My bathroom spreadsheet

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In a previous post, I joked about recording bathroom breaks as data on spreadsheets. More data! The idea struck me as funny in part because I could see it happening. Why not? Upon reflection, I feel I should elaborate. A big issue is hiding under my pee sheet.

We had a program last year where students were supposed to read us 500 sight words correctly. We had to listen to each student in our homerooms* read lists of 50 words and then record student completion in a spreadsheet. Fifty words by fifty words, we made our way down the new word lists. Students who completed the entire task received a neon-green t-shirt. All teachers with “homerooms” participated whether they taught language arts or not. All teachers lost class time to listening to students read words, one by one.

The 500 words program was not a bad idea per se. Students in my district suffer from vocabulary deficits that interfere with their long-term academic success. I gave up class time toward a greater good. I gave up hours of class time. Here’s a sample spreadsheet from one teacher and one class. Every one of those little “x” entries represents the teacher sitting with a student and listening to that student read 50 words. The below spreadsheet was downloaded from the original Google Doc. I cut off the tabs below that show all the teachers names. Seventh grade alone required eleven spreadsheet pages. Sixth and eighth worked on their own spreadsheets.

500 words

Was the 500 words program useful? Certainly. Was it worth the instructional time loss? That’s debatable. The program added to the already high level of frantic in my math classes as I tried to teach and keep up with those required weekly quizzes that other people were writing for me. I didn’t have any time to lose, but my time kept bleeding away regardless.

Would the bathroom spreadsheet be useful? Certainly. Middle school and high school teachers would benefit from tracking and timing the sometimes hourly trips to the bathroom by “Oscar,” for example. Some of these frequent bathroom flyers should either see the Dean or a urologist. Tracking this time would enable teachers to keep students in class who are missing too much class time now.

I’m afraid if I suggested this idea, though, some administrator might actually put my bathroom spreadsheet into play. Like the 500 words, I would have created one more time demand on already frazzled teachers who are sacrificing instruction to reporting requirements every day. Help! Help! We are drowning in good ideas out here and I suspect our situation will continue to worsen. As we hire teaching coaches and new administrators to teach teachers how to teach, we create these “bathroom” spreadsheets. If I were a coach, I’d have to justify my pay. Since I would not be teaching — many coaches don’t — I’d have oodles of time to come up with good ideas to improve my school, new programs to rob time from old programs and, most importantly, from instruction.

We don’t have enough time now. Not enough time to meet all the standards. Not enough time to prepare for all the required tests and quizzes. Not nearly enough time to do the remedial work that students in academically-struggling districts require.

My bathroom spreadsheet struck me as a perfect example of the problem. If I ran this by administration, they might sign off. The information would be useful. We could then design interventions for students who are the using the bathroom to skip class in bits and pieces. Only where do the interventions stop? Where do we draw the line and say, “I have six good hours to teach during a day and these spreadsheets and interventions are stealing minutes and even sometimes hours from that teaching time.”

Eduhonesty: I come back to opportunity cost, one of the biggest elephants in the education room today. When I am listening to students read words to me, what math or science am I not teaching? When I am tracking bathroom breaks, who am I not helping with their classwork? When I am sitting at one of my too-many spreadsheets, who is teaching my students?

*Technically we did not have homerooms last year. We called our first period class homeroom and made only essential announcements at the start of this time, so the 500 words activity took place almost entirely during class time, with a few exceptions at the start or end of the day.