Teachers work too many hours outside school? No, who would have thought….

School Councils Would Set Non-Instructional Work Hours For Teachers Under Kentucky Bill. The AP (2/27) reports, “Local site-based school councils would set non-instructional work hours for Kentucky teachers under a bill that has won approval from” Kentucky’s House Labor and Industry Committee on Thursday. According to Kentucky Education Association President Sharron Oxendine, the solution to teachers working too many overtime hours “is to assign a ‘reasonable amount of time’ for teachers to prepare lesson plans, attend meetings and do other duties.” That decision, says Daviess County schools Superintendent Tom Shelton, should be left up to school boards.

Contrary to urban lore and mythology, any teacher worth their salt works in excess of eight hours every day they are at school.   Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America’s Teachers  ISBN 978-1595581280   Dave Eggers demonstrates a daily schedule based on truth/fact (as opposed to people outside education who dreamily hypothesize otherwise).  The idea of any administrators acknowledging non-instructional hours in a teachers day is surely a miracle.  Non-instructional hours are the time a teacher is working, however, not during a 50 minute class period.  Non-instructional hours include lesson prep, meetings (staff and parents and helping students before and after school), grading, extra activities (chaperoning school dances, campus patrol at least once a month, PTA rep, etc.).

 Teachers get to school early as they need to set up and prepare for whatever interesting things will happen that day (unlike private industry, nothing that happens at school is ‘regular’ and consistent – think of the craziest situation and be prepared for it, including earthquakes in CA) and have lessons and all material organized. While teachers are prepping for the day, they often give help to students who are actually interested in learning and meet with parents to be verbally abused before they even begin their day. Rarely does a teacher arrive at school to find a parent who is happy with their childs academic success and even more rare would be a parent who wants guidance in   ‘parenting’ (i.e. being the adult in the relationship, checking homework, monitoring what child is doing,etc.) when they can blame the teacher for all the problems the student struggles with at school and home.   In between these items, teachers need to return phone calls, e-mails from parents/students from the day before which came in after 5:00 PM (later if you work for a charter school and are expected to answer the cell phone/e-mail until 9:00 PM – assuming we want students to sleep).  Teachers also help out colleagues – whether there is a sub that day who needs assistance, other teachers checking in on student X, Y, Z and whether they completed their homework and the behavior. As you can see, 1 hour goes pretty quickly.

Generally, when a teacher is ‘teaching’, it is all emcompassing and extremely focused – the teacher MUST get through a lesson which can be qualitatively and quantitatively measured (upcoming homework, quiz, test) and handle behavior (the students at school who are not interested in learning but do want attention) and deal with any unexpected change to the routine (see paragraph three above).  Teachers dash from teaching to the hallway between classes to monitor students in and out (teachers may not use this time for bathroom – that is something we can do on our prep or lunch).  Teachers are expected to give 150% attention in the classroom and hallway, lest anything happen to any child under their care/supervision. At any given time, teachers are in charge of 20 (elementary school Grades K-3 if there is money for reduced class size) to 35 students. Some teachers have equipment in their room, which if improperly used, could be dangerous (ex: a tv monitor, overhead projector, electrical sockets, science/ P.E. equipment (the largest insurance claims in school are results of situations in science and P.E.), class pet, desks (which can fall over), backpacks, pens/pencils (used for stabbing), etc.  It is well known that teachers in a classroom make more decisions moment by moment than air traffic controllers….

When teachers have a prep period, it is used for parent conferencing, IEP meetings, lesson planning (if you are fortunate to have a counterpart with a prep at the same time – usually not the case), prepping for other lessons, grading, contacting parents (parents can call and e-mail while you are teaching), covering for another teacher (when money is tight, districts ask teachers to do something called ‘in-lieu’ , code for the district not being able to obtain a sub and for the good of everyone, it would be appreciated if you cover the class period so there is not insane chaos and the school day flows smoothly.  At one school I taught at, teachers would hide and not answer the class phone  for the first 15 minutes of school and the first 10 minutes of each new class period prior to their prep as they would be begged and cajoled by administration to cover the other class on their prep.  If a teacher gets to the bathroom during their prep period, it is truly because it was an emergency. 

