What Do You Mean, Excessive Paperwork?

Jose VilsonJose

Please do tell me I should be doing more.

The job of teaching itself is a pleasure, an honor, and it is work. The acts of building relationships with students that make sending them to the dean’s office unnecessary isn’t a simple matter of standing there and expecting them to respect thy will. That interchange of values, ideals, and cultures between the so-called teacher and the so-called student is a higher order of work. Having 30 or so unsettled spirits at a time in a teacher’s charge is that unnamed and ever-present element we must teach. That passion for the job remains in the most ardent of us. Those of us who’ve stayed in the profession long enough to see children turn to young adults, and perhaps into teachers in their own right know how this toil, tithing from our souls almost yearly.

And we love it.

Then the rest of the teaching profession comes in and it’s anywhere from marvel to mayhem, the disparate experiences a function of teaching students who barely know who they are as people. Our documents do their very best to organize these non-linear young people into a human grid. We standardize room procedures with Do Nows and Objectives, keep our lessons to a 10- to 15-minute pocket, ask students to keep their conversations academic and ongoing, then conclude, usually with a series of claps or a countdown. We then conclude with a question, an exit slip, or some other assessment that comforts us in knowing that the students perhaps heard us in our lecture. We repeat this process with minor interruptions for student events, full-period assessments, and the occasional festivity.

We then must document these comings and goings in things we call lesson plans, unit plans, curriculum guides, quizzes, tests, projects, scoring sheets, rubrics, portfolios, referral forms, feedback forms, attendance logs, telephone logs, learning goals, and bulletin boards. We’re asked to read a avalanche of white papers meant to develop us professionally: agendas, articles, professional books, PowerPoint presentations, reflection activities, group activities, small Post-It notes, big Post-It notes, chart paper, minutes from meetings, and the list of words we need to be acquainted with by whichever day the visitor with a supreme power shows up.

No amount of digitization eases the load.

The trees still get cut down with an alarming regularity. Our latest contract said teachers en masse could push back against “excessive paperwork,” a turn of phrase that spit in the face of the technocratic supremacy of former mayor Michael Bloomberg and former NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein, who enjoyed data mining schools to the tune of hundreds of millions. But now, my main concern is, even after the former Hizzoner scaled back up to his perch at the Bloomberg building, teachers in NYC and across the country have less sense of what excessive looks like than the collective “we” had a decade ago. . Now that all of this paperwork has become part and parcel our relationship with our take-home salary, where was the last straw, and when did we stomp on it so haphazardly? Does professionalism includes thousands of papers just because?

Of greater concern for me is just how tall these papers rise from my desk. With all this grading, I barely see the students as is.