Teacher Time

I’ve spent my working life in schools, so I have no first hand experience of the working conditions of people in other walks of life. I have family and friends with a huge range of jobs but I wouldn’t pretend I knew what their job was like or how to do it.

The work of teachers, school leaders and support staff has certainly changed during my working life. I’m old enough to remember when there was time to sit in a staff room with my colleagues and have lunch, or occasionally go out to get lunch. Not these days. Everyone is too busy. Some days there’s not enough time to go to the toilet, let alone take a break for lunch!

Teachers nominally work a 38 hour week. Here’s a tip: if every teacher and principal in the nation worked a 38 hour week schools and the education system would collapse. Sure it’s possible to survive as a teacher working somewhere close to 38 hours, but today you can’t meet the expectations of your principal, your colleagues, your students and their parents if you do.

In Victoria the 38 hours starts 10 minutes before the first class (say 8.50 am) and ends 8 hours later (4.50 pm) except on two days a week when it ends an hour earlier. Twenty hours of that will be face to face teaching time, the remaining 18 hours is preparation and correction time…and assemblies…and sports practice…and meetings…and yard duty…and roll marking…and following up any issues arising out of class…and the occasional meeting or phone call with parents…and lunch (maybe)…and writing reports…and meeting with colleagues to plan and assess. Plus trying to find time for some professional reading or development and ticking off the accountabilities (various online training modules) and just the physical moving from point A to point B around the school.

I’m sure that sounds manageable to some people. But if you’re a parent what time do you think is reasonable for a teacher to be spending assessing your child’s work away from the classroom each week? Does 10 minutes sound a bit on the skinny side? For the purpose of the exercise let’s assume your child is one of a hundred taught by their secondary school teacher. For the teacher that’s 100 x 10 minutes every week. Sixteen hours. Impossible to do in school hours, so that tends to be what teachers do in the evenings, on weekends and on holidays. I’m not sure what that adds up to for the average teacher but I’d guess around 50 hours a week. Any teachers out there want to say how many hours they typically work? Most principals I know are working 60+ hours routinely and more at peak times. Perhaps the next EBA claim could centre on a productivity claim. Increase our hours to 50 a week, it would make no difference to most of us.

A few asides:
1. School holidays always come up. I’m never sure how to respond. I think a piece of legislation or a ministerial order somewhere will say teachers get four weeks of annual leave a year. In theory a government could insist on teachers and principals spending some time in schools during the breaks, perhaps doing professional development they might otherwise do during school terms. But that would be a huge bunfight. And there is an argument that the holidays compensate somewhat for the hours worked during school terms. If there’s a perk in teaching this is it, not just in Australia but internationally.

2. In most jobs it’d probably be accepted that you could walk away from the office and sit down in a cafe for lunch. Not in teaching. Not only is there no time, I think most teachers would be concerned about being seen doing so by parents and members of the public. Slack teachers and all that. Teachers cop criticism for a lot of things.

3. I have family and friends who are tradies. With their RDO’s and holidays most work about the same across the year as teachers. Most also earn more. The people in our family who get the fewest breaks are those on the farm. People in other occupations I know less about.

4. Secondary schools teachers of English I think have the heaviest load. Lots of essay marking (can’t get one of those done in 10 minutes) which might take several hours per class per week.

5. Respect the work of the primary school teacher who is in class almost all day every day. Might have fewer students than at secondary school level but still has a lot of other things to do as well.

6.  It hasn’t always been the same for teachers. Ironically, the big shift has been in the last 15-20 years. Yes, as the public focus on schools has increased, real wages have fallen and the education system has (in comparative international terms) gone backwards, the hours worked by teachers and the level of scrutiny of their work has gone up significantly. Figure that out. Might have something to do with what politicians have done to Australian schooling in that time, but that would be another story…..

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