Is a 40 Hour Teacher Work Week Realistic? This conversation has come up several times in the Simply Kinder Facebook group and so I wanted to share my thoughts and perspective.
I want to start by saying I am all about having a healthy family-work life balance. I am a 14 year veteran teacher who has balanced getting married, having children, moving twice, and other various life circumstances while holding down a full time teaching job. Throughout this time my views and opinions have changed. The older I get, as I became a mother, and as my son struggled to learn I began to realize the importance of using my time effectively to reach my students and still maintain balance.
That being said, when you sign up to be a teacher you do so with the understanding of certain things. The two biggest ones (in my opinion) are lack of pay and the hours you put in. We know this going in and we still choose to enter this profession because we feel a calling to serve little people. Is it fair, no. Is it a reality, yes.
Basic statistics of a teachers day: School hours where I live are 8:00am – 3:00pm. (7 hours and 35 hours with students per week). In that time we get a 30 minute lunch and a 40 minute prep and have duties outside of the students’ day that include campus duties, meetings, planning, conferences, preparing, collaborating, and much more. The list literally can go on and on.
Is it realistic to work a 40 hour week? In my opinion – No. I have heard many things over the years online about ideas to work a 40 hour week that I really don’t agree with. Here’s my thoughts:
- Bell to bell people is the goal. Any time students are in your classroom you should be working with them. As the parent of a child with reading struggles, teachers are there to teach and many students in your class need small group and/or one-on-one attention. I have seen the notion of using transitions to organize or grade papers does not sit well with me and it should not with you either at any grade level. This is valuable time that could really impact all of your students, not just your struggling ones and filling it with tasks like like such is not OK. Period.
- Being organized is a HUGE task and it takes time. As a veteran teacher I can say that there is not one day that I felt completely organized in my classroom. There is always a file cabinet, a closet, or a book case that needs to be reorganized so that I can sleep better at night. Yes, I have systems and processes in order for things to flow, but completely organized is a HUGE no! As a teacher, you have to learn to prioritize your time without students and also to let go of the ongoing to-do lists emotionally. You will not get everything done and that is OK.
- Teachers get moved from school to school or change grade levels some years. If you have ever experienced these transitions in your career you will agree that moving makes things trickier. Each time you move you have to pack, unpack, learn new curriculum, mesh with new coworkers, adjust to new spaces for your things, learn new curriculum, and again the list can continue. These changes take time to adjust to and will increase the time in your work week.
- I make the choice to put in the extra time and effort into projects that will help me reach my students or help me save time. I remember my first year teaching I had this crazy idea to make a button chart. I had seen a veteran teacher use it successfully and I thought it was brilliant for classroom management. The concept was the students would turn a button on a board that showed different tasks like attendance and homework so I could see at a glance what was going on in my classroom. It took me tons of time to make and to be honest, I only used it for about a year. It just was not for me. And I can tell you countless other projects for organizing or management I have invested hours and hours in that just have not worked out. The world of teaching blogs is filled with these great ideas that look great but may not be effective for your style of teaching or for the expectations you are given at your school. Does that make me not smart or unable to manage my time? Nope – it makes me real and it means that not one strategy or process works for all teachers.
- Teaching is ever evolving and it is our job as professionals to be flexible and not do the same thing again and again! The days of being handed a box or binder with each week spelled out are long gone. As professionals we need to try new things and reach outside our comfort zones and this takes time to prep outside of the classroom day. I have worked in schools where the same thing is done again and again and let me tell you, you are way more likely to burn out this way than by putting in some extra hours to stay current and be energized about teaching. In fact, the #1 compliment I get about the Simply Kinder Teacher Facebook group is that it has revived people’s love for teaching because of the amazing ideas and support that are shared. But let’s be honest, those ideas take time to prep and implement.
- Sometimes at my prep time I need to grab a soda or talk with a colleague. (Yes I just mentioned AGAIN grabbing a soda at school.) Actually… I do this often because after being in classroom for 3 hours straight with kindergarteners I need a little adult conversation. Teachers at every level should be animated, energetic, and involved with their students and should also need a break during the day too. When you teach bell to bell, your brain just needs a little break! I am not grading papers during morning work or multitasking while doing a small group and so my mind just needs to regroup sometimes during my prep or lunch so when my students come back in, I can hit the ground running again.
- Often times my prep times are filled with meetings with administrators or teammates for planning. These are not optional for many teachers. I have even worked in a school district where our sub shortage had teachers filling in classrooms during our prep times. At least 2 days a week during our prep we were teaching another grade because that teacher was out. Part of being on a team and being a team player is stepping up and helping out and having a good attitude about it.
