Teacher Voices

Lets Talk About Days and Hours Worked

“Teachers get off at three o’clock. They don’t work a full day.”

“Teachers get summers off and all those holidays.”

These are the comments that teachers often hear that make our skin crawl. If our workdays are so cushy, why aren’t people lining up to take our place? Folks who make these remarks never seem to have an answer to that question. That’s because the reality is so very different.

Shannon McLoud, a high school teacher from Rhode Island, writes that the average teacher works 2,200 hours per year. (https://www.weareteachers.com/teacher-overtime/). I believe this to be a pretty fair estimate for many teachers. What is more, these work hours – 42.3 hours per workweek – are far above the average workweek as measured by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – 34.3 hours per week.

Let’s begin with that 3 o’clock comment. A teacher’s work day is never over at the final bell. Educators often spend an hour or more on non-classroom activities: grading exams and papers; making copies for the next day; lesson planning; collaborating with colleagues. Also importantly, after the school day has ended is often the best time to call parents without being interrupted. You might speak with mom or dad about a student’s behavior, performance on an exam, or to update a parent on their child’s overall academic progress. 

But, it’s much more than just the number of hours that a teacher works in any given day. It’s the daily pacing of the day as well. As I’ve written earlier, I had a very different career before becoming an educator. My experience in the corporate world was you worked at your own pace each workday. Teaching is much different. From the time that you walk into the building until the final bell rings you are “on”: teaching classes; mediating conflicts and behaviors; dealing with a child’s personal issue; etc., etc.…. Free time is virtually nonexistent. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, once a week you might have the luxury of an entire period for lunch or relaxation. Most days, lunch means sneaking in ten to fifteen minutes to woof down a sandwich or salad.

Then there are the weekends. As for me, the only day I largely had off was Saturday. Part of many Sundays was devoted to the aforementioned lesson planning, creating worksheets, grading exams and papers, or calling parents. During Christmas, Mid-Winter and Spring Breaks, days were dedicated to these school activities as well.

In fact, I developed a reputation among the students early on in my career for calling parents outside the school day.

I remember one Sunday I was at a movie theater where a couple of young ladies who attended my school were ushers. They saw me and came over to say hello as I was sitting on a bench in the lobby. I said to them as I pressed dial on my cell phone, “Just in case you thought the rumor isn’t true, ‘Hello, Ms. _____, this is Mr. Mason. I’d like to speak with you about your daughter.”

“No Mister! No! Not on a Sunday!” they exclaimed.

Covering the mouthpiece on my phone I followed with, “Remember this moment if you’re in my class next year.”

(Admittedly, these phone calls home took place more often at the beginning of my teaching career than at the tail end of my tenure. I became worn out from parents who were simply disengaged from their children’s education, or who wanted to lash out towards the teacher for their son or daughter’s poor behavior. But that is a whole other conversation.)

There are also teachers, myself included, who would work afterschool duties. These could be teaching a review class, coaching a sports team, rehearsing a play, monitoring a club, or some other student based activity. Yes, we are paid extra for these tasks, but the point is our day is not as short as some would have you believe.

Many teachers are also involved in continuing their education after school. In New York State, you can begin teaching with a Bachelors Degree in Education, but you are required to have a Masters Degree within five years. As a result, for many teachers, especially young educators, their day doesn’t end until late in the evening due to attending college or university. Beyond this, many teachers also take evening courses to improve their pedagogy in order to become better and more effective educators.

Then there are, of course, summers. Teachers use summer vacation for a variety of experiences. Some take advantage of programs that allow them to explore other cultures. I know teachers who worked abroad on farms in exchange for room and board. Too old, or too lame, for such an activity, I was fortunate to spend many summers traveling in Europe. In fact, my first summer as a teacher was my most memorable. I spent five weeks traveling in Italy and France (mind you, with no luggage, which was lost. But that too is a whole other story). It was an engaging and beneficial trip. While I’d already seen The Mona Lisa on earlier trips to Paris, on that summer holiday I saw Michelangelo’s The Pieta and Ceiling of The Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. When I was in Milan, I saw Michelangelo’s David and Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper.

As I taught the global history unit on Renaissance Art to my students in the ensuing school years, it was with a renewed vigor and deeper appreciation for the contributions of these artists. In subsequent summers, I viewed Jacques-Louis David’s The Coronation of Napoleon and The Death of Marat. Witnessing these artworks added to my enthusiasm when teaching students about The French Revolution. 

Closer to home, some teachers go to school full time during the summer months – some working on their Masters Degree in Education, others seeking to improve their teaching skills. They might take courses in pedagogy or in their content areas. This is especially true for educators in the STEM disciplines, seeking to keep up as technology develops at a breakneck pace.

And of course, many teachers teach summer school. Let’s be honest: Dedicating your time in a hot stuffy classroom to students who failed classes during the school year should be applauded. While many kids rise to the opportunity to get back on track, others simply illustrate a heightened disdain for school. I did it one summer and said “never again.” Yet many of my colleagues devote their energies to providing students with an opportunity to catch-up.

And let us not forget professional development. Many teachers are required to devote a certain number of hours during their license period to professional development. While much of this requirement can be completed within the school year on non-student attendance days dedicated to this activity, often educators have to complete this task on weekends or during summer vacation.

Certainly, there is no one size fits all for teachers’ workdays or workweeks. But what is undeniable is that a teacher’s work schedule is longer and more complex than it might appear on its surface.

What do you think?

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