I’ve been struggling lately with the requirements of my job. I need to produce a whole lot of documentation – important, valuable documentation, without question, but for those very reasons, time consuming to do properly. I have a lot of marking to do, sections of my courses I want to rewrite, and upcoming lessons to prepare for. I have competitions to run, organisations to liaise with, and struggling students to help. I am feeling a little overwhelmed, so it was a shock when a friend recently said to me: “I didn’t think your job was particularly stressful.”
Since then I have spent considerable time trying to unpick my stress – is it me? Am I simply not coping with what, after all, is an easy and rewarding job? So I started to audit how I spend my time. And time is definitely the issue. But that probably doesn’t mean much to you if you’re not a teacher. So I want to explain to you what my working week looks like. Bear in mind that I am half time. On my days off I swan about drinking margaritas, watching television, and entertaining in my palatial mansion, of course. After I have finished the work I couldn’t do in my working hours.
I am paid for a 19 hour week (half of the standard 38 hour week). That’s 1140 minutes. Of that time, I teach scheduled classes for 675 minutes. We have 75 minute classes, so I frequently teach for 150 minutes, then get a 50 minute lunch break, followed by another 75 minute class. (Bear in mind that I can’t leave to get a cup of tea or even go to the loo in class time, as I am on duty and required to maintain minimum staffing ratios in that room.)
For my 3 work days, I get 50 minutes lunch break a day – 150 minutes in total. This is “my” time, so on Tuesdays I help with the choir, Thursdays and Fridays I meet with students who need extra help, as well as doing a 25 minute yard duty. If you add those “free” times, together with the 25 minute tea breaks in the morning, also usually spent on yard duty or helping students, we’re up to 900 minutes. After school on Tuesdays I meet with my teaching team for up to an hour, planning curriculum, organizing competitions, planning excursions, and making sure we are all teaching the same things. Now we’re up to 960.
On Wednesdays we have professional learning in the afternoon, but I’m only there for 50 minutes of that once a fortnight, due to the way my hours have worked out this year, so let’s call it 25 per week. 985. Thursday afternoons I run an hour of extra programming help for my year 11 students, where they can ask questions, get help with particular problems they have, and go over some of the trickier stuff that they might not have fully understood in class. 1045. Not including those extra meetings that arise when excursions need to be organized, or extra activities run, like competitions, guest speakers, training sports teams, organizing school events etc. It also doesn’t include attendance at Parent teacher interviews (after hours), school formals, open nights, presentation night, valedictory dinner, etc. All of these events come out of my own personal family time. Oh, and school camps, which we are expected to attend, but of course there is no such thing as time in lieu for non-work hours spent at work.
So that leaves me with 95 minutes of my working hours, per week. 95 minutes to plan 7 classes (2 of my face to face classes are covering for teachers who are away, so somebody else plans those), mark assignments for 78 students, track the progress of 78 students. Contact the parents of any students who are struggling. Meet with those parents to try to plan a way forward. Meet with students who have particular issues. Catch up with students who are no longer in my classes but will always be my students, who come to me for advice. Keep up to date with advances in my field. Plan new classroom activities and learn about new ways to engage my students. Meeting the teachers I team teach with to make sure we are on the same page for upcoming classes. Writing progress reports and end of semester reports. Completing mandatory Education Department requirements, and doing enough professional learning to maintain my registration. And a hundred other activities I haven’t even got time to remember, much less complete.
Let’s cut that to the bare minimum, throw away all those extraneous activities, and assume that the 95 minutes is half marking, half planning. And we’ll round up, to be generous, and say 48 minutes for class planning. That’s 7 minutes planning per 75 minute class. As to marking, I have 78 students on my rolls. That’s around 37 seconds per assignment, assuming no toilet breaks or time to breathe. To be fair, that assumes that every student submits an assignment every week, which of course they don’t. But they all do work every week, which I need to check on to ensure that they are making progress. And those students who don’t submit their work need to be followed up on, to find out why, and put special measures in place to ensure that the work does come in eventually.
The result of all of this, of course, is that I spend far more hours than I am paid for, and still feel that I have not got time to do my job properly. I use my own computer, paid for by me, which I am required to have but which is not provided by my employer (unless you count the wonderful opportunity to pay for an education department computer out of my own pay – the generosity is overwhelming, isn’t it?).
Oh, sure, I could be spending my holidays planning classes, which leaves no room for taking individual students’ needs into account, and no possibility of coordinating with team teaching partners. That would make that 95 minutes all marking time – just over a minute per assignment. Tonnes of time.
So let me ask you this, all you parents out there: Do you want your kids having 75 minute lessons that were planned in 7 minutes? Do you want their work marked in a minute? Of course not. And that’s why teachers work far more hours than they are paid for, and collapse into the school holidays almost insensible with stress and exhaustion.
That’s also why, if you have friends who are teachers, you will barely see them during term time. Because taking time off for eating, breathing, and sleeping seems excessive. Having a life as well would be pure hedonism.
I love my job. Teaching is the most intense, most rewarding, and most under-appreciated thing I have ever done. But before you tell me it’s not stressful, and that I am so lucky to have those generous holidays, work a week in my shoes. Better make sure you get the soles reinforced beforehand, because they’re almost worn through.