- I feel like it’s important to take the extra effort for my students by adding personalized customer service for your students and their families. I write notes on student work, I add stickers, I call families just to tell them their students are doing great, and I send notes home. Over the years I have built relationships with the students and families in my class and I feel that has made a big impact on my classroom overall. It is SO important in our profession and I am not willing to let it go by just doing the required two notes a year or only calling home when a student is in trouble. I care about these kids just like they are my own and this is just a part of teaching that should not be cut. These things are all done outside of my student school day and they take time.
- Don’t set your standard to the expectations of others – especially blogs. I know that’s odd for me to say because this is a blog but it’s true. Blogs are here to share great teaching ideas but they are also a source of income for every single person I know who has one. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like your classroom has to look a certain way or you have to buy a certain anything to achieve your goals as a teacher. There is no wonder-purchase that will make your work week be a strict 40 hours or make your practice as a teacher be complete.
Am I perfect? No. Do I do some of these things every once and awhile? Yes. Am I saying you should not do these things? No. But should some of these ideas be the stand? Eh – I would argue not. Our kids are important and they deserve better at all grade levels than making this the standard. Your students deserve your full attention while they are in your classroom.
IDK… The notion of working a 40 hour work week as a teacher seems just as realistic as being able to be a teacher without spending a dime of your own money. #justsaying
And so here are some realistic ideas to help you cut the hours in your week and create more balance:
- Work as a team. This is super important because if you work with your peers you can divide workloads and cut down on time drastically.
- Join free Facebook groups for support. Simply Kinder Teacher group is a great place for Kindergarten teachers to join forces. And there are many other free Facebook groups out there that offer support for all grade levels. Strike up conversations there if you are feeling overwhelmed or if you need some strategies help yourself stay on track with your work hours.
- Use parent volunteers. They can grade papers, hang bulletin boards, and make copies for you.
- Follow the right people on Blogs, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. There are so many ideas out there for free that will help you manage your time better.
- Plan out your year. A little investment in time at the beginning can pay off in the end. Plan your year out to make your lesson planning piece less stressful. Here is a FREE PACING GUIDE to help you do this.
- Write things down. Organize it and prioritize it. I used to sleep with a notepad by my bed, but honestly now I keep my to do lists in Google Docs on my phone. Writing things down helps me to let go of my giant list in my head and frees up my mind to focus, be more effective, and not feel stressed.
- Be organized. VERY ORGANIZED. I function better being organized and you most likely will too. Take the time to set up systems to make your days easier in the long run. A little investment of time now will pay off later.
- Collect data on your students as you go. One of the biggest stresses we have as teachers is the amount of data we are required to collect. I hated how each quarter I felt like I had to give up valuable classroom time to assess students and so I created these checklists. These checklists help me to organize my students data so I can easily pull student groups and easily talk about strengths and weaknesses for skills with data to back it up. I highly suggest making checklists for things that stress you out because it takes a huge amount of stress off your shoulders.
- Try an idea and if it does not work, change it. Don’t wait a full year to change something if it is going to save you time. This is my biggest pet peeve – hearing people complain about how something is not working and then they say they want to wait until next year to change it. CHANGE IT NOW!
- Make the cautious choice to limit your working time. You are not just a teacher, you are also a mom, a wife, a sister, a friend, etc and all of those relationships are important too. Set a time limit on your work day and stick to it most days. “I will leave work each day by 4:20.” You will be amazed at how just setting some boundaries will change how you manage your time.
- Ask for help. Many administrators realize you have heavy work loads and there are assistants on campus who have 10-15 minute gaps who need projects to fill. You never know unless you ask.
- Get rid of your rolling cart. This was a HUGE time saver for me because I stopped bringing piles and piles of things home. Throw it out. I don’t know about you, but I would bring that darn cart home filled to the brim and then not touch it. That added stress because then I felt as if I had not accomplished my unrealistic projected workload for the weekend.
- Have a lost and found bucket. This saves me TONS of time putting things away after school. If something is lost, it goes in the lost and found and at the end of the day every so often we put things away where they go. The kids often know quicker where things go and it helps to build community and pride in the classroom for kids to take some ownership of things not being cared for properly.
- Be realistic in your expectations. Much of what you see online is staged and/or purchased with money that teachers earn from their blogs. That money gets pumped into their classrooms often or helps to make things like Pinterest perfect and it’s not realistic for many teachers. Remember this as you consider if a certain something is a good fit for you. Remember, teachers are different and have different personalities. We don’t all fit into one mold.
The Simply Kinder Teacher Group also has a great thread going on with tips from you all to save time and keep yourself accountable. Click here to read all of their awesome ideas.
This article is written just as some food for thought and is not intended to judge or point fingers any teacher who chooses to do any of these things as a norm. I really just want us all to be the best teachers we can be and while maintaining some balance between our work and personal lives.