Lunch: You must get students to cafeteria/eating area before you may begin your own lunch. If weather is inclement, you must supervise students inside. If there is no noon lunch aide (insufficient funding or they are sick), you need to supervise the students and choke down your lunch. Again, getting to the bathroom is only in an emergency.  Please note, teachers have the highest rate of bladder infections of any profession. We were most likely camels in our previous lives.

At the end of the day, there may be a brief period when students must leave and go outside (so you can go to the bathroom) and then they are generally allowed back in.  If you are an advisor for an after school program, you have that or a meeting or you can meet with parents or colleagues.  As a general rule, grading and such is accomplished when your classroom is empty or when you get home as it is important (and, in my opinion fair, considering how much effort students put into their work) to be focused. Grading (results which often impact exactly how tomorrows lesson will flow) is imperative and needs to be done the day you accept the assignment, quiz, test, etc.   I am often surprised at how teachers will let the grading pile up, do it on the weekend or ‘modify’ the grading, except for tests, to check, plus and minus.   A check, plus, minus system leaves a great deal of variance on the gradient scale and is difficult to assign a grade to when doing report cards.   It is also the most difficult marking system to explain to parents and obtain buy in.

My experience (and that of my close friends who teach – one in WI at a private school, two at high schools – one science and one English, one at middle school – algebra, one at a state college in NYC) is putting in 12 hour work days as the norm from M-F, and often 4-8 hourse on Saturday/Sunday dependent upon what does not get accomplished during the week. Holidays are often spent grading major assignments and summer is for planning/working with colleagues, professional development and any changes that will be made to the school program for the next year (ex: single periods going to block scheduling, Gr-4-6 having a science teacher and the classroom teacher being responsible for all other content and to support the science teacher ‘this is called push in’).

Those non-instructional hours add up.  I would say  the  acknowledgment  of work teachers do is akin to doctors in residency where they could be expected to work a 24 hour shift in ER or put in 70-80 hours a week (the main belief, long held, was the supervising doctors did it so their up and comping residents should do it to ‘prove’ they are tough enough and good enough).  Finally, after a long while, the AMA realized this was HARMFUL to patients (notice, not harmful to doctors) and created maximum work hours for residents. 

Work hours for me have had one additional twist up (see my second blog which discusses working as a substitute teacher):  When I taught for a charter school, I became very ill  seven months into the school year. The doctor requested I have surgery (non-elective hysterectomy) and I scheduled it for summer (we had six weeks off, exactly the maximum amount of time I needed to heal from surgery). I discussed this decision with my principal and also let him know that “based on what my doctor stated and is written in my medical report”, the further out I wait to have surgery, the more likely I will be to have other problems (the need to go to the bathroom more often to urinate and bowel movements) and my general level of exhaustion from bleeding.  My principal told me, “he understood if I needed to have the surgery earlier, however, could I wait until after spring testing as my students really needed me”.  Needess to say, since I was on an at-will contract with no union representation, I did as requested to hold onto my job and keep my medical benefits.  The ‘extra’ hours I was asked to continue working (there was no way the principal would modify my work schedule, have some one help me with prep or grading as it was ‘not in the budget’) ultimately took a huge physical toll on me and had some effect on the success of my surgery.  I barely remember those last four months (it was a haze of exhaustion) and the ‘payment’ for these hours I sacrificed was to be told “I was not being a successful teacher”.  I often wonder how things could have been different if I were healthy.

So you see, the non-instructional hours a teacher works make for a 10-12 hour day under the best of circumstances and under the worst, can contribute to and exacerbate health and well being of the teacher – something which never benefits students.  I would imagine we may all move to the 21st Century when we allow teachers to have civil rights – to use the bathroom, to sleep at night, to have time to actually pace themselves and reflect on their work, to have others see the amount of non-instructional hours we work to earn our daily bread.

http://policyweb.sri.com/cep/publications/KIPPYear_1_Report.pdf    see p. 16-17 on teacher turnover.