The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Day: January 21, 2011

How many hours do teachers work?

I just conducted a very unscientific poll. I sent out a link on Twitter only and asked people who happened to be around how many hours they worked. It’s not rigorous. However, in the limited sample group I have of 85 (update actually 132) educators on Twitter, here are the results as a CSV file. If you haven’t responded to the survey, and want to add yourself, please feel free to do so, but please be as honest as you can.

First, I had to discard some outliers. While I do believe that there are educators who work 100+ hours in a week, there are too few of you, and you are skewing my results. One lonely soul even indicated that they work 168 hours per work, or 24/7.

Number of hours educators work. Elementary: 60.5 Secondary: 58.7 Post-Secondary: 48.4 Other: 61

First, we can see that elementary school teachers work about the same as secondary school teachers. Some people responded other, and they worked 57.1 hours per week (One of the people in the "other" category contacted me to let me know he was an administrator so maybe this is true of everyone in the other category?).

Post-secondary school teachers apparently have it easy at only 47.8 hours a week, but only 8 of them responded so obviously this a pretty tiny sample size. I don’t think we can conclude much from their responses without more data.

Here’s another chart where I’ve grouped the data.

Grouped data, hours educators work

The most important message I think we can get from these graphs is that teachers work damn hard. Look at how many educators work more than 40 hours a week! Over 90% of the educators who responded to the survey indicated that they work over 40 hours a week. I still think the 3 people at 100+ hours of work a week are a bit extreme and might be exagerating slightly…

The next time someone complains to you about how long teacher vacations are, ask them to count total hours worked in a year, not weeks. You’ll come out ahead in that argument for sure.

All I have are questions

I might post on this blog like I know what I’m talking about but each of these posts is a question really, an internal discussion that I share. I’m finding I have more questions than answers now.

The current model of education doesn’t work in my opinion, but I can’t see what should replace it.

The best models don’t look like they are very scalable, and would be difficult for the general public to even understand. The recent uproar in the Canadian media over the simple idea that we should value every child has certainly taught me that we need to do a lot of work educating the public about what we do.

I like using technology in my teaching. It lets me do things and have my students construct meaning in ways that I never could have managed even a few years ago. I am worried however that generalizing what a few teachers do really well can be really damaging when diluted to the general teaching population. Introducing computers in most teachers classrooms leads to mass distraction in my opinion, especially given the lack of training that teachers have with them.

Formative assessment is good for example, and the best educators recognize that we should be assessing our students understanding informally all the time. Some schools have turned this into "thou shalt test and grade thy kids insessantly until their fingers bleed where they grasp their #2 HB pencils," and really damaging students. Using technology ineffectively can similarly turn into a gong show.

Worse, applying this use of technology to every school is incredibly expensive. There are 76.6 million people in some sort of school in the United States alone, if each of these people had a $500 laptop, that would cost the US about $40,000,000,000 to outfit each student, not including the cost of distribution, maintenance, and software which could potentially triple those costs. By comparison this article suggests that to end world hunger, it would cost $195 billion. Given a choice between using my fancy tools with my students, which I LOVE to do, and ending world hunger, even for a year, I’m going to choose the latter. Obviously it’s not that simple, but it gets you thinking, is it worth it?

I’ve read that people think that students should be taking online courses, or moving at their own pace through videos, but this model worries me. I’m worried because I’m beginning to feel more and more that the important parts of education happen between the lines of the curriculum. If students spend more of their time learning in physical isolation from each other, these moments will begin to disappear.

I’m also worried that this will become another way to fleece the public pocket as educational publishing companies move toward a rental model of content and that educators as a whole are not yet ready to embrace the open source movement. We might get locked into a proprietary model before the open content model has gained enough of a foothold. Why is this important? Given the deep philosophical divisions in our society, do you want someone else having even more control over what your children learn? It is a lot easier to delete an "inconvenient" moment in history when all of your information is in digital form. I’m not being paranoid, revisions to history happen all the time in public school textbooks.

Some have suggested that we need to refine the accountability model for education. If we just test the students more carefully, and then use this data to change how we hold teachers accountability, that this will drive educational improvement. Of course this model conveniently forgets the narrative that we’ve been testing our students more and more for the past 20 years and seeing a steady decrease in school quality at the same time. It also forgets that there is an extremely strong relationship between student test scores and their poverty level. Poverty is a result of poor education, is their claim, rather than an effect of a decrease in real earnings, or a widening gap between the rich and the disappearing middle class. The only benefit I can see, as these so called reformers spout their nonsense, is that they have helped crystalize my opposition to the use of standardized tests for high stakes purposes. How did these educators, and many of them are educators although some are not, get so far off track from student learning?

I also wonder about alternative education. I’ve been reading about homeschooling, unschooling, Montessori schools, Waldorf schools, and all sorts of interesting ways to educate people. I’ve read some of John Gatto’s work recently and beginning to wonder if I haven’t done a great deal of evil over the course of my career unwittingly. "Think like I do" I say, and help erode my student’s ability to think independently. How do I balance an obvious need of society for some structure with my belief that everyone needs to be capable of independent reasoning? Gatto has some strong arguments exposing some serious flaws with public schooling and reading them makes me feel uncomfortable.

A year from now I may look at what I’ve written here and think I’m being pretty foolish. Right now though I feel like I have a million questions and not enough time to answer all of them.