Teachers tired of off-the-clock 'donning' and 'doffing'

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the "relevant walking" time of workers in a meatpacking plant is worth compensating because it occurred after their workday had begun and before it ended. Years ago, the court decided that if integral gear is needed to perform a duty, time for "donning" and "doffing" those clothes is compensable.

I began thinking about my teaching job and the "relevant" noncompensable time my colleagues and I spend "donning" and "doffing."


Long before the first day, teachers need to don the ideas for projects, quizzes, tests, syllabi, grading policies and lesson plans. Then these essentials must be revitalized repeatedly. So, when do we doff? When we return graded work, we are, in a sense, bringing closure to an idea or lesson, or at the very least putting it aside. Therefore, preparing and grading is essential work, yet it cannot all be completed during a workday, especially with inclusion.

The term "inclusion" suggests that special-ed children need to be included in regular education classes. Most of the time, children with special needs must have their lessons, tests, quizzes, projects, homework and class work differentiated to accommodate their learning disabilities. This, no doubt, takes an extra level of donning and doffing.


Then teachers face the challenge of teaching those who do not have "special needs" but have special needs. What I mean is the majority of my students do not read on their grade level. The reading level for my 10th-graders ranges from third to 10th grade. Teachers find sources and taxonomies to assist with differentiation.

Bloom's Taxonomy is a guided classification of thinking with the following levels, from rudimentary to most complex: knowledge (recalling), comprehension (grasping), application (applying), analysis (breaking down information), synthesis (breaking down information and reconstructing it in another form) and evaluation (comprehending two sets of criteria and making a value judgment). This helps teachers plan different levels of work for students and dictates the time it takes to grade the work. It's more time-consuming to grade 70 analysis papers than knowledge tests.

Many assume teachers have time built into our day for grading and planning. Well, despite the paltry allotment of planning periods doled out to teachers, "planning periods" should be renamed "periods of miscellany" because of the activities teachers attend to during those times. They include parent conferences, official evaluation meetings with the administration, parent phone calls, special-education meetings, feedback from administrators and completion of grading forms. Besides those relevant duties, teachers use the time to plan lessons and grade work.

One other intangible nicety for teachers grading student work is sharing specific feedback. A lone B on a paper is less ideal than writing: "88. Great job. Excellent analysis on Question 3. Next time, give more specific examples for the failure of the Articles of Confederation." But with onerous teacher workloads, sometimes a single letter grade is all we can afford. (One of my colleagues has 91 students. His class sizes are 33, 30 and 28, but teachers understand there are class sizes in the forties in Baltimore.)

Many of my friends who patronize my profession ("That's good work you do with those kids") don't realize that teachers are fully aware of how much off-the-clock time we spend donning and doffing.

Teachers have also come to realize that our workload is heavier because of leadership decisions that neglect significantly decreasing class sizes and placing students in classrooms where their needs will be met. Instead, they pile kids who can't read into bulging classrooms, with no specialists or special educators to help. The historical, systemic neglect of our children has fallen on the shoulders of teachers. It's an unfair burden, and many of us are unloading.

Soon, although my breed in the Baltimore public school system is nearing extinction - African-American male - I'll be doffing the city schools and donning dignity and peace of mind because, like many teachers, I am tired of being dumped on. Since the system is consequently dumping on students, many will prematurely put off schooling, thinking they are simply doffing the city school system.

T. S. Grant teaches government at the New Era Academy High School in Cherry Hill. His e-mail is


Columnist Steve Chapman will return Wednesday.