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?