October 21, 2021

Heidi Fessenden: Teach less, but teach smarter

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This piece is from way back in 2010, but it’s still worth a look. Teacher Heidi Fessenden did some logging of her own hours, and it’s a great look at how much a teacher actually works.

I’ve been doing a little math today.

I’ve been calculating how much time I work, and of that time, how much I spend teaching.

I have some unique data on this because, since September, I’ve been keeping track of all my work time.  Since I’m half self-employed, I need to track my time for some projects.  Since I was tracking my time for some projects, I figured I might as well track my time for all my projects, including my classroom teaching.  I like collecting data.

Because I’m teaching half time, I have extra energy for teaching.  On a daily basis, I have been more prepared for my students this year than ever before.  On my teaching days, I’m working longer hours than I used to when I taught full time because I know I only have to sustain that pace for 2 or 3 days per week.

So I’m operating under the hypothesis that my ratio of non-teaching to teaching hours is an accurate model for what an elementary school teacher ideally needs to do in order to be well-prepared to teach.  I don’t think my hours are an exaggeration — I think they represent what good teachers would do if they had the time and energy.  I tend to be a quick worker, and I’ve been teaching for a decade; if anything, less-experienced teachers might need more time to be well-prepared than I do.

(This exercise is based on the assumption that teachers are not just following a scripted curriculum but are tailoring published curriculum guides to meet the needs of their students; looking at their students’ work and re-teaching as necessary; and designing entirely new lessons or units as necessary.  It also includes some “big picture” work in terms of creating overviews of units for the year and grading, but it doesn’t include the instructional coaching I’ve been doing for my school.)

To calculate my hours with children, I figured out the full-time load at my school, which is 25.5 teaching hours per week — those are contact hours with children.

In 9 weeks of school (discounting partial weeks), I have worked an average of 33.5 hours per week. Double that for a full-time teacher, and that’s 67 hours.

On average, 1 hour of teaching requires 2.7 hours of my time.

Maybe I do a little more than half-time work, because I have to spend time communicating with my job-share partner, catching up on missed meetings, etc.  So let’s be conservative, and say that a well-prepared, full-time teacher works between 2 and 2.5 hours for every 1 hour of teaching.  This includes planning, looking at and responding to work, communicating with families and colleagues, writing report cards, holding family conferences, and meeting with supervisors, coaches, and colleagues.

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