The Complicated Middle and High School Master Schedule

There is absolutely nothing more complicated in the middle and high school than scheduling. Whether it’s scheduling for athletics, use of rooms/meeting space, or bus scheduling, it’s all ridiculously complicated. And the larger the school, the more students; the more students, the more teachers and staff; And thus, the ever more complicated scheduling becomes. Above all, creating the master schedule is the Mount Everest that every school has to deal with during the summer months preceding the start of a new school year.

The master schedule is the schedule that shows what each teacher is teaching (called sections), in which room, at what time (or periods or mods for schools that are on 10-15 minute increments). It also shows what is called the “seat count”, meaning, if you have 1600 students in the school with 400 at each grade level, there should be at least that many spaces (seats) per grade level per period to ensure that there’s space for every student as well as some “give” or flexibility for students who may want to transfer courses. A master schedule typically looks something like this:


Add to this:
Teacher teams–in many schools (particularly middle schools) teachers are organized into teams. For example, each team has an English teacher, a Science teacher, a History teacher, and a Math teacher. This team of teachers shares the same students. So if there are 330 8th grader students with 3 teams of 8th grade teachers, each team of teachers would share the teaching responsibilities for roughly the same 110 students. The master schedule has to be arranged in such a way that allows these 110 students to have access to the courses they need from these 4 core subject teachers.

Teacher requests–There’s a whole lot of politics involved when it comes to which teacher teaches what subject and who has the privilege of teaching the accelerated courses versus the lower achieving student courses. Often times it’s the teachers with the longest tenure who get to teach the accelerated classes and the newer teachers teach the general and modified courses. Sometimes teachers don’t want to teach a course that needs a teacher. Sometimes, there isn’t a qualified teacher on staff to teach a course that has high student demand. For example, rocketry was a really popular course at one of the schools where I worked, but once the teacher who taught it retired, the course was scrapped because no one else on staff was qualified to teach it.

Common preparation time/period (often referred to as “prep time” or “prep period”–More and more schools are implementing collaboration and common prep time for teachers. This allows teachers who are on the same team or who teach the same subject a common prep time/period in the event that they need time to meet about students, planning, etc…

Student elective requests–Each student has his/her specific requests for a variety of electives–music, art, world language, video production, computer programming, etc… The more electives a school offers, the ever more complicated the master schedule becomes. Some electives are only offered in one particular period. If that is the case the constraints for scheduling end up requiring hand scheduling (as opposed to computer generated scheduling). At one of my middle schools where I was responsible for scheduling, drama was only offered during one period each semester. So if a student wanted drama, I had to work the rest of that student’s schedule in such a way that would make drama fit.

Class size limits–Every school has a cap that they place on class size. Although for some classes (typically accelerated, advanced placement, honors) are allowed to be larger, administrators have to consider just how large a class can go.

Computerized scheduling v. Hand/Manual scheduling–There are several fantastic software programs out there now that have the capability of handling complicated master scheduling and scheduling of students. I have my favorite, but I don’t want to give out free advertising. Even so, as one who did the master schedule and scheduling of 1000+ students each summer for a few years, I still had about 100 students that had to be manually scheduled, meaning, I had to look at each of those students requests and academic needs and manually create a schedule all the while ensuring that the class sizes remained balanced. Each manual schedule took about 15-20 minutes depending on the complexity of the requests. And after all the schedules were created, I looked at each one to check for errors.

That’s the complicated master schedule process in a very small nutshell. In actuality, there’s a bit more I could write, but this post would end up being 2000 words, well above the recommended 600-800 word ideal blog post. Thanks for reading to the end!