What do you see when you look at this image?
I honestly don’t know how other schools do their scheduling each summer, but this is actually the result of the work at the tail end of a three-day scheduling binge that I actually enjoy. I’ve always enjoyed puzzles, and essentially that is all scheduling is. How to fit classes into the tiny blocks of time allowed, considering all of the requests made by teachers about what is best for their students, trying to block out some of your ideas of what is best for their students.
Teacher will receive a different version of this, broken up neatly into their own schedules. In some ways, I think the image of a class schedule is a bit of an educational Rorschach test. The colorful pieces of paper are arranged in a way that might resemble something, but your attitude on the day you look at it is what really matters. I see Tetris – slightly differently shaped pieces that can be moved to create a perfect fit. I doubt everyone shares my gamelike enthusiasm for schedules.
Working in a small school with only two classes per grade level and mostly one specialist per special area, our scheduling process is probably pretty simple. Our kids aren’t picking classes like they do in later grades. Our homebase classes are mainly self-contained and there aren’t many of them. I imagine that scheduling is as difficult as you want to make it. It feels like we strike a balance, making it just difficult enough to be frustrating, but not overwhelming. With three of us on the job, it takes a couple days and a lot of domino-like shuffling of pieces, but we get there and our teachers have been generally happy about it.
What do you learn?
As with an inkblot test, I think you can learn a lot from a schedule. Some people seem to get their schedule, fill in what they need and move on without a noise. Others never seem happy with what they received. Most fall somewhere in the middle – generally okay, but with a few ideas about how to make it better.
I learn early on who didn’t look at their schedule until the day before school started. I learn which obvious errors I made – there is always one so obvious that it I can’t believe I missed it…maybe staring at tiny rectangles of colored paper for four hours will do that to you. I learn how to collaborate better during the process. I learn that a lot of my ideas aren’t all that great, and that the people I work with are kind enough to say it nicely. I learn about things that have nothing to do with the schedule.
During our work together, one of my colleagues told a story about a teacher, whom we would hire in a second if she applied, but didn’t get a second round interview at another school. Just like the schedule, depending on your perspective, some things just aren’t as easy as they appear.
Recalling my experience on the receiving end of the schedule, you might learn (or think you learn) who got top priority that year. You learn how to adjust to what you receive. You learn how to negotiate with the schedulers and other teachers, trading a morning Art block for a morning PE. You learn that your trading skills may not be that good, or that you don’t have anything valuable to trade. You learn how valuable a well placed special is in the day. You learn how to create a break in your day when you don’t have that well placed special, so that you don’t drive yourself crazy from 3 hours straight of teaching, lunch, and recess duty. You learn that the one thing you want in your schedule completely contradicts what another teacher needs. You learn to compromise.
Before we sat down to create our schedule this year, our teachers completed surveys – what they wanted to keep, what they wanted to change. The last part of the survey said, is there anything else you’d like us to know? Many teachers wrote a thank you note. Some version of “We know creating the schedule is really hard and you’ll do your best. Thanks for the work.” It was completely unexpected and put me in a different frame of mind this year as we started the work. Knowing that teachers knew their schedule wouldn’t be perfect, despite our best efforts, took some worry away from the fact that the pieces don’t fit together perfectly. It always feels a bit like the time when you finish a puzzle, but there are two or three pieces missing (under the table, or eaten by the dog). Your happy your finished, but not completely satisfied.