George Lucas Educational Foundation
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I am very grateful for all teachers -- early childhood, elementary, middle, and college. But the world I know best is the work of high school teachers. If you add it up, the average high school teacher works about 70 hours per week and this is just the "business" side of the job. Just as importantly, our high school teachers provide a place of caring, safety, and hope for our teenage children in a world that often does not. Our courageous teachers shoulder the burdens of the emotional toll our students carry to school.

The long hours

As we discuss the challenges of improving public education in our country, I think it is important to consider the following data regarding the workweek for the typical high school teacher:

  • She/he serves at least 125 students for 6.5 hours each day or 33 hours per week
  • If each student completes one assignment each day, the teacher will have 615 assignments to assess. If each assignment takes two minutes (most likely more) to assess then it will take 20 hours for the teacher to grade them all
  • If she/he happens to assign one deeper learning task like an analytical essay, she will have 125 papers to assess with each taking a minimum of 5 minutes for a total of 10 hours
  • She/he attends three hours of professional meetings each week
  • She/he prepares at least two or three lessons each day for students who have a diverse range of skills, interests, and backgrounds. If it takes 30 minutes to prepare each lesson, this adds a minimum of five hours a week of lesson preparation

Our teachers work tirelessly to transform lives through education. Most do not get to see how their efforts paid off -- the students move on and they have to trust that they made a difference. In spite of this, they take a well-deserved summer break and start again each fall with a new group of students.

As we work to improve public education in this country, we must stop blaming teachers for the problems we face; they are working to do the most they can in a system that is designed for failure for children and the adults who work within it. Performance-based pay will only exacerbate these issues -- damaging the motivation of an already burdened work force. We need to stop using platitudes about appreciation in speeches and take action to make teaching a profession of dignity and prestige. This will only occur when we fully resource our educational system and provide professional working conditions for our educators. Dignity, respect, and a sustainable work life, these are the types of appreciation we need to show our teachers.

In addition to the appreciation lunches, certificates, and flowers that teachers do love, we all need to start pressing our lawmakers, policy-makers, and opinion leaders to work towards creating the conditions in our states and country where teaching is valued as a high prestige job like a doctor -- both professions are working to save lives.

If you are a teacher, what do you need to make your job more professional? If you are a school leader, what have you done to improve professional working conditions for teachers?

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Sue Boudreau's picture
Sue Boudreau
Seventh Grade science teacher from Orinda, California

I don't want to be on an 'advisory committee' whose advice gets over ruled. I do want to be part of making school and district decisions. I want to know the factors going into decisions, not have stuff drop down upon us. Treat us like intelligent professionals and you'll get what you expect.

I'd like a career structure that keeps good teachers in the classroom at least part of the day but that rewards striving with paid responsibilities - more of the stuff outsourced to expensive consultants could be done in house.

Part of a career structure means that senior teachers should be able to supervise - department chairs, year heads etc. Happens in every other profession and in the UK, why not ours in the US? With training of course. With 70 to 1 supervisor ratios currently, we are woefully under supervised. Bad all round - teachers who struggle are not getting help, just getting let go. Stressed principals who turn over too often. Good staff not getting opportunities to help and develop.

Thank you for this thought-provoking and important blog, Bob. Professionalizing our profession is key to improving teacher retention and student achievement. A conversation that needs to get going before charter schools, online academies and privatization suck the life out of our public schools.

Bob Lenz's picture
Bob Lenz
Executive Director, Buck Institute for Education, Novato, CA


From this Bob to your Bob, thanks for the thoughtful response and post - I found it inspiring and insightful.

Bob Lenz Jr. (I have Bob Dad too - I am very proud of his accomplishments too)

Bob Lenz's picture
Bob Lenz
Executive Director, Buck Institute for Education, Novato, CA

Hi Sue,

Thanks for your thoughtful response. Envision Schools is a charter network. We chose to use the charter law to have the autonomy to innovate. We have now started a new division, Envision Learning Partners to take our best practices to the broader public school system - the original intent of charters. We are trying to show what a professional teacher support system looks like. Online learning might also help reduce case loads for teachers or make it easier to assess student work so it might be a way to make conditions better too. I always think we can always find the both and the and instead of either or.

Linda Mason Strain's picture

Check out what is going on in Michigan. The Republican led government has dashed/slashed teacher compensation above 10% on the average. The morale is so low of educators who give so greatly!

bellsnshells's picture
College English Instructor from Richmond, VA

I'd like to see scaffolding occur--whereby, teachers can be promoted within the school (e.g. Novice Teacher, Teacher, Experienced Teacher, Master Teacher), such promotions come with mentoring responsibilities, higher pay, and perks--these promotions would not be based on experience, rather on skill and ability as defined and determined by the administration of the school and school board.
Also, time. Bob, you say it above, and as someone who has taught middle and elementary school I can tell you that the time commitment is similar though spread out differently. Anywhoo--Protect teachers time from non-teaching duties, only have meetings when they are necessary, and give teachers choices when it comes to professional development activities.

Brooke's picture
High School Science teacher from New York, New York

Bob, I really enjoyed your post. I completely agree that teaching needs to be more professionalized. We spend so much time going to school and preparing to be teachers, but still in many places do not get the respect we deserve. Your break down of hours spent by a high school teacher working is probably quite shocking to most people, but obviously not to a teacher. I do not like the idea of merit based pay, but I do like the idea of scaffolding- or opportunities ot move up within the school based on performance. This could be a way to encourage teachers to work hard, because not everyone gets the same treatment. It is discouraging to work so hard and then another teacher does the bare minimum and gets paid more than you do because of time...

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