Scheduling: What Truly is Best for Students?

Ahhh, it feels good to be writing again!

As we have plunged into our 3rd marking period, my principal is trying to get a jump on next year’s schedule for the middle school.  This year our middle school is divided into seven hours.  We have the privilege of conducting a 40 minute homebase or better known as an advisory class.  Then I teach five hours of language arts between 7th and 8th grade with a planning hour that comes at the end of the day.  With the exception of homebase, each class runs approximately 55 minutes.  To paint a clearer picture, our high school is on a 90 minute block schedule.

Okay, so here is my thinking. I have been teaching at the middle school for almost 6 years.  We have always had an advisory/homebase class to start the day.  I understand the middle school concept.  My Master’s degree is in Middle Level Education.  The advisory/homebase concept is a great idea, but I haven’t seen much progress academically with students because we have an advisory class. First, 40 minutes is too long for students.  Our discussion last week was to knock down this time to possible 15 or 20 minutes.  The time taken  away from this class would be added to the other hours to extend contact time in the core academic classes.  This would create a better transition for our middle school students going into the realm of block scheduling.

Now, this schedule is not permanent yet.  A lot of discussion took place about preserving the homebase/advisory class.  Arguments for this time revolves around building relationships with middle school students. I know this time is great for talking with students and getting to know them.  It also serves as a way to give students an adult they can go to if they ever have issues. Our principal did a great job of carving out what we should be doing with the time we have for homebase/advisory.  I am still not convinced this time is valuable.  With the Common Core Standards in place at our school, students are going to have to work harder and teachers are going to need more student contact time to help students better understand what their expectations are. So, my suggestion is to just get rid of our homebase/advisory class and add even more time to the core academic classes.  Now the question remains, how are we going to build relationships with students?  As busy as we are outside of our teacher role, we should attend sporting events that our students participate in.  My colleague and I have started a writing club once a week during lunch.  To me, this is a perfect opportunity to build relationships with students.  Perhaps a math club could be formed too.  Relationships could also be formed on an everyday basis with longer academic classes.  Not to mention, if student from a 55 minute class to a 65 minute class, they are going to have a smoother transition into a 90 minute block schedule.

Scheduling issues are typically at the forefront of many discussions in schools. My take is for us to put our personal wants and needs aside and do what is best for the students.  I am sure we don’t have the perfect model and I am sure middle school concept advocates will frown on our schedule.  What I know is I want our students to be successful and I am willing to try something different from what we have been doing.