It wasn't that long ago that Linda West's Sunday afternoons were devoted to drawing up science and math lessons for her first-graders.
"My husband would be like, 'Can't you use the same ones as last year?' " said West, who is now a lead teacher. "No, they're different kids!"
Now, a bill in the General Assembly wants to make it mandatory for school districts to provide their elementary teachers with a least three hours of planning time per week.
Under state rules for accreditation, middle and high schools are already required to provide planning time for teachers.
Not so for teachers in elementary schools, however. And that's not fair, said Virginia Education Association President Princess Moss, who is an elementary school music teacher. Her organization is backing the bill, SB 48.
"Our elementary teachers — that's where we get students at the beginning," she said.
According to the office of Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, D-Arlington, who is sponsoring the bill, the proposal hasn't encountered any opposition so far, although it's scheduled to be discussed in the Senate subcommittee on public education today.
If the measure becomes law, it's expected to cost the state an extra $90.4 million in 2009 to hire teachers to accommodate for planning time, according to the state Department of Planning and Budget.
Local teachers say they use planning time to decorate their classrooms and tidy up after students go home, but also to figure out lessons for the coming week, and go over the previous week's successes and failures. While many local school districts give teachers some planning time during the workday, most don't guarantee the full three hours a week.
During a time when demands for teacher and student achievement are only increasing, planning is vital, teachers say. But it is still treated more like an afterthought, worked into a teacher's schedule wherever it fits, said Richard Crawford, principal at Hardy. His school provides teachers with 40 minutes of planning time per day, along with weekly group sessions and monthly data analysis work.
"Its always something that teachers and principals had to figure out on their own," he said. "It's never been, 'We're going to have planning time come hell or high water, and here's what we need to do to get it.' "
And most teachers have stories like West's, Moss said: They stay late to finish grading, take work home with them, come in early to plan.
"They're not having the opportunity to work with others. They're not getting a moment to just breathe," she said. "That's not healthy. That is not a healthy way for teachers to have to address planning their lessons."
According to the education association, the proposal could potentially not cost the state anything. The three hours of planning time a week could be worked into the time students spend with art teachers, music teachers or librarians, Moss said.
However, even though more planning time would be "a blessing," if the extra planning time is crammed in during the blocks students spend in art and music, it's not as effective, warned Terra Harris, who teaches fifth grade at Carver Elementary in Newport News. There, they plan for about two hours every Wednesday afternoon.
In between the time a teacher walks students to their art class and the time he or she must collect them again, "you have time to go to the bathroom," said Terry McGlennon, who also teaches fifth grade at Carver.
"You really do need time to sit down and be serious about it," she said. "It's hard to do it in fits and bursts."