Monday, June 21, 2004

Ms. Frizzle, Her Colleagues, and the Algorithm from Hell

Every year, schools engage in a mysterious process called programming. Programming is matching up teachers with teaching schedules and students with class schedules for the following year. Large schools, established schools, rich schools, and lucky schools accomplish this with fancy software. My small, new, not-exactly-rich school does it by hand.

At first glance, the task doesn't seem too hard. Start by deciding how long each class period is, how many periods fit in each day, and how many class periods you have total. Oops! We've already hit a snag. This year, we had 5 class periods per day, and the kids gave up one period of Science and one period of Social Studies per week to make everything fit (the Region required extra periods of Communication Arts & Math). I hated that. So this year, we are considering a 6-period day - each period 5 minutes shorter, but they get all major subjects every day. So that's 30 periods per class per week which must get matched up with teachers.

Now, teachers don't teach every single period - you have to have at least one prep period per day. Technically, the exact lengths of time are specified by the contract, but we don't stick to that precisely at my school; we tend to see what is necessary and then just make sure that we each have an equal classload. So, how many teachers will we have next year? Well, that depends on how many students we'll have, and even though we finished our selection process, the Region randomly assigned us a bunch more students, and we are not happy about that, so basically, we don't know how many kids we'll have next year. Right now, it looks like 3 sixth grade classes, 3 seventh grade classes, and 2 eighth grade classes. That's 8 classes * 30 periods/week = 240 periods. We're pretty sure we'll have ten teachers, which would mean 24 teaching periods per week, but there's a chance we'll have eleven, which would mean roughly 22 teaching periods per week. Okay, let's go with 10 teachers, 24 classes per week.

Now, if the kids get Science five days a week, that means a total of 15 Science periods in 6th grade, 15 in 7th grade, and 10 in 8th grade. If I can teach only 24 periods per week, that means we need three people who can teach Science - and the same for each of the other major subjects, SS, CA, Math. That adds up to 12 teachers! So, two teachers are going to have to split the teaching of a subject to one grade - maybe I teach 6th Science & half of 8th, and the other teacher teaches 7th Science and half of 8th. Not ideal. Or, I could take 25 periods out of the goodness of my heart and not be asked to take on too many additional school-running responsibilities next year. Hmmm.

Okay. Got a handle on that? Thought about electives yet? We want the kids to get Chess, Art, PE, Health, and (in 7th & 8th grade) Foreign Language. I'll spare you the gory details, but the long and short of it is, the numbers do not line up beautifully with teachers' available teaching periods. Either some people end up teaching a few periods more and others less, or some people end up teaching about 5 different classes, definitely no one's preference. Some electives will have to be on a rotation - one class gets Chess for a marking period while another gets Art and another gets PE, then they switch for each of the remaining marking periods. At least for the sixth grade, we may have to invent a new class to fill some unused periods - or add additional periods of major subjects (not a bad idea).

It's a headache. Too many unknowns. And we don't even HAVE another science teacher yet. Several of our teachers are going to be brand-new, which is fine up to a point, but you don't want half your school in its first year of teaching no matter how supportive you're planning to be. *sigh*

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