

The first timetable I found was this one:

What can we can we tell from Timetable 1?
  • This teacher is responsible for the English teaching for all the Grade 9s
  • This teacher has very little free time during the school day (6 lessons per week)
  • It looks like there aren't any breaks in the school day
  • We don't know what time school begins or ends (although we can assume this)
What can we deduce from this timetable?
  • There could be a shortage of teachers in this school. Why else would one person teach one grade for the whole year?
  • This timetable belongs to a young/inexperienced teacher. Young teachers with less than five years experience are often allocated younger grades to teach. Older/more experienced teachers are often given the senior grades to teach in order to prepare them for the Grade 12 exam.
The second timetable:

This timetable gives us more information:
  • The teacher has some free time during the school day (12 lessons per week)
  • The teacher is trusted with teaching all grades in the school (high school)
  • The school places value on colleagues meeting as there's an allocated time for a department meeting
  • There's a day when there are classes after school (on Thursday). This suggests that the school values longer teaching time.
  • There's no indication of when school begins or ends (although we can assume this)
  • There aren't many teachers available to teach the subject in the school
What can we deduce from this timetable?
  • This is probably a highly functional school. Department meetings are often taken for granted in most schools. A weekly department meeting indicates that there's value on planning and teachers meeting regularly.
  • The long school day on Thursday suggests that the other school days are filled with after school activities (even though they aren't stipulated in the timetable).
The final timetable:
What does this timetable tell us?
  • Before the academic school programme begins there are activities in the school. This suggests a hidden curriculum as well as another segment of the school which is valued alongside the academics: assembly, chapel etc.
  • Subs 1 and Subs 3 indicate that substitution is valued in the school. But it is not a random process where the teacher who is free is allocated on the day. This teacher knows that on day 1 they should check if there's a substitution timetable. Any other day, they do not need to worry about substitution.
  • This teacher has 12 lessons of 'free time' per cycle
  • This timetable indicates what time school begins and ends.
  • The Grade 8 meeting indicates a time when the Grade 8 English teachers meet together to plan; every week.
  • The use of 'DAY' is different from the use of the days of the week (as in the two timetable above). This indicates a flexible cycle where the days are not allocated according to the days of the week.
  • There's a lesson PD in red: professional development. There's an entire lesson allocated to professional development once every 5 day cycle. Professional development is factored into the school week and therefore deemed as valuable.
  • The section Mentor time indicates an allocation where the teacher meets with a small group of students every morning. This is part of the pastoral care for the students each day.
  • There's an allocation to a reading lesson for the Grade 8s. This is significant insofar as the other timetables do not have this allocation.
What can we deduce from this timetable?
  • There's great value placed on the alternative curriculum in the school. This is in the form of the activities before the formal school day begins
  • There's a great deal of control over how time is used once school begins at 7:30 am because this is planned very tightly.
  • This teacher only teaches two grades in the school (high school). We can assume that there are many teachers in the department to spread the load.
  • This is a complex school culture where the students have a variety of choices available to them (house meeting/guest speaker/chapel/hymn practice) whether or not the activities are mandatory or not.
What does this mean for my students?

One of the questions I have planned to ask my students is whether they can guess the 'kind" of school each timetable represents. I know where each timetable comes from. This need to categorise the school is in relation to the reality in South African schools. There's a stratification in our education system and this timetable illustrates this clearly. 

The first timetable comes from a township school (in Soweto). The second timetable is my timetable from 2014 (my school was fairly new but had adopted the systems of a well-established model c school in Cape Town). The final timetable is from a private school in northern Johannesburg. This is perhaps the sum total of the stratification of the education system in South Africa.

Each timetable indicates the values in each school (department meeting, professional development, free/admin time during the day, assembly etc); perhaps even the lack thereof. These are all value judgement depending on what one thinks a school should be doing throughout the day. The timetables don't indicate whether or not this time is in fact used effectively (another value judgement). They simply reveal the extent to which time and perhaps control are taken into account in each school.

 The use of time in schools has been theorised for decades. There's the assumption that there needs to be control in the school day; and time and space allow for this to happen. Space is an important factor; an example of this can be seen in the private school timetable. On Tuesday and Thursday there's an option of chapel and hymn practice. Presumably these activities are done in two different places at different times. The school has the space to organise the students so that there are more activities happening at any given time. More importantly (which is implicit in the control principle) it raises questions about the level of choice the students have in all these schools. If time is an organising factor, it has implications for the creativity in the school and how it is expressed. What about the individual pacing of learning? 

I find I keep belabouring the issue of time to the pre-service teachers because my experience as a teacher as well as the analysis above indicates that time has a huge premium in schools. It's also important when we consider when the school day starts and ends. Issues about how much marking teachers have; how many extra-mural activities are expected of them etc can be considered alongside this analysis. Time controls much of what a teacher's day looks like unlike most other professions where people are either in meetings (many are irrelevant) or sitting at a computer screen. 

What all of these timetables indicate equally is the amount of time teachers spend interacting with other human beings. The constant in and out of students is a clue about how important it is to be a dynamic teacher because each class is different and needs a different interaction every time they enter the class. This analysis seems very basic and obvious. But hopefully for the pre-service teachers I'll lecture shortly it will indicate the various frameworks used to organise the system they will soon be a part of.


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