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Breaking Down a Teachers’ Day: Where Does the Time Go?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016 -- Sarah Cornelius

With long summer breaks and “school day” hours, teachers must work a pretty attractive number of hours, right? Think again.

Over the next month, we’re going to take a close look at how many hours teachers actually put in, how exactly they spend those hours, and what strategies can help teachers make the most of their time. This can be a highly politicized topic, but the hard facts are fairly consistent across the research: in general, teachers put in well over 40 hours per week. In fact, it is closer to 53 hours per week on average. 

We’ve crunched the numbers from some of the most recent studies as well as our own research and found that teachers work between 1600-2000 hours in a year. That’s a lot of hours. After you cut out planning and prep time, assessment activities, admin, parent time, department projects, professional development, coordination, etc., there’s about 1,000 hours spent on direct instruction time with students, plus or minus. We will break it down over the next few weeks. But first, let’s start by introducing three of the most recent comprehensive studies conducted on the subject and what their key goals and findings have been.

1. OECD Education at a Glance 2014

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) produces an annual education report that outlines the state of education in the world’s most developed countries.  In addition to providing a wealth of data on topics like access to education, student achievement, and career outcomes, the study surveys representative samples of public primary and secondary school teachers from OECD countries on topics like breakdown of instruction time and class sizes. This study provides valuable comparative insight into how the teaching profession in the United States compares to other countries. Overall its findings show required instructional hours are higher in the United States than the OECD average, and U.S. teachers also spend more time on non-instructional activities outside of the contracted school day.

2. Scholastic & Gates Foundation Primary Sources: 2012

 In 2012, Gates and Scholastic surveyed 10,000 K-12 public school teachers around the United States. Their responses were recorded by administers of the survey and included quantitative and qualitative questions. The research cut across many topics, including the amount of time teachers were spending to get their work done both inside and outside of the contracted school day, factors that would improve student achievement, and preparedness for next-generation assessments. Findings indicated that U.S. teachers put in an average workday totaling 10 hours and 40 minutes, and feel that parent and community engagement as well as increased access to professional development are key to both student and teacher success.

3. Central Washington University Teacher Time Study

In 2013 the Washington State government engaged Central Washington University to conduct a study of approximately 700 randomly selected Washington State K-12 public school teachers to identify how much time they spend on eight different specified activities during a typical workday. The entire sample was asked to report on their activities during three randomly assigned days. Of the original group, 40 were assigned to a “tier II” group and were provided a tablet with time tracking software to code their activities during a randomly assigned nine-week period throughout the school year. Finally, a “tier III” group of 36 of the 40 “tier II” teachers was interviewed by the researchers to check for consistency in responses. The study found that teachers reported an actual workday 2.4 hours longer than the instructional day to complete non-instructional activities, and that teachers spend 15% to 17.8% of their instruction time preparing students for state exams.

You don’t need to dive far in to the research to realize that teachers are working long hours—and spending those hours on a variety of tasks in addition to providing traditional instruction. What does that mean for teachers and students? And what can be done to ensure that teachers’ working hours are kept manageable? We’ll consider those questions in the upcoming weeks. Stay tuned, and get ready for some eye-opening data!

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